Bill of Rights

This Day in History

On this day in 1789, Congressman James Madison presented nine amendments to the Constitution for consideration before the United States House of Representatives.

Initially Madison thought the amendments unnecessary and even harmful as they may have led to the undoing of the structure and content of the document itself which was the result of a long fought battle between opposing members of the Constitutional Convention. Federalists like Alexander Hamilton and Madison argued that an additional list of Constitutional guarantees was simply not needed. All guaranteed protections were covered within the body of the parchment. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists led by passionate orator Patrick Henry and the brilliant political mind of John Adams believed quite the opposite and feared that without express enumerated rights, the newly-formed central government would be come too powerful and that even the presidential role might evolve into that of a king; the very situation from which they had fought against all odds to escape!

 

Patrick Henry

Interestingly, later, while battling for a seat in the 1st United States Congress, James Madison appeared to have a change of heart as he made a surprising campaign promise to “introduce constitutional amendments comprising a Bill of Rights at the first Congress.” He secured victory against a formidable candidate and fellow Virginian, James Monroe. And subsequently honored that pledge to the American people.

The amendments were gleaned largely from several prominent documents including the English Magna Carta (1215) and the English Bill of Rights (1689), but most were found in the state constitutions themselves, particularly that of Virginia.

Several critical revisions were made by an 11 member committee including one suggested by Roger Sherman of Connecticut to list the amendments separately following the Constitution as opposed to placing them throughout the body of the original document as proposed by Madison.

James Madison

Finally, on September 25, 1789, after passing successfully through both houses of Congress, the amendments were sent to the states. And while we have James Madison, primarily, to thank for the addition of the Bill of Rights, we know not whether he truly came to believe a list of enumerated rights was a necessity for its citizens or he was simply honoring a campaign promise that ensured his victory. However, regardless of the motivation, most agree that the Bill of Rights is an integral part of our Constitution.

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