The Federalist Papers should be read in their entirety by every American citizen. Here lies the most telling window into the meaning of our Constitution and government. While I certainly don’t plan on typing the entire contents of those documents here on this site, I will transpose certain parts that I think are absolutely critical.

Americans today tend to think of the Bill of Rights as a sacred cow – inviolable, supreme and basically without sin; sort of the Virgin Mary of American Government. What we tend to forget is that their creation was much more turbulent. Certain Founders opposed any Bill of Rights at all. Alexander Hamilton gives perhaps the most credible argument for this stance in Federalist #84. Not only did he oppose it but in fact, he found the concept of such a proposal dangerous. Clearly, there is an element of tongue in cheek here (especially coming from Hamilton) as he is trying to convince a suspicious public to ratify the Constitution. However, some of the points he makes are telling given today’s culture.

You will notice in particular that his description of “men disposed to usurp” taking advantage of a freedom of the press is a verbatim recount of how the Second Amendment has been usurped today. How often are we told that the words “a well regulated militia” clearly outline an intent by the Founders to permit regulation of guns by the government? Such statements are of course patently false, but too many Americans don’t know the truth because they haven’t read it. Instead, we rely on what we hear from the media and our illustrious “leaders”.

There are a number of important points to consider in this excerpt. First, an explanation – by the most aggressively pro-government of all the Founders no less – of our Constitution as a restrictive document and not the expansive leviathan of modern times. Those who would have us believe that the Federal government has all these ridiculous powers to intrude into our private lives are refuted here. Second, the wall of sacredness between the Bill of Rights and rational thought about it that we’ve built today is shattered. The Bill of Rights is not some indestructable edict from God. Rather, it is a government document outlining some of the rights we as Americans have today. Hamilton’s point is that only an educated and invigorated public can truly ward their own freedoms. Words on paper are simply that. They cannot protect us from anything.

Most importantly, it is a clear statement that we have far more freedoms that should be protected than could ever be conceived in a single document. The business of government is to protect those freedoms as opposed to restricting them. And just because they are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution does not mean the government has the right to take them away. This is critical, not to mention virtually forgotten today:

“But a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns. If, therefore, the loud clamors against the plan of the convention, on this score, are well founded, no epithets of reprobation will be too strong for the constitution of this State. But the truth is that both of them contain all which, in relation to their objects, is reasonably to be desired.

I go further and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.

On the subject of the liberty of the press, as much as has been said, I cannot forbear adding a remark or two: in the first place, I observe, that there is not a syllable concerning it in the constitution of this State; in the next I contend that whatever has been said about it in that of any other State amounts to nothing. What signifies a declaration that ‘the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved’? What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitutde for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable and from this I infer that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution repsecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirt of the people and of the government. And here, after all, as is intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of our rights.”