Competing Visions: Federalists and Democratic-Republicans

THE BILL OF RIGHTS

Many Americans opposed the 1787 Constitution because it seemed a dangerous concentration of centralized power that threatened the rights and liberties of ordinary U.S. citizens. These opponents, known collectively as Anti-Federalists, did not constitute a political party, but they united in demanding protection for individual rights, and several states made the passing of a bill of rights a condition of their acceptance of the Constitution. Rhode Island and North Carolina rejected the Constitution because it did not already have this specific bill of rights.

Federalists followed through on their promise to add such a bill in 1789, when Virginia Representative James Madison introduced and Congress approved the Bill of Rights (Table). Adopted in 1791, the bill consisted of the first ten amendments to the Constitution and outlined many of the personal rights state constitutions already guaranteed.

Amendment 1 Right to freedoms of religion and speech; right to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances
Amendment 2 Right to keep and bear arms to maintain a well-regulated militia
Amendment 3 Right not to house soldiers during time of war
Amendment 4 Right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure
Amendment 5 Rights in criminal cases, including to due process and indictment by grand jury for capital crimes, as well as the right not to testify against oneself
Amendment 6 Right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury
Amendment 7 Right to a jury trial in civil cases
Amendment 8 Right not to face excessive bail or fines, or cruel and unusual punishment
Amendment 9 Rights retained by the people, even if they are not specifically enumerated by the Constitution
Amendment 10 States’ rights to powers not specifically delegated to the federal government
Rights Protected by the First Ten Amendments

The adoption of the Bill of Rights softened the Anti-Federalists’ opposition to the Constitution and gave the new federal government greater legitimacy among those who otherwise distrusted the new centralized power created by men of property during the secret 1787 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention.

Visit the National Archives to consider the first ten amendments to the Constitution as an expression of the fears many citizens harbored about the powers of the new federal government. What were these fears? How did the Bill of Rights calm them?

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