Today, 15 December, is being observed as Bill of Rights Day, a national observance first established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941.
During the U.S. Constitutional Convention (25 May – 17 September 1787), there were a number of debates in which some participants voiced their concerns that the Constitution, as drafted, would open the way to tyranny by the central government. They had just recently gone through a period of time (before and during the American Revolution) in which British authorities committed various violations of civil rights, some of which are listed in the Declaration of Independence.
These participants demanded a “bill of rights” that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. In their formal ratification of the Constitution, several state conventions also asked for such amendments. Other states ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.
On 25 September 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed twelve amendments to the Constitution that met the concerns that had been most frequently raised concerning it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, and they constitute the first ten amendments of the Constitution. These ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.
The preamble to the Bill of Rights begins as follows:
“THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
To access a copy of the complete Bill of Rights, please visit:
(Note: The 27th Amendment, the most recent amendment to the Constitution, was one of the two original amendments that were not ratified in 1789.)