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.
Past Featured Records
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
On April 30, 1789, George Washington placed his hand upon a Bible and took the oath as the first President of the United States. The oath was administered on a second-floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. President... Read more
At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, catapulting the United States into World War II. In less than 2 hours, the fleet was devastated, and more than 3,500 Americans were either killed... Read more
Following decades of work to promote and feature the contributions of African Americans, the Act to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was authorized by Congress in 2003. The museum, which will house 36,000 artifacts, officially opens on the National... Read more
During World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces established a policy that discharged homosexuals regardless of their behavior. In 1981, the Defense Department prohibited gay and lesbian military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In... Read more