bathimpact advent calendar, december 5th 1791: Bill of Rights Ratified by the United States Congress

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On December the 15th in 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified by the first United States Congress, which sought to limit the power of the federal government. Originally twelve amendments were proposed by James Madison to be added to the United States Constitution however only ten amendments, three to twelve, where approved by the required amount of states to be ratified and these became known as the Bill of Rights.

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_ACWhen the United States constitution was implemented in 1789 concerns were raised on the power of central government. Some even believing it made the president more like a king. These ‘Anti-Federalists’ saw a strong national government as an affront to individual freedom and liberty. ‘Federalists’, on the other hand, saw the constitution itself as enough to protecting personal freedoms, and these extra protections were unnecessary.

The ratification process requires three quarters of the states, then fourteen, to approve them. The first state to ratify articles three to twelve was New Jersey on the 20th of November in 1789 and the last state to ratify them was Virginia on the 15th of December 1791 when it then became law.

The Bill of Rights has profound implications for modern day North America. The amendments set out a set of personal freedoms, from the conduct of a fair trial to the conduct of the army. The most notable amendments are the first two, the first being the right of freedom of speech, assembly and the separation of church and state with the second being the right to bear arms.

These building blocks for individual rights are cited in modern day legislation. When decisions are being made they must be deemed as constitutional and not to contravene the constitution and all its twenty seven amendments, including the Bill of Rights. Constitutions are supposed to be dynamic documents, able to be amended and changed as society progresses and a basis for morals and the legislative powers of the federal and congressional government.

The exact dynamics of the Bill of Rights is still hotly contested, especially the second amendment which allows for ‘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.’ With the rise of mass shootings in the United states and the high levels of gun crime this is usually the source of much contention. The Bill of Rights second amendment is seen as partially out of date by most Democrats but is relevant and important for personal freedoms by the Republicans.

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About Author

Tommy Parker is Editor-in-Chief (2016/17) and former Students' Union Community Officer (2014/15). He writes about gaming, equality issues and the University of Bath.

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