Bill Of Rights

Introduction

When our government officials, from the president to senators, wish to point out the terrors of authoritarian regimes in comparison to the wonders of our democratic republic, they always point to our Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to our federal Constitution protect what many would consider today as natural rights. From freedom of speech to the right to a trial by jury, it is surprising to realize that the necessity of a national Bill of Rights caused bitter, lengthy arguments among those framing the Constitution.


Arguments Against a Bill of Rights

It is incredibly unsafe to assume that those opposing the inclusion of a bill of rights were undemocratic or anti-American. The first argument they made was that a bill of rights would restrict, rather than protect, freedoms1. This argument contended that in listing the protected rights, it would seem as if the government were granting the rights rather than emphasizing their innate

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nature. In addition, those arguing this point drew from a common law principle stating that the rights not listed might be seen as intentionally excluded. When including a list of rights, it may be implied that those are the only rights to which citizens are entitled.

The second main argument contended that the federal government should not be allowed to meddle in personal rights and behaviors2. Those types of protections, many believed, belonged in state constitutions. Opponents of including a bill of rights emphasized that there is no need to protect the people from powers the national government was3 never given.


Ratification with Conditions

In the confrontation between the Federalists and Antifederalists, a bill of rights became a central point of tension. It may have been Madison's change of heart that gave the Federalists the extra push necessary to execute the victory. He agreed to "a revisal of the constitution," with the condition that it was "a moderate one.4" Madison acknowledged that a drafting of amendments may be a valuable addition to the document he crafted just two years before. This compromise was a turning point. Many states agreed to ratify the Constitution under the agreement that amendments encompassing fundamental rights would be created by the first Congress.

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What Rights Should be Protected?

The list of ten amendments that we are so very familiar with were whittled down from a list of 17 originally proposed to Congress by Madison5. Every single amendment was introduced, critiqued, debated and revised6. The intentions of the founding fathers and members of Congress in forming each statement were widely varied. However, as Jefferson later admitted, it was better that the rights of the citizens not7"rest on inference.8" It was the Bill of Rights that clarified and consolidated the ideas that we now consider the quintessential American ideology.


Reference to State Constitutions

From the initial call for a bill of rights to the formation of the more concrete document, several states' forward-thinking and comparatively well-established bills of rights were used as an example. The British bill of rights was also frequently used as a frame of reference. Compare our "Bill of Rights" with these earlier examples:

Pennsylvania

Virginia

Great Britain

For the entire text the American Bill of Rights SEE HERE.

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