[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.

- Thomas Jefferson, 1787.

December 15, 1791: The U.S. Bill of Rights goes into effect.

The first twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution were introduced on September 25, 1789, and ten of them (collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights) were eventually ratified and went into effect on December 15, 1791. The basic rights granted in the Bill of Rights were based on or influenced heavily by the English Bill of Rights (1689), American Revolution ideals, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776). The latter was drafted by George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution without the addition of amendments protecting the rights of individual Americans (in the context of the Bill of Rights, this included only white males and excluded minorities and women). 

Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists argued against the addition of a Bill of Rights; one of their arguments was that they feared that a stated list of rights would imply that rights left unstated would not be protected at all (a fear addressed in the Ninth Amendment). But desire for a bill of rights was felt almost universally, and among the Founding Fathers the most vocal support came from George Mason and Patrick Henry. Although James Madison authored the amendments, he was doubtful of the effectiveness of this “parchment barrier”. The Bill of Rights went into effect after its ratification by Virginia, although two proposed amendments were rejected by several states, one regarding apportionment and the other regarding congressional pay raises. Specifics regarding race or gender were not explicitly mentioned, but it was tacitly accepted that the provisions of the Bill of Rights did not extend to blacks (enslaved and free alike), women, Native Americans, and land-less white men. Firmly ingrained in the culture of the United States, its people, and its government, the Bill of Rights is currently located in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom alongside the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

  1. libertynerd25 reblogged this from unhistorical and added:
    A very good summary of the background of one of America’s most important documents, the Bill of Rights (first ten...
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    Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! :D
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    The best part of my favorite government-related document. (Yes, I have a list of favorite government related documents....
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