The Bill of Rights
Ratification had been won in several states through the technique of promising a bill of rights, protecting both the citizens and the states against federal power. Many men in the First Congress now felt that these promises had to be fulfilled. Moreover, advocates of amendments [E1][E2][F][Es][I] believed that many persons still unfriendly to the new government might be won over by adopting such amendments. One of the very specific recommendations made by President Washington in his inaugural address was that Congress should give careful attention to the demand for these amendments.
In Congress, Madison [E] [F] [Es] [I] took the initiative in advocating amendments, co-ordinating the suggestions of the state ratifying conventions and introducing them in the House. Madison’s proposal was to incorporate the amendments in the text by changes, omissions and additions. The most numerous changes were to be additional limitations upon the power of Congress over citizens. By the proposed amendments, Congress was to be prohibited from abridging the freedom of religion [E][F][Es][I], of speech [E1][E2][F], of the press [E][F][Es][I], of assembly [E], or of bearing arms [E][F][Es][I]; federal authority was closely restricted in quartering troops, in prosecuting citizens for crimes, and in inflicting punishments. Out of these proposals grew the first five and the Eighth and Ninth amendments. Extensive changes designed to guarantee to the citizens a fair trial by a jury [E] [F] [Es1] [Es2] in his own district and the benefit of the common law [E][F] [Es] [I] were also proposed for Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution. These proposals eventually became the Sixth and Seventh amendments.
The proposed amendments were debated at length in both Houses, several additions, alterations and eliminations being made. One of the most significant events in the course of the debate was the failure of the states’ rights advocates in their attempts to alter the proposal that was to become the Tenth Amendment (powers not delegated to the United States or denied to states are reserved to the states), so as to limit the federal government to those powers “expressly” delegated by the Constitution.
The ten amendments ratified in November 1791 were added in a body at the end of the Constitution. They were no real alteration in federal power, but gave formal recognition to certain traditionally accepted “natural rights”, hitherto incorporate in the great English charters, colonial grants and state bill of rights. They took no substantial powers from Congress which could reasonably have been implied before the amendments had been passed, and most of the procedural limitations, trial by jury and the like, probably would have been taken for granted in any event. Only gradually did there emerge the now almost universal conception of the first ten amendments as the great Bill of Rights.