The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights
America’s Bill of Rights was not constructed out of thin air but was based upon various centuries-old European laws along with brand new concepts from the current days. It was written as a way to guarantee the passage of the entire US Constitution.
While the 13 original colonies were indeed forming a federal government many still had strong opposing viewpoints on how to balance federal, state (colony) and individual rights into the final draft.
The Bill of Rights was added to the US Constitution right after its passage in order to assuage and appease those viewpoints. It collected various freedoms and protections as expressed by the colonies into ten amendments… the very first amendments to the US Constitution, never before codified in the history of mankind.
Below you will find a collection of 10 summaries and explanations for each of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, one will get you five.)
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, don’t touch my gun.)
“A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, my house is not your house.)
“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, we don’t need no stinking warrants.)
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, on the advice of my counsel I plead the 5th.)
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, I want to call my lawyer.)
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
The Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, I demand a jury trial.)
“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, “Are there no prisons?… Are there no workhouses?” – Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol)
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, just because I said you couldn’t do it, doesn’t mean that you can, or vice versa.)
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” It can also mean that this right protects “rights” not in the Constitution.
The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(Or, whose got the power?)
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
- The Bill of Rights Primer – A Citizen’s Guide To The American Bill of Rights, by Akhil Reed Amar and Lisa Adams.
- University of Minnesota – Human Rights Library, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/education/all_amendments_usconst.htm#Amendments1-10