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Overview Of US Bill Of Rights

What is the Bill of Rights?

The United States Bill of Rights contains the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. They were ratified by the required number of states on December 15th, 1791. This ratification was a major feat.

The Bill of Rights was crafted in response to criticism of the newly adopted original Constitution, which had replaced the earlier Articles of Confederation. This is unlike the UK Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta.

These ten amendments that make up the Bill of RIghts clarify some freedoms, human rights and set out citizens’ civil liberty. This was a major reason for the American Revolution. In many cases, when Americans reference their “freedoms” or “liberties,” they are referencing a principle laid out in one or more of these ten amendments to the US Constitution.

Let’s take a look at each one:

First Amendment

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights allows for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and people’s right to protest the government peacefully. In the United States, people can criticize the government, say what they like, and practice whatever religion they like. The government also can not legally favor one religion over the other.

Some exceptions to this freedom, such as using “fighting words” to threaten people, are illegal. This may be seen as a public danger.

Second Amendment

The Second Amendment protects the right of the people to “keep and bear arms.” This right is taken from older English common law. Controversy over this amendment today includes the question of whether or not gun ownership is connected to state militia service and to what degree – if at all – gun control laws are covered in the constitution.

Third Amendment

The Third Amendment prevents the government from lodging troops in private residences. This applies only during peacetime – in wartime, specific laws must be enacted to prevent troops’ lodging.

The Third Amendment can be thought of as a direct response to the Quartering Acts passed by the British Parliament in the 1760s and 1770s, one of the Thirteen Colonies’ major grievances.

In modern times, this doesn’t seem as relevant as other amendments to the constitution.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects against an unreasonable search and seizure. Police can’t simply enter a home and investigate without “probable cause.” This amendment is often thought to have come from the US Constitution itself.

Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment enumerates certain legal rights, such as the right to be tried before a court and grand jury, the right not to be tried for the same crime twice (“double jeopardy”), and the right to avoid self-incrimination.

It also describes that all citizens must go through “due process of law” before being legally punished. This could include the necessity of an impartial jury when facing a jury trial.

You’ve probably heard someone say they “plead the Fifth” – this refers to the liberty of a person not to be a “witness against himself.”

The famous Miranda warning (“you have the right to remain silent,” etc.) also extends from this right, though it wasn’t established until 1966 after a Supreme Court case (Miranda v. Arizona).

Sixth Amendment

Like the 5th Amendment, the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights also relates to the judicial process. Namely, amendment VI guarantees the right to a speedy and public court trial, performed in the district where the alleged crime was committed, and for a person to be told what it is they’re being charged with.

It also guarantees the right to a lawyer (“Assistance of Counsel”), even for those who cannot afford one: this is where the idea of “public defenders” comes from.

Seventh Amendment

The Seventh Amendment is about legal suits for a citizen. For example, if someone damaged your property and you wanted reimbursement – specifically for an amount more than $20 – the Seventh Amendment gives you the right to take this issue before a jury to be settled and, if a specific reimbursement amount is decided upon, enforced.

Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment protects people against prohibitive bail, fines, as well as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Today, it is most often brought up about the death penalty.

Ninth Amendment

The Ninth Amendment states that there are other universal rights not protected in the Bill of Rights and that they should not be supposed not to exist just because they’re not mentioned. James Madison pushed for this Amendment to be introduced so that people would not think all rights of US citizens were written in the Bill of Rights.

Tenth Amendment

The Tenth Amendment states that any rights that are not reserved for the central government are reserved to the individual states that make up the Union, or “to the people.” This was an attempt to define the differences between the state government’s power and the federal government‘s power and included especially to satisfy anti-federalists.

Read the full text of the Bill of Rights.

Discover the full list of Constitutional Amendments – even those not included in the Bill of Rights.

History of the US Bill of Rights and whether it is part of the constitution.

Download free, printable PDF of the Bill of Rights

A more in-depth look at the amendments to the US Constitution:

First Amendment

Second Amendment

Third Amendment

Fourth Amendment

Fifth Amendment

Sixth Amendment

Seventh Amendment

Eighth Amendment

Ninth Amendment

Tenth Amendment

Eleventh Amendment

Twelfth Amendment

Thirteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Fifteenth Amendment

Sixteenth Amendment

Seventeenth Amendment

Eighteenth Amendment

Nineteenth Amendment

Twentieth Amendment

Twenty-First Amendment

Twenty-Second Amendment

Twenty Third Amendment

Twenty Fourth Amendment

Twenty-Fifth Amendment

Twenty-Sixth Amendment

Twenty Seventh Amendment

Download the full US Constitution PDF including the full Bill of Rights.
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