Thursday will mark 225 years to the day.
On December 15, 1791, the Commonwealth of Virginia became the eleventh state to ratify the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That meant that three-fourths of state legislatures had approved them, which meant the Bill of Rights was born.
To commemorate the occasion, here’s a great essay about one of its architects, James Madison. It talks about how Madison opposed a bill of rights at first because he feared that it would limit people’s essential rights to just those listed. He thought a list wasn’t necessary in a new system in which the people were sovereign and the government derived its power from their consent. He also believed that the real buffer against a tyranny of the majority lay in the Constitution’s structural checks and balances: federalism, bicameralism, and the separation of powers. Eventually, though, Madison came around, and at the first Congress of the United States, he introduced the amendments that became the Bill of Rights.
The ten amendments enshrine many of our most important rights and freedoms. They declare that, in America, you’re meant to be free in the following ways, among others.
- You’re free to say, think, and believe what you want to say, think, or believe.
- You’re free to print, publish, and broadcast information even if the government opposes it.
- You’re free to associate with others, band together peaceably, and petition the government to redress your grievances.
- The government can’t take your life, liberty, or property if it doesn’t follow fair and objective rules.
- It can’t search or seize you, your home, or your property unreasonably or without following the rules.
- It can’t take your property and put it to public use without paying you fairly for it.
- It can’t punish you without telling you why and giving you a meaningful chance to defend yourself.
- It can’t punish you excessively or inhumanely, no matter what.
For the full text of the U.S. Bill of Rights, see here.