The US Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments of the constitution, indicating American rights in relation to the government. The amendments were a response to the Articles of Confederation. The country’s leaders convened a convention in Philadelphia in 1787 to amend the articles. Still, the leaders took radical measures to propose a new document (“Bill of Rights”) since they found the article’s Amendment inadequate (Baracskay, 2018). The majority of the convections refused to sign the constitution until a written Bill of Rights was included to protect the freedom and rights of individuals. James Madison, the drafter and principal architect of the Bill, proposed ten amendments that the USA adopted to become the Bill of Rights effective December 1791 (Rossum & Tarr, 2018, 10). The ten amendments offer individuals, states, groups, or institutions legal protection from those seeking social, political, or financial gain at their expense.
How and Why the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution
According to former president Thomas Jefferson, the Bill of Rights is what individuals in a nation are entitled to against every government on earth and that which no government can deny (Rossum & Tarr, 2018, 12). The tradition that gave substance and shape to the bills of rights had an English basis but a uniquely American experience. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of human rights identified by the ten amendments did not originate during the ratification process. Notably, British citizens populated 13 colonies that had emerged victorious from the War of Independence (1775-1781). These citizens had a historical tradition of certain rights dating back to the Magna Carta (1215). Following England’s Glorious Glorious (1688), these rights were refined and strengthened in the English Bill of Rights (1689). Following this progress in human rights, other primary documents, such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1769), the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (1780), formed the basis for the Bill of Rights’ eventual passage (Tarr, 2018, 14). Nonetheless, Mason’s declaration is generally credited as the central figure of the US Bill of Rights. The US believed they were entitled to all the rights stipulated in the English documents.
On September 3, 1783, the revolutionary war ended with the US and Great Britain meeting in France to sign the Treaty of Paris (Barker et a., 2018, 23). Four years later, the first constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation, was replaced by the current constitution written by James Madison. The new constitution allowed a government with three branches (president, congress, and Supreme Court) to provide checks and balances to power (Tarr, 2018, 16). The constitution convections had delegates from 13 States to Philadelphia. The convection fell into two categories: Federalists, those that supported the constitution as it was. The federalists felt that the constitution as it was would protect the people’s rights. In addition, federalists feared specifying some rights would lead to unmentioned rights. According to Anti-federalists, the existing constitution gave the government too much power (Baracskay, 2018). The citizens agreed with the anti-federalists, and the Bill of Rights’ absence was considered a flaw.
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After 1789, when George Washington became the first US president and James Madison became a member of congress, a Bill of Rights documented was crafted. According to Magliocca (2018, 37), Madison reviewed the Magna cart, the English Bill of Rights, and the State constitution to develop nineteen proposed amendments with ten chosen. The Senate changed the joint resolution to consist of 12 amendments. By 1791, three-quarters of the states had ratified the 10 of these amendments, which became the Bill of Rights.
Freedom was a significant influence in adopting the ten amendments. Due to American post-feudal beginnings, it faced oppression linked with former regimes. The regime was rigid, dominated by a single Church and arbitrary government. The Americans hypothesized a pre-political state of nature, free of human restraints, that human beings are born free and exist in the world with God-given natural rights. In America, religion and political theory teaches that government is limited. 17th century England struggled for constitutional liberty through the common laws and Puritan parliament against the kings (Finkelman, 2020, 292). The English limited only the crown and protected only a few rights. Rather than adopt a similar approach, the Americans believed free people are those under a constitutionally checked and controlled government whose power is reasonably exercised without interfering with individual rights. Therefore, the Bill of Rights resolved significant deficiencies of the Constitution. The Amendment guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual.
The role of founding fathers/ framers who had a prominent role in creating the Bill of Rights
Thomas Jefferson, the then president, was the principal drafter of the declaration, while James Madison of the Bill of Rights (Tarr, 2018, 23). Madison, alongside Morris, and James, were the chief architect of the constitution. All these founders and framers believed that containing government power and protecting liberty was the most necessary task, and a new form of governance was formed to protect individuals’ rights. Madison was the principal architect of the Bill of Rights. He was one of three writers o the federalist essays that promoted the constitution’s passage by state ratification convections. However, he did not envision the separate bills of rights. While Madison had been convinced of the necessity of bills of rights to protect civil liberties, his primary concern was political practicality. George Mason was one of the central authors of the Virginia Declaration of rights, on which the Bill of Rights was based. Federal farmers, Brutus and Centinel, appeared in the American newspaper during the ratification debate and opposed the proposed constitution based on the omission of the Bill of Rights (Tarr, 2018, 24). Fifty-five delegates attended the constitutional convections sessions, with only 39 signing the Constitution (Baracskay, 2018). Nonetheless, these framers of the bills of rights and founders feared that the national government would gain much more power than the individual states and interfere with individual rights.
How did the Supreme Court interpret the 1791 Bill of Rights over time
The Supreme Court has interpreted and given meaning to the United States Bill of Rights, thus creating a constitutional law that constantly changes over the years. Significant doctrinal shifts have occurred without transformation in the constitutional texts or newly discovered historical evidence about the original constitutional texts. Substantial changes in applying the Bill of Rights have occurred under the Fourteenth Amendment due process (Finkelman, 2020, 293). The court has repeatedly held that the provision is applied, whether a state or a federal government is the challenged party. Nonetheless, the supreme court has granted the state some minor flexibility on the standards of some provisions and in the jury trial requirements. In some cases, the court has reinvigorated some aspects of the old federalism. For instance, the Eleventh Amendment has been included with new potency. A doctrine of comity and rules of prudential restraints in exercising federal judicial power has been invoked. The supreme observation is that the present court will apply federalism concerns to limit federal powers (Baracskay, 2018). Nonetheless, the scope of congressional power remains.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Bill of Rights to create new precedents. For instance, the Eleventh Amendment is one of the most explicit provisions in the US constitution. The Amendment provides that the judicial power of the US shall not be construed to the extent of law or equity suit or prosecuted by the citizens of another state or citizens of another state. After the American Civil War (1865-65), slavery was abolished by the 13th and 14th amendments (1868) (Finkelman, 2020, 294). These amendments declared that each person born or naturalized in the US is subject to US jurisdiction as a citizen. In the early 20th Century, the Supreme Court used the due process clause to incorporate or apply against the federal government (Rossum & Tarr, 2018, 46). In 2013, the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional (Baracskay, 2018). Since 1791, the Bill of Rights has been amended to include guaranteed equal rights for women, direct election of senators, authorized income tax, limited presidential term to two, prohibited poll tax in federal elections, and extended voting among 18 years old, among others (Magliocca, 2018, 40). Nonetheless, the amendments are rarely amended due to the minimal avenues viable for change.
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The most important Amendment
The First Amendment is the most vital part of the Bill of Rights. The Amendment provides that “congress makes no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free speech. The laws protect freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (Magliocca, 2018, 38). The Amendment guarantees every American freedom that is essential to democracy, devoid of coercion by the government. The first part of the Amendment indicates religious animosity. The framers realized religious strife could cause disruption in politics if one religion were favored over others (Finkelman, 2020, 293). Hence, the law would ensure the government does not interfere with citizens’ religious practices. Free speech allows the citizens to communicate freely, freedom of assembly enables people to express themselves, and the right to petition allows them to call the government to account. Notably, unpopular ideas are protected by the Amendment because popular ideas have support, and unpopular ideas can lead to the rediscovery of the truth (Collins & Hudson 202, 14). However, the Amendment has limits such as fateful speech, violent gatherings, destruction of properties, and forceful religion (Rossum & Tarr, 2018, 47).
To date, the Bill of Rights is essential to Americans and remains a fundamental freedom symbol. Today, there are 27 amendments in the US constitution, but only the first 10 are regarded as the Bill of Rights. The founders and promoters of the Bill of Rights understood the need to create a flexible amendment of laws to respond to changing circumstances but rigid enough to avoid being corrupted. The Amendments’ fundamental role was freedom under constitutionally checked and controlled government that its power is reasonably exercised without interfering with individual rights. Thomas Jefferson, the constitution drafter; James Madison, a principal architect and George Mason, alongside other players, were the principal framers of the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has contributed massively to setting precedents for creating new amendments and interpreting the Bill of Rights depending on the context and time. While all the amendments are imperative, the First Amendment guarantees freedom crucial for every American citizen. The Bill of Rights is the foundation for individual liberty.
Baracskay, D. (2018). Bill of Rights. Mtsu.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2022, from
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Collins, R. K., & Hudson Jr, D. L. (2021). The roberts court—its first amendment free expression jurisprudence: 2005–2021. Brooklyn Law Review, 87, 2022-5.
Finkelman, P. (2020). The bill of rights in historical and international perspective: How an 18th century document illuminates liberty in the 21st century. Ohio nul rev., 46,
Magliocca, G. N. (2018). The heart of the Constitution: How the Bill of Rights became the Bill of Rights. Oxford University Press.
Rossum, R. A., & Tarr, G. A. (2018). American constitutional law: The Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments. Routledge.
Tarr, G. A. (2018). Understanding state constitutions. Princeton University Press.