Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is a term of art for the first ten Amendments of the US Constitution. As part of the Constitution, they are considered a part of the "highest law of the land". These ten Amendments restrict the power of Congress to pass laws infringing on certain rights; in doing so, these Amendments have outlined these rights as an inherent part of the American political tradition, not to be violated except under the most dire of circumstances.
The Bill of Rights is constantly under attack from conservatives in all walks of life, and many liberals as well. It is a profoundly radical set of rules lying at the very heart of the American experiment. As such, it has never been uncontroversial and likely never will be.
History of the Bill of Rights
The idea of a Bill of Rights is ancient in Western Civilization, listing of rights appeared in the English Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta . The Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution was written by James Madison and based on George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. James Madison’s Bill of Rights originally had 12 Amendments. These were distilled and revised until the final 10 were settled upon.
The Bill of Rights was actually controversial. The primary objection to the Constitution was that it lacked a bill of rights. The Anti-Federalists argued that government would eventually try to infringe on basic rights and that a bill of rights provided a basic defense. Some of the Founding Fathers, such as the Federalists opposed the Bill of Rights as unnecessary. They felt that there was one could not deny the rights guaranteed to the people since the Constitution enumerated the rights of the government. It was reasoned that one could not possibly list all of the rights of the people and a Bill of Rights would provide a rationale for denying people their rights that were not in the Bill.
The Federalists soon dropped opposition to the Bill of Rights when they weighed the benefit of ratification of the Constitution versus the importance of being correct. They saw the usefulness of supporting the Bill of Rights in gaining support for ratification of the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights was not added to the original text of the Constitution since it was feared that the Constitution would need to be ratified again. It was agreed that the first business of the new Congress would be to pass a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was passed by Congress in 1789 and became law on December 15, 1791.
Text of the Bill of Rights
- Amendment I - Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition (1791)
- Amendment II - Right to Bear Arms (1791)
- Amendment III - Quartering of Troops (1791)
- Amendment IV - Search and Seizure (1791)
- Amendment V - Grand Jury, Double Jeopardy, Self-Incrimination, Due Process (1791)
- Amendment VI - Criminal Prosecutions - Jury Trial, Right to Confront and to Counsel (1791)
- Amendment VII - Common Law Suits - Jury Trial (1791)
- Amendment VIII - Excess Bail or Fines, Cruel and Unusual Punishment (1791)
- Amendment IX - Non-Enumerated Rights (1791)
- Amendment X - Rights Reserved to States (1791)