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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
  • The Purple Heart Battalion
    The Purple Heart Battalion

    Tuesday, April 16, 2024 – Wednesday, May 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

    None of us thought we were coming home alive. —Lawson Sakai

    Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Roosevelt administration required people of Japanese descent living on the... Read more

  • Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights
    Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights

    Thursday, February 29, 2024 – Monday, April 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten plain common workingmen.” —Frances Perkins

    Chances are you benefit from the legacy of Frances Perkins,... Read more

  • 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
    70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

    Thursday, February 1, 2024 – Wednesday, February 28, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    Equity in Education: 70 Years Later

    On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional in... Read more

  • 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    Thursday, December 14, 2023 – Wednesday, January 31, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The Destruction of the Tea

    It wouldn’t be known as the “Boston Tea Party” for another 50 years, but the destruction... Read more

  • Diseños: An Impact of Mexican Cession
    Diseños: An Impact of Mexican Cession
    Tuesday, June 20, 2023 – Wednesday, October 18, 2023
    East Rotunda Gallery

     

    At the end of the Mexican-American War, the United States annexed more than half of Mexico’s territory under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under its terms, the U.S. promised to... Read more