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The Bill of Rights - US Constitution Amendments 1-10

Adopted 1791

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A copy of former President George Washington's personal copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights is displayed at Christie's auction house
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Before the American Revolution, the original colonies were united under Articles of Confederation, which did not address creation of a central (federal) government. So, in 1787, founders called a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to build a structure for a new government. The resulting Constitution did not address the rights of individuals, which became an bone of contention during ratification.

The provisions contained in the Bill of Rights were predated by the Magna Carta, which King John signed in 1215 to protect citizens against abuse of power by the King or Queen. Likewise, the authors (led by James Madison) sought to limit the role of the central government. Virginia's Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason immediately after independence in 1776, served as a model for other state bills of rights as well as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

Once drafted, the Bill of Rights was quickly ratified by the states. It only took six months for nine states to say yes -- two short of the total needed. On 15 December 1791, Virginia was the 11th state to ratify these 10, making them part of the Constitution. Two other amendments failed ratification.


Amendment 1
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.

Amendment 2
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.

Amendment 3
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.

Amendment 4
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.

Amendment 5
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 offense 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.

Amendment 6
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 defense.

Amendment 7
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 the common law.

Amendment 8
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment 9
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment 10
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.
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