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Burriss on Media: History

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.  (BURRISS)  --  We’ve heard a lot this past week about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, individual freedom and the rights of the states to set their own laws. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the constitution, were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, and it is those amendments that protect our right to participate in the debates about gay marriage, the fiscal cliff, the war in Afghanistan, and the myriad of other issues facing our country.

Sometimes I think we take those freedoms for granted, but we only have to look back a few years, to 1940, to see what people of that day and time thought. On Dec. 15 of that year all of the major radio networks carried Norman Corwin's tribute to the Bill of Rights, "We Hold These Truths." This program, starring Jimmy Stewart, was broadcast to the largest audience ever to hear a radio program. What that tells me is that people not only cared about their Constitution and their Bill of rights, but wanted to learn more about what those documents mean, not in the abstract, but in every-day, concrete terms.

On Dec. 19, 1771, Thomas Paine published "Crisis No. 1," in which he said, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of men and women."

For Paine, being a patriot meant not just fighting in battle, but also participating in the process of government by speaking out, petitioning the government and voting.

It’s also interesting that on another Dec. 19, 1974, Senate proceedings were televised for the first time, in coverage of the swearing in of Nelson Rockefeller as vice president. This event was a result of another benefit protected by the Constitution, a free press, in that it was the press that uncovered and then pursued illegal activities carried out by then-President Nixon. That coverage led to his impeachment and subsequent resignation.

These are indeed, as Paine said, "times that try men' souls." And we should be thankful these times and events are right there for everyone to see.

I'm Larry Burriss