And the Third Shall Be First …

Published:September 25, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

As we already noted, on this day in 1789, Congress presented to the states for ratification twelve—not ten—amendments to the United States Constitution. The first two weren’t immediately ratified, meaning that today’s First Amendment was actually the original Third Amendment. Which is why this bit of rhetoric, from the blogger Andrew Sullivan, is ironic:

America is a great country because of its ideals, enshrined in its constitution, which the Founders insisted were universal. And that includes freedom of speech. It is our First Amendment.

Indeed, it is. But the actual history of the amendments tends to suggest that this has nothing to do with its relative importance. Look, for instance, at George Mason‘s sixteen-part Declaration of Rights. Freedom of the press is number 12 on the list, freedom of religion 16. Does this mean they are less important than, say, issues of bail (number 9)? I don’t think so, and while I share Sullivan’s passion for the First Amendment, his rhetoric doesn’t pass the history test.

RE THE POST’S TITLE: Matthew 20:16

IMAGE: Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell (1943)