Introduction to the Bill of Rights

In 1776, a group of American colonists gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence. The document was written by Thomas Jefferson with the goal of announcing the colonies’ independence from Britain. After being subjected to what they felt were unfair taxes and other regulations, coupled with a lack of colonial representation in the British government, the colonists had had enough of British rule and hoped to establish their own nation. The result of this was the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, which ended with a peace treaty in 1783 that acknowledged America’s sovereignty as an independent country.

Now, the newly created country needed to organize itself and create a framework for its government. At first, America operated under the Articles of Confederation, which dictated a weak federal government, leaving the states to be largely independent from each other. However, this arrangement didn’t work out, as it left the new nation’s leaders largely powerless to do things like enforce laws, collect taxes, and make treaties with other countries. The Articles of Confederation were officially replaced with the United States Constitution in 1789.

The Constitution organized the federal government into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. Each would have an equal amount of power and the ability to restrict the power of the others, a system called checks and balances. But while the new system was a great improvement, it was still lacking in one important way: It didn’t provide specific protections for citizens’ rights. To remedy this, Congress created 12 amendments to the Constitution. Ten of these would be ratified in 1791; together, they would become known as the Bill of Rights.

The ten amendments in the Bill of Rights were written to guarantee the freedoms that the colonists fought the British to attain. These freedoms include freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to a speedy trial, and more. The Bill of Rights has become the cornerstone of the freedoms that Americans enjoy today.

Learn more about the Bill of Rights and the circumstances that led to their adoption with these resources: