6 FACTS ABOUT THE BILL OF RIGHTS
The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution are called The Bill of Rights. The Constitution was a fledgling document, barely tested, when future president, James Madison, introduced his proposal for amending it on June 8, 1789. Unfortunately, Madison met resistance from many House members. Explore these 6 facts about the Bill of Rights to learn more about its fascinating journey.
1. The States Didn’t Ask For One of the Amendments
James Madison of Virginia presented his proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution on June 8, 1789. Included in his proposal were several protections states had requested during their conventions to ratify the Constitution. However, Madison included 1 amendment the states didn’t request. Madison included in Article III wording protecting “equal rights of conscience, freedom of press or trial by jury.”
Today, however, most American citizens will quote the First Amendment, which reads as ratified: “Congress shall make no law respecting the 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 peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
2. The Bill Was Delayed
Some in the House resisted any amendment to the Constitution. When Madison first introduced his proposal, House members gave many reasons for delaying review.
The first House of Representatives was divided by Federalists and those who were anti-administration. Federalists sought a strong central government and controlled both the House and Senate. When Madison presented his proposal, many Federalists spoke against it, including Rep. James Jackson of Georgia. He spoke against the “hurry with respect to altering the constitution.” Jackson pointed out that the U.S. Constitution was very new and untested, describing it as “a vessel just launched,” and said that Congress should “set up her masts, and expand her sails, and be guided by the experiment for our alterations.”
Another point made during the lengthy debates that June day was that many of the states had ratified the Constitution unanimously. Why then the need for change?
However, Rep. John Vining of Delaware wished the bill to be reviewed by a select committee. By doing so, other matters could proceed, and work on Madison’s proposal could begin. The young government faced many tasks yet, including that of how to levy taxes.
3. 11 Person Select Committee
The House agreed to postpone the debate on Madison’s proposal and took it up once again before the whole House on July 21. However, several members still questioned the need for these amendments. In the end, the House elected an 11 person select committee. Who were these men? Representatives John Vining, James Madison, Abraham Baldwin, Roger Sherman, Edmund Burke, Nicholas Gilman, George Clymer, EgberBenson, Benjamin Goodhue, Elias Boudinot, and George Gale.
4. 11 States
At the time of Madison’s proposal, only 11 of the 13 original colonies ratified the Constitution and had not been admitted to the Union. Neither Rhode Island nor North Carolina had representatives in Congress in 1789. North Carolina signed the Constitution in November and Rhode Island the following May.
5. Originally 19 Amendments
Madison initially proposed 19 amendments. The House whittled it down to 17 before sending it to the Senate. Congress sent 12 for the states to ratify.
6. 27th Amendment
On December 15, 1791, the states ratified 10 of the12 proposed amendments sent to them. Those 10 amendments today are called the Bill of Rights. However, one of the amendments left unratified became law in the 20th century. On May 7, 1992, Michigan ratified the article, which is now the 27th Amendment. The Amendment allows Congress to increase salaries, but the increase only goes into effect after the next election.