Bill of Rights (1791)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. James Madison wrote the amendments, which list specific prohibitions on governmental power, in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties. For example, the Founders saw the ability to speak and worship freely as a natural right protected by the First Amendment. Congress is prohibited from making laws establishing religion or abridging freedom of speech. The Fourth Amendment safeguards citizens’ right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion in their homes through the requirement of a warrant.
The Bill of Rights was strongly influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason. Other precursors include English documents such as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties.
One of the many points of contention between Federalists, who advocated a strong national government, and Anti-Federalists, who wanted power to remain with state and local governments, was the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights that would place specific limits on government power. Federalists argued that the Constitution did not need a bill of rights, because the people and the states kept any powers not given to the federal government. Anti-Federalists held that a bill of rights was necessary to safeguard individual liberty.
Madison, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, altered the Constitution’s text where he thought appropriate. However, several representatives, led by Roger Sherman, objected, saying that Congress had no authority to change the wording of the Constitution. Therefore, Madison’s changes were presented as a list of amendments that would follow Article VII.
The House approved 17 amendments. Of these, the Senate approved 12, which were sent to the states for approval in August 1789. Ten amendments were approved (or ratified). Virginia’s legislature was the final state legislature to ratify the amendments, approving them on December 15, 1791.
What Is the Significance of the Free Exercise Clause?
One of America's most cherished freedoms is the free exercise of religion. In a nation where people of many faiths live side-by-side, the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause protects individuals from government interference in the practice of their faith. The government cannot target laws at specific religious practices or place undue burdens on its citizens' worship. This lesson explores the free exercise clause and the many questions that arise from its enforcement.
The Bill of Rights and Free Speech
Focuses on First Amendment protection of free speech, free assembly, and petition of government. The unit also examines the evolution of the definitions of protected expression in speech, petition, assembly, art, and demonstration.
The Bill of Rights and Guns
Explores the origins of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Also explores relevant Supreme Court decisions and engages students in the current debate over gun regulation.
Liberty and Security in Modern Times
Using primary source documents, writing assignments, discussion prompts and other activities, students will explore the difficult questions and natural tensions that go along with balancing liberty with security. This curriculum focuses on the balance between liberty and security in the last 60 years.
The Bill of Rights and Property
Spotlights safeguards to property in the Bill of Rights, explores various types of property, and examines the concepts of takings, just compensation, and eminent domain.
Gideon v. Wainwright | Homework Help from the Bill of Rights Institute
Does an individual have a right to a lawyer, regardless of the crime he or she is charged with? In 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested and charged with breaking and entering and petty larceny in Panama City, Florida. His request for a state-provided defense attorney was denied since Florida law only required doing so for capital offense cases. After Gideon was sentenced to 5 years in prison, he argued that Florida violated the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to counsel. The Supreme Court heard Gideon’s case and ruled in a 7-0 decision that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of an attorney applies to states through the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Due Process of Law
The principle of due process of law means that the government must follow duly-enacted laws when it seeks to restrict or deny fundamental rights, including a person’s rights to life, liberty, or property. In essence, it means that the government must treat its citizens fairly, following laws and established procedures in everything it does. It is the commitment to this principle that makes the United States, as John Adams once noted, “a government of laws, and not of men.”
The Bill of Rights and Due Process
Covers search and seizure, rights of the accused, due process of law, jury trials, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment guaranteed in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments.
The Bill of Rights and Liberty
Explores the unenumerated rights reserved to the people with reference to the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, with a focus on rights including travel, political affiliation, and privacy. Probes the ways the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments have been used to claim rights to personal liberty.
State and Local Government
From the Founding generation to the present day, controversy continues regarding the proper division of power between state and national government. What the Founders did not find debatable was the wisdom of dividing power both among and within governments. In short, they considered the federal system to be a critical part of the American constitutional order.