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What is the Bill of Rights? When does it happen and what was its purpose?

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bklovepaul | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted March 15, 2012 at 1:42 PM via web

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What is the Bill of Rights? When does it happen and what was its purpose?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 16, 2012 at 4:29 AM (Answer #1)

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The Bill of Rights is a collective term for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These amendments were added to the constitution after its ratification. During the debates over ratification, many of those opposed to the new Constitution based their objections on the fact that it contained no explicit protections for what they considered fundamental rights. According to the "Federal Farmer," a prominent anti-Federalist:

There are certain unalienable and fundamental rights, which in forming the social compact, ought to be explicitly ascertained and fixed—a free and enlightened people, in forming this compact, will not resign all their rights to those who govern, and they will fix limits to their legislators and rulers, which will soon be plainly seen by those who are governed, as well as by those who govern...

In short, "inalienable" rights had to be explicitly protected from the power of government. Some of the states, including Massachusetts and North Carolina, who ratified the Constitution did so only with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would be amended. Twelve amendments were duly presented to the Congress in 1789, and after being approved, they were sent to the states for ratification. Ten of them passed, providing protections that delineated certain rights that could not be abridged by Congress. These included protection against illegal search and seizure, the right to a trial by jury in all criminal and some civil cases, protections against religious establishments, and protections for speech, assembly, petition, and religious exercise.

The two rejected amendments, incidentally, involved congressional apportionment and compensation for congressmen. The latter was approved in 1992, and it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment. 

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