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
  • Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
    Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

    On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced a series of proposed amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Though initially against the idea of an enumerated list of individual rights, fearing that they would be redundant and possibly limit... Read more

  • Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon
    Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon

    During the night of June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Investigation into the break-in exposed a trail of abuses that led to the highest levels of the Nixon administration and... Read more

  • Tonkin Gulf Resolution
    Tonkin Gulf Resolution

    By 1964, Vietnam had been torn by international and civil war for decades. U.S. military support for South Vietnam had grown to some 15,000 military advisers, while the North received military and financial aid from China and the Soviet Union.

    In a late-night televised address on August... Read more

  • 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