THE PREAMBLE TO THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Congress of the United States begun and
held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the fourth of March,
one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the
States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution,
expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse
of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses
should be added: And as extending the ground of public
confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent
ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of
Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress
assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the
following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the
several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United
States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three
fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and
purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment
of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by
Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several
States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original
Amendment I - Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or
the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the Government for a redress of grievances.
Government can neither impose a
state religion upon you nor punish you for exercising the
religion of your choice. You may express your opinions, write
and publish what you wish, gather peacefully with others, and
formally ask government to correct injustices.
Amendment II - A well regulated
Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the
right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be
people") have the right to own and use weapons without
interference from the government.
Amendment III - No Soldier
shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the
consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be
prescribed by law.
The government cannot force you to
house its agents.
Amendment IV - The right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not
be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable
cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things
to be seized.
You may not be arrested or
"detained" arbitrarily. No agency of government may
inspect or seize your property or possessions without first
obtaining a warrant. To obtain a warrant, they must show
specific cause for the search or seizure and swear under oath
that they are telling the truth about these reasons.
Furthermore, the warrant itself must state specifically and in
detail the place, things, or people it covers. Warrants that
are too general or vague are not valid; searches or seizures
that exceed the terms of the warrant are not valid.
Amendment V - No person shall be
held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime,
unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in
cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia,
when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor
shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put
in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any
criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived
of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor
shall private property be taken for public use, without just
No one outside the military may be
tried for a serious crime without first being indicted by a
grand jury (of citizens). Once found not guilty, a person may
not be tried again for the same deed. You can't be forced to
be a witness or provide evidence against yourself in a
criminal case. You can't be sent to prison or have your assets
seized without due process. The government can't take your
property without paying market value for it.
Amendment VI - In all criminal
prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and
public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district
wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district
shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be
informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be
confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory
process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the
Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Trials cannot be unreasonably
postponed or held in secret. In any criminal case against you,
you have a right to public trial by a jury of unbiased
citizens (thus ensuring that the state can't use a
"party-line" judge to railroad you). The trial must
be held in the state or region where the crime was committed.
You cannot be held without charges. You cannot be held on
charges that are kept secret from you. You have a right to
know who is making accusations against you and to confront
those witnesses in court. You have the right to subpoena
witnesses to testify in your favor and a right to the services
of an attorney.
Amendment VII - In suits at
common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty
dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no
fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court
of the United States, than according to the rules of the common
The right to trial by jury extends
to civil, as well as criminal, cases. Once a jury has made its
decision, no court can overturn or otherwise change that
decision except via accepted legal processes (for instance,
granting of a new trial when an appeals court determines that
your rights were violated in the original proceeding).
Amendment VIII - Excessive bail
shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel
and unusual punishments inflicted.
Bail, fines, and punishments must
all fit the crime and punishments must not be designed for
Amendment IX - The enumeration
in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed
to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
You have more rights than are
specifically listed in the Bill of Rights.
Amendment X - The powers not
delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States
respectively, or to the people.
The U.S. federal government has
only those specific powers granted to it by the Constitution.
All other powers belong either to the states or to
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments, taken together, mean that the
federal government has only the authority granted to it, while
the people are presumed to have any right or power not
specifically forbidden to them. The Bill of Rights as a whole is
dedicated to describing certain key rights of the people that
the government is categorically forbidden to remove, abridge, or
infringe. The Bill of Rights clearly places the people in charge
of their own lives, and the government within strict limits -
the very opposite of the situation we have allowed to develop