Share the Declaration:

 
previous The Charters of Freedom - A New World is at Hand next
The Bill of Rights ~ The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution
The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records.
They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of
the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
Alexander Hamilton, 1775

Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right to a fair and speedy trial–the ringing phrases that inventory some of Americans' most treasured personal freedoms–were not initially part of the U.S. Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, the proposal to include a bill of rights was considered and defeated. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution as the first ten amendments on December 15, 1791.

The fact that the Constitution did not include a bill of rights to specifically protect Americans' hard-won rights sparked the most heated debates during the ratification process. To the Federalists, those who favored the Constitution, a bill of rights was unnecessary because the Federal Government was limited in its powers and could not interfere with the rights of the people or the states; also, most states had bills of rights. To the Anti-Federalists, those who opposed the Constitution, the prospect of establishing a strong central government without an explicit list of rights guaranteed to the people was unthinkable. Throughout the ratification process, individuals and state ratification conventions called for the adoption of a bill of rights.

The First Federal Congress took up the question of a bill of rights almost immediately. Congress proposed twelve amendments to the states. Ten of these were added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791.

The Bill of Rights that is on permanent display here is the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 25, 1789, proposing twelve–not ten–amendments. The first article, concerning the ratio of constituents to each congressional representative, was never ratified by the states; the second article listed, concerning congressional pay, was ratified in 1992 as the Twenty-seventh Amendment.

Report of the Conference Committee, appointed to settle the differences between the House and Senate versions of the proposed bill of rights, September 24, 1789 learn more...
“In the Reading Room of an 18th Century New York Coffee House,” hand-colored engraving (reproduction) after illustration by Howard Pyle, ca. 1890 learn more...
previous   next
 
top of page Print/Bookmark/Share
Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 1) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 2) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 3) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 4) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 5) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 6) Making of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 7) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 8) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 9) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 10) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 11) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 12) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 13) Impact of the Charters (Exhibit Case Number 14) Declaration of Independence Constitution of the United States Bill of Rights
Privacy Accessibility Contact NARA Search NARA Home Page
.