College of Political Knowledge
Subject: Early American History/Government
Today is the most important day in our history and we observe it not…..17 September 1787……this document gave birth to a nation….
All of us learned about the forming of the US Constitution….all the debate, the convention and then the ratification process…but how many people know that the Bill of Rights were not part of the original Constitution…..it was added in 1791……
The origins of the Bill of Rights…..were they original thoughts?
The Virginia Bill of Rights (proclaimed in 1776, only days before the Declaration of Independence) was the first of ten such declarations by the states during the Revolutionary War period (1775-83). All of these declarations contained provisions that eventually found their way into the national Bill of Rights. Major portions of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth amendments, for example, can be traced directly to the Virginia Bill of Rights.
The origins of many of the other rights and liberties contained in the Bill of Rights can be found in the English tradition, dating as far back as Magna Carta (1215), a document that marked the first step toward constitutional law in England. For example, the clause in the Fifth Amendment, which declares that individuals cannot be deprived of their “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” is rooted in Chapter 39 of Magna Carta.
England’s Petition of Right (1628) and Bill of Rights (1689) further expanded individual liberties and placed increased limitations on the ruler’s powers and authority. English liberties and rights, such as trial by jury and protection against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure, were, in fact, included in the charters establishing the American colonies. They were considered to be the “rights of Englishmen.”
Then we ask, why were they introduced after the ratification of the Constitution?
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates rejected a motion made by George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), to preface the Constitution of the United States with a bill of rights. The failure to mention basic rights soon became a major issue in the subsequent debates over whether or not the proposed Constitution would be ratified, or approved.
When the Constitutional Convention ended, delegates went back to their respective states to hold their own ratifying conventions. Each state would decide for itself whether or not to approve the new framework for the American government.
The debate over the need for a bill of rights was sparked by a proposal made by a dissenting minority in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention. Some delegates believed that guarantees of certain basic rights and liberties were missing from the proposed Constitution. They called for a number of amendments that would secure a wide range of liberties, such as the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and press, and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Majorities in the ratifying conventions of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina also called for numerous amendments to the proposed Constitution. Although the substance of these recommended amendments differed from state to state, most contained provisions that would limit the powers of the new federal (national) government and protect the people from inconsistent and oppressive rule.
The Anti-Federalists (those who were opposed to ratifying the Constitution) argued that the broad powers of the new federal government would threaten the powers of the individual states and the liberties of the people. However, the Federalists (those who supported ratification) argued that a bill of rights was unnecessary. Alexander Hamilton, for example, maintained that because the proposed federal government would possess only specifically assigned and limited powers, it could not endanger the fundamental liberties of the people. “Why,” he asked, “declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?”
Nevertheless, the Federalists had to pledge their support for the addition of a bill of rights to the Constitution once the new government began operations. Otherwise they would risk endangering the Constitution’s ratification in certain key states and face the possibility of another constitutional convention.
The inclusion of the BoR was part of the compromise between all parties to keep the union together after the country began is young existence…….The Constitution was more about property rights not individual rights…basically, the people demanded a statement of rights to be included……It was an after thought that got its day.