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Three Reasons to Celebrate Bill of Rights Day

 Bill of Rights Day is Dec. 15

Why celebrate this day? One reason is that the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are considered the most important documents in our nation’s founding and history and are prominently displayed at our National Archives. We celebrate the events surrounding these documents every year: Constitution Day is celebrated on Sept. 17 and Independence Day is celebrated on July 4. The second reason is that, in 2002, the Missouri General Assembly declared December 15 Bill of Rights Day in Missouri (RSMo9.141). The law states that “the bill of rights should be read in public schools and the day should be remembered with appropriate exercises.” The third reason – and arguably the best one – is that the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and secured by the 14th Amendment, are the foundation of the civil rights of all Americans and all those who are subject to the laws of the United States.

The signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, was just the beginning of the story of our Constitution. Nine of the states had to ratify, or approve, the Constitution before it could become the law of our nation. In New York and Virginia, men like Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) were passionate in their opposition to the Constitution. They felt there were not enough freedoms guaranteed. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others disagreed, saying the Constitution protected all of the rights of the people and they believed naming certain rights might lead to the exclusion of other rights. Those insisting on the Bill of Rights were called the Anti-Federalists and those opposing it were called the Federalists.

However, Madison and the other Federalists feared that the Constitution would not pass without something to assure the Anti-Federalists and their followers that it protected the freedoms they fought for in the Revolutionary War. They were able to win approval of the Constitution by promising to amend, or change, the Constitution so that many of the freedoms and rights were specifically spelled out. On Dec. 15, 1791, four years after the Constitution was written and signed, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights – were passed.

The framers of the Constitution actually submitted 12 amendments to the states in the Bill of Rights. The first two were not approved. The first amendment that was proposed stated that each representative in the House of Representatives could only represent 50,000 people. In 2010, the census showed that the population of the United States was almost 309 million people. That would mean there would be more than 6,000 representatives if that amendment had passed. Imagine the problems this number of representatives would create, including the fact that the House chamber in the U.S. Capitol only holds 435 people.

The second amendment that was proposed prevented members of Congress from granting themselves pay raises during the current session. Rather, any raises that were adopted must take effect during the next session of Congress. Proponents of the amendment believed that legislators were more likely to be cautious about increasing congressional pay if they have no personal stake in the vote. Although this amendment was not ratified by the states in 1791, it was added to the Constitution in 1992 and is now Amendment 27. At that time, there was public displeasure with repeated congressional pay increases and the required three-quarters of the states ratified the measure. Unlike several other recent amendments, which contained a seven-year time limit for ratification by the states, this proposed amendment contained no time limit for ratification.

For more information on the Bill of Rights, visit the National Constitution Center or the National Archives.

The Bill of Rights

Amendment 1 — 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.

Amendment 2 —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.

Amendment 3 — No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment 4 — 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 warrant 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.

Amendment 5 — 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.

Amendment 6 — 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.

Amendment 7 — In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of the 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.

Amendment 8 — Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

Amendment 9 — The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.

Amendment 10 — 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.

Millie Aulbur is The Missouri Bar Director of Citizenship Education. Her primary work is developing materials and programs to assist and enhance the work of Missouri’s civics and government teachers.

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