Happy Bill of Rights Day

by Carla Brown

December 15th is the anniversary of the Bill of Rights!   Let’s all celebrate Bill of Rights Day and help guarantee our freedoms endure!

The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, and formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789.  Congress transmitted to the state legislatures twelve proposed amendments, two of which having to do with Congressional representation and Congressional pay, were not adopted.  The remaining 10 came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States.  They became the Bill of Rights.

The addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was celebrated as a victory for the champions of individual liberty.  But for the Bill of Rights to remain more than what Madison referred to as a “parchment barrier,” citizens must understand the content and meaning.

The amendments in the Bill of Rights do not “give” anyone anything.  However, the Bill of Rights protections do stop the government from doing certain things.  This kind of limited government is the essence of liberty: the freedom to act without unauthorized restraint.

Here are the inalienable rights that the Bill of Rights protects:

1st Amendment Freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and petition
2nd Amendment The right to keep and bear arms
3rd Amendment Prohibits quartering of troops in citizens’ homes
4th Amendment Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
5th Amendment Rules against taking of life, liberty, or property without due process of law –  Protection against self-incrimination
6th Amendment A person accused of a crime has a right to a defense lawyer, speedy and public trial, the right to hear charges, call witnesses, and be present when witnesses speak in court
7th Amendment The right to trial by jury of one’s peers
8th Amendment Protection against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments
9th Amendment The rights enumerated in the Constitution are not a person’s only rights
10th Amendment Powers not delegated to the U.S. nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or to the people

The last change to the Constitution was made in 1992. The 27th Amendment is actually one of the two left-over amendments from 1791. It is very unusual for an amendment to take that long to be accepted, but it is possible.  Some, like the 26th Amendment, are accepted very quickly, in just 100 days.  Most, though, take a little over a year to be ratified.

Here are the remaining amendments: (Proposed date – Ratified Date)

11th Immunity of states from suits from out-of-state citizens and foreigners not living within the state borders.  Lays the foundation for sovereign immunity (1794-1795)
12th Revises presidential election procedures  (1803-1804)
13th Abolishes slavery & involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime (1865-1865)
14th Defines citizenship, contains the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and deals with post-Civil War issues (1866-1868)
15th Prohibits the denial of right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (1869-1870)
16th Allows the federal government to collect income tax (1909-1913)
17th Establishes the direct election of United States Senators by popular vote (1912-1913)
18th Establishes Prohibition of alcohol (Repealed by Twenty-first Amendment) (1917-1919)
19th Establishes women’s suffrage (1919-1920)
20th Fixes the dates of term commencements for Congress (January 3) and the President (January 20); known as the “lame duck amendment”  (1932-1933)
21st Repeals the Eighteenth Amendment (1933-1933)
22nd Limits the president to two terms, or a maximum of 10 years (i.e., if a Vice President serves not more than one half of a President’s term, he or she can be elected to a further two terms) (1947-1951)
23rd Provides for representation of Washington, D.C. in the Electoral College  (1960-1961)
24th Prohibits the revocation of voting rights due to the non-payment of poll taxes (1962-1964)
25th Codifies the Tyler Precedent; defines the process of presidential succession (1965-1967)
26th Establishes the official voting age to be 18 years old (1971-1971)
27th Prevents laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until the beginning of the next session of Congress (1789-1992)

Amazingly, there are still 6 amendments which have been proposed over the years, but have yet to be ratified.  Once proposed, an amendment stays on the record as pending unless it contains a deadline at which time it is said to have expired. These proposed amendments are still awaiting approval, one for over 200 years!

  • Congressional Apportionment Amendment  (September 25, 1789 – Still pending )
  • Titles of Nobility Amendment (May 1, 1810 – Still pending)
  • Corwin Amendment (Preservation of slavery) (March 2, 1861 – Still pending)
  • Child Labor Amendment (June 2, 1924 – Still pending)
  • Equal Rights Amendment (March 22, 1972 – May have expired)
  • District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment ( August 22, 1978 – Expired 1985)