Bill of Rights Day

December 15, 2020


Today, December 15th is Bill of Rights Day! The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution comprise the Bill of Rights, which set out the foundational civil rights and liberties guaranteed to all Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 15th to be Bill of Rights Day in 1941 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights' ratification.

Historical Background

The Bill of Rights was proposed by James Madison in June of 1789 and passed both the House and Senate in September of the same year. Twelve amendments were signed by President Washington and sent to the states for ratification, and ten of these amendments finally passed the three-fourths mark required for ratification on December 15th, 1789. You can find more information about the history of the Bill of Rights on the National Archives' page about this founding document, including transcripts, articles, and a link to the catalog record for the Bill of Rights

The 1st Amendment [PDF]

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The 1st Amendment is arguably the most famous in the Bill of Rights. This amendment protects free speech and the free press, the right to gather in protest, the right to practice your preferred religion, and the right to ask the government for help with problems. The 1st Amendment also prevents the U.S. government from creating a religion or requiring everyone to follow a particular religion. 

The 2nd Amendment [PDF]

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This Amendment protects the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms. 

The 3rd Amendment [PDF]

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This Amendment prevents the U.S. government from requiring individuals to allow soldiers to stay in their homes.

The 4th Amendment [PDF]

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This Amendment prevents the U.S. government from illegally searching or taking an individual's private property or person.

The 5th Amendment [PDF]

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. 

The 5th Amendment outlines a number of rights for those accused of crimes: it requires a grand jury to indict people for serious criminal charges, prevents the government from bringing charges against an individual for the same crime twice, protects people from self-incrimination, requires the due process of law for criminal charges, and requires a person to receive compensation for any private property taken for public use. 

The 6th Amendment [PDF]

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The 6th Amendment also outlines additional rights for those accused of crimes, including the right to be tried in public, the right to be tried within in a reasonable amount of time in the jurisdiction the crime took place, the right to be tried by an impartial jury, the right to face the accuser and the right to have an attorney assist with the defense.

The 7th Amendment [PDF]

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This Amendment allows the right to a jury trial for federal civil cases. 

The 8th Amendment [PDF]

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This Amendment also prevents the U.S. government from imposing excessively high bail or fines. It also prevents the use of "cruel and unusual" punishment for crimes.

The 9th Amendment [PDF]

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The 9th Amendment explains that people may have other rights that aren't explicitly outlined in the U.S. Constitution. 

The 10th Amendment [PDF]

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment restricts the powers of the federal government to those explicitly outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Any other powers are said to belong to the individual U.S. States or to the people themselves. 

Library Resources

The library has a number of resources that discuss different aspects of rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. You can find all of the titles listed here in our Digital Collection, which can be accessed by any Texan with a current library account. In particular, you may want to start with the following nutshells:

Additionally, these titles cover specific Constitutional topics in more detail: 
If you have any questions, please feel free to Ask a Librarian!

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