Bill of Rights

  • Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights

During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the document would open the way to tyranny by the strong central government. They demanded a “bill of rights” that would specify the rights of individual citizens.

In September 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution, addressing the most frequent criticisms. Articles 3 through 12, which three-fourths of the states ratified on December 15, 1791, constitute the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and are known as the Bill of Rights. The original second article, concerning the compensation of members of Congress, finally became law on May 7, 1992. Congress never passed the original first amendment, which concerned the number of constituents for each representative.

The Bill of Rights defines citizens’ rights in relation to the government, including guarantees many Americans now understand as central to their way of life: the four freedoms of speech, religion, the press, and political activity. The Bill of Rights also encompasses principles fundamental to the American legal system: the rights to due process of law, trial by jury, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment and self-incrimination.

The Bill of Rights, along with the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, is on display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.

Download a high-resolution version of this document from the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

Past Featured Records
  • G.I. Bill of Rights
    G.I. Bill of Rights

    Originally established to provide services and benefits to the veterans of World War II, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, after it had passed the House... Read more

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Civil Rights Act of 1964

    The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since... Read more

  • Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration
    Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration

    Fought April 6-7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee was one of the first major battles in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. 54,000 Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell battled 44,000 Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard as part of the Union’s effort to cut off Confederate rail communications along... Read more

  • Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920
    Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920

    On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May a holiday for the “public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” To commemorate the centennial of the first national observance of Mother’s Day,... Read more

  • The Smith-Lever Act of 1914
    The Smith-Lever Act of 1914

    The Smith-Lever Act established a national Cooperative Extension Service that extended outreach programs through land-grant universities to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology. These advances helped increase American agricultural productivity dramatically throughout the 20th century.

    Today, cooperative extension continues to serve the educational... Read more