Portrait of James Madison.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison presented a draft proposal in Congress for a bill of rights.

Bill of Rights External Links

December 15, 1791

External Links for Bill of Rights

Disclaimer: If you click on any of the links below, you will leave American History Central. We do not not certify the accuracy of information, nor endorse points of view expressed on the site to which you are navigating.

Bill of Rights

Transcription of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

Motivated by these leading Americans, Congress responded by submitting Amendments to the Constitution providing for essential civil liberties. They were officially proposed on September 25, 1789. Of the original twelve, Articles 3-12 were ratified. Accordingly, in 1791 these articles became the first ten amendments to the Constitution.....known collectively as The Bill of Rights.

Bill of Rights

Although 12 amendments were originally proposed, the 10 that were ratified became the Bill of Rights in 1791. They defined citizens' rights in relation to the newly established government under the Constitution.

Bill of Rights

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution

A bill of rights had been barely mentioned in the Philadelphia convention, most delegates holding that the fundamental rights of individuals had been secured in the state constitutions. James Wilson maintained that a bill of rights was superfluous because all power not expressly delegated to thenew government was reserved to the people. It was clear, however, that in this argument the anti-Federalists held the upper hand. Even Thomas Jefferson, generally in favor of the new government, wrote to Madison that a bill of rights was "what the people are entitled to against every government on earth."

The Bill of Rights

An immediate issue that the new Congress took up was how to modify the Constitution. Representatives were responding to calls for amendments that had emerged as a chief issue during the ratification process. Crucial states of Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York (among others) had all ultimately supported the Constitution — but only with the expectation that explicit protections for individual rights would be added to the highest law of the land.

Constitutional Topic: The Bill of Rights

What is interesting to note is that when the Constitutional Convention finished its work, it did not find it necessary to include a bill of rights in the final version. Several members, notably George Mason, were very disappointed by this decision and refused to sign the document over the issue. The argument was that the Constitution did not give the new federal government the ability to restrict inherent rights, so no list of those rights was necessary.

U.S. Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, Congress transmitted to the state Legislatures twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. Numbers three through twelve were adopted by the states to become the United States (U.S.) Bill of Rights, effective December 15, 1791.

Constitution of the United States

This annotated version of the Bill of Rights provides the original text (left-hand column) with commentary about the meaning of the original text and how it has changed since 1789 (right-hand column).

The Bill of Rights

The inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution was not a foregone conclusion when the Framers met at Philadelphia in 1787. Indeed, it was a major concession on the part of the Federalists to agree to its addition to the Constitution after it was ratified. Nonetheless, most state constitutions already included bills of rights and the principles ultimately outlined in the Bill of Rights in the national Constitution were strongly supported by the people.

The Bill of Rights

One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of basic civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued, as in Federalist No. 84, that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution. In several states, however, the ratification debate in some states hinged on the adoption of a bill of rights. The solution was known as the Massachusetts Compromise, in which four states ratified the Constitution but at the same time sent recommendations for amendments to the Congress.

Ben's Guide to U.S. Government

Site contains information about the U.S. Constitution written for several grade levels.

The Bill of Rights: Its History and Significance

The original Constitution, as proposed in 1787 in Philadelphia and as ratified by the states, contained very few individual rights guarantees, as the framers were primarily focused on establishing the machinery for an effective federal government.

The Bill of Rights: A Brief History

The Constitution was remarkable, but deeply flawed. For one thing, it did not include a specific declaration - or bill - of individual rights. It specified what the government could do but did not say what it could not do. For another, it did not apply to everyone. The "consent of the governed" meant propertied white men only.

The Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the First Federal Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to the Constitution. The first two, concerning the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified.* Articles three through twelve, known as the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution and contained guarantees of essential rights and liberties omitted in the crafting of the original document.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Bill of Rights External Links
  • Coverage December 15, 1791
  • Author
  • Keywords bill of rights
  • Website Name American History Central
  • URL
  • Access Date March 29, 2020
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 2, 2019

Study Guides for the 2020 AP Exam

Get the study guides for history and U.S. politics from Amazon.com and get ready for your 2020 AP exams!

GET THE BEST OF AMERICAN HISTORY CENTRAL DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX!
SIGN UP
By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to receive news, offers, updates, and additional information from R.Squared Communications, LLC and American History Central. Easy unsubscribe links are included in every email.
CLOSE [X]