The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, which limit the power of the U.S. federal government. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property including freedoms of religion, speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms.
They were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles, were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States.
Originally, the Bill of Rights included legal protection for land-owning white men only, excluding African Americans and women. It took additional Constitutional Amendments and numerous Supreme Court cases to extend the same rights to all U.S. citizens.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C..
• First Amendment [Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition (1791)] (seeannotations)
• Second Amendment [Right to Bear Arms (1791)] (see annotations)
• Third Amendment [Quartering of Troops (1791)] (see annotations)
• Fourth Amendment [Search and Seizure (1791)] (see annotations)
• Fifth Amendment [Grand Jury, Double Jeopardy, Self-Incrimination, Due Process (1791)] (see annotations)
• Sixth Amendment [Criminal Prosecutions – Jury Trial, Right to Confront and to Counsel (1791)] (see annotations)
• Seventh Amendment [Common Law Suits – Jury Trial (1791)] (seeannotations)
• Eighth Amendment [Excess Bail or Fines, Cruel and Unusual Punishment (1791)] (see annotations)
• Ninth Amendment [Non-Enumerated Rights (1791)] (see annotations)
• Tenth Amendment [Rights Reserved to States (1791)] (see annotations)
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 offense 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 defense.
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.
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.