Bill of Rights
December 15, 1791: The US Bill of Rights is ratified. These are the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. To date, there are 27 amendments which have been ratified and added to the original document. Before the Constitution was ratified, the original thirteen states followed the Articles of Confederation which the Second Continental Congress ratified in 1781. The government was too weak under the Articles and conflicts rose between the states. Rather than fix the “old government”, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton set out to create a new one when penning the Constitution. It took 55 delegates working together to iron out the problems. Not all were resolved and only 39 of them signed the final version of the Constitution.
Those who opposed the wording of the document were called Anti-Federalists and were led by Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee. Those in favor of the document as written were Federalists and it was this faction which led opposition to the Bill of Rights, written to assuage the concerns of the Anti-Federalists. In December 1787 and January 1788 five states quickly ratified the Constitution. The Massachusetts convention was not so easily concluded. Francis Dana and Elbridge Gerry even got into a fistfight. It was there that a compromise was reached and Massachusetts would ratify the Constitution on the condition that a convention also be formed to create some amendments.
The first ten amendments guarantee many personal freedoms, limit the government’s power (especially in judicial proceedings), and reserves some powers for individual states. Originally, the amendments only applied to federal government but most were added to each state’s governance by the Fourteenth Amendment through incorporation. On June 8, 1789 James Madison introduced 39 amendments to the constitution in the House of Representatives. Included in those amendments were specific rights limiting the power of Congress. Seven of the limitations would eventually become part of the ratified Bill of Rights. On September 25, 1789, Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution and sent them to the states to be ratified.
Madison had hoped the articles would be directly added to the body of the Constitution but instead they were added as amendments. On this date, Articles Three – Twelve were ratified and became Amendments One through Ten of the US Constitution. On May 7, after 202 years and 225 days, Article Two was passed and became the Twenty-seventh Amendment which is concerned with when pay raises or decreases for Congressional members take effect. Only Article One remains to see ratification. The Article for establishing a formula for determining the appropriate size of the House of Representatives and the appropriate way to apportion the representatives among the states.
With equal truth it may be said, that all the powers which the bills of rights guard against the abuse of, are contained or implied in the general ones granted by this Constitution. – Brutus, an anonymous Anti-Federalist
Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. – Alexander Hamilton
Whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question, how far the former can be impregnably fortified or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted. – George Washington
A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference. – Thomas Jefferson
Also on this day: James Naismith – In 1891, the game of basketball was invented.
Back Up Is Essential – In 1836, the US Patent Office’s records were lost in a fire.
JFK Assassination – In 1960, an attempt was made on President-elect Kennedy’s life.
Push Comes to Shove – In 1905, the Pushkin House was established to hold Alexander Pushkin’s works.