Question: What is the Bill of Rights?
Answer: It’s a document to the United States Constitution that contains the first 10 amendments. It constitutionalizes ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. For a summary of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, check out the first part of this five-part study guide.
Question: When was this Bill written and ratified?
Answer: It was written after the Constitution had been ratified (New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the Constitution on June 21, 1788). James Madison introduced the proposed Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789. Congress approved 12 amendments for ratification on September 25, 1789, and sent them to the states for ratification. Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, and 10 of the 12 proposed amendments officially became a part of the U.S. Constitution.
Question: Where was it written?
Answer: The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, which is where James Madison compiled the first draft of the Bill of Rights. The first draft, however, borrowed ideas from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, and Enlightenment ideas, and underwent several revisions. In essence, the Bill of Rights was written in many locations.
Who Was Responsible for Writing It?
Question: Who wrote the Bill of Rights?
Answer: James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights and George Mason is considered the “Father of the Bill of Rights.”
James Madison wrote this document based on George Mason’s ideas in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was influenced primarily by the writings of John Locke. The irony of Madison authoring the Bill of Rights is that he originally opposed its inclusion, thinking such declarations ineffectual in preventing governmental abuses. With the modern political assault on the 2nd, 9th, and 10th amendments, James Madison’s fears have been realized.
Madison felt the way to limit government was to include checks and balances in the Constitution itself and that the inclusion of a Bill of Rights would lead to the taking away of rights not explicitly stated in it. Madison understood, however, that the Constitution would not be ratified without a Bill of Rights. He included the 9th and 10th amendments to make clear that all rights not explicitly given to the federal government were reserved to the states and/or individuals.
Why Was It Created & Who Supported It?
Question: Who signed the Bill of Rights?
Answer: The Bill of Rights was approved by the original 13 colonies and Vermont. When Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights (the 11th state to do so), on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights became an official part of the U.S. Constitution. For a comprehensive list of who signed the United States Constitution, follow the link.
Question: Why was it created?
Answer: It was created to ensure ratification of the United States Constitution (see above for explanation), to enumerate rights most dear to the founding fathers and the people they represented, and to limit government.
The founding fathers wrote the Constitution to govern human nature. They understood the natural inclination of rulers to want more power. As the federal government grows larger by the day, it’s imperative that citizens of the United States demand their elected officials return to the Constitution for guidance.
Knowing these facts on the Bill of Rights is not enough. Read the document, study it, and make your elected officials accountable to it.
This post is part of the series: Bill of Rights Study Guide
The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans' most precious freedoms. Make sure you understand them before they disappear.