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Aspects of 1st 10 Amendments of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights

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The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. James Madison wrote the amendments, which list specific prohibitions on governmental power, in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties. For example, the Founders saw the ability to speak and worship freely as a natural right protected by the First Amendment. Congress is prohibited from making laws establishing religion or abridging freedom of speech.

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By the time the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, it had become clear to many American leaders that a more powerful federal government was necessary in order to effectively deal with the challenges facing the young nation. Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government had neither the power to raise taxes nor the authority to regulate interstate commerce. Additionally, there was no established mechanism through which states could adjudicate conflicts

Many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention understood that the Articles of Confederation would need to be supplanted entirely, not merely revised.The Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments that explicitly guarantee certain rights and protections to US citizens by limiting the power of the federal government. The First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with the freedoms of speech, peaceable assembly, and exercise of religion. The Second Amendment declares that properly constituted militias are a safeguard of liberty and that the right to bear arms will be protected. The Third Amendment restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes—an extremely contentious issue that had led the colonists to war with Great Britain. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures of private property. The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments establish a variety of guarantees relating to legal proceedings and criminal justice, including the right to a trial by jury; protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy, being tried twice for the same offense; the right to due process; prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; and the right to face one’s accuser, obtain legal counsel, and be informed of all criminal charges. The Ninth Amendment acknowledges that the other eight amendments are not an exhaustive list of all of the rights and protections to which citizens are guaranteed, and the Tenth Amendment declares that any powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government in the Constitution are to be left to the states. This reinforced the principle of federalism, or separation of powers, by ensuring that the federal government could not usurp rights and powers that were not explicitly authorized in the Constitution.

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For, unless a strong and just government exists, it is vain to talk about one’s rights. Without liberty, order, and justice, sustained by good government, there is no place to which anyone can turn for enforcement of his claims to rights (Neil H

Cogan, 1997). This is because a “right,” in law, is a claim upon somebody for something. If a man has a right to be paid for a day’s work, for example, he asserts a claim upon his employer; but, if that employer refuses to pay him, the man must turn to a court of law for enforcement of his right. If no court of law exists, the “right” to payment becomes little better than an empty word. The unpaid man might try to take his pay by force, true; but when force rules instead of law, a society falls into anarchy and the world is dominated by the violent and the criminal. Knowing these hard truths about duties, rights, and social order, the Framers endeavored to give us a Constitution that is more than mere words and slogans (M. E. Bradford, 1993). Did they succeed? At the end of two centuries, the Constitution of the United States still functions adequately. Had Americans followed the French example of placing all their trust in a naked declaration of rights, without any supporting constitutional edifice to limit power and the claims of absolute liberty, it may be doubted whether liberty, order, or justice would have prevailed in the succeeding years. There cannot be better proof of the wisdom of the Framers than the endurance of the Constitution.

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Finally, though they are incorporated into the document known as the "Bill of Rights", neither article establishes a right as that term is used today. For that reason, and also because the term had been applied to the first ten amendments long before the 27th Amendment was ratified, the term "Bill of Rights" in modern U.S. usage means only the ten amendments ratified in 1791. The United States Bill of Rights plays a central role in American law and government, and remains a fundamental symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the original fourteen copies of the U.S. Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

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Walter Hartwell Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1978).

M. E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993).

Neil H. Cogan, ed., The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

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