According to US Supreme Court, a major accomplishment of the 1st Congress was the drafting of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, which sets limits on the power of government in order to protect the liberties and rights of individuals from the government’s abuse of its power. Creation of the Bill of Rights “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular [that is, federal or state], and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to James Madison on December 20, 1787.
Jefferson was in Paris, serving as U. S. minister to France, when he received a copy of the Constitution drafted at the federal convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 and fournd that it lacked a bill of rights. Jefferson generally approved of the new Constitution and reported in detail to Madison the many features of the proposed federal government that satisfied him.
Then Jefferson declared in his December 20 letter to Madison that he did not like “the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies… and trial by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land. ” A bill of rights consists of statements of civil liberties and rights consists of statements of civil liberties and rights that a government may not take away from the people who live under the government’s authority.
A bill of rights sets legal limits on the power of government to prevent public officials from denying liberties and rights to individuals, which they possess on the basis of their humanity. Thomas Jefferson was concerned that the strong powers of government provided for by the U. S. Constitution could be used to destroy inherent civil liberties and rights of the people. He noted with pleasure that the Constitution of 1787 included means to limit the power of government, such as the separation of powers among three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—to prevent any person or group from exercising power tyrannically.
However, Jefferson strongly believed that additional guarantees of individual freedoms and rights were needed. He therefore demanded a bill of rights to protect certain liberties of the people, such as freedom to express ideas in public, from infringement by the government. Many Americans agreed with Jefferson, and they supported ratification of the Constitution only on the condition that a bill of rights would be added to it. James Madison took up this cause at the first federal Congress in 1789.
As a member of the Virginia delegation to the House of Representatives, Madison proposed several amendments to the Constitution to place certain liberties and rights of individuals beyond the reach of the government. The Congress approved 12 of these constitutional changes and sent them to the state governments for ratification. In 1791, 10 of these amendments were approved by the states and added to the Constitution. These 10 amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. Contents of the Bill of Rights Amendment 1 protects freedom of thought, belief, and expression.
It says, for example, that the Congress of the United States is forbidden to pass any law “respecting an establishment of religion” or depriving individuals of certain fundamental civil liberties: religious freedom, the freedom of speech and the press, and the right of the people to gather together peacefully and petition the government to satisfy complaints they have against public policies and officials. The history of the 1st Amendment has involved the expansion of individual freedoms and the separation of church and state.
For example, the 1st Amendment has been interpreted to mean that government may not establish an official religion, favor any or all religions, or stop individuals from practicing religion in their own way. Further, the right to assembly has been extended to include the right of association in organizations. Finally, the rights of free speech and press are generally understood to be very broad, if not absolute. There are, however, legal limits concerning the time, place, and manner of speech.
Amendment 2 protects the right of the state governments and the people to maintain militia or armed companies to guard against threats to their social order, safety, and security; and in connection with that state right the federal government may not take away the right of the people to have and use weapons. Amendment 3 forbids the government, during times of peace, to house soldiers in a private dwelling without the consent of the owner. In a time of war the government may use private dwellings to quarter troops, if this is done lawfully.
Amendment 4 protects individuals against unreasonable and unwarranted searches and seizures of their property. It establishes conditions for the lawful issuing and use of search warrants by government officials to protect the right of individuals to security “in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. ” There must be “probable cause” for issuing a warrant to authorize a search or arrest; and the place to be searched, the objects sought, and the person to be arrested must be precisely described. Amendment 5 states certain legal and procedural rights of individuals.
For example, the government may not act against an individual in the following ways: • Hold an individual to answer for a serious crime unless the prosecution presents appropriate evidence to a grand jury that indicates the likely guilt of the individual. • Try an individual more than once for the same offense. • Force an individual to act as a witness against himself in a criminal case. • Deprive an individual of life, liberty, or property without due process of law (fair and proper legal proceedings).
• Deprive an individual of his or her private property for public use without compensating the person fairly. Amendment 6 guarantees individuals suspected or accused of a crime certain protections against the power of government. This amendment provides to individuals: • The right to a speedy public trial before an unbiased jury picked from the community in which the crime was committed. • The right to receive information about what the individual has been accused of and why the accusation has been made. • The right to face, in court, witnesses offering testimony against the individual.
• The right to obtain favorable witnesses to testify for the defendant in court (that is, the right to subpoena witnesses). • The right to help from a lawyer. Amendment 7 provides for the right to a trial by jury in civil cases (common lawsuits or cases that do not involve a criminal action) where the value of the item(s) or the demanded settlement involved in the controversy exceeds $20. Amendment 8 protects individuals from punishments that are too harsh, fines that are too high, and bail that is too high.
Amendment 9 says that the rights guaranteed in the Constitution are not the only rights that individuals may have. Individuals retain other rights, not mentioned in the Constitution, that the government may not take away. Amendment 10 says that the state governments and the people of the United States retain any powers the Constitution does not specifically grant to the federal government or prohibit to the state governments, such as the power of the states to establish and manage public school systems. Expanding the scope of the Bill of Rights
The framers of the first 10 amendments to the U. S. Constitution intended to limit only the powers of the national government, not those of the state governments. This understanding was supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in Barron v. Baltimore (1833). Writing for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice John Marshall concluded that the Bill of Rights could be used to limit the power only of the federal government, not of the states. However, the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 opened new possibilities.
This amendment states that “no state…shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. ” During the 20th century the Supreme Court has interpreted the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to require state and local governments to comply with most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights. Therefore, state and local governments are now prohibited from encroaching on most of the civil liberties and rights found in the U. S. Constitution.
Under provisions of Amendment 14, the federal government has been empowered to act on behalf of individuals against state and local governments or people who would try to abridge other individuals’ constitutional rights or liberties. ;, Counsel, right to; Freedom of speech and press; Incorporation doctrine; Gun control and the right to bear arms; Liberty under the Constitution; Madison, James; Privacy, right to; Property rights; Religious issues under the Constitution; Rights of the accused; Searches and seizures; Self-incrimination, privilege against; Student rights under the Constitution.
See also Amendments, constitutional, Assembly, association, and petition, rights to; Civil rights; Constitution, U. S. Sources • David J. Bodenhamer and James W. Ely, Jr. , The Bill of Rights in Modern America after Two-Hundred Years (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993). • Kermit L. Hall, ed. , By and For the People: Constitutional Rights in American History (Arlington Heights, Ill. : Harlan Davidson, 1991). • Leonard Levy, “Why We Have a Bill of Rights”, Constitution 3, no.
1 (Winter 1991): 6–13. • Milton Meltzer, The Bill of Rights: How We Got It and What It Means (New York: Crowell, 1990). • Jack Rakove, “Inspired Expedient: How James Madison Balanced Principle and Politics in Securing the Adoption of the Bill of Rights”, Constitution 3, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 19–25. • Donald A. Ritchie, The Constitution (New York: Chelsea House, 1989). • Robert Allen Rutland, The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776–1791 (New York: Collier, 1962)
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