U.S. Constitution : Bill of Rights

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Bill of Rights
U.S. Constitution

Bill of Rights Summary

On September 25, 1789, the First Federal Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to the Constitution. The first two, concerning the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles three through twelve, known as the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution and contained guarantees of essential rights and liberties omitted in the crafting of the original document. The Bill of Rights defined citizens' rights in relation to the newly established government under the Constitution.
 

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the American Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

 

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. Articles 3 to 12, ratified December 15, 1791, by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Article 2 concerning “varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives” was finally ratified on May 7, 1992, as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative, was never ratified. The Tenth Amendment reflects Thomas Jefferson's insistence on limited powers for the central government.

Sources: Yale University; Yale Law School; Library of Congress; National Archives; ourdocuments.gov

Recommended Reading: The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction. Review: "The Bill of Rights stands as the high temple of our constitutional order--America's Parthenon--and yet we lack a clear view of it," Akhil Reed Amar writes in his introduction to The Bill of Rights. "Instead of being studied holistically, the Bill has been broken up ... with each segment examined in isolation." With The Bill of Rights, Amar aims to put the pieces back together and take a longer view of a document few Americans truly understand. Part history of the Bill, part analysis of the Founding Fathers' intentions, this book provides a unique interpretation of the Constitution. It is Amar's hypothesis that, contrary to popular belief, the Bill of Rights was not originally constructed to protect the minority against the majority, but rather to empower popular majorities. It wasn't until 19th-century post-Civil War reconstruction and the introduction of the 14th Amendment that the notion of individual rights took hold. Continued below... 

Prior to that, the various amendments to the Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights were more about the structure of government and designed to protect citizens against a self-interested regime.Yet so great has been the impact of the 14th Amendment on modern legal thought that the Bill's original intentions have almost been forgotten. Through skillful interpretation and solid research, Amar both reconstructs the original thinking of the Founding Fathers and chronicles the radical changes that have occurred since the inclusion of the 14th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The results make for provocative reading no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.

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Recommended Reading: Origins of the Bill of Rights (Yale Contemporary Law Series). From Library Journal: Constitutional historian Levy, author of 36 books concerning American politics and constitutional issues (e.g., The Palladium of Justice: Origins of Trial by Jury), provides a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the origins of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional provisions that protect rights. His historical analysis frames fundamental principles of "liberty" and "rights" by interpreting each of the first nine amendments to the Constitution and demonstrating differences between 18th-century American ideals and English common-law practice. Continued below...

His informative arguments in this important work concern nature and the sources of the Bill of Rights within American democracy, providing understanding for both scholars and citizens. Levy's approach to these controversial values, which protect the rights of the people, will be the source of future legal and public discussion. A significant contribution to understanding the Bill of Rights; highly recommended.

 

Recommended Reading: The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Bill of Rights and all of the Amendments; The Declaration of Independence; and the Articles of Confederation, by Thomas Jefferson (Author), Second Continental Congress (Author), Constitutional Convention (Author). Description: Collected in one affordable volume are the most important documents of the United States of America: The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Bill of Rights and all of the Amendments; The Declaration of Independence; and the Articles of Confederation. These three documents are the basis for our entire way of life. Every citizen should have a copy.

 

Recommended Reading: The U.S. Constitution: And Fascinating Facts About It. Description: In The U.S. Constitution & Fascinating Facts About It you'll see the entire text of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence--and much more! You'll find interesting insights into the men who wrote the Constitution, how it was created, and how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution in the two centuries since its creation.

 

Recommended Reading: America's Constitution: A Biography (Hardcover). Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. You can read the U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, in about a half-hour, but it takes decades of study to understand how this blueprint for our nation's government came into existence. Amar, a 20-year veteran of the Yale Law School faculty, has that understanding, steeped in the political history of the 1780s, when dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation led to a constitutional convention in Philadelphia, which produced a document of wonderful compression and balance creating an indissoluble union. Amar examines in turn each article of the Constitution, explaining how the framers drew on English models, existing state constitutions and other sources in structuring the three branches of the federal government and defining the relationship of the government to the states. Continued below...

Amar takes on each of the amendments, from the original Bill of Rights to changes in the rules for presidential succession. The book squarely confronts America's involvement with slavery, which the original Constitution facilitated in ways the author carefully explains. Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas, this book is miles removed from an arid, academic exercise in textual analysis. Amar evokes the passions and tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book.

 

Recommended Reading: The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, by Edwin Meese (Author), Matthew Spalding (Editor), David F. Forte (Editor), Matthew Spalding (Author), David F. Forte (Author) (Hardcover). Description: This guide is the first of its kind, and presents the U.S. Constitution as never before, including a clause-by-clause analysis of the document, each amendment and relevant court case, and the documents that serve as the foundation of the Constitution. About the Authors: Edwin Meese III served as the 75th Attorney General of the United States under President Reagan. Continued below...

The Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board, he is a distinguished legal expert and holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation; Executive Editor Dr. Matthew Spalding is an expert in and teaches constitutional history, is an Adjunct Fellow of the Claremont Institute, and is the Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation; Senior Editor Dr. David F. Forte is a widely published legal scholar, a former Chief Counsel to the United States Delegation to the United Nations, and the Charles R. Emrick, Jr. —Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law at Cleveland State University.

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