The first ten amendments to The Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. This “add-on” was written by James Madison and it listed specific prohibitions on governmental power. The Bill of Rights was influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, The Magna Carta (Yes, England again!) and several other documents.
One of the many points of contention between Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the original Constitution’s omission of a bill of rights that would place specific limits on central government. The Federalists believed that the Constitution did not need a bill of rights, because the people and the states kept any powers not given to the federal government. Anti-Federalists argued that a bill of rights was necessary to ensure individual liberties.
Madison altered the Constitution’s text to include the safeguards for personal liberties, but several other representatives from The Congress claimed that they had no authority to change the wording in the Constitution. As a result, Madison’s edits were presented as a list of amendments that would follow Article VII of The Constitution. Of the original 17 amendments, 10 made it to final ratification on December 15, 1791.
With perhaps the exception of The Second Amendment, we continue to benefit from these rights every day.
Gathering information from The Bill of Rights . . .
The Second Amendment continues to be controversial . . .
Although marginalized groups were not included under “people” in The Constitution and Bill of Rights, it was a place to start that eventually led to greater equality for all . . .
Connecting the past to the present is challenging at times . . .
Did I mention that I loved reading these?
Some published essays . . .
by Eleanor Bolas
The year is 1788. A group of men have just finished drafting a document called the Constitution. But a small group of drafters worried for their well-being are afraid that the people will revolt against them because the Constitution doesn’t cover their rights. These men claim that the Constitution needs something else- a Bill of Rights. But all the drafters are tired. They have been writing this document for months and do not want to add anything else. They send the Constitution to the states for approval. But the people are afraid. They don’t want this new government to be as controlling as their old one. So the drafters add ten amendments to appease the people, called the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was made to ensure this new government wouldn’t turn out like Great Britain. Amendments that display this are the First, Third, and Tenth.
The 1st Amendment is something that was very important to the colonists. In 1788, the colonists had come to the ‘New World,’ fought a war, to gain the freedoms named above. After the years-long Revolutionary war, they needed this assurance that they wouldn’t be censored. Even now, in 2020, there is a need for this amendment. Especially with an election coming up, people need to be allowed to speak their mind, go to rallies or protests. Many of the movements of the past century- women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement, for example- would not have made such an impact if people were arrested and stopped protesting what they thought was right.
The 3rd Amendment is a prime example of the colonist’s fears bleeding through. Before the Revolutionary War, Great Britain forced colonists to feed and host soldiers in what was called the Quartering Act. After the war, colonists were afraid that this would happen again. They wanted a law that said the government couldn’t just send people into their houses. While I don’t really think quartering is as much a concern in 2020 as it was in 1788, it’s still nice to know that you can’t be forced to host soldiers if you don’t want to. But there haven’t been a lot of times in recent history where the 3rd Amendment actually came into effect. People have just accepted that soldiers can’t push into their homes. But if this amendment didn’t exist, colonists in 1789 probably wouldn’t have signed the Constitution, and who knows what would have happened then.
The final amendment that exhibits the colonist’s fear of this new country becoming another England is the 10th. After the Constitution was drafted and sent to the states for affirmation, a lot of people were worried that the document gave the government too much power. They had just come out of a war with a monarchy, and didn’t want to be ruled by another all-powerful government. This amendment is still useful today. With the amount of dictatorships around us that aren’t going well, the power of the central government not being too huge is very important. If this amendment didn’t exist, states wouldn’t be allowed to make their own laws. This would give the central government more power, increasing the chance that we could turn into a monarchy.
Throughout the Bill of Rights, it is clear that the common people (not the drafters) were afraid of being controlled again. The First, Third, and Tenth Amendments were created because of these fears. The colonists wanted freedom of speech and religion, freedom to have their own homes and not have to host soldiers, freedom for the states to make their own laws. If Britain had not violated these rights, Americans may not have revolted. If the drafters hadn’t included these rights, Americans would have revolted against themselves and we might not exist.
by Nico Rozner
The Bill of Rights is a document of colossal significance in American history. Without it, we may never have existed as a nation for more than a few decades. Next to The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights is one of history’s greatest documents. As part of the Bill of Rights, ten amendments to the Constitution were included.
The First Amendment was geared mostly towards individual rights. It ensures the right to petition, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Back in the Revolutionary War, people hated England because it didn’t give them the ability to express their opinion or religion other than Protestantism, or give their opinions any consideration. They revoked Massachusetts’ right to self governance, and even revoked freedom of the press. If people didn’t have these rights in the new country, it could lead to another revolution. Today, it is more important than ever that people have the right to free speech, since that right is being taken away everywhere. Without this amendment, a best-case scenario might be the government evolving into a kind of elected monarchy, with an enforced religion and no voting. In a worst case scenario, the dictators get so bad that we start a revolution that replaces the evil dictators with more evil dictators.
The Third Amendment covered the right not to quarter soldiers. In other words, it prevented the Quartering Act. Literally everyone HATED the Quartering Act, in fact, it was one of the biggest causes for the war. People wanted to be assured that the Quartering Act would never happen again. Yeah, they hated it that much, that they had to have an amendment just for that. Today, you don’t really see federal soldiers walking around, so the effect of this is diminished greatly. Still, in the event that soldiers need someplace to stay, this amendment is good to have around, because even if it’s not as relevant, it’s insurance against invasion of privacy. If this hadn’t been added to The Constitution, then America would be pretty much the same, except a lot of people would be very angry at the military. In a worst-case scenario, this would lead to a revolt.
Last but not least, the Fourth Amendment prevented unreasonable searches and seizures. In the post-American Revolution world, people were scared that the government would search their homes and take whatever they wanted. England had seized entire ships and their cargo with no evidence. If that wasn’t prevented in The Constitution, who was to say that the government wouldn’t do the same? Today, with police violence becoming more and more common, it is important that this amendment remain in place to protect the people. In modern-day America, police carry firearms, and shootings are common. This amendment helps the average person calm down a bit via giving them the right to safety in their own home. Without this, I think America would be mostly the same, except maybe there would be more police brutality. With the amount of cops running around armed these days, that would be a real problem.
In conclusion, the Bill of Rights was a pivotal document in the history of our nation. Without it, many rights we take for granted would cease to exist. Personal property would be confiscated, soldiers would live in our homes, and our individual opinions would be suppressed, to name a few. Without a doubt, the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights were some of the most important amendments ever included in our Constitution.
by Eavan Anderson
The Constitutional Convention is almost over. It is not glamorous. It is not glorious. It is several very tired rich white men who have been yelling at each other daily for months. But after all those months, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They have put together a document, and although it is messy, and although it leaves some of the people at the convention seething, most of the rich white men have agreed, if grudgingly, to this final piece.
As soon as it is released into the states, the trepidations of the few at the convention who refused to sign have spread. The people of the newly minted United States have the same worries. “Same song, different verse,” they complain. “Isn’t this whole government thing how Britain started controlling us in the first place?” If the Constitution is going to succeed, it needs to change.
Luckily, they put a system in there for just this thing.
Twenty amendments are drafted, then narrowed down to twelve. Ten pass. These first ten amendments will be known to future generations as the Bill of Rights — and whether rightly or wrongly, they will escort this newborn country into its future. Some of the most important, disputable, and often contentious amendments are the First, the Second, and the Eighth.
The First Amendment was first for a reason — it was one of the foremost necessities the colonists required if they were going to be on board with this United States thing. It differentiated America from Britain. It comforted the colonists’ fears. “If this goes south, you have an out,” it said. “You can speak your mind, protest for what you believe in, and tell us when we’re doing it wrong. And we can’t stop you.” Still reeling from the horrors of the Revolutionary War, this eased the colonists’ minds when they realized that with an amendment like this, another war could be totally preventable.
Not being censored is generally a good thing, and it means that in this country, we have a lot of freedoms that many other countries don’t. However, as with anything, it can be taken too far. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled a lot of restrictions on freedom of religion. Someone can’t discriminate against people of a certain race, nationality, or gender because their religion dictates that those people are lesser than or inferior to others, and many are fighting for the same to apply to sexuality. And an editor can’t print things in their newspaper that they know are false. In addition, some people think that with the advent of ultra-polarized extremist groups who’ve found a new medium to express their opinions on social media, that hate speech should be made illegal or limited. Restrictions or complete bans on hate speech exist in Canada, France, Germany, the UK, all three Scandinavian countries, and more. Others reply that once the government’s limiting hate speech, then it’s not long before it limits all speech, including speech against the government, which was the very thing the First Amendment was put in place to allow. However, other constraints on free speech have already been ruled, and speech against the government is still legal, so many think that a limitation regarding hate speech wouldn’t actually send America down the slippery slope others are worried about.
If the First Amendment seemed vague and full of contention, the Second is way worse. It states that the people of the United States have the right to bear arms, or weapons. Seems simple, right? Nope. When the Second Amendment was written, the technology in guns was extremely simple. They were obviously lethal, but compared to the assault weapons we know of today, these were children’s playthings. And on top of that, the country’s situation was totally different. In the Revolutionary War, the United States didn’t have an official, trained military, so they’d won against Britain by forming volunteer groups of civilians, sometimes equipped with nothing more than their kitchen implements. Americans wanted to be armed in case this new government flopped and another war broke out. Skirmishes along state lines were also common. The country was a battleground, and its citizens wanted to be prepared.
Now, assault rifles like the AK-47 can fire ten or more bullets per second. We haven’t fought a battle on American soil since 1890’s Wounded Knee Massacre. And our country spends around six hundred billion dollars every year on its military, which is, hands down, the most powerful in the world. Does the Second Amendment still apply?
Finally, the Eighth Amendment, which speaks about three things — bail, fines, and punishment. It deals with the legal system and is meant to insure rights to those accused, and perhaps convicted, of crimes. Despite being infuriatingly unspecific, it does state that courts should not rule “excessive” bail or fines, and that punishments for offenses should not be “cruel and unusual.”
During the Revolutionary War, there was no due process for people charged with crimes. Patriot judges were nonexistent, and the Loyalist judges had little to no restrictions on their acts. They could charge anyone with any crime for any reason and do anything to them, and they were almost always harsher on Patriots. This amendment, and all the amendments from the Fifth through the Eighth, were created to make sure this new country’s legal process was fair and just.
Now, this one as applied in modern times is interesting because its situation is sort of the opposite of the Second Amendment. As time goes on and gun technology gets stronger, many people believe that the Second Amendment should be applied to a smaller group of things, such as outlawing the civilian use of assault weapons. However, with the Eighth Amendment, what is considered “cruel and unusual punishment” has changed radically over time. For example, the pillory wasn’t officially outlawed in Delaware until 1905, and it was still in use as late as 1901. That means that over a hundred years prior to that, there must have been even crazier ideas about what was considered acceptable punishment. So as the world is becoming more aware of human rights, the Eighth Amendment could be applied to a larger group of things.
One prime example of this is the death penalty. Although we don’t publicly behead people as a society anymore (not in this country, anyway) capital punishment still exists in thirty states. And one doesn’t have to look too hard to be able to see a modern parallel to the Loyalist judges being biased against Patriots — people of color are far and away more likely to end up on death row than white people. A quick lethal injection might seem simple and relatively harmless, but there are four other methods of government-ordained killing which are still legal in certain states. Electrocution is legal in eleven states, the gas chamber in six, hanging in three, and the firing squad in two. Many people think that this should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, especially in 2020.
The Bill of Rights made the United States what it is today. Despite having shortcomings and a history of being misused and even abused, it is a document that created the basis for everything we know about our country today. The First, the Second, and Eighth Amendments have had a checkered past, but they, along with the seven others they share Bill of Rights status with, have created the world we live in. Whether that’s a good world or a bad world will need to be decided by each of us.
by Alex Atanassov
September 18th, 1787: The first public copies of the proposed Constitution were printed, and everyone finally got their hands on what they’d been waiting for, the result of months of hard work and the laws; The legislation on course to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Federalists were thrilled with the new document. But not everyone was a Federalist, and not everyone was thrilled. The Anti-Federalists saw a glaring flaw in these proposed papers. They failed to mention any form of personal rights. With that, the battle for ratification began. The ultimate compromise was the Bill of Rights, which ended up being the basis of American Freedoms. Some of the best examples of the intentions of the Bill of Rights are the Third, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments.
The foundation of these rights had already been laid out by the states, although liberties varied from state to state. Regional differences were especially pronounced in 1788, and independence of the States wasn’t yet guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus, the Tenth Amendment was created. Yet today, barely anyone thinks twice about saying they’re Americans when asked where they’re from; it seems state identity has faded away into the past. Americans may not realize it, but the states may be part of their identity more than they think. The relative independence of states allows their government to tailor laws passed by the federal government to better tackle regional problems, and create legislation to cope with issues only found in that area.
The States are part of the reason there wasn’t a bill of rights originally included. The Framers were burnt out, and had grown lazy after months of work. Besides, the States already had their own rights in their State Constitutions, and there’s no way they could list all of the Rights of the People. But the fact that no rights were listed set alarms ringing for the Anti-Federalists. They knew that even though the Framers thought this was an effective way to protect the nation’s citizen’s rights, it would probably cause issues in the future. The Ninth Amendment cleared all of this up. By extending rights past any written documents, effectively covering all People’s Rights, and allowing the most important rights to be put on paper, the Ninth Amendment was a win-win. It’s been a long time since 1788, and the idea of human rights is always expanding and evolving. This Amendment can help the case of new rights being defined, because it probably was already a “Right of the People,” so we’re just formalizing and officiating it.
There was one thing everyone wanted after The Revolution. The newly formed United States, wanted to be the opposite of Britain, which was tyrannical and oppressive. The Third Amendment was arguably the amendment which the lack of infuriated the colonists the most. The colonists were angry when enemy soldiers were staying in their homes, and there was nothing they could do about it. These were dirty men coming into their homes, and they had to be housed and fed for as long as they stayed by law. The worst part: they got nothing in return. They couldn’t get rid of these soldiers, because even if they wanted to break the law, the soldiers usually came in groups and all had big guns. The Third Amendment was made to protect this tyranny from occurring again, and it hasn’t. Today, people would be outraged if soldiers started staying in their homes and had to feed and give them beds. It could cause riots, especially knowing how much money the U.S. spends on its military. Without the Third Amendment, the Government would eventually realize that there were lots of free homes just waiting to take in as many troops as they can. The Government would decide it would be a good idea to save money and force civilians to take in soldiers, with public outrage being a small cost. Quartering soldiers would most definitely cause protests and riots, especially in 2020.
All the amendments of the Bill of Rights contributed to the Anti-Federalists accepting the Constitution, and these Ten Amendments became the basis of American freedom they are today. The Third, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments are all good representatives of the spirit of the Bill of Rights. The Third Amendment shows how the New Country wanted to separate itself from the British and their practices, the Ninth Amendment states the Rights of the American People aren’t just limited to a piece of paper, and the Tenth Amendment granted states the power to tackle local issues by passing legislation that is needed or wanted only regionally.
And political cartoons . . .
The Bill of Rights – Full Text (in case you need a refresher!)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.