1700s |

U.S. Congress Passes Bill of Rights – 9/25/1789

On September 25th of 1789, the Bill of Rights was passed by the first Congress of the United States.

Congress approved twelve amendments to the United States Constitution, and sent them to the states to be ratified. These twelve amendments were known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was adopted from the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and also from Virginia's Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason in 1776. Some ideas were even taken from earlier documents, such as the Magna Carta from 1215.

In June 8th of 1789, Representative (and future president) James Madison introduced nine constitutional amendments to the House of Representatives. This Bill of Rights had previously been introduced at the Philadelphia Convention, which took place in Philadelphia between May 14th and September 17th of 1787. At the convention, it was learned that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and quite a few others wanted to create a new government instead of fixing the old one. At first, Madison had been an opponent of the Bill of Rights, calling it “parchment barriers,” which offered only an illusion of protection.

The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution (including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) are known as the Founding Fathers of our nation. Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention. At first, ratification opportunities were reserved for the federal government. The door opened for state governments sometime in the 1860s.

The United States Bill of Rights was designed to protect the rights of the people of America. The provisions included freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. It also provides for the right to a fair trial and the right to bear arms. Finally, it states that any powers not reserved for the federal government are powers of the states and the people. The United States Bill of Rights is entrenched, meaning it cannot be modified or appealed by the legislature of a country through any normal procedure.

In December of 1791, Virginia became the 10th of fourteen states (at that time) to accept ten of the twelve Bill of Rights amendments. This gave America the two-thirds majority of states it needed to make the Bill of Rights legal. Soon thereafter, the Bill of Rights was added to the United States Constitution. So, the Bill of Rights of the United States basically refers to the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It basically guarantees citizens their personal freedom, and limits government power over the people.

Of the two amendments not ratified, one involved a population system of representation, and the other had to do with the payment of the members of Congress. One of these amendments was never ratified. The other one was finally ratified more than 200 years later, in 1992.

In practice, the rights stated within the Bill of Rights are not always enforced.

A copy of the Bill of Rights of the United States is on permanent public display at the National Archives in Washington DC. 

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Kelly Sutherland

Writer

Hi! I'm Kelly. My favorite time period was the 70s. I had a boatloads of fun traveling around with my close friends spreading love and just living my life to the fullest... if you know what I mean ;) Now I enjoy sitting in my cozy nook writing and learning about history.