The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. While twelve amendments were passed by Congress, only ten were originally passed by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted as the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the other technically remains pending before the states.
Originally, the Bill of Rights legally protected only land-owning white men. However, these limitations were not explicit in the Bill of Right's text. It took additional Constitutional Amendments and numerous Supreme Court cases to extend the same rights to all U.S. citizens.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C..
Background and historical context
English Bill of Rights
One of the earliest documents used in drafting the American Bill of Rights was the English Bill of Rights of 1689, one of the fundamental documents of English constitutional law. The English Bill of Rights differed substantially in form and intent from the American Bill of Rights, because it was intended to address the rights of citizens as represented by British Parliament against the Crown. However, some of its basic tenets were adopted and extended by the U.S. Bill of Rights, including:
- the right of petition,
- an independent judiciary (the Sovereign was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself),
- freedom from taxation by royal (executive) prerogative, without agreement by Parliament (legislators),
- freedom from a peace-time standing army,
- freedom for Protestants to bear arms for their defence, as allowed by law,
- freedom to elect members of Parliament without interference from the Sovereign,
- freedom of speech in Parliament,
- freedom from cruel and unusual punishments and excessive bail, and
- freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial.
Virginia Declaration of Rights
The Virginia Declaration of Rights, well-known to Madison, had already been a strong influence on the American Revolution. It had shaped the drafting of the United States Declaration of Independence a decade before the drafting of the Constitution, proclaiming that "all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which ... [they cannot divest;] namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." On a practical level, its recommendations of a government with a separation of powers (Articles 5–6) and "frequent, certain, and regular" Elections in the United States of executives and legislators were incorporated into the United States Constitution — but the bulk of this work addresses the rights of the people and restrictions on the powers of government, and is recognizable in the modern Bill of Rights:
The government should not have the power of suspending or executing laws, "without consent of the representatives of the people," A legal defendant has the right to be "confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage," and may not be "compelled to give evidence against himself." Individuals should be protected against "cruel and unusual punishments", baseless search and seizure, and be guaranteed a trial by jury. The government should not abridge freedom of the press, or freedom of religion ("all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion"). The government should be enjoined against maintaining a standing army rather than a "well regulated militia".
Articles of Confederation
Prior to the acceptance and implementation of the United States Constitution, the original 13 colonies followed the stipulations and agreements set forth in the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress and ratified in 1781. The national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak however to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states. The Philadelphia Convention set out to correct weaknesses inherent in the Articles of Confederation that had been apparent even before the American Revolutionary War had been successfully concluded. The newly constituted Federal government included a strong executive branch, a stronger legislative branch and an independent judiciary.
The Bill of Rights is a series of limitations on the power of the U.S. federal government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms. In federal criminal cases, it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital punishment or "infamous crime", guarantees a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury composed of members of the state or judicial district in which the crime occurred, and prohibits double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States. Most of these restrictions on the federal government were later applied to the states by a series of legal decisions applying the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868. The Bill was influenced by George Mason's 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights 1689, works of the Age of Enlightenment pertaining to natural rights, and earlier English political documents such as Magna Carta (1215).
Also, it sounds kind of like "Billo Frights", which is probably the name of some ghost somewhere
I personally hope that old Billo never comes near me ever.