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.

Click here to read all 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.

Past Featured Records
  • Yeti Sightings and Rules, circa 1959
    Yeti Sightings and Rules, circa 1959

    Just in time for Halloween, the National Archives Museum shares a 1959 State Department memo about the Yeti, the long-feared Abominable Snowman (and relative of Bigfoot). Study this document carefully before planning a climbing expedition to find this creature!

    Believed by some to live in the... Read more

  • Justice Thurgood Marshall: First African American Supreme Court Justice
    Justice Thurgood Marshall: First African American Supreme Court Justice

    On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated distinguished civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American justice to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Marshall had already made his mark in American law, having won 29 of the... Read more

  • Mobilizing for War: The Selective Service Act in World War I
    Mobilizing for War: The Selective Service Act in World War I

    On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized the Federal Government to temporarily expand the military through conscription. The act eventually required all men between the ages of 21 to 45 to register for military service. Under the act, approximately 24 million... Read more

  • Declaration of War: The U.S. Enters World War I
    Declaration of War: The U.S. Enters World War I

    On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed this joint resolution, ending America’s neutral stance on the ongoing global conflict – later deemed a “World War” – and formally declaring war against Imperial German Government.

    Nearly three years earlier, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated by... Read more

  • Credentials of Jeannette Rankin, the First Congresswoman
    Credentials of Jeannette Rankin, the First Congresswoman

    In 1916 – four years before before the 19th Amendment granted women across the country the right to vote – Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress as a Representative from Montana.

    Rankin was sworn into office on April 2, 1917, having presented this credential as evidence that she... Read more