Bill of rights (United States)

United States Bill of Rights
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United States Bill of Rights
Created September 25, 1789
Ratified December 15, 1791
Location National Archives
Author(s) James Madison
Purpose To set limits on government actions in regard to personal liberties.

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed to assuage the fears of Anti-Federalists who had opposed Constitutional ratification, these amendments guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been applied to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment, a process known as incorporation.

The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the states. While twelve amendments were proposed by Congress, only ten were originally ratified by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted 203 years later as the Twenty-seventh Amendment, and the other technically remains pending before the states.

The Bill of Rights enumerates freedoms not explicitly indicated in the main body of the Constitution, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, and free assembly; the right to keep and bear arms; freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, security in personal effects, and freedom from warrants issued without probable cause; indictment by a grand jury for any capital or "infamous crime"; guarantee of a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury; and prohibition of double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States. The Bill was influenced by George Mason's 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights 1689, and earlier English political documents such as Magna Carta (1215).

The Bill of Rights had little judicial impact for the first 150 years of its existence, but was the basis for many Supreme Court decisions of the 20th and 21st centuries. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


The Philadelphia Convention

Prior to the acceptance and implementation of the United States Constitution, the original 13 colonies followed the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress and ratified in 1781. However, the national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states.[1] The Philadelphia Convention set out to correct weaknesses of the Articles that had been apparent even before the American Revolutionary War had been successfully concluded.[1]

The convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although the Convention was purportedly intended only to revise the Articles, the intention of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The convention convened in the Pennsylvania State House, and George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected as president of the convention.[2] The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution included many of the Founding Fathers of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, who was Minister to France during the convention, characterized the delegates as an assembly of "demi-gods."[1] Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention.[3]

On September 12, George Mason of Virginia suggested the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution modeled on previous state declarations, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts made it a formal motion.[4] However, the motion was defeated by a unanimous vote of the state delegations after only a brief discussion. Madison, then an opponent of a Bill of Rights, later explained the vote by calling the state bills of rights "parchment barriers" that offered only an illusion of protection against tyranny.[5] Another delegate, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, later argued that the act of enumerating the rights of the people would have been dangerous, because it would imply that rights not explicitly mentioned did not exist;[5] Hamilton echoed this point in Federalist No. 84.[6] Because Mason and Gerry had emerged as opponents of the proposed new Constitution, their motion—introduced five days before the end of the convention—may also have been seen by other delegates as a delaying tactic.[7] The quick rejection of this motion, however, later endangered the entire ratification process. Author David O. Stewart calls the omission of a Bill of Rights in the original Constitution as "a political blunder of the first magnitude"[7] while historian Jack N. Rakove calls it "the one serious miscalculation the framers made as they looked ahead to the struggle over ratification".[8]

Thirteen delegates left before the final signing of the constitution, and three of those still at the convention refused to sign: Mason, Gerry, and Edmund Randolph of Virginia.[9] The remaining 39 delegates signed the final document, and the Constitution was then submitted to the states for ratification, pursuant to its own Article VII.

The Anti-Federalists

Following the Philadelphia Convention, some leading revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee publicly opposed the Constitution, a position known as "Anti-Federalism".[10] Elbridge Gerry wrote the most popular Anti-Federalist tract, "Hon. Mr. Gerry's Objections", which went through 46 printings; the essay particularly focused on the lack of a bill of rights in the proposed constitution.[11] Many were concerned that a strong national government was a threat to individual rights and that the President would become a king. Jefferson wrote to Madison advocating a Bill of Rights: "Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can."[12]

The pseudonymous Anti-Federalist "Brutus"Template:Efn wrote,

We find they have, in the ninth section of the first article declared, that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases of rebellion — that no bill of attainder, or ex post facto law, shall be passed — that no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, etc. If every thing which is not given is reserved, what propriety is there in these exceptions? Does this Constitution any where grant the power of suspending the habeas corpus, to make ex post facto laws, pass bills of attainder, or grant titles of nobility? It certainly does not in express terms. The only answer that can be given is, that these are implied in the general powers granted. 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.[13]

Brutus continued with an implication directed against the Constitution's framers:

Ought not a government, vested with such extensive and indefinite authority, to have been restricted by a declaration of rights? It certainly ought. So clear a point is this, that I cannot help suspecting that persons who attempt to persuade people that such reservations were less necessary under this Constitution than under those of the States, are wilfully endeavoring to deceive, and to lead you into an absolute state of vassalage.[14]

Supporters of the Constitution, known as Federalists, opposed a bill of rights for much of the ratification period, in part due to the procedural uncertainties it would create.[15] Madison argued against such an inclusion, suggesting that state governments were sufficient guarantors of personal liberty, in No. 46 of The Federalist Papers, a series of essays promoting the Federalist position.[16] Hamilton opposed a Bill of Rights in Federalist No. 84, stating that "the constitution is itself in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS."[17] He stated that ratification did not mean the American people were surrendering their rights, making protections unnecessary: "Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing, and as they retain everything, they have no need of particular reservations."[17] Critics pointed out that earlier political documents had protected specific rights, but Hamilton argued that the Constitution was inherently different:

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. Such was "Magna Charta," obtained by the Barons, swords in hand, from King John.[17]

Patrick Henry argued, in contrast, that the legislature must be firmly informed "of the extent of the rights retained by the people ... being in a state of uncertainty, they will assume rather than give up powers by implication."[18]

Ratification and the Massachusetts Compromise

In December 1787 and January 1788, five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut—ratified the Constitution with relative ease, though the bitter minority report of the Pennsylvania opposition was widely circulated.[19] In contrast to its predecessors, the Massachusetts convention was angry and contentious, at one point erupting into a fistfight between Federalist delegate Francis Dana and Anti-Federalist Elbridge Gerry when the latter was not allowed to speak.[20] The impasse was resolved only when revolutionary heroes and leading Anti-Federalists Samuel Adams and John Hancock agreed to ratification on the condition that the convention also propose amendments.[21] The convention's proposed amendments included a requirement for grand jury indictment in capital cases, which would form part of the Fifth Amendment, and an amendment reserving powers to the states not expressly given to the federal government, which would later form the basis for the Tenth Amendment.[22]

Following Massachusetts' lead, the Federalist minorities in both Virginia and New York were able to obtain ratification in convention by linking ratification to recommended amendments.[23] A committee of the Virginia convention headed by law professor George Wythe forwarded forty recommended amendments to Congress, twenty of which enumerated individual rights and another twenty of which enumerated states' rights.[24] The latter amendments included limitations on federal powers to levy taxes and regulate trade.[25]

A minority of the Constitution's critics, such as Maryland's Luther Martin, continued to oppose ratification.[26] However, Martin's allies, such as New York's John Lansing, Jr., dropped moves to obstruct the Convention's process. They began to take exception to the Constitution "as it was," seeking amendments. Several conventions saw supporters for "amendments before" shift to a position of "amendments after" for the sake of staying in the Union. The New York Anti-Federalist "circular letter" was sent to each state legislature proposing a second constitutional convention for "amendments before", but it failed in the state legislatures. Ultimately, only North Carolina and Rhode Island waited for amendments from Congress before ratifying.[23]

Article VII of the proposed constitution stipulated that only nine of the thirteen states had to ratify for the new government to go into effect (for the participating states). After a year had passed in state-by-state ratification battles, on September 13, 1788, the Articles of Confederation Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified. The new government was inaugurated with eleven of the thirteen states. The Articles Congress directed the new government to meet in New York City on the first Wednesday in March,[27] and on March 4, 1789, the government began operations.

Proposal by Congress

The First Congress

The new Constitution's first Congress, which met in New York City's Federal Hall, was a triumph for the Federalists. The Senate of eleven states contained 20 Federalists with only two Anti-Federalists, both from Virginia. The House included 48 Federalists to 11 Anti-Federalists, the latter of whom were from only four states: Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and South Carolina.[28]

Among the Virginia delegation to the House was James Madison, Patrick Henry's chief opponent in the Virginia ratification battle. In retaliation for Madison's victory at that convention, Henry and other Anti-Federalists, who controlled the Virginia House of Delegates had gerrymandered a hostile district for Madison's planned congressional run and recruited Madison's future presidential successor, James Monroe, to oppose him.[29] Madison defeated Monroe after offering a campaign pledge that he would introduce constitutional amendments comprising a Bill of Rights at the First Congress.[30]

Though Madison had originally opposed a Bill of Rights, he had gradually come to support one in the course of ratification debates. By taking the initiative to propose amendments himself through the Congress, he hoped to preempt a second Constitutional Convention that might have undone the difficult compromises of 1787: a second convention would open the entire Constitution to reconsideration and risk dissolving the federal Government. Writing to Jefferson, he stated, "The friends of the Constitution, some from an approbation of particular amendments, others from a spirit of conciliation, are generally agreed that the System should be revised. But they wish the revisal to be carried no farther than to supply additional guards for liberty."[31] He also felt that amendments guaranteeing personal liberties would "give to the Government its due popularity and stability".[32] Finally, he hoped that the amendments "would acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion".[33]

The federal government's first president, George Washington, endorsed limited amendments to the Constitution in his first address to Congress on April 30, 1789. He urged the legislators to focus on the issue of individual rights rather than making changes to the new government's structure:
"For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid any alteration which might endanger the benefits of Template:Notatypo 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."[34]
On May 4, Madison announced his intention to present amendments on May 25.[35]

Madison's proposed amendments

Madison attempted to introduce his proposed amendments on May 25 as planned, but other business forced his speech's postponement to June 8.[36] Like Washington, he urged Congress to keep the revision to the Constitution "a moderate one", limited to protecting individual rights.[37] Historians continue to debate the degree to which Madison considered the amendments of the Bill of Rights necessary, and to what degree he considered them politically expedient; in the outline of his address, he wrote, "Bill of Rights—useful—not essential—".[36]

Madison proposed twenty amendments to Congress, one of which was a new preamble to the Constitution with greater stress on natural rights.[37]Template:Efn Madison was deeply read in the history of government and used a range of sources in composing the amendments. The English Magna Carta of 1215 inspired the right to petition and to trial by jury, for example, while the English Bill of Rights of 1689 provided an early precedent for the right to keep and bear arms and prohibited cruel and unusual punishment.[25]

The greatest influence on Madison's text, however, was existing state constitutions.[38][39] Many of his amendments, including his proposed new preamble, were based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights drafted by Anti-Federalist George Mason in 1776.[40] To reduce future opposition to ratification, Madison also looked for recommendations shared by many states.[39]

Congressional revisions

On Madison's concluding his speech, the proposal was quickly attacked by Federalist representatives who felt that immediately amending the new Constitution would create an appearance of instability in the government.[41] The House, unlike the Senate, was open to the public, and members such as Fisher Ames warned that a prolonged "dissection of the constitution" before the galleries could shake public confidence.[42] A procedural battle followed, and after initially forwarding the amendments to a select committee for revision, the House agreed to take Madison's proposal up as a full body beginning on July 21, 1789.[43][44]

The eleven-member committee made some significant changes to Madison's twenty amendments, including eliminating most of his preamble, adding the phrase "freedom of speech, and of the press", and adding what would become the Tenth Amendment, reserving powers to the states.[45] The House debated the amendments for eleven days. Roger Sherman of Connecticut persuaded the House to place the amendments at the Constitution's end so that the document would "remain inviolate", rather than adding them throughout, as Madison had proposed.[46] The amendments, revised and condensed from twenty to seventeen, were approved and forwarded to the Senate on August 24, 1789.[47]

The Senate edited these amendments still further, making 26 changes of its own. Madison's proposal to apply parts of the Bill of Rights to the states as well as the federal government was eliminated, and the seventeen amendments were condensed to twelve.[48] The Senate also eliminated the last of Madison's proposed changes to the preamble.[49] The two versions went to the Joint Committee, and the Senate's version was adopted by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, to be forwarded to the states on September 28.[50][51]

Madison continued to be active in debate and legislative maneuvering throughout this process. Historian Gordon S. Wood writes that "there is no question that it was Madison's personal prestige and his dogged persistence that saw the amendments through the Congress. There might have been a federal Constitution without Madison but certainly no Bill of Rights."[52]

Ratification process

By the time the Bill of Rights was submitted to the states for ratification, opinions had shifted in both parties. Many Federalists now supported the Bill as a means to silence the Anti-Federalists' most effective critique. Many Anti-Federalists, in contrast, now opposed it, realizing that the Bill's adoption would greatly lessen the chances of a second constitutional convention.[53] Anti-Federalists such as Richard Henry Lee also argued that the Bill left the most objectionable portions of the Constitution, such as the federal judiciary and direct taxation, intact.[54]

On November 20, 1789, New Jersey ratified eleven of the twelve amendments, rejecting Article II, which regulated Congressional pay raises. On December 19 and 22, respectively, Maryland and North Carolina ratified all twelve amendments.[55] On January 19, 25, and 28, 1790, respectively, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Delaware ratified the Bill, though New Hampshire rejected the amendment on Congressional pay raises, and Delaware rejected Article I, which regulated the size of the House.[55] This brought the total of ratifying states to six of the required ten, but the process stalled in other states: Connecticut and Georgia found a Bill of Rights unnecessary and so refused to ratify, while Massachusetts ratified most of the amendments, but failed to send official notice to the Secretary of State that it had done so.[54]Template:Efn

In February through June of 1790, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island ratified eleven of the amendments, though all three rejected the amendment on Congressional pay raises. Virginia initially postponed its debate, but after Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791, the total number of states needed for ratification rose to eleven. Vermont ratified on November 3, 1791, approving all twelve amendments, and Virginia finally followed on December 15, 1791.[54] Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the ten successfully ratified amendments on March 1, 1792.[56]

Unratified amendments proposed with the Bill of Rights

Article I

Main article: Article the First
After the enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.[57]

Article I was ratified by ten of fourteen states, but was rejected by Delaware, which favored a small House due to the state's small population.[58] Despite later ratification by Kentucky (bringing the total to eleven of fifteen), the article has never since received the approval of enough states for it to become part of the Constitution.[52]

Article II

No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.[57]

Article II was initially ratified by six of fourteen states, but after 1791 did not receive another state ratification for almost a century. In 1873, Ohio's state legislature ratified it in protest of a Congressional pay raise, followed another century later by Wyoming, which ratified in 1978. Gregory Watson, a Texas undergraduate, launched a campaign in 1982 to complete the ratification process, and by 1992, thirty-eight of the fifty states had ratified. Because of the unusual two-century delay in the process, the amendment's adoption was certified by Archivist of the United States Don W. Wilson and approved by a vote of Congress on May 20, 1992. The article then became the Twenty-seventh Amendment.[59]


The Bill of Rights had little judicial impact for the first 150 years of its existence; in the words of Gordon S. Wood, "After ratification, most Americans promptly forgot about the first ten amendments to the Constitution."[60] The Court made no important decisions protecting free speech rights, for example, until 1931.[61] Historian Richard Labunski attributes the Bill's long legal dormancy to three factors: first, it took time for a "culture of tolerance" to develop that would support the Bill's provisions with judicial and popular will; second, the Supreme Court spent much of the 19th century focused on issues relating to intergovernmental balances of power; and third, the Bill initially only applied to the federal government, a restriction affirmed by Barron v. Baltimore (1833).[62][63][64] In the twentieth century, however, most of the Bill's provisions were applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment—a process known as incorporation—beginning with the freedom of speech clause, in Gitlow v. New York (1925).[65] In Talton v. Mayes (1896), the Court ruled that Constitutional protections, including the provisions of the Bill of Rights, do not apply to the actions of American Indian tribal governments.[66]

First Amendment

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.[67]

The First Amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today.[68]

In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Thomas Jefferson's correspondence to call for "a wall of separation between church and State", though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute.[68] Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th- and 21st-century court decisions that protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common law precedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964).[69] Commercial speech is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.[68]

The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931)[70] and New York Times v. United States (1971),[71] the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.[68]

Second Amendment

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.[67]

The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms. The right to bear arms predates the Bill of Rights; the Second Amendment was based partially on the right to bear arms in English common law, and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. This right was described by Sir William Blackstone as an auxiliary right, supporting the natural rights of self-defense, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state. Academic inquiry into the purpose, scope, and effect of the amendment has been controversial and subject to numerous interpretations.[72]

In United States v. Cruikshank (1875), the Supreme Court ruled that "[t]he right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government."[73] In United States v. Miller (1939), the Court ruled that the amendment "[protects arms that had a] reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia".[74]

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment "codified a pre-existing right" and that it "protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home" but also stated that "the right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose".[75] In McDonald v. Chicago (2010),[76] the Court ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.[77]

Third Amendment

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.[67]

The Third Amendment restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes, in response to Quartering Acts passed by the British parliament during the Revolutionary War. The amendment is one of the least controversial of the Constitution, and, as of 2009, has never been the primary basis of a Supreme Court decision.[78][79]

Fourth Amendment

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.[67]

The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It was adopted as a response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, which is a type of general search warrant, in the American Revolution. Search and seizure (including arrest) must be limited in scope according to specific information supplied to the issuing court, usually by a law enforcement officer who has sworn by it. The amendment is the basis for the exclusionary rule, which mandates that evidence obtained illegally cannot be introduced into a criminal trial.[80] The amendment's interpretation has varied over time; its protections expanded under left-leaning courts such as that headed by Earl Warren and contracted under right-leaning courts such as that of William Rehnquist.[81]

Fifth Amendment

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.[67]

The Fifth Amendment protects against double jeopardy and self-incrimination and guarantees the rights to due process, grand jury screening of criminal indictments, and compensation for the seizure of private property under eminent domain. The amendment was the basis for the court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which established that defendants must be informed of their rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination prior to interrogation by police.[82]

Sixth Amendment

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 defence.[67]

The Sixth Amendment establishes a number of rights of the defendant in a criminal trial:

In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court ruled that the amendment guaranteed the right to legal representation in all felony prosecutions in both state and federal courts.[83]

Seventh Amendment

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.[67]

The Seventh Amendment guarantees jury trials in federal civil cases that deal with claims of more than twenty dollars. It also prohibits judges from overruling findings of fact by juries in federal civil trials. In Colgrove v. Battin (1973), the Court ruled that the amendment's requirements could be fulfilled by a jury with a minimum of six members. The Seventh is one of the only parts of the Bill of Rights not to be incorporated (applied to the states).[84]

Eighth Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.[67]

The Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of excessive bails or fines, though it leaves the term "excessive" open to interpretation.[85]

The most frequently litigated clause of the amendment is the last, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.[86][87] This clause was only occasionally applied by the Supreme Court prior to the 1970s, generally in cases dealing with means of execution. In Furman v. Georgia (1972), some members of the Court found capital punishment itself in violation of the amendment, arguing that the clause could reflect "evolving standards of decency" as public opinion changed; others found certain practices in capital trials to be unacceptably arbitrary, resulting in a majority decision that effectively halted executions in the United States for several years.[88] Executions resumed following Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which found capital punishment to be constitutional if the jury was directed by concrete sentencing guidelines.[88] The Court has also found that some poor prison conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as in Estelle v. Gamble (1976).[86]

Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.[67]

The Ninth Amendment protects rights not specifically enumerated by the Constitution. It was rarely cited before the second half of the 20th century, when it was used as a partial foundation for the right to privacy in several landmark cases: Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which struck down a law banning contraceptives, and Roe v. Wade (1973), which established a woman's right to an abortion. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Court used the amendment to strike down part of another abortion law, a case the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution describes as "the high-water mark, to date, of judicial willingness to use the Ninth Amendment"; between 1992 and 2000, the Court did not refer to the amendment a single time.[89]

Tenth Amendment

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.[67]

The Tenth Amendment states the Constitution's principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or the people. The amendment provides no new powers or rights to the states, but rather preserves their authority in matters not relegated to the federal government.[90]

Display and honoring of the Bill of Rights

George Washington had fourteen handwritten copies of the Bill of Rights made, one for Congress and one for each of the original thirteen states.[91] The copies for Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania went missing. The New York copy is thought to have been destroyed in a fire,[92] whereas the Pennsylvania copy was taken by a soldier sometime in April 1865.[93] Two unidentified copies of the missing four (thought to be the Georgia and Maryland copies) survive; one is in the National Archives,[94][95] and the other is in the New York Public Library.[96] North Carolina's copy was stolen by a Union soldier in April 1865 and returned to North Carolina in 2005 by FBI Special Agent Robert King Wittman.[96][97]

The National Archives and Records Administration copy of the Bill of Rights is on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The Rotunda itself was constructed in the 1950s and dedicated in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman, who said, "Only as these documents are reflected in the thoughts and acts of Americans, can they remain symbols of power that can move the world. That power is our faith in human liberty".[98]

After fifty years, signs of deterioration in the casing were noted, while the documents themselves appeared to be well preserved.[99] Accordingly, the casing was updated and the Rotunda rededicated on September 17, 2003. In his dedicatory remarks, President George W. Bush stated, "The true [American] revolution was not to defy one earthly power, but to declare principles that stand above every earthly power—the equality of each person before God, and the responsibility of government to secure the rights of all."[100] In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 15 to be Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.[101] In 1991, the Virginia copy of the Bill of Rights toured the country in honor of its bicentennial, visiting the capitals of all fifty states.[102]

See also




  • Amar, Akhil Reed (1998). The Bill of Rights. Yale University Press.
  • Beeman, Richard (2009). Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. Random House.
  • Bessler, John D. (2012). Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment. UPNE.
  • Brookhiser, Richard (2011) James Madison. Basic Books.
  • Brutus (1787) "To the Citizens of the State of New York". In The Complete Anti-Federalist, Volume 1 (2008). Ed. Herbert J. Storing. University of Chicago Press.
  • Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James, and Jay, John (2003) The Federalist: With Letters of Brutus. Ed. Terence Ball. Cambridge University Press.
  • Labunski, Richard E. (2006). James Madison and the struggle for the Bill of Rights. Oxford University Press.
  • Levy, Leonard W. (1999). Origins of the Bill of Rights. Yale University Press.
  • Maier, Pauline (2010). Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. Simon and Schuster.
  • Rakove, Jack N. (1996). Original Meanings. Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Stewart, David O. (2007). The Summer of 1787. Simon and Schuster.
  • Wood, Gordon S. (2009). Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. Oxford University Press.

Further reading

External links

  • National Archives: The full text of the United States Bill of Rights
  • (partners with the National Archives): Online viewer with High-resolution image of the original document
  • Library of Congress: Bill of Rights and related resources
  • Alexander Hamilton, Federalist, no. 84, 575–81, on opposition to the Bill of Rights
  • - Bill of Rights
  • United States Bill of Rights at Project Gutenberg

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