When the American Revolution ended in 1783, the Founding Fathers of the United States shifted their focus to establishing a system of law and order for the new nation. They created the United States Constitution in 1787, which was to serve as the supreme law of the land.
However, the process of establishing a Constitution was often contentious. Anti-Federalists opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government, and would ultimately be against the ratification of the Constitution. Among other considerations, Anti-Federalists feared the document gave little power to individual states, and they saw potential for the presidency to evolve into a monarchy.
Thankfully, the Founding Fathers of the United States were pretty smart guys. They had the foresight to realize that there may come times when the Constitution would need to be changed in order to stay relevant. So they included Article V, which provides a mechanism for amending the Constitution.
With the influence of Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights was created. What is the Bill of Rights?
What Is the Bill of Rights?
The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. They evolved from a series of Constitutional amendments proposed by James Madison in 1789, and were designed to address issues brought up by Anti-Federalists, who felt that a Bill of Rights was necessary to safeguard individual liberty.
In August of 1789, twelve different amendments were sent to states for approval. At the time, only ten of the proposed amendments were ratified. Virginia was the final state to ratify the ten amendments, approving them on December 15, 1791.
Below is a full text list of the Bill of Rights, and a summary for each.
List of the Bill of Rights
“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.”
The First Amendment is one that is most commonly cited. This amendment protects one’s freedom of speech. This includes the right to practice any religion, to assemble/meet with others, to voice your opinion with the government, and to publish your thoughts with the press.
“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.”
The Second Amendment protects a citizen’s right to own guns. This amendment has sparked nationwide debate in recent years.
“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 Third Amendment protects citizens during an instance of war, peace or otherwise. It mandates that no military personnel can demand that a citizen turn over their home for shelter.
“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.”
The Fourth Amendment guards Americans from seizure by the U.S. government. It provides protection against the unjust taking of property, papers or people without a valid warrant or probable cause.
“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.”
The Fifth Amendment protects the basic rights of citizens in face of the legal system. This includes: being held for a crime until they are formally accused; being tried twice for the same crime, also referred to as “double jeopardy”; being forced to testify against yourself, and; having property forcibly taken from you without fair 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.”
The Sixth Amendment protects a citizen’s right to a speedy trial. It protects the accused from a jury that believes them to already be guilty, allows the accused to confront those who bear witness against them, and grants the accused the right to an attorney.
“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.”
This type of case is no longer held in federal court. However, at the time of the writing of the Bill of Rights, the Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial in federal civil court cases.
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Guarding against excessive bail and cruel punishment, the Eighth Amendment mandates that the law not be able to require excessive bail when a citizen is incarcerated. In the same way, excessive fines cannot be imposed, nor can a cruel or unusual punishment.
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
The Bill of Rights isn’t limited to just the ten that the Founding Fathers originally listed. The Ninth Amendment states that other rights aside from the ones listed may exist. In other words, just because certain rights aren’t listed, doesn’t mean that they exist.
“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.”
The Tenth Amendment assures that any powers not granted to the federal government are granted to either the states of the people themselves.
Since the origination of the Constitution hundreds of years ago, the Bill of Rights has protected American citizens. Though the scope of the law has changed over the generations, the basic rights of Americans have persevered.