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12AD.1.4 Bill of Rights

Enrolled original joint resolution of Congress, engrossed on parchment, proposing 12 amendments to the United States Constitution
Congress of the United States
September 25, 1789
National Archives

Congress of the United States, Bill of Rights, 1789. National Archives

In order to get some of the signatories to ratify the Constitution, leaders promised that a series of amendments would quickly be ratified and added to the Constitution. What has become known as the Bill of Rights, these first ten amendments were largely designed to define the power of ordinary people in opposition to the power of the government. As you carefully review each of these amendments, put a star next to the ones that you think directly address the question, How much power should government have over its citizens? How does each amendment resolve this question? Does it seem to side more with the rights of citizens or the power of the government?

The Bill of Rights is the clearest description of the ways in which ordinary people are protected from the government. There are important connections to make between the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. For example, Amendment VII’s trial by jury right directly addressed perceived abuses by the British government. There are also important connections to make between Federalists (like Alexander Hamilton), who favored swift ratification of the Constitution, and anti-Federalists (like James Madison), who favored a clearer definition of the rights of people. As students chart key details in the Bill of Rights, teachers may wish to create an extension assignment that asks students to choose one amendment and closely research, analyze, and evaluate the context in which it was passed, and how it has been used as a basis for future struggles about the rights of individuals.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 defence.
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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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.