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The Bill of Rights. The ratification (approval) of the Constitution was not an easy, unanimous process. Recall that at least 9 of the 13 states needed to vote “yes” in order for the Constitution to be ratified.

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the bill of rights

The Bill of Rights

The ratification (approval) of the Constitution was not an easy, unanimous process. Recall that at least 9 of the 13 states needed to vote “yes” in order for the Constitution to be ratified.

The Anti-Federalists opposed the Constitution, arguing that the Constitution would take away the freedoms, or liberties, that the Americans had fought to win from England. They argued that the Constitution lacked a bill of rights to protect individual freedoms.

The Federalists conceded and promised that if the Constitution was approved, a bill of rights would be added to it. As a result of this promise, New Hampshire became the 9th state to approve the Constitution on June 21, 1788 and the Constitution took effect. Eventually, the remaining four states approved the Constitution and the 13 independent states became the USA.


The Bill of Rights

  • Added in 1791, the first 10 amendments (a change
  • to the Constitution) are called the Bill of Rights
  • and place strict limits on how the national
  • government can use its power over the people
  • The Bill of Rights protects our civil liberties –
  • the freedoms we have to think and act without
  • government interference or fear of unfair treatment

The First Amendment

I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting

the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or

the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for

a redress of grievances.

  • Safeguards Religious Freedoms: the establishment clause: prohibits Congress from
  • establishing an official religion in the US; Americans are guaranteed the right to practice their faith as they wish
  • Freedom of Speech: Americans can say what is on our minds, in public or in private,
  • without fear of punishment by the government; the Supreme Court has interpreted that “speech” also includes on-line communication, art, music, and clothing
  • Freedom of Press: Americans are allowed to express themselves in print, such as
  • books, newspapers, and magazines; prohibits censorship– the banning or printed materials or films merely because they contain offensive ideas
  • Freedom of Assembly: Americans are allowed to gather in groups for any reason
  • as long as the gathering is peaceful
  • Freedom to Petition: Americans are allowed to petition (a formal request) the
  • government to express one’s ideas

The First Amendment

What the First Amendment does NOT do:

  • You CANNOT endanger our government or other Americans
  • You CANNOT provoke a riot
  • You CANNOT speak or write in a way that leads to criminal activities or efforts
  • to overthrow the government by force
  • You CANNOT interfere with the rights of others
  • You CANNOT spread lies that harms a person’s reputation, which is slander and
  • lies spread in print is libel
  • The rights of one individual must be balanced against the rights of others
  • and against the rights of the community. Where there is conflict, the
  • rights of the community often come first.

The Second Amendment

II. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the

Right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What does this Amendment protect exactly?

  • It provides only for each state to maintain “a well regulated militia by
  • allowing the members of those militias to carry arms. During the 1780s, a
  • Militia was a small, local army made of volunteer soldiers.
  • It guarantees the right of all individuals to “keep and bear arms” without
  • the interference of the government.

The Third Amendment

III. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without

the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed

by law.

  • This Amendment was in response to the British law requiring the colonists
  • to house and feed British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. As a result,
  • Americans will be unlikely to ever be forced to shelter the military again

The Fourth Amendment

IV. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and

effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and

no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or

affirmation, and particularly describing the place, to be searched, and the

persons or things to be seized.

  • Americans are protected “against unreasonable searches and seizures”.
  • No soldier, government agent, or police officer can search your home or take your property without probable, or a valid, cause

The Fifth Amendment

V. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime,

unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in

the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War

or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case

to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property,

without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use

without just compensation.

  • Protects the rights of people accused of crimes – no one can put on trial for a crime
  • Without an indictment (a formal charge) by a Grand Jury(a group of citizens)
  • Protects against double jeopardy – people who are accused of a crime and judged
  • not guilty may not be put on trial again for the same crime
  • Protects against self-incrimination – an accused person is allowed to remain silent
  • Protects due process – following established legal procedures
  • Protects against eminent domain – the right of the government to take private
  • Property (usually land) for public use

The Sixth Amendment

VI. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and

public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall

have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by

law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be

confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for

obtaining Witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his


  • Guarantees that people accused of a crime be told the exact nature
  • Of the charges against them
  • Guarantees the accused by allowed a trial by a jury of their peers,
  • which must be speedy and public, and in the same area as the crime, if
  • possible
  • The accused is allowed to hear and question all witnesses against them
  • and permitted to call their own witnesses
  • Guarantees the accused to have a lawyer

The Seventh Amendment

VII. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty

dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury,

shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than

according to the rules of common law.

  • Provides for the right to a jury trial in federal courts to settle all
  • disputes about property worth more than $20
  • Not criminal cases, but rather civil cases – lawsuits that involve
  • Disagreements between people rather than crimes
  • A judge may be used, rather than a jury, to hear evidence and
  • settle the case, if BOTH parties agree

The Eighth Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor

cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

  • Forbids “excessive” bail (a sum of money used as a security
  • deposit)
  • Protects a convicted person from having to pay excessive fines
  • Forbids “cruel and unusual punishments” – although what exactly
  • Is cruel and unusual has been debated
    • a life sentence for stealing a loaf of bread is considered too
    • Harsh
    • is the death penalty “cruel and unusual”?

The Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be

construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  • All other rights not spelled out in the Constitution are “retained by
  • the people”.
  • Citizens have other rights beyond those listed in the Constitution and
  • those rights may not be taken away

The Tenth Amendment

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.

  • States that any powers the Constitution does not specifically give to
  • the national government are reserved for the states and for the people
  • Prevents Congress and the President from becoming too strong
  • What type of power is this amendment referring to?

Reserved Powers