On 25 September 1789, the first Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution sending them to the states for ratification. Under the Constitution, 2/3 of the states must approve before they can become legal. These amendments, often called the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of citizens that included freedom of speech, press, right to assemble, the free exercise of religion, limiting the government from unlawful entry into your home without a warrant, bearing arms, the right against self-incrimination in criminal trials and that you could not be tried for the same crime twice.
These amendments were influenced by the English Bill of Rights (1689) and by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights written by George Mason. As part of the original ratification of the Constitution, it was agreed that these would be the first amendments to be immediately adopted. These amendments were very important to the American colonists who had rebelled against England. They reflect the wrongs of the English government inflicted on its citizens and sought to make sure no U.S. government would ever do the same to its citizens. Mason and others were concerned that unless such limits were put into place, the temptation to misuse government would arise.
And history has largely proved this thinking correct. Unless you have a written constitution (not one that can be easily amended or changed as some parliamentary countries can do) the temptation to misuse government power can lead to tyranny being imposed. By limiting the powers of government, dividing it into separate branches, the U.S Constitution makes it impossible for one person to have all three powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The Bill of Rights ensures that citizens given basic freedoms that the government cannot take away.
Ten of the twelve amendments were ratified by December 1791. One was defeated and another went into limbo.
“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”
Originally proposed on 25 September 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. Since it did not pass the 2/3 requirement but had no expiration date, it sat in a form of constitutional limbo for 80 years then was ratified by Ohio. It then went back into limbo again until 1978 when Wyoming, angry at a Congressional pay hike, passed it but then again it went into limbo until the 1980’s.
Gregory Watson, who had noticed it was still alive as an undergraduate at Austin State University, took up the cause as an aide to a Texas legislator. From 1983-1992 other states, angry at Congress for their pay hikes, also ratified it. It was declared ratified on 7 May 1992. Many states would also post-ratify the amendment as well. Of all the amendments, it took the longest to get ratified at 74,003 days.
- Bill of Rights (Britannica)
- Constitution Day-Bill of Rights (Constitutionday.com)
- U.S. Constitution 27th Amendment (usconstitution.net)
- Bill of Rights passes Congress (History.com)