The Origins of the Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights day was December 15th. It’s hard to imagine the United States without a Bill of Rights. It’s such an important part of the Constitution and our political system! But when the nation’s Founding Documents were being drafted, there was a great deal of disagreement over whether a Bill of Rights was truly necessary.   This debate, embodied in the political battle between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, is emblematic of long standing disagreements in the American body politic over the size and power of the federal government.


When it became clear that the Articles of Confederation weren’t working, the leading statesmen assembled in Philadelphia to discuss an alternative system.  The proposed federal system, with a strong national government, was a contentious replacement for the, at the time, loosely bound states.  After fighting a war to free themselves from a tyrannical government, many were concerned that they would be creating a new monarch in the form of a ‘president’.  To safeguard liberty George Mason of Virginia proposed the adoption of a bill of rights, modeled on those featured in several state constitutions. This became a rallying point for the Anti-Federalist bloc, many of whom were opposed to the new system in general.  Noted Federalists, like Madison, opposed the inclusion of a Bill of rights, maintaining that state governments would be better equipped to protect the liberty of their citizens and that the inclusion of a Bill of rights would create the false perception that only those rights were truly guaranteed to the people.

Read more in this week’s eLesson, a lesson from our textbook Preserving the Bill of Rights!

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