When we speak of the Bill of Rights we are referring to the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. “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.”
The ratification of the Constitution was threatened by fears of Anti-Federalists about giving too much power to the new federal government. 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.”
James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, introduced twelve amendments to Congress as “a series of legislative articles.” The House of Representatives adopted them on August 21, 1789 and made a formal proposal by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789. Ten of the proposed amendments became Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, after three-fourths of the states ratified them. One of the two remaining amendments became the Twenty-seventh Amendment 203 years later, and the other amendment is still pending before the states.
The Bill of Rights is important to Americans because it “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.”