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The Bill of Rights and Constitution's Ratification

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed to state legislatures amendments to the Constitution that were to be the Bill of Rights, amendments that needed ratification by nine of the states.

A big issue had developed over the power of the Anglican Church as the state church in Virginia – Thomas Jefferson's state. Virginia had been throwing Baptists in prison for preaching without a license. Jefferson took up their cause, not agreeing with them on theological matters but believing that they should be free to preach. It was a contentious and hard-fought issue, with Patrick Henry and other revolutionaries on the side of a state's right to choose which religious denomination or ideas were right for its citizens. The issue was addressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution on the side of Thomas Jefferson and religious liberty – with a little wiggle room for argument regarding state laws trumping federal laws in cases to be argued in the future.

The Constitutional amendments were:

I) 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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

II) 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.

III) 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.

IV) 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.

V) 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 offence 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.

VI) 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.

VII) 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 reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

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

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

X) 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.

Ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution began on November 20, 1789. Inclusion of the Bill of Rights moved North Carolina to ratify the Constitution the next day. Rhode Island, which had rejected the Constitution in March 1788 in a popular referendum, held a ratifying convention in May 1790 and by two votes it became the last state to ratify the United States Constitution.


The Oxford History of the American People, by Samuel Eliot Morrison, 1965

Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, by Maya Jasanoff, 2011

Thomas Paine, by Craig Nelson, 2006

A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, by Carol Berkin, Harcourt, Inc , 2002

A Companion to the American Revolution, edited by Jack P Green and J R Cole, 2000

American Colonies, by Alan Taylor, 200.

The Cousin's War: Religion, Politics and the Triumph of Anglo America, by Kevin Phillips, 1999

The War that Made America, PBS Documentary, 2006

First Freedom: the Fight for Religious Liberty, PBS documentary, 2012

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.