On this day in history the very first Congress approved the first 12 amendments to the United States Constitution. The amendments were then sent to all of the states to be ratified. The amendments became known as the Bill of Rights and they were made to protect the rights of "the people" -- i.e., anyone deemed to be a United States citizen.
The Bill of Rights Guaranteed Specific Freedoms to U.S. Citizens
The Bill of Rights gave specific, inalienable rights to those who had gained U.S. citizenship. They guaranteed -- and continue to guarantee -- our freedoms of assembly, press, speech, and exercise of religion. The Bill of Rights also gave everyone the right to just legal procedures and the right to bear arms. Further, any rights not specifically given to the United States federal government were formally reserved for the people and the governments in the states where they lived.
The American Bill of Rights was inspired by a similar document in England, the English Bill of Rights of 1689. It was also born out of Virginia's earlier Declaration of Rights of 1776. The Virginia Bill of Rights was written by George Mason, who was a staunch proponent of individual liberties. George Mason was also an attendee of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but he did not approve of the final document because he felt it lacked basic political rights protections. Later, as the Constitution's supporters tried to get the states to ratify the Constitution, Mason and his cohorts agreed to sign off on it, but only if the 12 amendments were added.
Only 10 of the First 12 Amendments Were Ultimately Ratified
In late 1791, Virginia was the tenth state to approve ten out of the 12 original amendments, which resulted in the two-thirds majority that the Bill of Rights required to be codified into law. The two amendments that were not ratified included one that involved a system of representation based on population. The second unratified amendment concerned laws regarding the payment of congressional representatives. Over 200 years later, the amendment governing congressional pay was finally ratified in 1992.
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