The Bill of Rights
is the name given to the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution
. When the Constitution was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification, many of its opponents claimed that the Constitution did not include a bill of rights because the document was an aristocratic scheme to remove the rights of Americans. Supporters, known as Federalists
, assured Americans that a Bill of Rights would be added by the first Congress.
After the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress met. Most of the delegates agreed that a Bill of Rights was needed and most of them believed that the same rights should be enumerated. The task of drafting the Bill of Rights fell to James Madison, who based his work on George Mason's earlier work, Virginia Declaration of Rights. It had been decided earlier that the Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution as amendments (the list of rights was not included in the text of the Constitution because it was feared that changing the document's text would necessitate the rather painful process of re-ratifying the Constitution).
The Bill of Rights includes rights such as freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly. It also includes a clause assuring the American people that the bill of rights should not be interpreted as a list of all rights belonging to Americans, but rather a list of the most important rights.
Twelve amendments were originally proposed in 1789, but two failed to pass. The ten passed on December 15, 1791 became what is now known as the Bill of Rights.
The eleventh was ratified in 1992 as the 27th amendment to the constitution; it restricts the ability of Congress to raise its own pay. The twelfth is theoretically still pending, but unlikely to ever pass (it deals with setting the size of Congress).
The Bill of Rights passed the House easily. When it was sent to the Senate, an amendment was removed that forbade states from interfering with the rights of the people. Since records of the meetings of the Senate are not available to the public, no one can say for sure why this amendment was removed. The fourteenth amendment, passed in 1868, has been widely interpreted by courts to do exactly that. The other amendment regulated the size of the House.
The amendments making up the Bill of Rights are:
- Amendment One - Freedom of speech, religion, peaceable assembly  (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#1)
- Amendment Two - Right to keep and bear arms.  (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#2)
- Amendment Three - Protection from quartering of troops.  (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#3)
- Amendment Four - Protection from unreasonable search and seizure. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#4)
- Amendment Five - Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, takings. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#5)
- Amendment Six - Trial by jury and other rights of the accused. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#6)
- Amendment Seven- Civil trial by jury. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#7)
- Amendment Eight - Prohibition of excessive bail, cruel punishment. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#8)
- Amendment Nine - Declares that other rights not listed may be protected. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#9)
- Amendment Ten - Grants residual power to the states and to the people. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/charters_of_freedom/bill_of_rights/amendments_1-10#10)
- The following text is a transcription of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the "Bill of Rights."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 cri minal 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.
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 defence.
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 reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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.
For an earlier document of the same name, see the English Bill of Rights
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