United States Bill Of Right
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They 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 held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. While twelve amendments were passed by Congress, only ten were originally passed by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted as the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the other technically remains pending before the states.
Originally, the Bill of Rights implicitly legally protected only white men, excluding American Indians, people considered to be “black” (now described as African Americans), and women. These exclusions were not explicit in the Bill of Right’s text, but were well understood and applied.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Background and historical context
One of the earliest documents used in drafting the American Bill of Rights was the English Bill of Rights of 1689, one of the fundamental documents of English constitutional law. The English Bill of Rights differed substantially in form and intent from the American Bill of Rights, because it was intended to address the rights of citizens as represented by Parliament against the Crown. However, some of its basic tenets were adopted and extended by the U.S. Bill of Rights, including:
- the right of petition,
- an independent judiciary (the Sovereign was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself),
- freedom from taxation by royal (executive) prerogative, without agreement by Parliament (legislators),
- freedom from a peace-time standing army,
- freedom [for Protestants] to bear arms for their defence, as allowed by law,
- freedom to elect members of Parliament without interference from the Sovereign,
- freedom of speech in Parliament,
- freedom from cruel and unusual punishments and excessive bail, and
- freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial.