The Bill of Rights |
As Washington was inaugurated as America's first president and the infant nation set about to establish a strong government, memories of civil rights violations during the colonial period were still vivid. However, in the draft constitution submitted to the states for ratification relatively few basic rights were included.
A number of prominent Americans were alarmed at the omission of individual liberties in the proposed constitution. George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, refused to sign the document, as did Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.
Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Minister to France at the time, wrote James Madison that he was concerned about "the omission of a bill of rights ... providing clearly ... for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, and restriction against monopolies."
Aware of the lack of these provisions, George Washington urged Congress in his first inaugural address to propose amendments that offered "a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for public harmony."
Motivated by these leading Americans, Congress responded by submitting Amendments to the Constitution providing for essential civil liberties. They were officially proposed on September 25, 1789. Of the original twelve, Articles 3-12 were ratified.
Accordingly, in 1791 these articles became the first ten amendments to the Constitution ... known collectively as The Bill of Rights.
Here are the original twelve amendments as they appear in The Laws of The United States of America, printed by Richard Folwell, Philadelphia, in 1796.
Click to view a Facsimile of THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Here is the complete text of the original twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
After the first 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.
No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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.