Provided by Prince William County
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up the Bill of Rights, which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from religion, freedom of assembly, the right to petition the government, the right to bear arms, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, protection against cruel and unusual punishment and the right to trial by the jury among other guarantees.
The Bill of Rights, ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, focuses on the rights of the individual and outlines what the government cannot do. It stands for individual liberty, the rule of law, limited government and serves, even today, as the foundation of American ideals.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 15 as Bill of Rights Day and called upon the government and citizens to note 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.”
James Madison, who helped frame the Constitution and later served as the fourth president of the United States, wrote the list of individual rights in answer to the people who were afraid of a strong government that might try to usurp the rights so recently won with the bloodshed of war.
There were 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights. Each of the 13 Colonies got a copy to sign and one was meant for the federal archives. Today, 12 copies remain. One of them is on display in the rotunda of the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.