Bill Of Rights Overview
The Bill of
Rights is the first ten Amendments in the United States Constitution. Adopted
in 1777, the original Constitution was limited in detailing the rights of the
individual American, opting instead to primarily focus on establishing the
rights and powers of an effective Federal Government. Individual freedoms were
initially governed by varying State Constitutions. Many Founding Fathers were
skeptics over outlining individual rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Before understanding the Bill of Rights and the
freedoms it exhibits, one must acknowledge its origins and the modification
required for its inception. Following the Revolutionary War, the United States
created the Articles of Confederation, which legally established America as a
sovereign nation. Created in November of 1777, the Articles of Confederation
was essentially the framework upon which the United States and its Federal Government
was built. During this time of transition, the Founding Fathers constantly
tweaked the Constitution. The ratification process ultimately lasted fifteen
years; the critical argument responsible for extending the renovation revolved
around the relationship between the Federal Government, the State governments,
and the individual American.
was under a fervent debate. “Federalists” wanted a more powerful
central government to ensure a stable tax system, while “Anti-Federalists”
felt that a powerful government would eventually lead to an autocracy. A true
equilibrium was never reached and the Articles of Confederation failed at
establishing a harmonic relationship between the Federal and State governments.
State representatives and the Founding Fathers
decided to overhaul the Articles, and instead adopt a Constitution in 1787. The
Constitution sought to create a Republic as defined by the Age of Enlightenment
or Western Philosophy. The Constitution aimed to question the traditional
institutions displaced by a monarchy and quell the disputes between the Federal
and State governments.
Constitution was seen as a great improvement to its predecessors, debate
still existed in regards to the rights of the American citizen. During George
Washington’s first presidency, opponents routinely questioned the limitations
of the individual, citing Britain as an example of a government which was
simply too powerful. State leaders believed that the powers given to the Government
were imbalanced; the Constitution would open itself to tyranny and a subsequent
revolt by the citizens would take place. To alleviate the tension imposed, an
establishment of individual rights was greatly needed.
On September 25, 1789, during the first
Congressional meeting in United States history, the rights for the American
citizen were officially introduced. Led by James Madison, the original rights
outlined in 1789 were unanimously passed in 1791 under the Bill of Rights. The
initial proposal included 12 Amendments, or rights, for the individual
American, but was later contracted to ten in 1791. The Bill of Rights
unequivocally distributed rights to the American individual. Congress or the Federal
Government cannot supersede the freedoms outlined in the first 10 Amendments.
individual freedoms detailed in the Bill of Rights are summarized below for
1st Amendment: Congress will not prohibit the free
exercise of religion or make a law on the establishment of a dominant practice.
An individual also has a freedom of speech which also extends to the press.
Amendment: Perhaps the most controversial of Amendments. An individual or
militia has the right to bear arms (debate exists over the 2nd Amendment
because of the violent nature of firearms).
Amendment: Protection of quartering troops. A soldier is not allowed to be
stationed in an owner’s home without consent.
Amendment: Protection from search and seizure. An individual will not be
subject to random searches of private property by Government agents unless a
warrant or reasonable cause is produced.
Amendment: Outlines the due process of law. In a criminal case, a person shall
not be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of liberty, life, or property.
Amendment: All individuals will be afforded the right to a fair, speedy, and
public trial by an impartial jury. All individuals will also be afforded the
right to a lawyer or legal assistance for defense.
Amendment: Common lawsuits or civil matters will also be presided by a jury or
Amendment: Excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited.
Amendment: Outlines a series of rights not specifically listed in the
Amendment: Balances out the governing power between states and the Federal Government.
Outlines the powers of states and people and awards governing rights to
The Bill of Rights was spawned through the debate
between Anti-Federalists and Federalists. Individualism and the prospect of a
free nation were the fundamental points for which the Bill of Rights was
created. The Bill of Rights outlined freedoms given to individual Americans on
a Federal level, but was strongly influenced by pre-written Constitutions of
instance, the Virginia Declaration of Rights (written by James Madison) was an
eminent doctrine during the Revolution and offered equal rights to all
citizens. Although influenced by State governments, the Bill of Rights applies
specifically to the Federal Government. Madison and other leaders attempted to
modify the Amendments so they could limit the power of State governments, but
this proposal was rejected by Congress, therefore solely appointing the Bill of
Rights as a Federal guideline.
In order for the Constitution and the subsequent Bill
of Rights to be ratified, three quarters or majority of the states had to
approve. The timeline varies in regards to the individual State ratification of
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but over the 15 years or so of
deliberation and construction, a majority was eventually reached. When the
states approved such legislation the power between the Federal Government, State
governments, and individual American were finally rendered succinct.