Documents of America

The Bill of Rights

Led by George Mason of Virginia, the three delegates who opposed the new Constitution without a Bill of Rights returned home and organized strong opposition to the ratification. It soon became apparent that the new Constitution would be ratified by the required nine states without the two largest states, New York and Virginia. This would make the Constitution too weak to be effective in governing the new nation. The compromise was an agreement that New York and Virginia would ratify the new Constitution in return for a promise that the House would take up a Bill of Rights as soon as possible after Congress was sworn in. On Dec. 15, 1791 the first 10 Amendments, or Bill of Rights, were ratified. Since that December day every person in the United States has had personal rights and protections that no other nation has afforded its people.

The Bill of Rights provides the following personal powers, protections and limits on government power.

Amendment #1 provides the people freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment #2 provides people the right to own and bear arms.

Amendment #3 prohibits the government from quartering soldiers in any house without consent of the owner.

Amendment #4 provides the people protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Amendment #5 provides people due process rights.

 Amendment #6 provides people the right to a fair trial.

Amendment #7 provides people the right to a trial by jury.

Amendment #8 protects people from cruel and unusual punishment.

Amendment #9 describes constitutional rights retained by the people.

Amendment #10 states that constitutional rights not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states or to the people.

In summary, the first three Amendments provide very important personal rights. Amendments four through eight provide important rights to anyone charged with a crime and facing an all-powerful government prosecution. The last two amendments spell out limits to government power.

The First Amendment is perhaps the most important part of the Constitution. Read it, understand it, use it and fight for it when people abuse it.