In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt designated December 15 as Bill of Rights Day. This is the day we recognize and commemorate the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which spell out our rights as citizens here in the United States of America. That date was chosen because the Bill of Rights was originally ratified on December 15, 1791. Our rights and freedoms as Americans are rooted in the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully appreciate or understand our Bill of Rights.
Future President, James Madison of Virginia, was the primary author of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which are recognized today as our Bill of Rights. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, strongly influenced their writing. Other documents such as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties are considered foundations to our Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was written to provide mutual constitutional protection of individual liberties of our citizens, and to limit the power of the federal government.
Regardless of personal political persuasion or affiliation, American citizens can unite around the Bill of Rights because it communicates our basic shared values. President George W. Bush stated, “The true [American] revolution was not to defy one earthly power, but to declare principles that stand above every earthly power—the equality of each person before God, and the responsibility of government to secure the rights of all.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the Constitution as “the great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity.”
Limiting the power of government and safeguarding the rights of our citizens is something we must all make a conscientious effort to protect. We should be especially appreciative for the protection afforded in our Bill of Rights against a national government gaining ground against our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, protest, and conscience guarantees our equal protection under the law. A free society does not just occur. It has to be consciously devised and intentionally preserved. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
We invite all citizens and educators to celebrate Bill of Rights Day on December 15 and commemorate the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is critical to share the knowledge of the relevance and practicality gained through an understanding of the U.S. Constitution to the next generation.[i]
The Bill of Rights
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.
[i] NOTE: We are glad to assist our educator members across the state in promoting awareness of the United States Constitution, through various partners and projects. In addition, if you email our partners at the 917 Society (firstname.lastname@example.org) they will provide copies of the US Constitutions free of charge to all 8th grade classrooms.