Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights in the United States

One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of basic civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued, as in Federalist No. 84, that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution. In several states, however, the ratification debate in some states hinged on the adoption of a bill of rights. The solution was known as the Massachusetts Compromise, in which four states ratified the Constitution but at the same time sent recommendations for amendments to the Congress.

James Madison introduced 12 amendments to the First Congress in 1789. Ten of these would go on to become what we now consider to be the Bill of Rights. One was never passed, while another dealing with Congressional salaries was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. Based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, the writings of the Enlightenment, and the rights defined in the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights contains rights that many today consider to be fundamental to America.

  • The First Amendment provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.
  • The Third Amendment prohibits the government from quartering troops in private homes, a major grievance during the American Revolution.
  • The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The government may not conduct any searches without a warrant, and such warrants must be issued by a judge and based on probable cause.
  • The Fifth Amendment provides that citizens not be subject to criminal prosecution and punishment without due process. Citizens may not be tried on the same set of facts twice, and are protected from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The amendment also establishes the power of eminent domain, ensuring that private property is not seized for public use without just compensation.
  • The Sixth Amendment assures the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers, to be informed of the crimes with which they are charged, and to confront the witnesses brought by the government. The amendment also provides the accused the right to compel testimony from witnesses, and to legal representation.
  • The Seventh Amendment provides that civil cases also be tried by jury.
  • The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.
  • The Ninth Amendment states that the list of rights enumerated in the Constitution is not exhaustive, and that the people retain all rights not enumerated.
  • The Tenth Amendment assigns all powers not delegated to the United States, or prohibited to the states, to either the states or to the people.

Concept of Bill of Rights

In the U.S., in the context of the U.S. Constitution and Federalism, Bill of Rights has the following meaning: The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are typically referred to as the American Bill of Rights – constitutional protections of individual liberties and rights. Some are listed specifically (such as freedom of speech, press, and religion, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures), but the Bill of Rights also states that people retain other rights just as important as those listed. (Source of this definition of Bill of Rights : University of Texas)

Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights in the U.S. Legal History


The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which protect the rights of individuals from the powers of the national government. Congress and the states adopted the ten amendments in 1791.

Finding the law: Bill of Rights in the U.S. Code

A collection of general and permanent laws relating to bill of rights, passed by the United States Congress, are organized by subject matter arrangements in the United States Code (U.S.C.; this label examines bill of rights topics), to make them easy to use (usually, organized by legal areas into Titles, Chapters and Sections). The platform provides introductory material to the U.S. Code, and cross references to case law. View the U.S. Code’s table of contents here.

Bill of Rights

In Legislation

Bill of Rights in the U.S. Code: Title 48, Chapter 12, Subchapter II

The current, permanent, in-force federal laws regulating bill of rights are compiled in the United States Code under Title 48, Chapter 12, Subchapter II. It constitutes “prima facie” evidence of statutes relating to Territories (including bill of rights) of the United States. The reader can further narrow his/her legal research of the general topic (in this case, Virgin Islands of the US Code, including bill of rights) by chapter and subchapter.


See Also

  • Constitution
  • Federalism