First 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the 1787-88 struggle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in several earlier documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights, along with earlier documents such as Magna Carta (1215).

Bill of Rights Institute


Bill of Rights, 4 Mar 1789
U.S. National Archives, includes transcript and downloadable high-resolution image
Bill of Rights
Hyperlinked text with references to other areas of the Freedom Circle directory

Web Sites

Bill of Rights - Security Edition, by Dean Cameron
"The Bill of Rights – Security Edition Card is The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, printed on each side of a sturdy, playing-card-sized, piece of metal."
Our Constitutional Rights
Uses humorous text and images to introduce the rights mentioned in the U.S. Constitution


Civil Society: Prepared Remarks of James W. Lark, III, at Bill of Rights Day Celebration, by Jim Lark, 6 Dec 2003
"Unfortunately, from the moment the Bill of Rights was ratified it has been under attack. In some cases, the attacks on our liberty have been overt and blatant. However, much more frequently the attacks are barely visible and subtle, and are launched not by people of ill will but rather by people who are well-intentioned."
Democracy Versus Liberty, by James Bovard, The Freeman, Aug 2006
Discusses the dangers of equating liberty with "self-government" as majority rule
"In his 1941 State of the Union address, FDR announced the 'four freedoms' ... FDR's revised freedoms ignored most of all the specific limitations on government power contained in the Bill of Rights. ... But the Bill of Rights did not give freedom to Americans; instead, it was a solemn pledge by the government that it recognized and would not violate the pre-existing rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights was not 'radical' according to the beliefs of Americans of that era; it codified rights both long recognized in English common law and purchased in blood during the Revolution."
Do Our Rights Come from the Constitution?, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Jun 1999
Dispels the myth of "constitutional rights"
"It is commonly believed that the rights of the American people come from the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. ... The Declaration emphasizes that men have been endowed with certain fundamental and inherent rights that preexist government. In other words, man's rights don't come from the king or from any other government official."
FBI Free to Ambush our Bill of Rights, by Nat Hentoff, 23 May 2012
Discusses the Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations changed and expanded by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in late 2008 and retained by the Obama administration
"George Mason's contagious objections became a major reason that the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, were finally listed and ratified by enough states to be added to the Constitution in 1791. And we still proudly have them! Or do we? As George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama have eroded our guarantees of a self-governing republic, how many Americans are aware they are losing some of the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights? ... I know enough about my hero to have no doubt what George Mason's reaction would be to one of the most persistent and unpunished present violators of the Bill of Rights — the FBI!"
George Mason and Individual Rights, by Willie E. Nelms, The Freeman, Sep 1977
Biographical essay highlighting Mason's ideas about individual rights and slavery, from his early childhood reading of Locke, the drafting of the Virginia Declaration of Rights to his opposition at the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention
"Mason's anger at the proposed con­stitution reached the point of no return when the convention mem­bers refused to formulate a bill of rights. ... When the convention failed to comply with Mason's wishes ... he championed the Anti-federalist cause at the state convention called to consider the ratification of the new government. He again argued that addition of a Bill of Rights was essential. It was only through such a document, he argued, that the people could feel secure in their freedom. He voiced the fear that the new federal gov­ernment with its power to levy taxes, would destroy the powers of the states and individuals as well."
Related Topics: George Mason, Rights
George Mason and the Bills of Rights, by Gary Williams, The Freeman, May 1992
Relates the life of George Mason, his primary role in writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights and his opposition to ratifying the U.S. Constitution
"The Bill of Rights received a lot of attention during its recent 200th anniversary, but little recognition was given to George Mason, who was the driving force behind the document. ... Some of Mason's phrases [in the Virginia Declaration of Rights] appear in the U.S. Bill of Rights that passed 15 years later. ... For Mason, the last straw came on September 12, 1787, when his proposal to include a bill of rights in the new Constitution was defeated 10 states to none. Not even Mason's offer to write an immediate version himself was enough to sway the delegates who were impatient to wrap up matters and go home."
Give Me Liberty [PDF], by Rose Wilder Lane, 1936
Originally published as an article titled "Credo" in the Saturday Evening Post; describes her experiences in and history of Soviet Russia and Europe, contrasting them with the history of the United States, emphasizing the individualist themes
"No politician, yet, has asked American voters to give him the power to strip any State of the powers it has usurped from its citizens ... nor to add to the original list of restrictions upon political power—the list known as the Bill of Rights—further restrictions that will adequately protect the property, liberty and lives of persons living in the modern world and make the United States again the world-champion of human rights and the leader of the world-liberating revolution."
H.L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray Rothbard, New Individualist Review, Jun 1962
Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from the self-selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
"They did not realize, added Mencken, that the Bill of Rights as originally adopted by the Fathers of the Republic: '... was gross, crude, idealistic, a bit fanciful and transcendental. It specified the rights of a citizen, but it said nothing whatever about his duties. Since then, by the orderly processes of legislative science and by the even more subtle and beautiful devices of juridic art, it has been kneaded and mellowed into a far greater pliability and reasonableness. ... Those who are unaware of this are simply ignorant of the basic principles of American jurisprudence ...'"
How Much Do You Know About Liberty? (a quiz), The Freeman, Jun 1996
A 20-question quiz (with answers) on various topics related to liberty in the history of the United States
"What bulwark of American liberty do we owe to the Antifederalists? ... The Bill of Rights. ... Antifederalists objected that [the proposed Constitution] lacked a bill of rights specifically prohibiting the federal government from violating key civil liberties. ... Antifederalists threatened to push for a second constitutional convention. To head this off, James Madison sponsored a bill of rights during the first session of Congress."
Individual Liberty and Limited Government: Walter E. Williams and The Spirit Of George Mason [PDF], by Michael D. White, 24 May 1993
Introduction to the 1993 Frank M. Engle Lecture, "The Legitimate Role of Government in a Free Economy", delivered by Walter Williams at The American College
"When he wrote Virginia's bill of rights, Mason noted that individuals have 'certain inherent rights, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.' ... The first to speak on the Convention floor in favor of the Constitution's incorporation of a Bill of Rights that would provide personal guarantees to individuals and explicitly limit government's powers ... That Bill of Rights is both a tribute to and a confirmation of George Mason's vision that individuals have fundamental rights that no government, however constituted, may alter or abolish."
Individual Liberty and the Constitution: A Response to Robert Bork, by Roger Pilon, 9 Jul 2008
Responds to Robert Bork's essay "Individual Liberty and the Constitution" published in the June 2008 issue of The American Spectator
"Having thus disparaged the Constitution's bedrock principle, the doctrine of enumerated powers, Bork turns to his main concern, what courts have done with the Bill of Rights. Disparaging that too, he notes that the Bill played almost no role in our courts until the last third of the 19th century; but he fails to mention why: it was because the limits imposed by enumeration were largely respected—by the political branches—and the Bill of Rights did not limit states, where most power resided, until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified."
Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826), by Daniel J. Mahoney, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"Although Jefferson was absent from the United States when the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to adopt a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, he played a critical role in the Constitution's ratification during 1787–1789. ... Through his trans-Atlantic correspondence with James Madison and others, however, he helped push for the addition of a Bill of Rights, which he considered 'necessary by way of supplement,' to ensure that the national government would not abuse the powers granted it under the Constitution."
Killing Iraqi Children, by Jacob Hornberger, 19 Jun 2006
Comments on a Detroit News editorial condoning the bombing, rather than the arrest and prosecution, of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the "collateral" death of a five-year old girl
"It's not difficult to see that the military holds the Bill of Rights in contempt, which is precisely why the Pentagon established its torture and sex abuse camps in Cuba and former Soviet-bloc countries ... It is not a coincidence that in the Pentagon’s three-year effort to 'rebuild' Iraq it has done nothing to construct a judicial system that would have independent judges issuing search and arrest warrants or that would protect due process, habeas corpus, jury trials, and the right to counsel."
Law as 'Reason' or as 'Violence'?, by Butler Shaffer, 17 Nov 2001
Compares modern "law" to ancient "law merchant" and describes various rationalizations used to justify the violence in the modern system, highlighting the USA PATRIOT Act and similar legislation
"... the Soviet Union operated on the basis of a 'constitution' – modeled upon the American system, complete with a 'bill of rights.' ... If one reads a history of the cases decided by the United States Supreme Court, one finds the following fairly consistent patterns: powers granted to the federal government have been given expansive definitions ... At the same time, personal liberties that were supposed to have been protected by the 'Bill of Rights' have been given a very restricted definition. Case after case reverberates with such phrases as 'freedom of religion does not include,' or 'free speech does not mean' ..."
Lessons about Our Constitution from Abu Ghraib, by Jacob Hornberger, 26 May 2004
Argues the need for a Constitution and a Bill of Rights to attempt to prevent abuses such as happened in Iraq
"Given that we now know how U.S. officials rule a country when they have omnipotent powers, without any constitutional restraints or guaranteed rights for the people, we should be thanking our lucky stars for the wisdom, courage, and foresight of the Framers and our ancestors."
Liberalism, by Friedrich Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, 1978
Chapter 9; originally written in 1973 for the Enciclopedia del Novicento; covers both the history of both strands of liberalism as well as a systematic description of the "classical" or "evolutionary" type
"The explicit formulation by the former British colonists, in a written constitution, of what they understood to be the essentials of the British tradition of liberty, intended to limit the powers of government, and especially the statement of the fundamental liberties in a Bill of Rights, provided a model of political institutions which profoundly affected the development of liberalism in Europe."
Mason, George (1725-1792), by Robert M. S. McDonald, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"In 1775, he ... assumed the place vacated by Washington in Fairfax County's delegation to the Virginia Convention. It was in this capacity that in June 1776 Mason authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which served as a model for other state rights declarations and later the national Bill of Rights. ... Mason was pleased when the states adopted the first 10 amendments to the constitution in December 1791, and so indeed was Madison, who had come to embrace Mason's belief that Americans needed written safeguards against the potential encroachments of national power."
Related Topic: George Mason
New Declaration of Independence, by Vince Miller, Jarret Wollstein, Jan 2000
Prefaced by quoting the second paragraph of the original Declaration, lists the outrages of the "modern American State" (in a manner similar to the original), ending with a list of demands including Citizen Grand Juries, Citizen Veto and Power of Recall
"To restore the freedom, peace and prosperity of the people, we therefore demand: That the protections of individual rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights be strictly enforced. That all laws be abolished which restrict freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and enterprise; the right to keep and bear arms and the right to own and dispose of property. That henceforth political leaders, legislators or judges violating their oaths to defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights be tried for treason."
On Socially Responsible Programming, by Eric S. Raymond, 2 Oct 1999
Speech prepared by and given on Eric's behalf upon receipt of the Norbert Weiner Award from the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
"If we want to be socially responsible programmers, our first duty is to defend and expand liberty — to defend, in particular, the individual freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Bearing in mind the First Amendment, no socially responsible programmer should cooperate with or assist any government program which censors or interdicts free speech."
Synergism Within the Bill of Rights, by Andrew Ausley, Dec 2003
Winner of Bill of Rights Day essay contest, sponsored by Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County, Fla., and The Advocates for Self-Government
"... as seen in the Constitution, it is the people who grant power to the government, thus it is impossible for the government to grant freedom to the people. The Bill of Rights was not written to be a list of the freedoms of American citizens, it was provided as a list of the things upon which the government may not encroach."
The Anatomy of the State, by Murray Rothbard, 1974
Examines several attributes of the State, including how it maintains and grows itself and how it deals with other States
"Certainly the most ambitious attempt to impose limits on the State has been the Bill of Rights and other restrictive parts of the American Constitution, in which written limits on government became the fundamental law to be interpreted by a judiciary supposedly independent of the other branches of government."
The Bill of Rights, by Hugo Black, New York University Law Review, Apr 1960
Relates background stories that led to adoption of the Bill of Rights, including John Lilburne and religious persecution in colonial America
"It has been said, and I think correctly, that had there been no general agreement that a supplementary Bill of Rights would be adopted as soon as possible after Congress met, the Constitution would not have been ratified. ... I cannot agree with those who think of the Bill of Rights as an 18th Century straitjacket, unsuited for this age."
Related Topic: John Lilburne
The Constitution Within, by Sheldon Richman, 18 Aug 2006
Questions the validity of constitutions by relating how James Madison behaved during the debates over the U.S. document and later his introduction in Congress of the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights
"... Richard Labunski's new book, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights ... provides a well-written, gripping account of how James Madison kept his promise to have the first U.S. Congress amend the new Constitution in order to add a bill of rights. The Virginia ratifying convention, along with several other state conventions, was unhappy that the Constitution had no bill of rights. Madison and other champions of the new charter thought a declaration of rights was unnecessary and even dangerous; a government of limited, enumerated powers would already be restrained from violating rights, they said."
The Court Almost Gets It Right on Guns, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Oct 2008
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court majority and minority opinions on the D.C. law that bans handguns in private homes
"The misunderstanding of the nature of rights runs deep. After the decision, the Chicago Tribune called for repeal of the Second Amendment. But if rights are inherent in human nature, repeal would make no difference. A right would not disappear merely because a government document ceased to say it should not be infringed."
The Courts and the New Deal, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Jun 2005
First part of a four-part series examining how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal affected federal courts and other legal practices; contrasts the thoughts of Blackstone and Bentham
"The Bill of Rights protects individual persons from the predations of the state, and was intended to restrain the proclivities of politicians and government authorities to grab power. That governments and the courts have ridden roughshod over those protections does not minimize their importance or the fact that they are enshrined in U.S. law, even if that law today is little more than parchment under glass."
The Freedom Pledge, by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, 22 May 2002
Suggested by JFPO for reciting at meetings or as a personal pledge
"I pledge my honor to the Bill of Rights, our precious national treasure. As the Bill is a fortress against tyranny, I will battle all tyrants. As the Bill protects liberty, I will live free. As the Bill guards rights born within all humanity, I will defend the freedoms of future generations. With my life, my words, and my daily deeds, with a vision of what can be, I honor all of the Bill of Rights for all mankind."
The Revolution's Forgotten Hero, by David A. Merrick, Future of Freedom, Dec 2003
Highlights the work of George Mason as the person "most responsible for penning freedoms into written law" for his contributions to or influence on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights
"On December 15, an anniversary will come and go with little or no fanfare. It will probably pass unnoticed, even though it is the anniversary of one of the greatest events in the history of written law. On that day, the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, will have been ratified for 211 years. ... [Mason] carried his struggle for a federal bill of rights to the people. He barely lived long enough to see the victory for which he so bitterly fought. The Bill of Rights was adopted in December 1791 and Mason died in 1792."
What Is the Constitution?, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jun 2002
Discusses constitutional interpretation, in particular the ninth and tenth amendments, in light of comments from Antonin Scalia about a national ID card
"The Bill of Rights has distracted us from essential questions about government power. When someone proposes that the federal government do something, the first question most constitutional scholars ask is whether that power would violate any provision of the Bill of Rights. Since the list of rights is brief, the debate centers on how strictly or loosely we should interpret the amendments."
Will the Democrats Become Part of the Problem?, by Paul Craig Roberts, 10 Nov 2006
Discusses the outcome of the 2006 U.S. mid-term elections and offers recommendations primarily for congressional Democrats
"After the years of illegal war and the overnight destruction of civil liberties that were 800 years in their creation, the United States stands at a watershed. If the legislation that has been put on the books permitting spying on Americans without a court warrant, legalizing torture and self-incrimination, and repealing habeas corpus and the right to an attorney remains on the books, the United States will be a police state regardless of which party is in power. ... The notion that Americans can be protected from 'terror' by giving up the Bill of Rights is absurd."

Cartoons and Comic Strips

So how was school today?, by Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur, 31 Jan 2011
"Pretty cool, actually! We learned about something called 'The Bill of Rights'"
Related Topic: Learning

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "United States Bill of Rights" as of 03 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.