December 15, 1791
The New United States of America Adopted the Bill of Rights
Do you know your Bill of Rights? It is the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of American citizens. The new United States of America adopted them on December 15, 1791. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press, the rights of peaceful assembly and petition. Do you know what the others do?
George Mason, the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” carefully wrote out these amendments to ensure individual liberties. He was a lifelong champion of the rights and freedoms of people.
Mason had drafted the Virginia state constitution in 1776, asserting the principle of inalienable rights–certain individual rights that cannot be taken away.
Elected to the new House of Representatives, James Madison agreed with Mason. In the fall of 1789, he sponsored the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, speaking out on freedom of religion, speech, and the press. Ultimately, George Mason’s views prevailed. When James Madison drafted the 10 amendments to the Constitution that were to become the Bill of Rights, he drew heavily upon the ideas put forth in the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
There was one issue, however, that the Constitutional Convention did not resolve to Mason’s liking. The founding fathers compromised, permitting the continuation of the slave trade through 1808. Mason wanted to stop the importation of slaves. Because of the inability of the founding fathers to resolve the slavery issue, among other problems, Americans struggled through a bloody Civil War. Yet, it would take another hundred years to remove a web of state and local laws that prevented African Americans from a fuller exercise of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s helped raise the awareness of Americans to the injustice of segregation and discrimination.
What other freedoms does the Bill of Rights guarantee? The first 10 amendments guarantee the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the rights of private property, fair treatment of those accused of crimes, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from self-incrimination, a speedy and impartial jury trial, and representation by counsel. The U.S. has continued to add amendments to these first 10, defining and protecting our personal liberties. The 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to all male Americans, regardless of race, in 1870. The 19th Amendment expanded those rights to women in 1920. What amendments in the Constitution most affect you?