The following texts in their original form are the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the Bill of Rights.
By reordering the clauses separated by commas in the original form to discover the plain sentence at the heart of each amendment, the true meaning of each amendment is uncovered according to straightforward declarative English that is not obfuscated by clever sentence construction. The following rids the amendments of many commas by correctly ordering the clauses of each plain sentence in the way that requires the fewest commas. In doing so, no individual words have been deleted, no clause-defined wording has been changed, just one hyphen in “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment has been added, and just one word spelling from “defence” to “defense” in the Sixth Amendment has been changed. In the First Amendment and in the Eighth Amendment, the original form is unchanged.
Amendment I (unchanged)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Plain Sentence: A well-regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.
* * Commentary here.
Plain Sentence: No Soldier shall without the consent of the Owner but in a manner to be prescribed by law in time of peace be quartered in any house, nor in time of war.
Plain Sentence: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects shall not be violated against unreasonable searches and seizures, and no Warrants shall issue supported by Oath or affirmation but upon probable cause and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Plain Sentence: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, when in actual service in time of War or public danger except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
May 8, 2010, Restatement:
Plain Sentence: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, when in actual service in time of War or public danger unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Plain Sentence: The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial in all criminal prosecutions and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Plain Sentence: The right of trial by jury shall be preserved where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars in Suits at common law, and no fact tried by a jury than according to the rules of the common law shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States.
Amendment VIII (unchanged)
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Plain Sentence: The enumeration in the Constitution shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people of certain rights.
Plain Sentence: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or to the people, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively.
There are some surprises in the plain sentences uncovered, and one can only ponder why the obfuscating was allowed. Perhaps a review of the minutes of the Constitution meetings would tell of arguments over emphasis, though it might be that the Framers were deeply educated in grammar and complex sentence structure, and that they confidently assumed their progeny would be as well.
Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009