United States Bill of Rights
first ten amendments to the United States Constitution
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The United States Bill of Rights is the name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. They were introduced by James Madison to the First United States Congress in 1789 as a series of legislative articles and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. The Bill of Rights is a series of limitations on the power of the United States federal government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property including freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms.
- I cannot consider the Bill of Rights to be an outworn 18th Century 'strait jacket'…Its provisions may be thought outdated abstractions by some. And it is true that they were designed to meet ancient evils. But they are the same kind of human evils that have emerged from century to century wherever excessive power is sought by the few at the expense of the many. In my judgement the people of no nation can lose their basic liberty so long as a Bill of Rights like ours survives and its basic purposes are conscientiously interpreted, enforced and respected so as to afford continuous protection against old, as well as new, devices and practices which might thwart those purposes.
- Justice Hugo Black, dissenting in Adamson v. California (1947)
- The concept that the Bill of Rights and other constitutional protections against arbitrary government are inoperative when they become inconvenient or when expediency dictates otherwise is a very dangerous doctrine and if allowed to flourish would destroy the benefit of a written Constitution and undermine the basis of our government.
- Justice Hugo Black, Reid v. Covert 354 U.S. 1 (1957)
- Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today? It wouldn’t even get out of committee.
- F. Lee Bailey, Newsweek, 17 April 1967.
- Bills of rights give assurance to the individual of the preservation of his liberty. They do not define the liberty they promise.
- Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Paradoxes of Legal Science (1928)
- Plainly, a community may not suppress, or the state tax, the dissemination of views because they are unpopular, annoying or distasteful. If that device were ever sanctioned, there would have been forged a ready instrument for the suppression of the faith which any minority cherishes but which does not happen to be in favor. That would be a complete repudiation of the philosophy of the Bill of Rights.
- Justice William O. Douglas, Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943), at 115, Opinion of the Court.
- This case involves a cancer in our body politic. It is a measure of the disease which afflicts us. Army surveillance, like Army regimentation, is at war with the principles of the First Amendment. Those who already walk submissively will say there is no cause for alarm. But submissiveness is not our heritage. The First Amendment was designed to allow rebellion to remain as our heritage. The Constitution was designed to keep government off the backs of the people. The Bill of Rights was added to keep the precincts of belief and expression, of the press, of political and social activities free from surveillance. The Bill of Rights was designed to keep agents of government and official eavesdroppers away from assemblies of people. The aim was to allow men to be free and independent and to assert their rights against government. There can be no influence more paralyzing of that objective than Army surveillance. When an intelligence officer looks over every nonconformist's shoulder in the library, or walks invisibly by his side in a picket line, or infiltrates his club, the America once extolled as the voice of liberty heard around the world no longer is cast in the image which Jefferson and Madison designed, but more in the Russian image.
- Justice William O. Douglas, Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972), dissenting.
- In recent years it has been suggested that the Second Amendment protects the "collective" right of states to maintain militias, while it does not protect the right of "the people" to keep and bear arms...The phrase "the people" meant the same thing in the Second Amendment as it did in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments — that is, each and every free person.
A select militia defined as only the privileged class entitled to keep and bear arms was considered an anathema to a free society, in the same way that Americans denounced select spokesmen approved by the government as the only class entitled to the freedom of the press.
If anyone entertained this notion in the period during which the Constitution and Bill of Rights were debated and ratified, it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 18th century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis.
- Stephen P. Holbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right
- The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
- Robert H. Jackson (1943). West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Supreme Court of the United States. pp. 319 U.S. 624, 638.
- We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.
- Robert H. Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), at. 641.
- I will therefore make up the deficiency by adding a few words on the Constitution proposed by our Convention. [...] I will now add what I do not like. First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land and not by the law of Nations. [...] Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.
- Thomas Jefferson, From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 20 December 1787. In: Founders Online. Provided by the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on January 30, 2023. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 12, 7 August 1787 – 31 March 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 438–443.
- Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don't have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
- Carl Sagan, The demon-haunted world : science as a candle in the dark. New York: Random House. 1995. LCC Q175.S215 1995. ISBN 039453512X. , Ch. 25: Real Patriots Ask Questions