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The Bill of Rights
During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents
repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way
to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the
memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the
Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the
immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their
formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments;
others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the
amendments would be offered.
On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States
therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the
Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it.
The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of
constituents for each Representative and the compensation of
Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by
three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10
amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
The Preamble to The Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York,
on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their
adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent
misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and
restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of
public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent
ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses
concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures
of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United
States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths
of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as
part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the
United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the
Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of
the original Constitution.
Note: The following text is a transcription of the first ten amendments
to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were
ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the "Bill of
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
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.
To Learn More about the Bill of Rights: National Archives site for Bill of Rights.html