The Framers understood the most important point about the nature of government: It constitutes the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry. Unfortunately, it is a point that has been lost among many modern-day Americans, who have come to view government as their friend, protector, provider, and savior.
If the Framers had viewed government the way that many modern-day Americans do, why would it have been necessary to limit the powers of the president, the Congress, and the judiciary to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution? After all, the Framers could have used the Constitution to simply call the federal government into existence and then written, “The government shall have omnipotent power to do whatever U.S. officials deem is in the best interest of the nation and to take care of the citizenry.” Instead, they effectively wrote, “Here are the few powers the government shall be permitted to exercise; if a power is not enumerated, it cannot be exercised.”
Even the enumerated-powers concept, however, did not satisfy our American ancestors. Convinced that federal officials would not remain constrained by the Constitution’s enumeration of powers, they demanded that amendments be enacted that expressly prohibited U.S. officials from infringing on the people’s fundamental and inherent rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, peaceful assembly, and gun ownership.
Why did they want such express prohibitions on infringing people’s rights? Because they knew that the federal government would inevitably attract totalitarian-minded people who would do whatever they could to suppress such rights.
Our ancestors also demanded amendments that expressly guaranteed the exercise of such vitally important procedural rights as due process of law, trial by jury, right to counsel, right to confront witnesses, the right to a speedy trial, and protection against cruel and unusual punishments. They were convinced that in the absence of such express guarantees, U.S. officials would arbitrarily arrest, torture, indefinitely incarcerate, and otherwise punish innocent people, especially those who criticized government wrongdoing.
In other words, the reason that our American ancestors feared the federal government is that they knew that in the absence of constitutional limitations on federal power, U.S. officials would do to Americans precisely what they are doing in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and other places around the world where federal officials operate free of the constraints of the Constitution. That’s why our ancestors came up with limited, enumerated powers in the Constitution and express guarantees of fundamental rights in the Bill of Rights.