The Bill of Rights

“Thank you for doing the branches of government. You mentioned the 22nd amendment would you mind going through them all very briefly?”

Anonymous

“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”

George Washington

Once more I am writing a post by request, I received the above message after I posted about the branches of the US Federal Government. Once more I am happy to answer that request. There are currently 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 are described collectively as the Bill of Rights, amendments 13,14 and 15 are referred to as the Civil War amendments and amendments 18 and 21 cancel each other out. This post will cover the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights.

1st Amendment – 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.

This means that Congress cannot limit freedom of speech, religion or the right to assemble.

2nd Amendment – 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.

This amendment while seen as the right to carry a gun, has a deeper meaning effectively ensuring the right to revolution if required.

3rd Amendment – 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.

It ensures the soldiers could not be quartered in private homes without the express permission of the owner. This was a response to the Quartering Acts that were passed by the British Parliament prior to the American Revolution.

4th Amendment – 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.

It establishes the need for search warrants for searches and seizures while also prohibiting unreasonable searches.

5th Amendment – 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 offence 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.

The prohibiting of double jeopardy and the right to remain silent.

6th Amendment – 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 defence.

This grants anyone accused of a crime the right to a fair trial, the right to have someone defend them and to be able to know by what crime they have been accused and will be facing trial for.

7th Amendment – 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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This granted the right to be tried by a jury of their peers, in other words the accused could only be convicted by a jury of their peers.

8th Amendment – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This ensured that excessive bails could not be set nor fines and no sentence could be cruel or unusual, the latter part of this amendment is still a matter for debate among Americans.

9th Amendment – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This amendment while rather ambiguous has been commonly meant to mean that the power of government is limited upon the people. That there were certain rights not given in the constitution which the people had.

10th Amendment – 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.

The enforcement of federalism. That if the powers are not given to the federal government by the constitution, then governance falls to the states to decide upon. This is often referred to as the States’ Rights amendment.

The above amendments make up the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the constitution. Interestingly the 27th amendment to the constitution (the latest) was also proposed at the same time as the Bill of Rights but we not ratified by enough states until 1993. As I said in the introduction to this post I shall be going through other amendments in a later post so do keep an eye out for them.

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