Some documents in American history have considerable importance for the development of the nation. Students use historical thinking to examine key documents which form the basis for the United States of America.
9. The Bill of Rights is derived from English law, ideas of the Enlightenment, the experiences of the American colonists, early experiences of self-government and the national debate over the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.
The Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States is derived from several sources. These range from the English heritage of the United States to the debates over the ratification of the Constitution.
English sources for the Bill of Rights include the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights of 1689. The Magna Carta marked a step toward constitutional protection of rights and recognized trial by jury. The English Bill of Rights affirmed many rights including the right to habeas corpus and it protected against cruel punishments.
Enlightenment ideas about natural rights of life, liberty and property were becoming widespread as American colonists were experiencing what they saw as infringements upon their rights. The Quartering Act of 1765 was seen as an infringement on property rights. The Massachusetts Government Act placed severe limitations on the colonists’ ability to assemble in their town meetings. The Enlightenment ideas and British policies became focal points of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
As the American people began to govern themselves, they incorporated individual rights in governing documents. The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) included protections for the press, religious exercise and the accused. Other colonies also included individual rights as part of their constitutions. The national government, under the Articles of Confederation, enacted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which provided for religious liberty, due process, protections for the accused and property rights.
One of the key issues in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution concerned individual rights. The strength of Anti- Federalist arguments that the original Constitution did not contain adequate protections for individual rights led to the introduction in the First Congress of nine amendments devoted to rights of individuals.
Expectations for Learning
Cite evidence for historical precedents to the rights incorporated in the Bill of Rights.