How would you describe the purpose of the Bill of Rights at the time the U.S. Constitution was drafted and today?

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The Bill of Rights are comprised of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These rights helped solidify the concept of personal liberty and freedom from government oppression. Because the Constitution does not specifically address ensuring personal liberty and freedom of citizens, James Madison wrote the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights to ensure that the Constitution would not become a tool of oppression by the government, particularly the federal government. Of course, even the Bill of Rights did not address the freedom of enslaved black people, the genocide and land theft of indigenous peoples on that land now known as the U.S., and the oppression of women (the severity of which varied depending on the woman's class and race status). The Bill of Rights can be technically applied to any citizen today, however, because its creation did not end the oppressions I stated above, the rights were written in a general way that now is supposed to legally apply to all citizens.

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The Bill of Rights was largely adopted as a compromise measure to secure agreement to the Constitution. Many of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention were concerned that the new proposals gave too much power to the federal government, representing an attack on the cherished traditions of republican liberty and radically devolved government.

In particular, a number of delegates were worried about the possible implications of the Constitution for states' rights. Under the Articles of Confederation, ultimate political sovereignty in America had resided with the states. And critics of the new Constitution wanted to retain this principle as far as possible. The Bill of Rights was a way of assuaging their concerns by explicitly protecting the liberties of individuals and states from encroachment by the federal government.

Though the power of the federal government has grown exponentially since 1787, the Bill of Rights still retains its relevance today. It acts as an expression of principle against which the actions of authorities—both state and federal alike—can be measured. Americans greatly cherish their constitutional rights, seeing their protection as almost sacrosanct. But the Bill of Rights's precise interpretation remains a matter of considerable disagreement, as can be seen from the often bitter debates over the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.

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The Bill of Rights was originally created because many people feared that the government, created by the Constitution, would abuse its powers because there was no specific guarantee of protecting people’s rights in the Constitution. Representatives of several states indicated that their state wouldn’t agree to ratify the Constitution without a guarantee of protecting basic rights such as the right of freedom of speech and religion as well as the right to bear arms. Thus, an agreement was made to add these and other rights as the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

These rights are still very important today as they protect the rights of the American people. The right to bear arms was a heavily debated issue in the last presidential election. It is part of the current debate regarding gun control. There are people who feel any form of gun control violates the second amendment or will lead to a weakening of it. Freedom of speech is on display each day as people state their opinions about various government policies and actions that they either do or don’t support. The current debate regarding American immigration policy is drawing many comments and actions on a daily basis that are protected by the right of freedom of speech.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights is as important today as it was in the days when the states were debating the ratification of the Constitution.

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