Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed to assuage the fears of Anti-Federalists who had opposed Constitutional ratification, these amendments guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been applied to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment, a process known as incorporation.

The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the states. While twelve amendments were proposed by Congress, only ten were originally ratified by the states.

Of the remaining two, one was adopted 203 years later as the Twenty-seventh Amendment, and the other technically remains pending before the states. The Bill of Rights had little judicial impact for the first 150 years of its existence, but was the basis for many Supreme Court decisions of the 20th and 21st centuries. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Background The Philadelphia Convention

Prior to the acceptance and implementation of the United States Constitution, the original 13 colonies followed the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress and ratified in 1781. However, the national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states. [1] The Philadelphia Convention set out to correct weaknesses of the Articles that had been apparent even before the American Revolutionary War had been successfully concluded. 1] The convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although the Convention was purportedly intended only to revise the Articles, the intention of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The convention convened in the Pennsylvania State House, and George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected as president of the convention. 2] The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution included many of the Founding Fathers of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, who was Minister to France during the convention, characterized the delegates as an assembly of “demi-gods. “[1] Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention. [3] On September 12, George Mason of Virginia suggested the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution modeled on previous state declarations, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts made it a formal motion. 4] However, the motion was defeated by a unanimous vote of the state delegations after only a brief discussion.

Madison, then an opponent of a Bill of Rights, later explained the vote by calling the state bills of rights “parchment barriers” that offered only an illusion of protection against tyranny. [5] Another delegate, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, later argued that the act of enumerating the rights of the people would have been dangerous, because it would imply that rights not explicitly mentioned did not exist;[5] Hamilton echoed this point in Federalist No. 84. 6] Because Mason and Gerry had emerged as opponents of the proposed new Constitution, their motion—introduced five days before the end of the convention—may also have been seen by other delegates as a delaying tactic. [7] The quick rejection of this motion, however, later endangered the entire ratification process. Author David O. Stewart calls the omission of a Bill of Rights in the original Constitution as “a political blunder of the first magnitude”[7] while historian Jack N. Rakove calls it “the one serious miscalculation the framers made as they looked ahead to the struggle over ratification”. 8] Thirteen delegates left before the final signing of the constitution, and three of those still at the convention refused to sign: Mason, Gerry, and Edmund Randolph of Virginia. [9] The remaining 39 delegates signed the final document, and the Constitution was then submitted to the states for ratification, pursuant to its own Article VII. The Anti-Federalists Following the Philadelphia Convention, some leading revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee publicly opposed the Constitution, a position known as “Anti-Federalism”. 10] Elbridge Gerry wrote the most popular Anti-Federalist tract, “Hon. Mr. Gerry’s Objections”, which went through 46 printings; the essay particularly focused on the lack of a bill of rights in the proposed constitution. [11] Many were concerned that a strong national government was a threat to individual rights and that the President would become a king. Jefferson wrote to Madison advocating a Bill of Rights: “Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can. “[12]

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