The Bill of Rights


4 minutes

The Bill of Rights - often referenced in American pop culture - is made up of the initial 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In the summer of 1787, the Constitution of the United States was drafted. The first draft set up a system of checks and balances that included a separation of power into three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. While the Constitution contained a lot of information about what the government had authority to do, it lacked a specific declaration or bill, of individual rights. It did not specify what the government could not do and the rights it had to ensure for its people.

The absence of a “bill of rights” made it difficult for states to get behind the constitution and became an obstacle in the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Bill of Rights was created on September 25, 1789. Thanks to the efforts of James Madison, the Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791.

Bill of Rights

Photo courtesy of The National Archives Catalog

The Bill of Rights contain the following amendments:

Amendment I

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Right and protections:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Right to petition the government

Amendment II

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Right and protections:

  • Right to own firearms

Amendment III

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Right and protections:

  • Protection against housing soldiers in civilian homes

Amendment IV

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Right and protections:

  • Protection against unreasonable search and seizure
  • Protection against the issuing of warrants without probable cause

Amendment V

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Right and protections:

  • Protection against
    • Trial without indictment
    • Double jeopardy
    • Self-incrimination
    • Property seizure

Amendment VI

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

Right and protections:

  • Right to a speedy trial
  • Right to be informed of charges
  • Right to be confronted by witnesses
  • Right to call witnesses
  • Right to a legal counsel

Amendment VII

“In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Right and protections:

  • Right to trial by jury

Amendment VIII

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Right and protections:

  • Protection against
    • Excessive bail
    • Excessive fines
    • Cruel and unusual punishment

Amendment IX

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Right and protections:

  • Rights granted in the Constitution shall not infringe on other rights.

Amendment X

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Right and protections:

  • Powers not granted to the Federal Government in the Constitution belong to the states or the people.

You can see one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights today at the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C.

Which rights and protections are similar to those in your home country? Are there any amendments here that would never pass at home?

Nabil Yafai Nabil Yafai

A Brooklyn native, Nabil loves traveling, cooking, and riding his bike to the beach. He joined InterExchange in 2014 and currently assists international participants with obtaining J-1 Visa sponsorship as the Admissions Coordinator for Career Training USA.

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