The first 10 amendments to the Constitution were not an academic exercise. They were devised as shields by people who had good reason to be concerned about their individual liberties.
That’s why a Vancouver woman who was examining an exhibit on those amendments — the Bill of Rights — was also thinking about the experiences of our founders.
“You have to consider where they came from,” Carmen Weninger said Tuesday in the lobby of the Vancouver Community Library. “There were very different systems in Europe where people didn’t have these protections.”
Even people who were born on these shores in the 1700s grew up as colonial subjects of one of those European powers. When the Constitution was established in 1789, giving our government its power, people continued to demand individual liberties that had not been available as subjects of the British Empire.
Rep. James Madison presented 19 proposals to the First Congress in 1789. Later that year, Congress proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution; 10 were ratified.
Did you know?The First Amendment guarantees five specific protections: freedom to freely practice religion; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; the right to peacefully assemble; and the right to petition.
There were 14 states at that point, and Virginia became the 11th to ratify on Dec. 15, 1791, meeting the requirement of three-fourths of the states.
The display at the downtown Vancouver library and the Cascade Park Community Library marks the 225th anniversary of that ratification.
The kiosk-style display was created by the National Archive in Washington, D.C., where the original Bill of Rights is on display. It is among the three documents known as the Charters of Freedom, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
The local pop-up exhibit — called “The Bill of Rights and You”– provides some quick lessons in history and civics.
“It’s always good to get a refresher,” Weninger said.
That’s particularly true after a year or so of spirited political discussion in which the Constitution has been frequently invoked.
If you goThe Bill of Rights display will be at the Vancouver and Cascade Park community libraries through Feb. 28; it will be at the Battle Ground and Three Creeks community libraries from March 1 through April 15.
As the display observes, the 10 amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights represent a big share of the changes to our Constitution.
And it’s not for lack of suggested amendments: more than 11,000 have been attempted, and only 27 have been successful.