The Bill of Rights is the ten amendments of the United States Constitution. They were first introduced by James Madison in 1789. These amendments protect the fundamental rights of citizens by restricting the powers of the federal government. These rights provide freedom of speech, religion, bear arms and freedom from search and cruel punishment. Congress can also cannot impose the death penalty or seize the property of any individual without the due process of courts. The Bill of Rights remains the fundamental document of the American government and legal system.
It also embodies the freedom and culture of the nation. The First Amendment of the United States prevents Congress from making legislation that establishes any religion, prohibits freedom of religion, restricts freedom of speech and press or limits the right to assemble peacefully. The founding fathers did not want an official Church to be established in the new nation. The British had established the Church of England as the official church of Britain. This Church was also the official church in some of the colonies. The founding fathers believed that this limited their freedom of religion.
They also believed that government should not favor any one religion because it would lead to religious intolerance. Indeed the primary function of migration to North America was to escape the religious and economic persecution present in Europe. Anti British publications disseminated information regarding abuses of the colonial rule. Further anyone with pro British sentiments was silenced or intimidated. The founding fathers therefore passed this amendment in order to ensure that tolerance of different ideas and expression were allowed (Hoffman, 1997).
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution allows the creation of a militia and the right of people to keep and bear arms. The creation of a militia was taken from England which had passed a law in 1689 giving the right to bear arms. The right to keep arms protected the American colonists from Indian attacks and European enemies of Britain. These arms would also be useful for the colonists when they declared their independence from Britain. The founding fathers also believed that the English law restricts the citizens of England to bear and keep arms to Protestants.
Poor people cannot use weapons for hunting purposes. Further they also believed that a universal militia is the best defense against foreign aggression (Hoffman, 1997). The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution helps protect the citizens from illegal searches and seizures conducted by political authority. The British used writs of assistance which were general search warrants after its navigation laws were being ignored by American colonists. The founding fathers did not want this type of illegal search and seizure to be conducted by the American government.
This was the reason why the Fourth Amendment was passed (Hoffman, 1997). The Third Amendment prohibits the government from allowing soldiers to be lodged into the private homes of civilians. The founding fathers wanted to prevent the government from allowing this as the British had done before the American Revolution. According to the Quartering Act, British troops could lodge in private homes and use whatever resources were needed to maintain discipline and morale (Hoffman, 1997). The Eight Amendment prohibits cruel punishment and excessive fines.
In England, the power to grant bails to criminals was in the hands of sheriffs. This would lead to abuses in power. Despite a law passed by the English parliament, the law was still subverted. The founding fathers sought to curb this English law after independence to prevent the government from imposing excessive fines and cruel punishment (Hoffman, 1997). The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution allows accused criminals to be provided with due process of law and forbids double jeopardy. It also prevents the forcible testimony of a person against himself or herself.
The British colonial legal system was flawed as it did not give criminals the due process during legal proceedings. It did not protect the individuals from political or religious enemies. It was misused by anyone who wanted to settle scores with anyone. The founding fathers of the United States of America did not want this to occur. This Amendment therefore calls for the establishment of impartial grand juries which would protect criminals from false accusations or abuse of law. It also prevents the conviction of a person again if he has served prison for one crime.
The Amendments of the US Bills of Rights which were incorporated into the US Constitution are the foundation of the country’s legal system, government and culture. They ensure the protection of the rights of individuals and restrict the ability of the Federal government to impose laws which would infringe on the civil liberties of the people. References: Ronald Hoffman. The Bill of Rights: Government Proscribed. University Press of Virginia for the United States Capitol Historical Society, 1997.
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