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How I Imagine the Bill of Rights Was Really Written
September 17, 1787 at 11:34 PM Independence Hall Philadelphia, PA
September 17, 1787 at 11:34 PM
George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson are winding down a historic night. It’s been a long day at Independence Hall. They just finished writing the Constitution. Spirits are high, but the founding fathers are tired.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Really great work everyone. Especially you, Hamilton. I love the three branches of government thing. What was it that you called it? A system of…
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Checks and balances.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Checks and balances, that’s it. Checks and balances. My god. We may really have something here.
Hamilton tries not to smile. He loves impressing Jefferson.
BEN FRANKLIN: Elephant in the room. I’m just going to come out and and say it: I’m still hung up on the “all men are created equal” part. It’ll be obvious to the people that we don’t mean slaves or women, right?
GEORGE WASHINGTON: That goes without saying, I think.
BEN FRANKLIN: Yeah, you’re right.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Gentlemen, it’s been an extraordinary day. History has been made. We should all get home to our families and share the news with them. Oh and thanks for making me President by the way. That was really cool of you guys.
The group starts gathering their things to leave. Everyone, that is, except for Jefferson.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Thomas?
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Something doesn’t feel right. It’s like-
BEN FRANKLIN: Tom-
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Hear me out-
BEN FRANKLIN: No, we’ve been through this! George gets to be first President. We just wrote this [holds up the Constitution, waves it around]. Do you know what that means? How big this thing will be? We got in on the ground floor. We’ll all get a chance to be President at some point!
THOMAS JEFFERSON: That’s not it, Franklin. I feel…I feel like we’re forgetting something. Something important.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Just for the record, no interest in being President. None. I have other stuff I want to do.
JAMES MADISON: We covered all our bases. I’m sure of it. Let it go.
Jefferson isn’t convinced. Nonetheless, he joins the men in blowing out the candles and starts walking to the door.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: GOD DAMNIT!
GEORGE WASHINGTON: What is it?
THOMAS JEFFERSON: We totally forgot to give the people rights.
The group is silent for a few seconds as the seriousness of their error sinks in.
BEN FRANKLIN: Maybe they won’t notice.
JAMES MADISON. Shiiiiit.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Of course they’ll notice. We must fix this.
The group groans, but they know what must be done. This is why George Washington was elected the first President, they realize. You can count on him to be the moral compass.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Give me a sec, though.
Washington pokes his head out the front door and calls over one of his slaves waiting outside Independence Hall.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Hey! You. Go to my house. Tell Martha I’ll be late. Ask her to leave me some supper on the table.
The slave stares at him.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: What do you need, a map? Get the hell out of here.
George Washington ducks back into the room.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Sorry about that. You know how slaves are.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Ok, ok. Not a problem. This is an opportunity. We can do this. We included the Amendments clause for a reason. Rights, rights. Let’s start with some suggestions. Franklin.
BEN FRANKLIN: Ok. To start. I want the right to say whatever I want. And never face any consequences for it. Ever. That’s the United States of America that I want to live in.
GEORGE WASHINGTON [to Madison]: You need to clean up the language a bit, but I think Ben is onto something. The people, and the press, need to be able to express themselves freely.
Madison starts scribbling.
JAMES MADISON: Ok, that’s one.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: I’m gonna throw something out there. Guns are important to me. I love a good duel. And we wouldn’t have beaten the Red Coats without them, right? So let’s make it official. Give the people a right to bear arms.
JAMES MADISON: That’s kind of vague, isn’t it? “A right to bear arms”?
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Nah, they’ll get it.
Madison keeps scribbling.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: This is a small room. There’s a whole country out there. We must think about the needs of ordinary citizens. Suggestions?
THOMAS JEFFERSON: I have a couple.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Please.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: I remember how angry some of the guys in town were when we stashed soldiers in their homes during the revolution. I mean, didn’t really have a choice, right? We were sort of a ragtag bunch.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: [nostalgically] That we were.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: But I get the frustration. If I had to house some dirty minutemen in the Monticello, I’d totally freak out. So, that’s one. Also, I think we need to ease up on all the search and seizures. It’s getting out of hand.
BEN FRANKLIN: [roaring] But that’s how I got this coat!
GEORGE WASHINGTON: No, no, Jefferson is right. Things were different in wartime. We need to build a country for a time of peace.
BEN FRANKLIN: Fine, then one for me. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that I did something wrong. Something that might technically, accordingly to our newly-written laws, be illegal. I shouldn’t have to testify against myself. And while we’re at it, trials should be fast. They shouldn’t drag on and on and on.
The group is quiet.
JAMES MADISON: Do you expect to be prosecuted for something, Franklin?
BEN FRANKLIN: Shut up nerd. Just…keep writing.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Gentlemen, let’s keep it civil. We did just start a nation.
Madison finishes writing.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Anyone have anything else?
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: I’m toying with one, it’s a bit rough. Just the early inklings of an idea, really.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: That’s ok. Go ahead, Hamilton.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Alright. Remember I’m just spitballing here, but…in suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Yeah, sounds good.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: We need to think bigger. Broader. We should have one to cover anything we may have missed. Like, if you could have one wish, you’d wish for a thousand more wishes type-of-thing.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Smart, Jefferson. Very smart. Just because it isn’t listed in the Constitution doesn’t mean it isn’t a right. Put that down, James. How many is that?
JAMES MADISON: We’re at nine.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Ok, so obviously, we need one more.
The group mumbles. Unanimously, they agree. Round numbers are good.
BEN FRANKLIN: How about this: for everything else, the power goes to the states and the people? We basically wash our hands of it? Because I have to tell you guys, I’m really tired. I need my seven hours every night.
JAMES MADISON: I second that. My hand is cramping really bad.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: I think this is a good place to wrap it up.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Wait. Doesn’t it seem sloppy to finish the Constitution and instantly be like, “oops, we screwed up, here are a bunch of amendments”?
THOMAS JEFFERSON: That’s a good point.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Agreed, it’s not a good look.
The group thinks.
JAMES MADISON: How about it’s its own thing? We call it the Bill of Rights. Not a bunch of corrections, but a gift to the people.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: You can really turn a phrase, Madison.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: The Bill Of Rights. It does have a ring to it.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: It’s perfect.
BEN FRANKLIN: It’s not perfect. But it’s good enough. Let’s get out of here.
Thanks for reading! You can find me on Twitter @adamokane. If you’re any of the history teachers I’ve ever had, I’m sorry.