December 15, 1791
New United States of America Adopted the Bill of
Do you know your Bill of
It is the first 10
amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the
fundamental rights of American citizens. The new
United States of America adopted them on December 15,
1791. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of
religion, speech, and the press, the rights of
peaceful assembly and petition.
George Mason, the "Father
of the Bill of Rights," carefully wrote out these
amendments to ensure individual liberties. He was a
lifelong champion of the rights and freedoms of
Mason had drafted the
Virginia state constitution in 1776, asserting the
principle of inalienable rights--certain individual
rights that cannot be taken away.
Elected to the new House
of Representatives, James Madison agreed with Mason.
In the fall of 1789, he sponsored the first 10
amendments to the Constitution, speaking out on
freedom of religion, speech, and the press.
Ultimately, George Mason's views prevailed. When James
Madison drafted the 10 amendments to the Constitution
that were to become the Bill of Rights, he drew
heavily upon the ideas put forth in the Virginia
Declaration of Rights.
There was one issue,
however, that the Constitutional Convention did not
resolve to Mason's liking. The founding fathers
compromised, permitting the continuation of the slave
trade through 1808. Mason wanted to stop the
importation of slaves. Because of the inability of the
founding fathers to resolve the slavery issue, among
other problems, Americans struggled through a bloody
Yet, it would take another
hundred years to remove a web of state and local laws
that prevented African Americans from a fuller
exercise of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s
helped raise the awareness of Americans to the
injustice of segregation and discrimination.
The first 10 amendments guarantee the right of the
people to keep and bear arms, the rights of
private property, fair treatment of those accused
of crimes, protection from unreasonable search and
seizure, freedom from self-incrimination, a speedy
and impartial jury trial, and representation by
counsel. The U.S. has continued to add amendments
to these first 10, defining and protecting our
personal liberties. The 15th Amendment gave the
right to vote to all male Americans, regardless of
race, in 1870.