Bill of Rights

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The Bill of Rights

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the general government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the American Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

The intention of these enumerated rights were expressly as limitations upon the federal government. At their introduction, they opened with the following:

The Conventions of a Number of the States having, at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added[1][2]

The Supreme Court initially rejected attempts to apply the Bill of Rights against States, so there was barely any mention of the Bill of Rights for its first 130 years. In 1925, the Supreme Court finally relented and began applying the Bill of Rights against States, by their incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment.[3]


On June 8th, 1789, Madison proposed a series of amendments to the Constitution which would become the Bill of Rights. These were intended for one specific purpose: to keep government small and constrained. In his opening speech proposing the Bill of rights, James Madison said the following:[4]

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people; or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

Later, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed on September 25 to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution. These amendments met arguments most frequently advanced against the Constitution. Articles 3 to 12, ratified December 15, 1791, by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Article 2 concerning “varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives” was finally ratified on May 7, 1992 as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The first amendment, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative, was never ratified.

Beginning in the late 1800's, during the Progressive Era, articles of the Bill of Rights began to be incorporated in favor of the Federal government and against the states in a process known as the Incorporation doctrine. When the original twelve Bill of Rights were first proposed, it contained the following description as "declaratory and restrictive clauses". Incorporation has the opposite effect.

Transcript of Bill of Rights (1791)

Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

The conventions of a number of the states, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added; and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution;-[5]

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

Articles in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Article the first

After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Article the second

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Article the third

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.

Article the fourth

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Article the fifth

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article the sixth

The right 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.

Article the seventh

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; 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.

Article the eighth

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, 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, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; 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.

Article the ninth

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.

Article the tenth

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article the eleventh

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

ATTEST, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate

John Beckley, Clerk of the House of Representatives. Sam. A Otis Secretary of the Senate


  • Amar, Akhil Reed. The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction. (1998). 412 pp. standard history
  • Arsenault, Raymond, ed. Crucible of Liberty: 200 Years of the Bill of Rights. (1991). 215 pp.
  • Bodenhamer, David J. and Ely, James W., Jr., eds. The Bill of Rights in Modern America: After 200 Years.' '(1993). 246 pp.
  • Conley, Patrick T. and Kaminski, John P., eds. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. (1992). 542 pp.
  • Ely, James W., Jr. The Guardian of Every Other Right: A Constitutional History of Property Rights. (1992). 193 pp.
  • Hickok, Eugene W., Jr., ed. The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding. (1991). 487 pp
  • Hoffman, Ronald and Albert, Peter J., eds. The Bill of Rights: Government Proscribed. (1997). 463 pp. essays by scholars
  • Lacey, Michael J. and Haakonssen, Knud, eds. A Culture of Rights: The Bill of Rights in Philosophy, Politics, and Law, 1791-1991. (1992). 474 pp.
  • Levy, Leonard W. Origins of the Bill of Rights. (1999). 306 pp.
  • Licht, Robert A., ed. The Framers and Fundamental Rights. American Enterprise Institute Press, 1991. 194 pp.
  • Pacheco, Josephine F., ed. To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Rights in American History. (George Mason Lectures.) (1993). 194 pp.
  • Wood, James E., Jr., ed. The First Freedom: Religion and the Bill of Rights. Baylor U., Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, 1990. 181 pp.

Primary sources

  • Cogan, Neil H., ed. The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins. (1997). 708 pp.

See also


External links

Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America
16th Amendment.jpg

Bill of Rights:
1 - Freedom of speech, press, religion, etc.
2 - Right to bear arms
3 - Quartering of soldiers
4 - Warrants
5 - Due process
6 - Right to a speedy trial
7 - Right by trial of a jury
8 - No cruel or unusual punishments
9 - Unenumerated rights
10 - Power to the people and states

11 - Immunity of states to foreign suits
12 - Revision of presidential election procedures
13 - Abolition of slavery
14 - Citizenship
15 - Racial suffrage
16 - Federal income tax
17 - Direct election of the United States Senate
18 - Prohibition of alcohol
19 - Women's suffrage
20 - Terms of the presidency
21 - Repeal of Eighteenth Amendment
22 - Limits the president to two terms
23 - District of Columbia Voting for President
24 - Prohibition of poll taxes
25 - Presidential disabilities
26 - Voting age lowered to 18
27 - Variance of congressional compensation