In a nod to the Anti-Federalists, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were aimed at limiting some of the federal government’s newfound power by guaranteeing civil liberties (individual freedoms).
These first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights and were ratified in 1791.
Although background information is helpful, your ability to comprehend the essentials—Main Idea, Detail, Inference—from what you are given to read is more important for answering questions than tapping into an encyclopedic memory.
Bill of Rights (Highlights)
1. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion. Taken together, these rights are often referred to as freedom of expression.
2. Right to keep and bear arms.
3. Prohibits quartering of soldiers in private homes without owner’s permission.
4. Requires a warrant and probable cause for search, seizure, and arrest of an individual, domicile, or property.
5. Requires the government to follow due process (proper legal methods), including convening a Grand Jury before an individual can be charged with a serious crime.
Prohibits double jeopardy (re-trial after an innocent verdict) and self-incrimination (forcibly admitting self-guilt). Establishes compensation for eminent domain (when the government takes individual property).
6. Right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury of peers. Includes right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Also includes right to be represented by a lawyer, which will be appointed if the accused cannot afford it.
7. Right to a trial by jury in a civil case (between two people rather than between a person and the government).
8. Forbids excessive bail and “cruel and unusual punishment.”
9. Allows for the possibility of rights not specifically spelled out in the Constitution.
10. Powers not given to the federal government remain with the people and the states.
Bill of Rights (Transcript)
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 defence.
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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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.
Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution
1 The British Magna Carta or “Great Charter” of 1215 exercised a strong influence both on the United States Constitution and on the constitutions of the various states. However, its influence was shaped by what eighteenth-century Americans believed Magna Carta to signify. Magna Carta was widely held to be the people’s reassertion of rights against an oppressive ruler, a legacy that captured American distrust of concentrated political power.
Partly because of this tradition, most of the state constitutions included declarations of rights intended to guarantee individual citizens a list of protections and immunities from the state government. The United States also adopted the Bill of Rights, in part, due to this political conviction.
2 Both the state declarations of rights and the United States Bill of Rights incorporated several guarantees that were understood at the time of their ratification to descend from rights protected by Magna Carta. Among these are freedom from unlawful search and seizure, the right to a speedy trial, the right to a trial by jury, and protection from loss of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
3 Many broader American constitutional principles have their roots in an eighteenth-century understanding of Magna Carta, such as the theory of representative government, the idea of a supreme law, and judicial review.
Practice – Questions
1. Which of the following can you infer from this passage?
A. The Magna Carta favored agriculture.
B. The Magna Carta favored industry.
C. The Magna Carta favored Federalism.
D. The Magna Carta favored States’ Rights.
2. What is the main idea of this passage?
A. The Magna Carta had nothing to do with the Bill of Rights.
B. The Magna Carta was exactly the same as the Bill of Rights.
C. The Magna Carta was a predecessor to the Bill of Rights.
D. The Magna Carta was a descendant of the Bill of Rights.
3. Magna Carta was widely held to be the:
A. people’s abdication of rights.
B. people’s reassertion of rights.
C. people’s surrender of rights.
D. people’s invention of rights.
4. The United States Bill of Rights incorporated several:
5. What does this passage imply?
A. The Bill of Rights was an entirely new idea.
B. The Bill of Rights has no lasting value.
C. The Bill of Rights was invented out of thin air.
D. The Bill of Rights was not entirely a new idea.
Practice – Answers
1. D. The Magna Carta favored States’ Rights.
2. C. The Magna Carta was a predecessor to the Bill of Rights.
3. B. people’s reassertion of rights.
4. A. guarantees.
5. D. The Bill of Rights was not entirely a new idea.