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Opinion: Bill of Rights Makes Democracy Work

Rare opportunity to see George Washington's copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

On June 22, 2012, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association emerged from intense bidding at a Christie's auction in New York, securing George Washington's personal copy of the Acts of Congress. The price at the auction was just under $10 million.

This week, this volume containing George Washington's personal copy of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress, with his handwritten notes in the margins, went on display at the Mount Vernon Estate, on Constitution Day which was Monday, Sept. 17. The book will be on display at Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center at the Mount Vernon Estate through President's Day in February 2013.

It is certainly worth the trip to see.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments, are a model of spare writing, packing every word and phrase with meaning, anticipating much and providing a framework for future. Here is the text of the Bill of Rights, courtesy of the Library of Congress. I cannot imagine that 500 words anywhere from any era convey so much power. These 500 words are what make democracy work.

A BILL OF RIGHTS as provided in the Ten Original Amendments to The Constitution of the United States in force December 15, 1791.

Article I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Article III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Article V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any Criminal Case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Article VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining Witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Article VII

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.

Article VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.