The Constitutional Convention

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Why was the Bill of Rights necessary?

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I have one small quibble with the response above, which is otherwise just about right: The national capital was not located in Washington, D.C. when the debate over ratification was taking place. Indeed, there was no such city. In 1787-1788, the capital of the United States under the Articles of...

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I have one small quibble with the response above, which is otherwise just about right: The national capital was not located in Washington, D.C. when the debate over ratification was taking place. Indeed, there was no such city. In 1787-1788, the capital of the United States under the Articles of Confederation was in New York City. There was some discussion in the state ratification conventions of locating the capital somewhere else (some proposed locations included Philadelphia or Lancaster in Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, in addition to a yet to be constructed "Federal City" on the banks of the Potomac.) But when the Constitution was ratified, New York (more specifically, Federal Hall) became the capital. Only after a bargain was struck over support for a federal debt assumption bill, and a ten-year stay in Philadelphia, was the capital established permanently at what is now the nation's capital. The point about the capital being distant, and therefore unaccountable, federal government might represent a threat to the rights of the people still stands, however.

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There are at least two ways to answer this question.  The first has to do with why a bill of rights would be important to have in general and the second has to do with the political reasons why the Bill of Rights had to be added to the Constitution.

First, we can say that bill of rights is important because it helps to ensure that the government will honor the rights that the people should have.  The Bill of Rights, of course, protects basic freedoms like the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.  If there are no written guarantees of such rights, the government is much more likely to take them away.  Thus, the Bill of Rights was necessary in order to protect the rights of the American people.

However, there was also a political reason why the Bill of Rights was needed.  After the Constitution was proposed, there were many people who were opposed to it.  They felt, in particular, that it gave too much power to the new federal government.  They remembered how they had felt that the British government, which was far away from them geographically, had abused their rights.  They worried that the government in Washington, D.C. (also far geographically at a time when it was very hard to travel from place to place) would also abuse their rights.  Therefore, they were reluctant to vote to ratify the Constitution.  The Federalists, who wanted the Constitution ratified, had to promise to add the Bill of Rights in order to persuade people that the federal government would respect their basic rights.  This was necessary in order to get the Constitution ratified.

Thus, we can say that the Bill of Rights was necessary in order to protect our rights and also in order to gain support for the ratification of the Constitution.

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