THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: DECEMBER 15, 1791

The Bill of Rights Ratified

bill-of-rights-ratifiedAfter the American Revolution, the former colonies created new governments and replaced their colonial charters with new constitutions. Each constitution included a bill of rights. The first state constitution was drafted by George Mason (1725–1792) and adopted by Virginia on June 12, 1776. Known as the Virginia Declaration of Rights, it served as a model for similar bills of rights for other American states, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted in 1789, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Opponents of the Constitution (called “Anti-Federalists”) were shocked that the document did not itself contain a bill of rights, an omission they considered a dangerous defect. Several states in their ratification messages demanded that the Constitution be amended to remedy this flaw. Virginia, for example, asserted that the first U.S. Congress should adopt amendments that assert the rights of the people.

Congress heard the demands and responded accordingly. On June 8, 1789, James Madison presented an initial list of amendments to Congress. In September 1789, a modified list of 12 amendments was submitted to the states; 10 of them, which became the Bill of Rights, were ratified on December 15, 1791. The Bill of Rights secures many fundamental rights such as the freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, the free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to a jury trial in certain cases.

Watkins, William J., Jr. “Constitution and Bill of Rights.” America in World History: First Encounters to the Present. Ed. Susan Crean and Tom Lansford. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2013. 76-80. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


Learn more about the Bill of Rights »

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