Friday, June 12, 2020

The Virginia Declaration of Rights

I decided to post my post about the anniversary of the Virginia Convention's adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (on June 12, 1776) on time, this year ... unlike what I have done once or twice in years past.

Many sources on the Virginia Declaration of Rights state (correctly) that it became a major influence on the United States "Bill of Rights" (which took effect a little over fifteen years later) and that it also influenced Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence.  (If I remember correctly, Thomas Jefferson later disputed this, indicating that the most prominent similarities between the two documents resulted from both documents being influenced by the same thing -- their respective authors were articulating ideas that had already grown popular in America and had already been expressed by various people in various ways.  I am inclined to believe Jefferson, particularly considering that the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted only about two and a half weeks before the Declaration of Independence had finished being debated, edited, and finally adopted by Congress.  If Jefferson saw the Virginia Declaration of Rights before July 4th, it seems unlikely to me that it would have reached him in time to significantly influence his drafting of the Declaration.  Of course, I could be wrong.)

I appreciate the Virginia Declaration of Rights as one of many, though one of the most well-known, documents recording the beliefs, convictions, motives, and aims of the active members of the Founding Generations -- their cause as they understood it.  Anyone who does not understand quite what kinds of things I had in mind when I referred to the "republican form of government" in some of my posts from over the past couple of months ought to read the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  It articulates well most of the key precepts that define that type of government, and it identifies the principal rules by which such a government is itself governed.

If you want to form a deeper and more complete understanding of the "republican form of government", do not end your inquiry the moment you have finished reading the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  (If you need help figuring out what to read next, I can help.)  However, if you just want to become familiar with a few of the most significant ideas that define it, reading the Virginia Declaration of Rights would be an excellent way to start.  (Also, do not neglect the Declaration of Independence.  If you read no other part of it, at least read the second, third, and fourth sentences of it, and remember them well.)

To ensure that the inconvenience of searching for the text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights does not prevent anyone from finding and reading it, I have placed its text immediately below this sentence.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights

[Adopted by the Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776.]

A Declaration of Rights made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention; which rights do pertain to them, and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.

First, That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

2d.  That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.

3d.  That government is, or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.

4th.  That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge, to be hereditary.

5th.  That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicicative; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burthens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part, of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.

6th.  That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in Assembly, ought to be free, and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for the public good.

7th.  That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.

8th.  That in all capital or criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favour, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land, or the judgment of his peers.

9th.  That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel & unusual punishments inflicted.

10th.  That general warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.

11th.  That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other, and ought to be held sacred.

12th.  That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

13th.  That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

14th.  That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.

15th.  That no free government, or the blessing of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

16th.  That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

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