History: October 2, 1789: What Really is The Bill of Rights?

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A Brief History

On October 2, 1789, President George Washington sent to the States for ratification a list of Amendments to the Constitution, a list we now refer to as “The Bill of Rights.”

Digging Deeper

These first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution would eventually be followed by 27 more Amendments that have been ratified by the States, giving us a total of 37 such Amendments. There are an additional 6 proposed Amendments that have not been ratified by the States, of which 4 are still “open.”

United States Bill of Rights

Amendments to the Constitution are authorized by Article 5 of the Constitution, requiring 2/3 of each house of congress (Senate and House of Representatives) to pass the Amendment and 2/3 of the States (currently 34) to enact the change.

How often have you heard someone sputter, “I know my rights!” Well, do you? There is more to this than merely making demands when you are arrested. Below is a brief synopsis of the Bill of Rights, without all the legalese and convoluted interpretation you find when these are discussed in court or in the media. Consider this list the “For Regular Guys” version.

  1. Freedom of Religion, Speech, the Press, and Assembly, and the right to petition the Government for grievances.
  2. Right to Keep and Bear Arms. (The Founding Fathers in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere explained that this meant individuals having military type arms, not only the “militia” and not guns just for hunting and target shooting.)
  3. No quartering soldiers in private homes in time of peace, and in time of war only by law.
  4. Warrant-less searches without Probable Cause.
  5. Guaranteed Due Process before one can be jailed, including indictment, prohibiting double jeopardy, and you cannot be compelled to testify against yourself (in criminal cases), including due process and compensation for the seizure of property and is the basis for “Miranda Warnings.”
  6. Right to a Speedy Trial by an Impartial Jury of one’s peers, and the right to confront witnesses. Also, the right to have an attorney.
  7. Guarantees a jury trial in lawsuits of a value over $20, jury minimum of 6 members.
  8. No excessive bail, no Cruel or Unusual Punishments.
  9. These various rights enumerated will not supersede other rights retained by the people. (This right is the basis for not denying the right to contraception or abortion.)
  10. Powers not delegated to the Federal Government by the Constitution or those not prohibited to the States shall be reserved by the States or people. (Basically it means unless the constitution says otherwise, the States and local governments will pick up control of various subjects.)

Now if you think you know your rights, I would suggest reading the actual wording of each of these and various legal rulings concerning the various topics, as such rulings can be highly contentious and convoluted. Hopefully our article will help your understanding, but please do not rely on it as “gospel.” What amendments would you like to see to our Constitution?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Baxter, Roberta.  The Bill of Rights (Documenting U.S. History).  Heinemann, 2014.

Hallaq, Mark and U.S. Government.  U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Amendments, Federalist Papers and More: Annotated Version – English Edition.  2014.

Ostler, Duane L.  The Ninth Amendment: Key to Understanding the Bill of Rights.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.