The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, explicitly catalog fundamental individual rights held by all Americans. Proposed during the ratification of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791.

The rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights include:

                freedom of speech

                the right to keep and bear arms

                protection from unreasonable search and seizure

                freedom of the press

                freedom of peaceable assembly

                freedom to exercise ones religion

                due process of law

                the right to a trial by jury

                protection from cruel and unusual punishment

                the right to a speedy and public trial, and

                the right to counsel.

As revered as the Bill of Rights is today, adoption of its ten amendments was controversial in 1789. Many advocates of the Constitution, including James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, argued that the Constitution itself adequately protected individual liberties. Some even warned that by listing specific rights, individuals risked losing those rights that were not enumerated.

During the process of ratifying the Constitution, a coalition of prominent men took the position that a bill of rights was essential to the new government. Some members of this effort opposed ratification of the Constitution outright; others supported ratification but believed the Constitution was flawed without a list of individual rights. The issue over a bill of rights came to the fore in Massachusetts in February 1788. Led by Samuel Adams and John Hancock, the Massachusetts delegates ratified the Constitution only after formally recommending that a bill of rights be included.

A number of other states followed Massachusettss lead. Eventually most American leaders, including Madison, embraced the idea of a bill of rights. At the first meeting of the U.S. Congress, the Bill of Rights was formally proposed and sent to the states for ratificationa process that was completed in December 1791.


 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.


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.

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