We’ve all heard of the Bill of Rights and its importance to our country. Whether it was in a history class long ago or the rampant debate on the legitimacy of some of its points today. But how much do you really know about this historical document?
When was it written?
The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These amendments guarantee essential rights and civil liberties, such as the right to free speech and the right to bear arms, as well as reserving rights to the people and the states. The Bill of Rights has its own fascinating story as a distinct historical document, drafted separately from the seven articles that form the body of the Constitution ratified in 1791.
Protection of Individual Rights
In response to calls from various states for more constitutional protection, James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights. These rights include individual freedoms as well as specific prohibitions on the power of government. Federalists thought that the Constitution did not need a bill of rights since the people and the states kept powers not given to the government. On the other hand, anti-federalists believed that a bill of rights was necessary to protect individual freedoms.
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Madison made changes as he saw fit. However, many representatives objected to this, stating that Congress didn’t have the authority to change the words of the Constitution itself. As a result, the changes that Madison made were proposed as a list of amendments.
Seventeen of these amendments
These first ten amendments to the Constitution became known as the Bill of Rights and still stand as both the symbol and foundation of American ideals of individual liberty, limited government and the rule of law. The Bill of Rights mostly concerns legal protections for those accused of crimes.
Amendment I 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.
Amendment II 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.
Amendment III 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.
Amendment IV 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.
Amendment V 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.
Amendment VI 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.
Amendment VII 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.
Amendment VIII Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X 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.
What’s the significance?
The Bill of Rights remains an active force in contemporary American life as a major element of constitutional law. The meaning of its protections remains a significant source of debate. For example, the right to bear arms to support a militia, which appears in the second amendment, provides political controversy today.
The extension of the Bill of Rights to protect individuals from abuse not only by the federal government, but also from state and local governments remains an unsettled aspect of Constitutional interpretation.
Originally, the protections were solely meant to limit the federal government. With the fourteenth amendment’s guarantee in 1868 that no state could deprive its citizens of the protections in the Bill of Rights this original view began to be expanded.
Take Time to Celebrate
Let’s take the time to celebrate the liberties afforded to us by this historical document. While the Bill of Rights protects your freedoms, at Paradiso