The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution limit the power of government in order to protect the liberties of individuals from the abuse of power.
On this day in history, October 2, 1789, President George Washington sent the proposed constitutional amendments known as the United States Bill of Rights to the states for ratification.
During the debate on the Constitution, opponents charged that the document, as drafted, may lead to tyranny by the central government. So, they demanded a bill of rights to clarify the liberties of individual citizens.
In their ratification of the Constitution, several states asked for such amendments, while others ratified it with the understanding that they would follow. This influenced decisions in Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia and New York.
On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments, drafted by James Madison, to the Constitution that met the arguments most frequently advanced against it.
The first two proposed amendments, concerning the number of constituents for each representative and the compensation of congressmen, were not ratified. But articles 3-12, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, or Bill of Rights.
Individual Liberties Guaranteed
The 1st Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press, and grants the right to petition for redress and to assemble peacefully. The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
The 3rd Amendment prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private dwellings in peacetime. The 4th protects against unreasonable search and seizure. The 5th establishes grand jury indictment for serious offenses, protects against double jeopardy in criminal cases, and prohibits compelling testimony by a person against himself.
The 6th Amendment establishes the rights of the accused to a speedy trial and an impartial jury, and guarantees the right to legal counsel and to the obtaining of witnesses in his favor. The 7th preserves the right to trial by jury in serious civil suits and prohibits double jeopardy in civil cases.
The 8th Amendment prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment. The 9th states that enumeration of certain rights in the Constitution does not mean the abrogation of rights not mentioned. The 10th reserves to the states and people any powers not delegated to the federal government.
The Bill of Rights
Amendment I: 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.
Amendment II: 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.
Amendment III: 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.
Amendment IV: 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.
Amendment V: 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 offence 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 Bill of Rights
Amendment VI: 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.
Amendment VII: 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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X: 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 Bill of Rights Ratified
On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 11th of the 14 states to ratify the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, and they became an official part of the United States Constitution.
Fourteen handwritten copies of the Bill of Rights were made, one for Congress and one for each of the original 13 states. The copies for Georgia, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania went missing.
Two unidentified copies of the missing four, thought to be those of Georgia and Maryland, survive. One is in the National Archives and the other is in the New York Public Library.
In the 20th century, the Supreme Court has interpreted the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to require state and local governments to comply with most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights.