The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

(American Memory Collection, Library of Congress)


        The framers of the American Constitution did not include a bill of rights in that document. The reason for this omission was not indifference to fundamental rights, but a feeling that as the Constitution did not specifically grant authority over such matters as freedom of the press or assembly, there was no need whatsoever to state that this authority did not exist. This position was logically sound, but not psychologically; Americans generally wanted their rights specially set forth in the constitution. Shortly after the first congress met, James Madison introduced a long Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution. Twelve of these were passed by the congress. However, only ten were ratified by the States, and became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. They became known as the Bill of Rights. Most of them are stated as limitations on government-things the National government may not do. Eventually they came to be interpreted to apply, in a general way, to State governments as well. As almost every State has a bill of rights either as part of the State Constitution or as amendments, it is correct to say that all Americans everywhere enjoy protection of such bills of rights against all governments, local, State, and National.


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.

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 defence.

Amendment VII
        In suits at common law j 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.