What are the Bill of Rights?

What are the Bill of Rights?


What are the Bill of Rights?

Ratified in 1791, the Bill of
Rights contains the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution. The
Bill of Rights was the first national doctrine in American history to
specifically designate liberties or freedoms to individual citizens.

When the original
Constitution was drafted in 1777, the focus of the drafters was to further
empower the role of the central Government. Leading Federalist Party members
such as Alexander Hamilton routinely attempted to strengthen the role of the
Government to fortify the levying of taxes and the construction of a firm legal
code. As a result of these repeated attempts to further authorize the Federal
Government, a sentiment administered by the Anti-Federalist Party was gaining
in momentum.

Before America won the
Revolutionary War, the authoritarian monarchy of Britain routinely enforced
unfair taxes and punishments on colonialists. Tired of mistreatment, American
settlers strongly believed that a powerful central Government would lead to
tyranny and a subsequent civilian uprising. Although the adoption of the Bill
of Rights into the Constitution took almost 15 years, influences such
as Shay’s Rebellion and prior State Constitutions paved the
groundwork for the inclusion of individual liberties.

Led by James Madison, George
Mason, and Thomas Jefferson, the Anti-Federalist Party successfully
constructed the Bill of Rights in 1789. The first 10 Amendments include a wide
array of civil liberties such as: freedom of speech, freedom of
religion, the right to a fair, speedy, and public trial, the right to bear
arms, and protection from excessive bails, fines, and punishments. 

The Idea of the Rights:

The Bill of Rights, which
was implemented into the U.S. Constitution in 1791, acted as a bridge
between the Federalist Party and Anti-Federalist Party. The Bill of Rights was
the ultimate compromise between the two parties. The first 10 Amendments, which
guarantee a series of freedoms for the American citizen, unequivocally
satisfied the Anti-Federalist Party and their desire for individual
inclusion in the Constitution.

In addition to individual
freedoms, the Federalist Party viewed the inclusion as sufficient because the
central Government retained significant power. The Bill of Rights sufficiently
acted as a check to the central Government while distributing delegating powers
to both Federal and State governments. The premise of the first 10
Amendments revolves around individual liberties and sustaining rights to
the citizen to thwart an autocratic government.  

Prime Movers and Creators:

The members of the Anti-Federalist
Party are credited with the creation and subsequent adoption of the
Bill of Rights. George Mason, Patrick Henry, and James Madison were the leaders
of the Anti-Federalist Party and the chief influences for the creation of the
first 10 Amendments.

When the Articles of
Confederation (first draft of the United States Constitution) were
adopted, the provisions within primarily revolved around the powers of the
central Government. Individual freedoms or liberties were not
mentioned in the original Constitution, yet instead were thought to be
interpreted through the separation of powers. George Mason and Patrick Henry
routinely argued for the inclusion of such rights, claiming that tyranny would
arise without a direct inclusion of individual rights in the Constitution.


During Congressional hearings
(ratification meetings), the Federalist Party would make their sentiments heard
through constant rhetoric that revolved around the inclusion of individual
liberties. Mason and Henry routinely mentioned the irony of a strong central
Government and the mistreatment it displaced on settlers prior to the
Revolutionary War. After much debate and inertia, James Madison authored the
Bill of Rights in June of 1789. 

Who Wrote the Bill of Rights:

The Bill of Rights originated
through sentiments which opposed dominating central governments. After America
won its freedom from Britain in 1776, the need for a governing doctrine became
essential. The original Constitution was drafted in 1777 and focused primarily
on the distribution of powers between the Federal and State governments.
Leaders of the Constitution were concerned with creating a functional
government to properly levy taxes and offer society a suitable legal system.

The years following the initial
adoption were filled with fervent debate. Many working class settlers believed
that the Constitution would spawn a government similar to Britain’s monarchy.
The majority of individuals who fought against Britain during the Revolutionary
War believed that they were fighting for their individual freedom. They were
tired of being mistreated and forced to pay excessive taxes or fines to the
British Government. The countless individuals who foresaw a similar government
to that of the monarch expressed their discomfort through revolts (Shay’s Rebellion)
and discussions raised at Congressional meetings or assembly halls.

The desires of the individual
and the Anti-Federalist Party became tangible in 1789 when the Bill of Rights
was officially produced. The original Bill contained 12 Amendments and was
later ratified to 8. After another ratification process the Bill of Rights was
increased to 10 Amendments. The first 10 Amendments was a derivative of State
constitutions, French ideas, and British doctrines. The proposal of the
first 10 Amendments was officially adopted through the necessary 3/4
state vote on December 12th, 1791.


Although not officially adopted
until 1791, the doctrines and previous Constitutions
which influenced the Bill of Rights date back centuries prior. The
first 10 Amendments in the United States Constitution guarantee an individual
citizen undeniable rights and liberties. The freedoms and various protections
offered in the Bill of Rights were spawned through centuries of similar
documents. Ironically, some of the greatest influences which sparked the
creation of the first 10 Amendments were famous British documents.

The Magna Carta for instance,
created in 1215, was one of the first fundamental doctrines that limited the
powers of the controlling government. Like the Petition of Right (1628), the
Magna Carta limited the powers and unjust policies of the controlling Monarch.
The British Bill of Rights (1689) was another prime influence on the United
States version. The Monarch was further limited through the British Bill of Rights
and the adoption of similar principles found in the 2nd, 6th, and 8th Amendments.

Although the British influence
in the Bill of Rights is unquestioned, a series of domestic Constitutions also
laid the groundwork for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights into
the United States Constitution. Before the ratification of the first 10 Amendments, individual
states possessed their own Constitutions, many of which already offered
civil liberties outlined in the reformed Constitution. 

Non-inclusion in Original

Created just a year following
the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation acted as the
first Constitution for the United States of America. The original draft was
written by an appointed staff and subsequently ratified by State leaders. The
original Constitution attempted to establish the United States as a sovereign
nation with a developed legal and tax system. The Articles of Confederation
unified all states in the union into one governing body but maintained a
unique separation of powers between jurisdictions.

When the United States first
gained freedom, the necessary provisions within the Constitution revolved
around western expansion and a fully functional central government. There was
no mention of individual freedoms or liberties within the original context. The
issue pertaining to individual powers was routinely shot down. The
makers of the Articles of Confederation believed that individual rights were
implied through the separation of powers and the role of the State governments.
Through Congressional meetings, the Constitution was ratified numerous times.
Eventually the Bill of Rights was adopted as the Anti-Federalist sentiment
reached the majority of the population. 

Importance in American Jurisprudence:

The Bill of Rights is perhaps
the most substantial document ever created in American history. Although
published over 200 years ago, the majority of freedoms awarded in the first 10 Amendments
of the United States Constitution are still pertinent to this day. Through
the creation of the Bill of Rights, American citizens are able to
express their individuality through the liberties and freedoms outlined in the
United States Constitution.

The liberties detailed in the
first 10 Amendments guarantee an individual the right to a fair, speedy, and
public trial along with protection against cruel and unusual punishment,
excessive bails or fines. The liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights also
prohibit law enforcement agencies from improper search and seizure of personal
property or assets.

Many of the Amendments are
crucial in the development of American society. The First Amendment, for
instance, is arguably the foundation for free thought and expression.
The right to free speech, religion, and press is something that has
distinguished America as a unique society which encourages expression and free

State Inclusion: 

Published over 200 years
ago, the Bill of Rights was initially governed solely by Federal
law. Trials or legal matters that questioned an individual’s Constitutional
rights did not extend to State governments until the early 1890s. Supreme Court
precedents eventually included the Bill of Rights into State law through the
inclusion of the 14th Amendment and its Due Process Clause. The 14th Amendment
and the Due Process Clause eventually enabled State governments to recognize
the liberties or rights offered in the Bill of Rights.

The two Supreme Court cases
which solidified the inclusion of the Bill of Rights into State governments
were: Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad v. City of Chicago (1897)
and Gitlow vs. New York (1925.) These two rulings officially
cemented the Bill of Rights into State law. Although the majority of individual
liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights are respected at a State level, there
are a few Amendments and subsequent provisions that have failed to reach local




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