KaZaa, Gay Marriage, and Global Terrorism. The Founding Fathers of this nation would have never imagined that their government would be dealing with such things. Nor even fifty years ago would anyone expect such. But such changes occur, and in the next fifty years a whole new set of problems will arise from solutions previously installed. Ideas and priorities change as the years progress and while solutions occur, more problems inevitably arise and thus an endless cycle is created. It is something that must be accepted though, and the government should be ready for any and all changes that are to come in the future. I intend to prove that change is in an evitable part of life and that the government, in order to be efficient, must reflect the times and the changing interests of the people.
Happiness is a divine gift that everyone is entitled to. It is natural then for someone to want complete control over it and to defend it from anything that might compromise it. That is the basis of our country’s birth. The early colonists left Britain in search of freedom from the oppression they felt there that ultimately compromised their happiness. Their definition of happiness and the government’s differed and both parties separated. But, even traveling across the Atlantic could not solve their problems and in the end they faced the same problems here that they faced back home. Acts like the Stamp Act, Tea Act, Intolerable Acts, and Quartering Act all coerced the colonists back into the lifestyle that they intended to escape. Eventually living in American became no different than living in Britain; naturally, mutiny ensued. The fundamental reason for the Declaration of Independence was that the colonists felt that their deserved happiness was being compromised by the looming British government. The writers of the Declaration were men who had taken power in the new colony that they had been previously denied in Britain because of their lack of lineage. Being the first wave of leaders in America, they were the idealists that had the freedom to start new and instill any ideas they desired. This shaped the Declaration in such that their ideals, which are so varied in the primary stages of building the nation, is mentioned through the ambiguous idealistic statement of “pursuit of happiness”. Those three words encapsulated their ideals and indicated their desires at the time of a newly forming nation built on the testing of different ideas. It is simply stated in the Declaration of Independence with the clause “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This reasoning illustrated the belief of the colonists that happiness is an entitlement. Amidst a time of suppression, it was natural to state it since it was a current priority to them. Ultimately after the resolution, the colonists received what was justly theirs and could finally pursue the happiness that they couldn’t otherwise under British rule. At that point, happiness was in their hands and they could control it however they pleased.
By the time of the development of the constitution, a new form of “happiness” had formed. Before, the colonists pursued happiness through the form of freedom from Britain. During the period of the Constitution, they sought happiness through economic freedom. Colonists gained the freedom they desired and thus prospered as a colony. They had become self sufficient and now had to deal with the economic terms of being so. After the Revolutionary War, business and economy began to flourish faster than the government could handle. The Articles of Confederation were no longer able to keep up with the rapid evolution and prosperity of the colonies. A call to create a stronger government was made, not only for benefit of the country that needed it, but for the businessmen who needed one in order for them to continue thriving. War had created an unexpected booming economy as well as a public debt; suddenly, economic interests had become top priority in the post war environment. Eventually, the Constitution was created, although this time more so as a government efficiency and economic document. The Framers of the Constitution were a comparatively different group of men than those that drafted the Declaration. Only seven of the delegates signed both the Declaration and Constitution. The Framers consisted of wealthy, college educated men as well as those trained in legal and business fields. By the time of the Constitution, the fundamental ideas for the government had already been laid down. Instead of focusing on ideals, the Framers worked on the economics of creating an efficient government. This related of course to the fact that by that point many of them had become businessmen. Some of them were slave owners who needed the financial security possible only through the creation of a strong government. Since the colonists already achieved their pursuit of happiness, their interests shifted towards the current interests of economics. This shift in interest is reflected through the change of “pursuit of happiness” to “property” which is a more economical term based on the original terms by John Locke. Their happiness could then be more specified as time progressed to be changed to the word to property which implied possessions which had been acquired as a result of gaining their initial “happiness.” It can be still interpreted that the general pursuit happiness falls into the property category since it is something that the colonists felt they possessed. The change in word choice reflects the current, changing interests of the colonists. This is a prime example of how change is something that is bound to occur and that the government has to be adaptable to the ever changing situation in the country. Amendments are proof of that very change that occurs in the government. Change can happen in an instant and the government must be able to face it in order for our country to survive. On September 11, 2001, one such very change challenged our government in a way no one ever expected.
In the wake of our new era of global terrorism, the government and Constitution have truly been put to the test as to how fast it can adapt to current situations. Such a response to a rapid change is seen in the current and controversial Patriot Act. Just six weeks after the September 11 attacks, Congress passed the “Patriot Act” which expanded the government’s authority over gathering intelligence. Many of the provisions of the Patriot Act have made it easier for the authorities to search through personal records. Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to force anyone to turn over records without any reasonable suspicion or without going through a judge. This is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, which states that the government cannot conduct a search without probably cause of committing a crime. Also, no form of due process breaches the rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Inadvertently, it also manages to infringe on First Amendment rights since the free speech of others often triggers an investigation. In Section 213 of the Patriot Act, it unconstitutionally amends the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to allow the government to conduct searches without notifying the subject. This gives them the privilege to also search without warrant and seize any items desired. The Fourth Amendment clearly outlines the rules of “search and seizure” to include notification and obtaining a warrant, since it is crucial for authorities to work in the open and go through judicial process so that no error will be made. Section 213, however, completely disregards that and jeopardizes the public’s privacy. Another breach of the Fourth comes to play with the expansion of intelligence through the usage of wiretaps. In 1978, a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act created an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for probable cause when the usage of wiretaps had become increasingly vital to gather foreign intelligence. This evidence was not meant to put someone on trial or for domestic affairs and therefore did not contravene on citizen’s rights. The Patriot Act, though, expanded on this confined exception to now include gathering intelligence for regular domestic cases. These are just a few examples of the recent Act’s threats against civil liberties.
Just a day before the second anniversary of September 11, Attorney General and Patriot Act front man John Ashcroft gave a speech in lower Manhattan defending his position on the Act and attempting to rally support for his stance on expanding government powers. His speech reflected the situation of growing bipartisanship in Congress concerning the Act and its violations of civil liberties. Even the general public is becoming wary towards the Act and questioning its necessity. The audience was mute and a crowd of several hundred protesters formed outside with signs saying “Defend the Constitution!” and “Leave our Civil Liberties Alone” (New York Times, September 10, 2003). But it seems that the public’s opinion is not making a difference as the Patriot Act is only the beginning of a current trend of expansion of government powers. The Bush administration is already pushing and new expanded version dubbed the Patriot Act II. It continued on the same principles of giving the government broad powers to seize documents and force testimonies without a court order, none of which directly fight terrorism as it is presented to do (New York Times, September 22, 2003). A panel has even been created recently to set up an agency to focus on domestic intelligence due to the September 11 attacks (New York Times, September 24, 2003). A combination between such an agency and the Patriot Act seems like a deadly combination for the already fading civil liberties in America. Nowadays, nothing can be private and not even the government trusts its own citizens. In turn it is alienating itself but treating everyone as a suspect, yet ironically for the sake of everyone’s safety. September 11 truly challenged the government to respond quickly to a sudden event that changed the world. Whether the response is successful for the country can only be determined later.
Changes are inevitable and the government should be ready for it. The war on global terrorism right now may not be a concern in the next fifty years and it could be all but forgotten. It does however put in question the government’s duty of maintaining the right of “pursuit of happiness” and whether or not it is doing a good job of it. Society changes, leaders change, problems change. It is up to the government though to stay up to date to all of this and learn to change as well to fit the time.