- The Articles of Confederation
- What was the Articles of Confederation?
- Shays's Rebellion
- The Constitutional Convention
- The Constitutional Convention
- The US Constitution
- The Federalist Papers
- The Bill of Rights
- Social consequences of revolutionary ideals
- The presidency of George Washington
- Why was George Washington the first president?
- The presidency of John Adams
- Regional attitudes about slavery, 1754-1800
- Continuity and change in American society, 1754-1800
- Creating a nation
The first ten amendments to the US Constitution guarantee citizens' essential freedoms and rights.
- The Bill of Rights is the name given to the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution.
- The Bill of Rights consists of guarantees of civil liberties and checks on state power; it was added in order to convince states to ratify the Constitution.
The Constitutional Convention
By the time the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, it had become clear to many American leaders that a more powerful federal government was necessary in order to effectively deal with the challenges facing the young nation.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government had neither the power to raise taxes nor the authority to regulate interstate commerce. Additionally, there was no established mechanism through which states could adjudicate conflicts. Many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention understood that the Articles of Confederation would need to be supplanted entirely, not merely revised.
To this end, the delegates spent months debating and shaping the scope and contours of a new and more powerful federal government.
Ratifying the Constitution
The result of the Constitutional Convention was the United States Constitution. The Constitution created a federal government consisting of three separate branches in order to impose checks and balances on the powers of each branch.
- The executive branch would be headed by a president, who would be elected.
- The legislative branch would be composed of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house—the House of Representatives. Representation in the House would be based on population—including counting enslaved men and women at the proportion of three to five for the purposes of representation and taxation. Each state would elect two representatives to the Senate.
- The judicial branch would consist of a Supreme Court and lower courts to interpret and apply the law.
Not everyone believed the new Constitution was a good idea. A number of individuals who had played important roles in the Revolution, like Samuel Adams and John Hancock, worried that a powerful federal government would inevitably become tyrannical and that the new Constitution would be merely replacing British tyranny with a homegrown variety. They worried that the president would usurp king-like powers and encroach upon the individual rights and freedoms of citizens.
In order for the Constitution to enter into force, it would have to be ratified by at least nine states, but several states threatened to refuse to ratify the document unless it included strong guarantees of individual rights and liberties. To this end, the delegates, led by Virginian James Madison set to work on drafting a list of checks on federal power that would ensure the full exercise of individual liberty.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments that explicitly guarantee certain rights and protections to US citizens by limiting the power of the federal government.
- The First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with the freedoms of speech, peaceable assembly, and exercise of religion.
- The Second Amendment declares that properly constituted militias are a safeguard of liberty and that the right to bear arms will be protected.
- The Third Amendment restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes—an extremely contentious issue that had led the colonists to war with Great Britain.
- The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures of private property.
- The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments establish a variety of guarantees relating to legal proceedings and criminal justice, including the right to a trial by jury; protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy, being tried twice for the same offense; the right to due process; prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; and the right to face one’s accuser, obtain legal counsel, and be informed of all criminal charges.
- The Ninth Amendment acknowledges that the other eight amendments are not an exhaustive list of all of the rights and protections to which citizens are guaranteed, and the Tenth Amendment declares that any powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government in the Constitution are to be left to the states. This reinforced the principle of federalism, or separation of powers, by ensuring that the federal government could not usurp rights and powers that were not explicitly authorized in the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights has proven to be one of the most influential documents in contemporary history, codifying the theory of natural rights, which holds that humans are granted certain freedoms and liberties by God, and that the state should not have the power to usurp or otherwise infringe upon those rights. This was a major departure from previous theories of individual rights, which were granted to citizens by the state or monarch. The Bill of Rights has influenced countless political leaders around the globe since their authorization into force in the United States.
What do you think?
Why did the delegates to the Constitutional Convention find it necessary to draft the Bill of Rights?
Do you think there are certain amendments in the Bill of Rights that are more important than others for the effective functioning of a democracy?
Want to join the conversation?
- If the first amendment states that:
"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."
Are there ANY symbols actually banned?
(Also, which symbols do they ban in Europe on the terms of THEIR laws?)(28 votes)
- In answer to you second question...
In 2005, The EU tried to prohibit Communist symbols, in addition to the Nazi symbols that were already prohibited (Austria, France and Germany all ban Nazi symbols.). The ban of communist symbols over all of the EU was rejected, but the individual nations are able to make their own laws respecting those symbols. Hope this is helpful!(36 votes)
- Do any small bits and pieces of the original Articles of Confederation still exist in American gov't today?(11 votes)
- Very little, I think. There wasn't much to the articles of confederation anyway, since everyone wanted a small government, and what little they had was thrown away because it wasn't working.(7 votes)
- Why were the authors of the Federalist Papers (nationalists) against the Bill of Rights?(3 votes)
- Not all of the authors were against the Bill of Rights - the document was something the antifederalists wanted as a way to secure freedoms and it was the only way to make them willing to sign the Constitution. Madison was actually one of the presenters of the Bill of Rights and played a large part in its creation because he believed it was necessary. Then again, he later broke away from the Federalists to found the Democratic-Republican party with Jefferson. The authors who opposed the Bill of Rights were John Jay and Hamilton - they believed in loose interpretation of government. Hamilton specifically thought a Bill of Rights wasn't only unnecessary, but it would be dangerous because of how strict everything would need to be - if something isn't written out as unlawful, the government can do it with no consequences, so everything would eventually have to be micromanaged, the exact opposite of the flexible Constitution that federalists wanted.(11 votes)
- What were the arguments against the bill of rights? Hamilton argues that it is unnecessary in federalist No. 84, but weren't the federalist papers written by both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison? Was there any conflict between the two over the bill of rights?(4 votes)
- Which factor made the strongest contribution to the development of religious freedom in the United States?(4 votes)
- One might cite several factors:
1) The religious diversity of the settler/colonists.
2) The human perversity that led to divisions in the religious groups among those settler/colonists.
3) The linguistic diversity that kept people worshipping in languages (Dutch, German, French, English) without being part of the same ecclesiastical connection.
4) Irreligion among framers of the constitution who wanted to protect the infant republic from the abuses of state-religion in Europe.
5) Scottish Enlightenment philosophy.
6) Money from rich donors
Take your pick.(6 votes)
- During the current COVID-19 lock down, do home "quarantine" orders by states contradict the Bill of Rights (perhaps the 1st Ammendment)?(3 votes)
- No, the government is given certain leeway to put in place certain restrictions on a population during times of national, or even local, emergencies. These restrictions usually are narrow in scope and time. A quarantine is one such example. Others are curfews put in place after a natural disaster or shopping restrictions put in place in a time of war (rationing during WWII).(7 votes)
- Shouldn't soldiers be able to use homes as bases?(2 votes)
- Not if it's a private home, at least according to the Bill of Rights. It could be the case that if the owner of the house is okay with it, it is allowed.(8 votes)
- Why do we have 10 separate amendments in the Bill of Rights even though all of them are very short in terms of text? Why did they not pass one single amendment? It would have resulted in 9 fewer ratification votes and would have made the passage of the Bill of Rights much faster and easier.(3 votes)
- There were even more than 10 amendments proposed. If you look at an original copy of the Bill of Rights, the current 1st amendment is listed 3rd. The first proposed article is still awaiting state ratification and the second listed article became the 27th amendment in 1992.
Had everything been combined into one single amendment, then it would likely have never passed votes in congress or state ratification, and we wouldn't have any of the existing protections the individual existing amendments give us today.(6 votes)
- what is America guys?(2 votes)
- America is a physical location on a map.
"America" is shorthand for the name of a nation, which would more properly be called "The United States of America".
America is an idea of a type of social organization that might be better than the United States of America actually is.
America is a symbol. For some, it symbolizes good, for others it symbolizes evil.
America is a work in progress, which gets better AND worse as time passes.(6 votes)
- Does it matter whether protected rights are identified in the body of a constitution or in a separate bill of rights? Is there a difference between the protections?(3 votes)
- Given that the rights enumerated as the first 10 amendments are now (because they were amendments by addition to the original document) part of that constitution, there is no difference at all.(4 votes)