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CHRONICLE OF THE REVOLUTIONLIBERTY! THE SERIESPERSPECTIVES ON LIBERTYTHE ROAD TO REVOLUTION GAME
LIBERTY - THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

BOSTON 1774
PHILADELPHIA 1776
TRENTON 1776
SARATOGA 1777
YORKTOWN 1781
PHILADELPHIA 1791

TIMELINE OF THE REVOLUTION
SUBJECT INDEX

Congress Adds a Bill of Rights to the Federal Constitution
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA December 15, 1791 - A bill of rights to the Federal Constitution was officially entered into law today by an act of the United States Congress. Among other guarantees, these 10 amendments to the constitution ensure citizens of the United States freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. They protect Americans from "unreasonable searches and seizures," guarantee criminals the right to "a speedy" trial, and from "cruel and unusual punishments."

Signing of the Constitution
 Signing of the Constitution
Proponents of the measures hailed them as a necessary safeguard of individual rights. "Every American's guarantee of freedom," one observer called the amendments. But others viewed the Bill as a sop to anti-Federalists, who had withheld their support for the ratification of the constitution 3 years ago, until promised that a protection of individual rights would be included in the document.

Federalists at the time felt that a Bill of Rights was an unnecessary addition to the Constitution (most claimed the amendments were a redundancy---these were rights already guaranteed to citizens of the new republic), but they agreed to the stipulation to help adopt the Constitution.

Accordingly, it was James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, who shepherded the 17 proposed amendments through the newly convened 1st Congress in 1789. These 17 were shrunk to 12 in the U.S. Senate, and to 10, as they were passed by the constitutionally mandated 3/4ths of the states.

The passage of the Bill brings to a close a long battle that began early in the post-war years. Though it passed at least one piece of great legislation and encouraged a host of reforms, the confederation of states which constituted the American government through the Revolutionary War and beyond, was the source of a great deal of acrimony and debate almost from its inception.

Early critics of the confederation, like Alexander Hamilton, claimed that the new republic would never achieve greatness—let alone function as a united country—if it continued to be governed by the parochial concerns of 13 independent republics.

Many older patriots like Patrick Henry, George Mason and Samuel Adams, defended the confederation as the bastion for the hardwon liberties achieved through Revolution. They feared the power of the strong, central government they saw outlined in the federal constitution and claimed the powers of their own state constitutions would be diminished. As another opponent, Mercy Otis Warren, said, "We are told . . . 'that the whole constitution is a declaration of rights,' but mankind must think for themselves, and to many very judicious and discerning characters, the whole constitution with very few exceptions appears a perversion of the rights of particular states, and of private citizens."

Madison's support for "the Bill" has been crucial to its passage. That "The Father of the Constitution," should be the chief proponent of a measure that threatened to sink the ratification process just a few years ago, is probably an indication of Madison's own good work. The Constitution is already being seen as a document flexible enough to bend to the variety of interests contained in the new republic—including federal and republican ideologies. Only time will tell if it can maintain this unique elasticity . . .


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