Bill of Rights Summary

  • Last updated on April 16, 2021

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution (created in 1789 and ratified in 1791 and authored by the First United States Congress, mainly James Madison), which guarantee individual rights and civil liberties, such as the right to free speech, press and religion. The Bill of Rights also outlines rules for the due process of law whilst reserving all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to state or people, and it also makes clear that the certain rights outlined in the Constitution do not deny or disparage any other rights that are not listed.

The Bill of Rights was a central part of the ratification debates that arose after the Constitutional Convention, as the Anti-Federalists who were opposed to ratification cited the missing Bill of Rights as a reason against ratification and several states only agreed to ratify the Constitution on the proviso that the Bill of Rights be added.

The ten amendments are:

  • The First Amendment: right to free speech, religion and press, the right to protest, the right to ask the government to fix issues. The government is not allowed to favor a particular religion or create one of their own.
  • The Second Amendment: the right to bear arms.
  • The Third Amendment: the government is prohibited from forcing homeowners to allow soldiers to use their homes.
  • The Fourth Amendment: the government cannot perform an unreasonable search on or seize a citizen’s property.
  • The Fifth Amendment: serious criminal charges can only be started by a grand jury. A person cannot be tried twice for the same offense or have property seized without compensation. Citizens also have the right against self-incrimination and also cannot be imprisoned without the due process of law and the right to a fair trial.
  • The Sixth Amendment: Everyone accused of a crime has the right to an efficient, public trial with an impartial jury, and must be informed of any criminal charges. Any witnesses must face the accused. The accused is also allowed their own witness and legal representation.
  • The Seventh Amendment: Federal civil cases are also afforded the right to a jury trial.
  • The Eighth Amendment: Both excessively expensive bail fines and cruel and unusual punishment are prohibited.
  • The Ninth Amendment: The listing of specific rights in the Constitution does not deny other rights not listed.
  • The Tenth Amendment: Any powers not listed in the Constitution belong to the people, not the Federal government.