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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Nat Hentoff on the continued relevance of founding father George Mason

"How many of you know who George Mason was? Does our president?" So asks the noted civil libertarian journalst in this op-ed on the importance of the Bill of Rights and the 4th Amendment in particular: Who will teach our police the Bill of Rights?

As Hentoff notes, most people are largely ignorant of their rights under the Constitution, and such ignorance bodes catastrophic consequences for self-government under our republican (with a small "r") democratic (with a small "d") system. And just as the citizenry need to know their rights under the Constitution, Hentoff argues that the police need to know and protect the people's rights as well. And it is here that the work of George Mason is so important, as Hentoff writes: 
My primary hero of the full existence of the Constitution is George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Why him? He refused to sign the Constitution because it didn’t have a “declaration of rights” – the individual liberties of American citizens. 
Because of George Mason, who was followed by other non-signers, James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights. These first 10 amendments to the Constitution, when ratified by enough states in 1791, guaranteed to We the People specific limits on government power.
A government of limited and enumerated powers is one of the great gifts that the American Founders left to posterity. But if we don't understand that, if we don't know what the Founders knew, that gift too often falls by the wayside. And that isn't just bad for the folks who find themselves in need of the Constitution's protections in specific instances, it's bad for our public culture and the rule of law

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