The importance and purpose of the Bill of Rights lies in the laws enacted with regards to religion, arms, and basic rights. In this Historyplex article, we will try to shed light on both.
The Bill of Rights is a collective term for the first ten amendments made to the US Constitution. It was introduced by James Madison in 1789 and backed by Thomas Jefferson. It had the unified address to certain constitutional issues that were taken up and deliberated upon to a point of agreement at different points of time in American history. The intent was to prevent subsequent misconstruction of powers and ensure public confidence. The articles were ratified by three fourths of the US legislature.
Purpose of the Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights addressed primary issues, like ..
- Prohibition of any law biased towards establishment of religion;
- Right to arms, within federal territory;
- Prohibition of any act that deprives life, liberty, and/or property, illegally;
- Elimination of capital, punitive action, after an impartial grand jury indictment;
- Reservation of non-federal government powers with regards to citizenry.
There were ten amendments in all that were collectively proposed by James Madison to preserve the sanctity of the US Constitution that was being threatened by Federalist and anti-Federalist conflict. The proposition came in the wake of the declaration that the ratification of the US Constitution should be withheld, since it did not adhere to the principles of liberty. The main purpose of the Bill of Rights was a moderate revision of the constitution, generating scope for re-structuring the government and the security of the fundamental rights of citizens.
Significance of the Bill of Rights
The original draft of the US Constitution had articles that were contested by many states. Issues that resulted in conflicts were taken up, and due amendments were made. The first ten amendments were termed as the Bill of Rights in 1791. These amendments played a key role in the law and government policies. They were symbolic of freedoms and US culture. The fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights are national property of much importance and one is on display at the National Archives, Washington D.C. The ten amendments incorporated the following points.
- First Amendment: Secular approach of the government as far as the establishment of a particular religion is concerned; freedom of speech; freedom of press; right to assembly; redressal of grievances
- Second Amendment: Right to bear arms
- Third Amendment: Eradication of forceful quartering of soldiers
- Fourth Amendment: Prohibition of unreasonable search of person, house, papers, etc.
- Fifth Amendment: Prohibition of double jeopardy or self-incrimination, with regards to capital or infamous crime
- Sixth Amendment: Compulsory trial by jury and the right to counsel
- Seventh Amendment: Preservation of the right of trial with regards to civil cases by jury
- Eighth Amendment: Prohibition of bail and/or corporal punishment
- Ninth Amendment: Protection of those rights not enumerated, like not less than a ratio of 1:40,000 representation within the Congress and increments
- Tenth Amendment: Reservation of state and people powers
Though the idea of subsequent inclusion to the Constitution was argued against, the ratification symbolized people’s power to change and re-address their rights as and when necessary. It stood for the adoption of a system that accommodated security of liberty and individual rights. It was designed to guard US citizens against the abuse of basic rights granted by the Constitution.
James Madison, who is widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution, was the author of the Bill of Rights. The latter was the outcome of difficult compromises, amidst state recommendations to the amendments, supported by Thomas Jefferson. The concept of natural rights inherent to all citizens was highlighted in the final draft. Rights such as that of life, liberty, property possession, etc., were incorporated with the intent of empowering people’s intervention in the democracy, while checking on powers of the government.