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The Bill of Rights

Civics | 7-14 yrs | Interactive

The Bill of Rights is the name given to the first ten amendments found in the Constitution of the United States.

When and why was the bill of rights added to the constitution?

Every country has its own Constitution. A constitution is a set of fundamental principles and rules according to which a state or any organization is to be governed.
It was on March 4, 1789 when United States was established as a free nation governed by the people. America officially adopted the United States Constitution. George Washington was the first President of the United States who served in its office from 30th April 1789 till March 4, 1797. The Bill of Rights was however adopted before he became the President.

The American Constitution however needed some changes. Many of the rights and liberties which the Americans have access to- like speech, religion, the right to trial were not listed in the original Constitution. Thus the Constitution needed some amendments and these amendments came to be known as the Bill of Rights.

What is the Bill of Rights?

The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. The idea of this bill was to ensure certain freedom and rights to the American citizens. It put some limits on what the government could and could not do. The freedoms protected under the Bill of Rights would be the freedom of religion, speech, assembly, the right to bear arms, unreasonable search and seizure of homes, a right to speedy trial and more. Many people were not willing to sign the constitution without a Bill of Rights.

It was James Madison, the most important architect of the Constitution, who wrote 12 amendments and presented it to the Congress in 1789. George Mason (who also wrote the Virginia’s Declaration of Rights) was also credited with the subsequent changes in the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was drafted in New York City where the Federal government was operating out of the Federal Hall. 10 out of those 12 amendments were passed and made part of the Constitution and came to be known as the Bill of Rights.

The Congress commissioned 14 copies of the bill of Rights, one for the federal Government and one for each of the 13 states.

The 10 amendments to the Constitution

  1. The first amendment states that Congress shall make no law preventing the establishment of any religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It also protects the freedom of speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.
  2. The second amendment protects a citizen’s right to bear arms.
  3. The third amendment prevents the government from placing troops in private homes, which was a major issue during the American Revolutionary war.
  4. The fourth amendment prevents the government from unreasonable search and seizure of property of the US citizens. The government needs to have a warrant, issued by a judge based on a probable cause.
  5. The Fifth Amendment gives people the right to choose not to testify themselves in court, if they feel their own testimony will incriminate them.
  6. The sixth amendment guarantees a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peer. An accused need to be informed of the crimes they are charged with and have the right to confront the witness bought by the government.
  7. The seventh amendment provides that the civil cases will be tried by the jury.
  8. The eighth amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, cruel and unusual punishments.
  9. The ninth amendment states that the people still have all the rights that are not listed.
  10. The tenth amendment gives all powers which are not specifically given to the United States government in the Constitution to either the State or its people.

The bill of Rights officially went into effect after Virginia’s approval in 1791.

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