Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments

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Date: 2019
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 649 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
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The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments of the US Constitution. Amendments are changes to the Constitution. Some states wanted changes to the Constitution to protect the rights of individual citizens. These protections became known as the Bill of Rights. Since then, twenty-seven amendments in all have been added to the Constitution. Some of these amendments have been challenged over the years.

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Main Ideas

  • The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments, or changes, of the US Constitution.
  • There are twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution.
  • The Bill of Rights restricts the power of government and gives people certain rights.

Bill of Rights

George Mason, who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, was one of the people who fought for the rights of individuals. James Madison, a member of the US House of Representatives, agreed with protecting citizens’ rights. He presented a list of seventeen amendments to the Constitution to the House and Senate in 1789. Ten of these were ratified on December 15, 1791. These became known as the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights restricts the power of government. It gives people certain rights. The First Amendment protects freedom of religion and freedom of speech. It gives people the right to assemble peacefully. The Second Amendment allows citizens to bear arms, or guns. This amendment has been challenged many times throughout history. The Third Amendment deals with housing of soldiers in times of war. Other amendments of the Bill of Rights protect citizens’ rights regarding arrests and searches; rights during criminal and civil court cases; and states’ rights.

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Did You Know?

  • Congress made fourteen official copies of the Bill of Rights, one copy for the federal government and one copy for each of the thirteen states.
  • The federal government’s copy of the Bill of Rights is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.
  • North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights was missing for almost 140 years after it was stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War. The FBI helped recover it in 2003.

Additional Constitutional Amendments

Since 1791, seventeen more amendments have been added to the Constitution. These amendments continued to protect and give rights to American citizens. After the American Civil War (1861–1865), many changes occurred in the United States. The North and South regions of the nation had battled a bloody war. In the end, the country remained one nation and abolished slavery. These changes affected the Constitution. A group of three amendments, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, were added to address the rights of the newest legal citizens of the country: African Americans.

The Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 made slavery illegal in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment regarded civil rights of all citizens and had several parts. Passed in 1868, it granted citizenship to those born in the United States and gave them equal protection. The Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 protected voting rights. It banned states from prohibiting citizens of a certain race or color to vote. This meant African American men could now vote. While the Reconstruction Amendments extended rights to African Americans, the groups continued to face discrimination. This included paying poll taxes to vote. These taxes were outlawed in 1964 with the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.

Inequality for other groups persisted. Women did not gain the right to vote until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Presidential and other government office issues were addressed with the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Twenty-Second Amendment in 1951, and Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1967. The Eighteenth and Twenty-First Amendments regarded Prohibition in the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment started Prohibition, a time in the United States when the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol was illegal. This lasted from 1917 until 1933 when the Twenty-First Amendment ended Prohibition. The last amendment (Twenty-Seventh Amendment), ratified in 1992 but drawn up in 1789, deals with the salaries of Congress members.

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Words to Know

abolished
Ended.
prohibiting
Not allowing.
ratified
Approved.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|SIIDCB680425039