Columnist Aaron Brown explains how the Constitution does not grant anyone their rights. 

I hear it all the time, but the U.S. Constitution does not give anyone any rights. The U.S. Constitution was not intended by the people who signed it — such as Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock or Charles Pinckney — to be a document spelling out everyone’s rights. Alexander Hamilton makes it quite clear: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

The Second Amendment does not give anyone the right to own a firearm. You are born into this world with the right to both defend yourself and defend others who cannot defend themselves. Whether a guy in China named Haoran or some guy in Ethiopia named Alimayu, both have the right to defend themselves, even though nobody they know has ever heard of the U.S. Constitution. The right to life is not something the United Nations invented in 1948

The First Amendment never granted anyone the right to say whatever the fantastic they want. Man was designed to have a reasoning mind and a rational soul, day one. Nobody needs permission from George Washington to speak his opinions. Benjamin Franklin did not need to sign anything for you to complain about how the government is running things. Your existence in this world is your free speech permit.

What does the Constitution do then? Why are there the ten original amendments to it if they don’t give us anything? Essentially, the Constitution is a contract. The original states wanted to form a union to provide for common defense against attackers and invaders such as pirates or the French or British. There are a few other things in the Constitution — telling you how much water your shower can spray isn’t in there, by the way. So the states wrote up a contract to say what the government can and cannot do. Then they added ten promises on the end because people were afraid the government would grow too powerful and infringe on their rights.

These promises, the Bill of Rights, are statements restricting what the federal government is allowed to do, not permitting what you can do. The First Amendment does not say, “People can worship God however their conscience directs.” It says “Congress shall pass no law …” The Second Amendment does not say people are allowed to carry ‘weapons of war,’ but rather that such right “shall not be infringed.” The Third Amendment restricts what soldiers can do. The Fourth Amendment grants no rights but rather says the rights people already have had better “not be violated.” The Seventh Amendment speaks of rights being “preserved,” not granted. To top it off, the Ninth Amendment says that no matter what the Constitution says, you can’t twist it into denying or disparaging the rights “retained by the people.”

You are born into this world with rights. Some call them God-given rights as given by God. Some call them natural rights because the natural state of man is to have rights to life, liberty, travel, thought, speech, religion, association, property, trade and so on and so forth. The list could go on. You may have noticed “the pursuit of happiness” is missing. We will save the 18th-century meaning of “happiness” for another day.

What does it mean to have rights? Essentially, it means you can do whatever you want so long as you don’t violate the rights of others. You have the liberty to do what you want — until you want to murder somebody. That violates that person’s right to life. Violation of property rights is called theft. Violation of the right to travel or movement is called kidnapping or a hostage situation. Chattel slavery violates many rights, especially the right to own your self. You are the owner of your own body and mind.

The most frequent abuser of rights in this day and age is the government. Remember how the U.S. government made ten promises to not violate your rights? Well, who holds the government to its word, besides the government? Each of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights have been violated in one way or another, especially by the Patriot Act. Nonetheless, there are many noble and honorable judges and jurists who hold the Constitution’s promises in high regard and do not let legislators and other rulers go haywire. The U.S. Constitution is still standing in the way of people who would rob you and enslave you.

So you know a bit about your rights, why you have them and what they are. Now you can celebrate and go shred your copy of the Constitution, or call me completely stupid for suggesting such a thing. It’s your choice. …It’s your right.

aaron brown profile pic

Aaron Brown is a senior studying Construction Engineering.

Opinion Policies

Editorials are longer opinion pieces that are written by a group of community members recruited across campus who address relevant issues on a local, national and international level. Editorials are research-based. The purpose of the Editorial Board is to promote discussion concerning relevant issues in the community while advising on possible solutions. Topics are chosen via relevancy and interests of the members, which are then discussed by the Editorial Board in order to reach a general consensus concerning the topic or issue.

Feedback policy

If you have a grievance concerning the content or argument of the Editorial Board, please contact either Opinion Editor Peyton Hamel (peyton.hamel@iowastatedaily.com) or the Editorial Board as a whole (editorialboard@iowastatedaily.com). Those wanting to respond to editorials can also submit a letter to the editor through the Iowa State Daily website or by emailing the letter to Opinion Editor Peyton Hamel (peyton.hamel@iowastatedaily.com) or Editor-in-Chief Sage Smith (sage.smith@iowastatedaily.com).

Column Policy

Columns are hyper-specific to opinion and are written by only columnists employed by the Iowa State Daily. Columnists are unique because they have a specific writing day and only publish on those writing days. Each column undergoes a thorough editing process ensuring the integrity of the writer, and their claim is maintained while remaining research-based and respectful. Columns may be submitted from community members. These are labelled as “Guest Columns.” These contain similar research-based content and need to be at least 400 words in length. The following requirements should be met: first and last name, email and relation or position to Iowa State. Emails must be tied to the submitted guest column or it will not be accepted or published. Pseudonyms are prohibited and the writer will be banned from submissions.

Read our full Opinion Policies here. Updated on 10/7/2020

(2) comments

Tommy Johnson

Very well put!

Mason Zastrow

I disagree with this position. By this view, anything at all can be asserted as a right. If my very existence grants me my right to free speech, does my very existence grant a right to harass? To commit violent acts?

Rights are bound to conflict with each other through this broad conception of "rights". To clarify whose right supersedes the other is the decision of all of us together. You can assert that your right to life supersedes my right to murder, and that's agreeable, but what about my right to privacy, in conflict with another's right to see whatever personal information of mine they want? Close cases require clarification, not unilateral assertion. If the government has failed to act in that capacity then that's a genuine issue, but it is expressly the duty of the government to decide which rights are more fundamental than others.

The Fourth Amendment does provide a right, against unreasonable search and seizure. The characterization that this amendment only asserts that other rights shall "not be violated" is extremely misleading. The government isn't able to violate any guaranteed right, that's the very nature of rights contained in the Constitution.

I would also encourage you to reconsider the meaning of the Ninth Amendment, which states that there may be more rights retained by the people than those listed in the first eight amendments. This affirmation of other rights is the Constitution itself providing for the fact that some rights aren't stated. This amendment to the Constitution is, itself, the Constitution. The grant of other possible rights not to be infringed upon by the government is provided by our most foundational governing document.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.