“Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate December 15, 1941, as Bill of Rights Day. And I call upon the officials of the Government, and upon the people of the United States, to observe the day by displaying the flag of the United States on public buildings and by meeting together for such prayers and such ceremonies as may seem to them appropriate.” (Read the complete proclamation.)
Since 1941, by way of the Roosevelt proclamation, Americans are reminded annually of the fascinating history of the Bill of Rights. While we all generally know what the Bill of Rights is and can possibly even quote some phrases from it, how much do you really know about its history? Although we don’t have time to cover every detail of its arduous journey from initial conception to official ratification, let’s look at some of the highlights.
The Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments guarantee essential rights and civil liberties to each of us, including several with which you’re probably familiar: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to bear arms. These amendments were adopted as a single unit on December 15, 1791, nearly three years after the U.S. Constitution was officially ratified by all 13 states.
You may be wondering why the Bill of Rights wasn’t included in the original constitution. George Mason, a delegate from Virginia, proposed adding a bill of rights, just as the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was wrapping up. His idea was rejected out of hand, with delegates pointing out that most states already guaranteed certain personal rights. A more practical and less political reason, however, might have been that the group had already spent four months in close quarters, arguing and debating in a stuffy room over the U.S. Constitution. They were ready to go home, and creating a bill of rights would have delayed their departure indefinitely. The concept of a bill of rights, however, remained crucial to constitutional ratification debates in each state, and because of that, we have the Bill of Rights we know today.
Five facts about the Bill of Rights
- The bill was introduced by James Madison. He later became the fourth President of the United States.
- The Bill of Rights initially contained 12 proposed amendments. Only 10 were ratified.
- An original copy of the Bill of Rights is displayed in the Rotunda of the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.
- Originally, 14 handwritten copies of the Bill of Rights were made: one for each of the 13 states to sign and one for the federal archives. Twelve copies still survive today.
- The original U.S. Constitution has been amended a number of times, but the Bill of Rights has never been amended.
How to observe National Bill of Rights Day
If you have an appreciation for your personal rights and freedoms, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, consider displaying a flag on your home or at your place of business on Dec. 15. If you’ve never read the Bill of Rights, there’s no time like today.
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