The Origins of the First Amendment
The first well-known amendment of the constitution, the first amendment “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.”. The U.S. government cannot require a specific religion for all its citizens. United States citizens have the right to decide what faith we want to follow. It is the establishment clause that enables “separation of church and state,” preventing for a government-funded Church of the United States from coming into being. The U.S. government cannot subject its citizens to rules or laws that forbid them from speaking our minds. The press can print and distribute news without fear of being punished, even if that news is not good regarding the country or the government. During the 18th century, American political activists such as Thomas Paine were subject to persecution for publishing unpopular opinions.
The freedom of press clause makes it clear that the First Amendment is meant to protect not only freedom to speak but also freedom to publish and distribute speech. U.S. citizens have the right to gather toward common goals and interests without interference from the government or the authorities. U.S. Citizens can petition the government to suggest changes and voice concerns. In 1789, James Madison nicknamed “the father of the Constitution” proposed twelve amendments that ultimately became the ten amendments that make up the U.S. Bill of Rights. Madison was unquestionably the one who wrote the First Amendment in this regard. Although, this does not mean he was the one who came up with the concept. There are many factors that complicate his status as the author. Madison stood by the Constitution, believing that the Bill of Rights as unnecessary because he did not believe that the federal government would ever become powerful enough to need one. Thomas Jefferson was ultimately the person who convinced Madison to change his mind and proposed the Bill of Rights.
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The freedoms that are described in the First Amendment, religious free exercise, separation of church and state, and the freedoms of speech, assembly, press, and petition did seem to concern Jefferson. Jefferson was inspired by the work of European philosophers such as Cesare Beccaria and also John Locke. The ideas in the First Amendment was motivated in part by similar free speech protections written into other various state constitutions. Madison did write the First Amendment. His model for a constitutional amendment protecting free expression and freedom of principals was not really original. If there is anything remarkable about James Madison’s role in the creation of the amendment it was that he was able to stand up and demand these protections be permanently written into the U.S. Constitution.