why do we have the bill of rights

The Bill of Rights is an important set of amendments to the United States Constitution, as the Constitution itself contained very few rights for the individual. The Bill of Rights was a pretty controversial idea when it was proposed in 1789, because a majority of the founding fathers had already entertained and rejected the idea of including a Bill of Rights in the original 1787 Constitution. On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution) were ratified by the states. The Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution to address fears raised by the Anti-Federalists during the ratification of the Constitution that the Constitution did not provide sufficient protection against abuses of power by the federal government. P
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, originally did not think a Bill of Rights was necessary. He thought the Constitution gave no power to the federal government that would allow for a violation of the rights of the people. Madison later changed his position, persuaded mainly by Thomas Jefferson, and, with the help of others, drafted twenty amendments that were proposed to the first United States Congress in 1789. Twelve of the proposed amendments were accepted by Congress and were then sent to the states for ratification.


Only ten were ratified. These ten amendments list our basic rights and place limits on the federal government. They include the freedoms of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and an assurance that the powers not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states and the people. Many of these provisions were based upon similar protections provided by state constitutions that limited the power of state and local government authorities. Of the remaining amendments that were not ratified in 1791, one was later adopted in 1992 as the twenty-seventh amendment to the Constitution. That amendment prevents changes in the compensation for senators and representatives until after a subsequent election of representatives. The other proposed amendment has never been adopted. After the 1787 Constitutional Convention, there were intense ratification debates about the proposed Constitution. Both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton expressed grave reservations about Thomas Jefferson's, George Mason's and others' insistence that the Constitution be amended by the Bill of Rights. Those reservations weren't the result of a lack of concern for liberty. To the contrary, they were concerned about the loss of liberties.


Alexander Hamilton expressed his reservation in Federalist Paper No. 84, "(B)ills of rights. are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. " Hamilton asks, "For why declare that things shall not be done (by Congress) which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given (to Congress) by which restrictions may be imposed? " Hamilton's argument was that Congress can only do what the Constitution specifically gave it authority to do. Powers not granted belong to the people and the states. Another way of examining Hamilton's concern: Why have an amendment prohibiting Congress from infringing on our right to picnic on our back porch when the Constitution gives Congress no authority to infringe upon that right in the first place? Alexander Hamilton added that a Bill of Rights would "contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more (powers) than were granted. (it) would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. " Going back to our picnic example, those who would usurp our God-given liberties might enact a law banning our right to have a picnic.


They'd justify their actions by claiming that nowhere in the Constitution is there a guaranteed right to have a picnic. To mollify Alexander Hamilton's and James Madison's fears about how a Bill of Rights might be used as a pretext to infringe on human rights, the Ninth Amendment was added that reads: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. " In essence, the Ninth Amendment says it's impossible to list all of our God-given or natural rights. Just because a right is not listed doesn't mean it can be infringed upon or disparaged by Congress. The 10th Amendment is a reinforcement of the Ninth saying, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. " That means if a power is not delegated to Congress, it belongs to the states or the people. The Ninth and 10th Amendments mean absolutely nothing today, as Americans have developed a level of naive trust for Congress, the White House and the U. S. Supreme Court that would have astonished the Founders, a trust that will lead to our undoing as a great nation. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Send e-mail to wwilliam@gmu. edu.

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