Seven states had bills of rights
protecting fundamental freedoms from government infringement.
Among the rights that were guaranteed were freedom of the press,
of speech, and of religion, and the right to a jury trial.
The Constitutional Convention
did include specific protections in the Constitution. Article
VI restricted government interference with religion and speech.
It also provided certain protections in criminal law. It guaranteed
that the writ of habeas corpus (a protection against illegal
imprisonment) "shall not be suspended" except in times
of rebellion or invasion. It also prohibited bills of attainder
(imposing punishment on a person's descendants) and ex post facto
laws (laws that punish behavior that took place before their
enactment. It also forbade any state to pass laws "impairing
the obligation of contracts."
George Mason, the main author
of Virginia's 1776 Declaration of Rights, wished that the Constitution
"had been prefaced with a bill of rights." But James
Madison felt a bill of rights was unnecessary and superfluous.
He feared that by specifying certain rights for protection might
suggest that other rights might be tampered with. He also worried
that such protections would be insufficient "on those occasions
when control is most needed."
But pressure for a Bill of
Rights was intense. Thomas Jefferson wrote Madison: "...a
bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every
government on earth, general or particular, and what no government
should refuse or rest on inference." During the ratification
debates, the Constitution's supporters agreed to adopt a Bill
State ratification conventions
proposed more than two hundred proposed amendments. From these,
Madison distilled 19 possible amendments. Congress accepted 12
of the Amendments and the states approved 10. One of the rejected
amendments dealt with the size of the House of Representatives.
The other amendment prevents Congress from increasing its salary.
Salary changes cannot take effect until after the next congressional
election. This amendment was ratified in 1992.
During the 19th century, the
impact of the Bill of Rights was limited. In the 1833 case of
Barron v. Baltimore, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of
Rights only protects individuals from the national, and not the
The First Ten Amendments
I. Freedom of religion,
speech, and the press, and the right of assembly and to petition
The First Amendment prohibits
Congress from creating an established church. It has been interpreted
to forbid government support for religious doctrines. The amendment
also prohibits Congress from passing laws to restrict worship,
speech, the press, or to prevent people from assembling peacefully.
In addition, Congress may not prevent people from petitioning
II. Right to bear arms
The Second Amendment has been
interpreted by some to give citizens the right to possess firearms.
Others believe it grants the states the right to maintain their
III. Billeting of soldiers
The Third Amendment forbids
the government from housing soldiers in homes in peacetime without
their owners' consent.
IV. Searches and seizures
The Fourth Amendment requires
legal authorities to obtain a search warrant before conducting
a search of a person's possessions.
V. Rights in criminal cases
The Fifth Amendment says that
no one can be tried for a federal crime unless he or she is indicted
by a grand jury, a group of citizens who decided whether there
is sufficient evidence to put the person on trial. The amendment
also states that a person cannot be tried twice for the same
offense (unless the jury fails to reach a verdict). The amendment
guarantees that individuals cannot be required to testify against
themselves and cannot be deprived of "life liberty or property,
without due process of law." The amendment also forbids
government from taking a person's property for public use without
VI. Rights to a fair trial
The Sixth Amendment guarantees
a person accused of a crime the right to a "speedy and public
trial, by an impartial jury" in the jurisdiction where the
alleged crime was committed. The Amendment also guarantees that
accused persons will be informed of the charges against them
and that they have the right to cross-examine witnesses and to
have a lawyer to defend them.
VII. Rights in civil cases
The Seventh Amendment guarantees
the right to a jury trial in civil lawsuits.
VIII. Bails, fine, and punishments
The Eighth Amendment prohibits
excessive bail or fines and "cruel and unusual" punishments.
IX. Rights retained by the
The Ninth Amendment ensures
that rights unmentioned in the Bill of Rights are protected.
X. Powers retained by the
states and the people
The Tenth Amendment ensures
that the powers not delegated to the federal government are retained
by the states and the people.
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