How the Bill of Rights Came to Be — and What It Means Today

( – There are three important documents that have made the United States a great nation. The first is the Declaration of Independence. The second is the Constitution of the United States. The third is the Bill of Rights. There’s no doubt that the Declaration of Independence — stating that all men are created equal, and are endowed with certain rights that cannot be withdrawn— is one of the most celebrated public documents in history.

That said, the Declaration is merely a feeling or a belief. It has no force of law. The constitution is also a crucial document. It spells out how the government should operate. But, as it was initially written, the constitution said a little about the people; a little regarding their rights and freedoms. The people felt unprotected.

The Origins of The Bill of Rights

As a result of this lack of protection — some states initially refused to ratify the constitution. The states that initially sat on their hands — and refused to ratify the constitution, were: Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia, and New York. Of course, the constitution needed only 9 states, and for all intents and purposes, it was as good as passed. However, the concerns of these four states could not just be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

New York and Virginia were particularly large, influential states that no one could ignore. Also, New York and Virginia were the home states of two men — who most influenced the constitutional debate: Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. In Virginia, the home state of James Madison, lively but heated debates marked these discussions.

The constitution had given general protections to the people, some argued, and there was no need for specific protections. But others saw it differently. They wanted specific individual rights to be mentioned. On June 16, 1788, at the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry complained that the government, through its officers, could “go into your cellars and rooms, and search, ransack and measure, everything you eat, drink and wear. They ought to be restrained.” Obviously, he was arguing for the right to privacy. The Bill of Rights — offering individual protections to American citizens —  would finally be included as a separate part of the Constitution.

What Is Contained In The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights consists of ten amendments. The first amendment ensures that citizens are allowed to engage in any religious belief — and that they are free to exercise those beliefs. It also ensures that the United States government does not control the press or direct what they publish. The first amendment also advocates for free speech: You can advocate any idea even if some do not agree with it. Lastly, the First Amendment gives citizens the freedom to gather and protest against what they believe to be wrong.

The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms. The Third Amendment ensures that you can’t be forced to host soldiers or feed them. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ privacy. Security officers should not search you, or enter your home or store — unless they have a very good reason for that. The Fifth Amendment ensures those who are suspected of committing an offense are judged fairly. For instance, when accused of a serious crime, a jury should take part in judging whether you are guilty or not. Also, the courts should not try you twice for the same offense. Because of the Fifth Amendment, you can refuse to answer any question asked by the police — if you think the answer will get you into trouble. Lastly, if the government takes your land, or anything you own, because of the Fifth Amendment, the government will be forced to compensate you.

The Sixth Amendment ensures if you have a case, the case should not drag on for many years. Instead, it should be concluded as soon as possible. Also, the jury that’ll judge you should be unbiased. It also gives you the right to call witnesses who can defend you. The Seventh Amendment states that a jury should be involved — even if a person is facing a civil case. Because of the Eighth Amendment, you shouldn’t be slapped with a huge fine, or treated in a cruel manner, even if you’re guilty. The Ninth Amendment allows for the likelihood that people may have other rights that are not specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Lastly, according to the Tenth Amendment, the Federal Government’s powers are those that are specifically written down in the constitution. If it’s not written down, it’s a power that belongs to the people or the state.

These are the individual protections every American should be familiar with. Keep your eyes on local and national news and make sure your elected officials aren’t passing laws or taking steps to limit your freedoms.

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