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Understanding The Influence of The Bill Of Rights

Understanding The Influence of The Bill Of Rights

The Bill of Rights: Its Influence and Legacy

The Bill of Rights is one of the most influential and enduring documents in American history. Written in the early years of the United States of America, it has continued to shape the country’s identity and protect the rights of its citizens for more than two centuries. In this article, we will examine the influence of the Bill of Rights, which has paved the way for greater freedoms and equal protections in American society.

Origins of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights was created in response to concerns about limited protections for individual liberty in the U.S. Constitution’s original text. The framers of the Constitution sought to prevent the federal government from encroaching on the personal freedoms of its citizens by delineating specific rights that the government could not infringe upon.
The Bill of Rights was first introduced in Congress in 1789, and after a lengthy and arduous ratification process, it was enacted in 1791. The ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights outline essential rights that every American is entitled to.

The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech and Religion

The First Amendment is perhaps the most well-known and most influential right as it protects the freedom of speech, religion, and the press, and ensures the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government. These protections have been vital to the formation of a free society in the United States, and they continue to be crucial to ensuring that individuals have the power to express themselves and make their voices heard.

The Second Amendment: Right to Bear Arms

The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, which continues to serve as a hotly contested issue among Americans, and has been the subject of significant debate, interpretation, and legal strife.

The Third and Fourth Amendments: Protection Against Government Intrusion

The Third Amendment guarantees protection against the government’s quartering of troops in private homes without the owner’s consent, while the Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
These rights have served as a bulwark against undue government intrusion and have been essential to the creation of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The Fifth Amendment: Protection Against Self-Incrimination

The Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. It ensures that individuals cannot be punished arbitrarily or have their freedoms unfairly curtailed.

The Sixth and Seventh Amendments: Ensuring a Fair Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a fair trial and the right to legal counsel, while the Seventh Amendment ensures the right to a trial by jury for civil cases. These rights have been critical in protecting individual liberties and legalizing societal disputes.

The Eighth and Ninth Amendments: Protection Against Cruel Punishment and Implicit Rights

The Eighth Amendment guarantees protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and the Ninth Amendment ensures that citizens’ rights extend beyond the specific rights outlined in the Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment: Ensuring State Sovereignty

The Tenth Amendment is perhaps the most significant right in protecting state sovereignty against federal overreach. It serves as a check on the federal government’s power and ensures that specific powers and rights remain vested in the states.


The Bill of Rights remains a vital document in American democracy, continuing to uphold the rights and freedoms of all citizens. It has been the basis for major legal decisions and has provided guidance for citizens seeking to assert their rights against those trying to curtail them. It is a living document, continually evolving in its application to modern life and an enduring symbol of American life and liberty that will continue to shape the country in the future.

Known as the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution was officially ratified in 1791. The Bill of Rights offered American citizens undeniable rights, essential for maintaining a free country.

The liberties offered in the Constitution ensured Americans that the central government would not abuse its power through tyranny or unjust actions. The Bill of Rights also offered the ability to express opinions and thought freely without the fear of government persecution.

Written by James Madison, the first 10 Amendments in the United States Constitution was originally met with skepticism. Led by Alexander Hamilton, the Anti-Federalist Party believed that the inclusion of individual rights into the Constitution was redundant and frivolous. The Bill of Rights was adopted 3 years from the original drafting of the United States Constitution.

Considering the historical implications, the process to include the Bill of Rights into the Constitution was fairly quick. However, the influences for which it was built upon stem back centuries prior.

After the United States won the Revolutionary War and subsequently earned its freedom, the adoption of a Constitution was necessary for establishment purposes. The Revolution was spawned through injustice enforced by the controlling British government. American settlers grew embittered from constant taxes and wrongful convictions.

Although the Bill of Rights was created to free Americans from a powerful central government, its influences, ironically, stem from British doctrines and literature. The following are three substantial precursors which influenced the adoption of the Bill of Rights into the United States Constitution:

The Magna Carta (1215)

In 1215, tired of immoral taxing and arbitrary actions committed by the King, a group of English noblemen forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. The legendary doctrine guaranteed common citizens such fundamental rights as the government must be fair and reasonable with their actions, individuals are guaranteed a trial by jury, and due process
of law. The basic rights offered in the Magna Carta originally were awarded solely to noblemen. However, the rights were eventually extended to all people of society.

The Magna Carta diminished a Monarch’s absolute power and enabled all citizens basic rights which impede tyrannous actions. The Magna Carta is still recognized as an initial breakthrough for common citizens in regard to limiting governmental powers. Like all civil codes, the United States Constitution used the Magna Carta as a foundation upon which to build.

Petition of Right (1628)

Although the Magna Carta officially limited the powers of the Monarchy, it was often by the King and his unjust policies. As citizens grew furious over the Monarchy, the Parliament, or English legislature, grew in influence. Parliament eventually refused the approval of more taxes issued by King Charles I and forced him to sign the Petition of Right, which prohibited the government from unlawfully arresting people and housing troops in private homes without consent from the owner. This petition clearly influenced the Third Amendment prohibiting soldiers from quartering on an individual’s private property and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Bill of Rights (1689)

The British version of the Bill of Rights guaranteed all British subjects the right to bear arms and petition the King. This version of the Bill of Rights also protected citizens from excessive bails, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment. However, the British version protected far fewer rights than the American Bill of Rights. The United States Constitution clearly adopted provisions (protections against excessive fines, punishments, and bails) found in the 8th Amendment, as well as a direct adoption of the 2nd Amendment (right to bear arms.)

Amendments and provisions of the Bill of Rights were undoubtedly adopted through British doctrine. However, a slew of domestic individual liberties existed before the ratification of the United States constitution. Before the creation of the English Bill of Rights, many colonies recognized individual liberties through their own Constitutions.
For instance, in 1636, Rhode Island established itself as the first colony to recognize freedom of consciousness.

In 1641, Massachusetts created the Massachusetts Body of Liberties which detailed a list of protections for the individual colonist. In 1649, Maryland extended the right to practice any religion. Perhaps the the greatest influence for the creation of the Bill of Rights can be found in The Virginia Declaration of Rights. Created by the author of the Bill of Rights himself, James Madison, The Virginia Declaration of Rights was published on June 12th, 1776. The Virginia Declaration offered 16 individual rights to its citizens, many of which were repeated in the first 10 Amendments in the Constitution.