You do not have constitutional rights.

You just have rights.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Unalienable: not capable of being repudiated.

You don’t worship as your conscience dictates because the Bill of Rights says you can. You don’t speak your mind because of a grant from the government. You don’t defend your life, family and property because the framers saw fit to write the Second Amendment.

Most Americans hold a seventh grade civics notion that the Constitution gives us certain rights. In fact, the Bill of Rights merely sets limits on the federal government, making clear it has no power to infringe on rights we already naturally possess, or limit traditionally held privileges, such as trial by jury. Except for a few procedural rights specifically for the trial process, the Bill of Rights does not actually bestow rights.

Many framers considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary. They argued that the nature of the Constitution rendered it redundant. The Constitution itself only grants the government specified powers. Since the Constitution extends the federal government no power to establish a national religion, they argued that it wasn’t necessary to specifically prohibit it. But others felt it necessary to make explicit certain government limitations, to better protect the liberties of the people. The preamble to the Bill of Rights clarifies its purpose.

THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.

The first eight amendments making up the Bill of Rights specify rights and privileges the federal government may not in any way abridge. It codifies protections of life liberty and property – rights each of us naturally possess – and enshrines specific privileges in the judicial system already accepted in Anglo-American law.

Finally, the Ninth Amendment makes the limiting nature of the Constitution clear.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The framers wanted to make sure everyone understood that the Constitution only grants the feds prescribed, specific, enumerated powers. The Ninth Amendment infers the corollary to this truth. The federal government may not exercise any powers not granted. And it makes clear that the few rights specifically highlighted in the Bill of Rights do not count as an all-inclusive list. The federal government cannot exercise ANY powers other than those granted.

Who possesses all other powers? The states and the people.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. – Tenth Amendment

It is important to understand that the Constitution does not create rights for anyone. It simply serves as a grant of power to, and a blueprint for, the structure of the federal government. The rights of the people existed before the founding of the United States.  The Bill of Rights clarifies limits on the power of the federal government. It declares “We, the people, retain our rights,” and prescribes that the creation of the federal government in no way limits the sovereignty of the states except where specified.

This may seem like an exercise in semantics, but the subtle difference in the actual intent of the Bill of Rights and the common notion that it serves as the source of rights is extremely important.

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For if a government can bestow rights, a government can take them away. The Constitution was never intended to give government that kind of power. It was framed in a way to keep government from ever exercising that kind of power.

“It is the proper object of a written constitution not only to restrain the several branches of the government, viz. the legislative, executive and judiciary departments, within their proper limits, respectively, but to prohibit the branches, united, from any attempt to invade that portion of the sovereign power which the people have not delegated to their public functionaries and agents, but have reserved, unalienably, to themselves. “ – St. George Tucker, early American constitutional scholar and legal professor.