The Return of the King’s General Warrants
William J. Holdorf
colonial America, one of the sparks that lit the flame of liberty
was the dreaded "Writs of Assistance," more commonly referred to
as the king’s "general warrants." Such general warrants were a declaration
issued by the Crown that allowed the king’s soldiers to search for
smuggled goods in any suspected house or premises, day or night,
without giving notice or warning.
1761, James Otis, a Boston, Massachusetts lawyer, who was advocate
general of the Boston vice-admiralty court, was asked to defend
the general warrants. Mr. Otis refused since he believed such warrants
were a violation of a person’s liberty. He based his conviction
on the political and social rights that are found in English common
law. As a result of his conviction, he resigned his office rather
than defend something he believed was wrong, a noble characteristic
much needed in today’s legal profession.
he was hired by Boston merchants to challenge the legality of such
warrants before the Superior Court of Massachusetts. It is noteworthy
that he refused a fee offered him for his services, again, something
rarely found in today’s legal profession.
was reported that Mr. Otis spoke for four hours giving detailed
evidence against the legality of the general warrants. However,
the court eventually ruled against him, no doubt, more in sympathy
with the king at that time. As a result, the citizens of Colonial
America were constantly being harassed by the king’s soldiers using
such general warrants merely on suspicion the law was being violated.
of the first acts of the newly created nation after the successful
War of Independence, our Founding Fathers, remembering the terror
of such general warrants, passed the Fourth Amendment as part of
the Bill of Rights added to the newly created Constitution, which
of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not
be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Founding Fathers believed there is a certain sanctity to one’s person,
the ultimate private property, as well as to one’s possessions,
that shall not be violated by the government without probable cause,
as directed in the due process clause of the Constitution.
the majority of today’s politicians no longer believe in such a
sacred ideal of liberty exhibited by James Otis and our Founding
Fathers. Over the last several decades, it is shocking to realize
that legislators have passed laws that clearly attack or undermine
our individual personal rights in the Bill of Rights. And just as
bad, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such violations of our rights.
In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2001 ruled that it
was legal for a police officer in Texas to arrest, handcuff and
jail a woman for merely not using a seat belt, a victimless, state
created crime that hurt no one. Our Founding Fathers must be spinning
in their graves!
is one of the states that passed primary enforcement of its seat
belt law, which allows the police to stop any motorists merely under
suspicion that a seat belt is not being used. Primary enforcement
is really not any different than the dreaded king’s general warrants
for the motoring public, which our Founding Fathers thought they
prevented by the passage of the Fourth Amendment.
is shocking to realize we have come to such a low level of respect
for individual personal rights that the majority of our present
day legislators and even Supreme Court justices support the return
of the king’s general warrants in the likes of primary seat belt
law enforcement. What is to prevent the next step will be our houses;
our persons, reminiscent of the Gestapo of Nazis Germany?
is shocking how far afield we have come as a nation from the cry
of Patrick Henry, Give me liberty or give me death," to "Click-it
or ticket," the cry of politicians who arrogantly claim the right
to violate the Bill of Rights in the name of doing "good." The fact
is, taking away liberty in the name of doing good has been the easy
road for dictators and tyrants for centuries. The fact is, if politicians
who do not respect the Bill of Rights are not voted out of office
soon, someday they will be doing so much "good" for us, we will
no longer have any more rights to give up. Seat belt laws and, especially,
primary enforcement, are clear major steps in that direction.
certainly is nothing wrong with voluntary seat belt use; however,
there is a great deal wrong with all state mandatory seat belt harness
laws, and primary enforcement exacerbates that wrong even further.
J. Holdorf [send him mail]
writes from Chicago.
© 2002 by LewRockwell.com