May 27, 2011 – Amendment VII of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: W. David Stedman and LaVaughn G. Lewis, Co-Editors, Our Ageless Constitution
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.
The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.41]
Trial By Jury Of Peers Under Laws By Consent Of The People
The Constitution’s Ultimate Protection For Individuals From Government
“What a fine…consolation is it for a man, that he can be can be subjected to no laws which he does not make himself, or constitute some of his friends to make for him…What a satisfaction…that he can lie under…no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property…the necessaries, conveniences, or ornaments of life, which Providence has showered on him, but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbors…”
Americans often say they’re “innocent until proven guilty.” Most, however, give little thought to the very real Constitutional protections devised by the Founders for securing individual liberty from intrusion by arbitrary government power. Incorporated into their Constitution were two great methods of defending liberty:
- Representation in the Lawmaking and Taxing Body
The PEOPLE, through their elected representatives, choose the laws by which they agree to be governed.
- Trial By A Jury Of Peers
The PEOPLE, through a jury of twelve peers, have the final say about their guilt or innocence under those laws.
The people who settled this nation and who formed its government believed strongly that these were the two most important principles on which to build a Constitution for a free people.
As a matter of fact, the Continental Congress of 1774 had declared them to be the bulwarks of individual freedom and essential to the defense of all other freedoms, saying:
“The first grand right is that of the people having a share in their own government by their representatives chosen by themselves, and…of being ruled by laws which they themselves approve, not by edicts of men over whom they have no controul…
“The next great right is that of trial by jury. This provides that neither life, liberty nor property can be taken from the possessor, until twelve of his…countrymen…shall pass their sentence upon oath against him.”
John Adams called these two “popular powers…the heart and lungs…and without them,” he said, “the body must die…the government must become arbitrary.”
The 7th Amendment Defined
The Sixth Amendment assures that Americans receive a jury trial in criminal cases. Similarly, the 7th amendment guarantees that same right for Americans in civil cases. Unlike criminal cases, civil suits don’t require unanimity of the jurors – a simple majority can suffice – and per its terms, the 7th Amendment also provides that any conclusions of fact reached by the jurors cannot be set aside by a judge.
The following is excerpted with permission from the book Our Ageless Constitution [p.176]
Our Ageless Constitution
“The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its components are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order…”
–Justice Joseph Story – Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1789
The Qualities of Agelessness
America’s Constitution had its roots in the nature, experience, and habits of humankind, in the experience of the American people themselves-their beliefs, customs, and traditions, and in the practical aspects of politics and government. (See: Part I-Roots and Genius) It was based on the experience of the ages. Its provisions were designed in recognition of principles which do not change with time and circumstance, because they are inherent in human nature.
“The foundation of every government,” said John Adams, “is some principle or passion in the minds of the people.” The founding generation, aware of its unique place in the ongoing human struggle for liberty, were willing to risk everything for its attainment. Roger Sherman stated that as government is “instituted for those who live under it…it ought, therefore, to be so constituted as not to be dangerous to liberty.”And the American government was structured with that primary purpose in mind—the protection of the people’s liberty.
Of their historic role, in framing a government to secure liberty, the Framers believed that the degree of wisdom and foresight brought to the task at hand might well determine whether future generations would live in liberty or tyranny. As President Washington so aptly put it, “the sacred fire of liberty” might depend “on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.” That experiment, they hoped, would serve as a beacon of liberty throughout the world.
The Framers of America’s Constitution were guided by the wisdom of previous generations and the lessons of history for guidance in structuring a government to secure for untold millions in the future the unalienable rights of individuals.
W. David Stedman is the retired Chairman of Stedman Corporation. Stedman was a founder of the National Center for America’s Founding Documents and the National Foundation for the Study of Religion and Economics. Stedman is Co-Editor with LaVaugn G. Lewis of Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty. A frequent lecturer on topics relating to the Constitution, America’s free enterprise system and role of the “business statesman,” Stedman holds earned degrees from Duke, Harvard, and Georgetown Universities and is a Distinguished Alumnus of Duke University.
LaVaughn G. Lewis is a former teacher. She served at the Stedman Corporation as Assistant to the Chairman and as researcher and writer. She is Co-Editor with W. David Stedman for Our Ageless Constitution and Rediscovering the Ideas of Liberty, and is a graduate of Pfeiffer University.