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The Right Stuff: The past is indeed prologue?

By Jim McCully : published August 1, 2022

I was fortunate to be born and raised in our nation’s capital as I lived with our history every day. The city is filled with statues, monuments and wonderful buildings linked to various aspects of our collective history.

One of these is the National Archives. The building houses our original founding documents. Among many other historical items such as one of the four original copies of the English Magna Carta (Great Charter) from June 1215, which for the first time placed limits on royal (government) authority by establishing law as a power into and of itself, the so-called “Rule of Law.” This document is enshrined there because it has three original and critical clauses known and revered by our forefathers. They are: a ban on cruel and unusual punishments, trial by a jury of one’s peers, and that justice should not be sold or delayed.

When the time came to set down and codify our rights Americans adopted these rights and more. Clear examples of this are seen in the words of our Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments, respectively they state: “no person shall be shall be held for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . . nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself . . . without due process of law.” The Sixth Amendment, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,” and the Eighth Amendment “. . . nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.” The National Archive has four unique statues, each with mottos. The first motto is “What is Past is Prologue.” The second’s motto is “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that brings forth the Harvest of the Future.” The third is “Study the Past,” and the fourth is “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

These statues, massive and allegorical in nature, are meant to convey the seriousness of history and the reverence felt for our founding documents, which ultimately created and sustained this most unique of all nations. We are that “Shining City on a Hill” referred to by President Ronald Reagan. We are the representative Republic we were promised at the end of that long hot summer in Philadelphia in 1787.

Our forefathers went through a long, awful revolution to gain liberty. They knew the job was not finished in 1787 and days to come could be troubled. We, as a nation, have gone through much turmoil and strife even to the point of fighting a long, bitter, terrible and bloody civil war over the right of humans to be free. Americans suffered much to ensure rights promised then are enjoyed by all.[ more]

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