The Bill of Rights Amendments
Every American citizen should know his or her rights under the United States Constitution. The first ten Amendments of the U.S. Constitution form the Bill of Rights, and these rights pertain to the personal liberties all American citizens enjoy. These rights exist to limit government interference into the private lives of citizens, prevent corruption, and resist the creation of a tyrannical government.
Understanding the Bill of Rights
James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote the Bill of Rights to create a check against governmental power. Under British rule, American colonists not only had very few civil liberties, they also had no representation in British Parliament even though the British Crown routinely abused and overtaxed the colonies in an attempt to allay the Crown’s reckless debt.
The Founding Fathers believed that every person had certain inalienable rights that the British government had routinely violated, and they wished to ensure that the government they created would not repeat the same abuses of power and atrocities suffered under British rule. The Bill of Rights did not truly take form as a force of law until the early 1800s with the Doctrine of Incorporation, which empowered the Supreme Court to rule that the Fourteenth Amendment made the Bill of Rights enforceable at the state, as well as the federal, level.
What Are the First Ten Amendments?
The Founding Fathers ratified the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791 after Virginia became the tenth of fourteen states to approve the Bill of Rights, giving it the majority needed to become law. The Bill of Rights contains the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that guarantee the personal freedoms of the American citizenry.
- The First Amendment includes the freedoms of speech, petition, assembly, the press, and religious practice. This Amendment essentially prohibits government censorship of protected free speech and prevents the government from establishing a religion or interfering with the free exercise of religious practices that do not interfere with public policy or endanger the public.
- The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. The Founding Fathers recognized that the best defense against a tyrannical government was an armed population capable of defending itself against abuses of government power.
- The Third Amendment pertains to housing soldiers in private homes during peacetime and prevents such practice without the consent of the homeowner.
- The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens from unlawful searches and property seizures.
- The Fifth Amendment offers protection against self-incrimination. It allows an individual to remain silent during official questioning or legal proceedings when the individual has a choice between self-incrimination or committing perjury. The Fifth Amendment also prevents double jeopardy or prosecuting an individual for the same offense twice. Ultimately, the Fifth Amendment protects due process.
- The Sixth Amendment guarantees those accused of a crime a speedy and public trial with an impartial jury. The Sixth Amendment also guarantees a defendant’s right to face his or her accusers in court and legal representation.
- The Seventh Amendment pertains to rights in civil cases and right of trial by jury.
- The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail amounts, cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive fines.
- The Ninth Amendment prevents the United States Congress from introducing legislation that would infringe upon other rights provided by the U.S. Constitution or other rights that have not received official recognition.
- The Tenth Amendment secures the rights of the states to self-govern.
Understanding Your Rights Under the U.S. Constitution
Countless lawyers specialize in Constitutional Rights violations and related legal cases; if some government policy has interfered with your rights under the Bill of Rights, an attorney can help you explore your options for legal recourse. Ultimately, the Bill of Rights exists to afford American citizens the legal protections necessary to preserve liberty and avoid the tyranny experienced under British rule and other theocratic, monarchist, and imperialist nations throughout history.