The current US Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787.
During the course of its ratification by the states, the issue was raised of the need to amend the adopted text with provisions in favor of civil liberties. Civil rights and freedoms were formalized in state constitutions much more specifically than in the federal Constitution. Ten of the 13 constitutions had a special bill of rights, which was the original model of the famous Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, which was adopted even before independence. The relevant sections of the constitutions of Maryland and Massachusetts were the most detailed.
Some states refused to ratify the Constitution, citing the lack of a constitutional bill of rights.
The founding fathers used various arguments to justify the absence of a full list of the rights and freedoms in the Constitution of 1787. Some believed that the Constitution itself was the Bill of Rights.
Others argued that, if the rights and freedoms are natural, they do not need to be written into the Constitution. Others pointed out the rights and freedoms of the existing constitutions of the individual states. The majority believed that because the federal Constitution had been declared, the supreme law in relation to the state constitutions, the inclusion of a Bill of Rights was a must.
Under pressure from anti-federalist protests, James Madison (1751-1836), later the fourth US president, took the initiative to propose a number of amendments to the Constitution – the Bill of Rights.
The amendments that make up the Bill of Rights are equally important in defining the legal status of an American citizen.
The First Amendment assures freedom of speech, press and assembly. It is the basis for the fundamental rights of citizens and political organizations – parties, trade unions, associations and religious organizations.
The Second Amendment recognizes that, to guarantee the freedom, the states have the right to maintain a militia, and the people have a right to keep and bear arms. It is the subject of perennial debate, with opponents of unlimited arms sales seeking its abolition.
The Third Amendment prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the consent of the owner in time of peace. It has lost its relevance.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the inviolability of person and property, prohibiting searches and arrests without a warrant, which can be issued only by judicial authorities in the presence of probable cause. There have been many interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. In 1928, the Supreme Court decided that installing surveillance equipment does not contradict it, provided that it is not a forced invasion of privacy. In 1967, a new regulation banned unauthorized eavesdropping.
The Fifth Amendment introduced juries, declaring that no one "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process."
The Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments concern court proceedings. The Eighth Amendment enables different states to allow or forbid the death penalty, depending on whether the particular state's court deems the death penalty to be "cruel and unusual punishment."
The Ninth Amendment states that the rights "retained by the people" cannot be annulled even if they were not included in the Constitution. Supporters of a broad interpretation of all rights use this amendment.
The famous First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits Congress from approving laws restricting freedom of religion, freedom of speech, press, peaceful assemblies and appeals to the government with "petition to terminate the abuse," was actually not the first one. It was the third, but the first two amendments were voted down upon ratification.
The actual first amendment established a procedure different from the current proportional representation in the US Congress. The second amendment, which was not passed initially, concerned the wages of deputies. In accordance with this law, changing the size of the salary of senators and congressmen can take effect only after the next elections to the House of Representatives.
This amendment was adopted in 1992. It is the 27th and final amendment to the US Constitution.
The Bill of Rights was used in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, and has been used as a template for similar documents, operating in many countries around the world.