From the very beginning, the United States of America longed to be a country founded on liberty (hence its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776).
However, even after America was established, many came to realize that without personal rights for citizens and clear government restrictions, the newfound country would inevitably repeat history and become oppressed by unrestrained government officials.
On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights went into effect – setting America apart from any other country. Without this necessary document, American citizens wouldn’t have the freedoms we so freely express today, such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and so much more!
Read on to learn more about the significance of the Bill of Rights and how our American Revolution Time Traveler can help you teach your kids about this important document in a way that sticks.
What Is the Bill of Rights?
The first 10 Amendments (otherwise known as the Bill of Rights) can be found in the Constitution, which was written and signed in 1787. Although these fundamental rights are deemed one of the most important, well-known sections of the Constitution, it surprisingly wasn’t included in the document until 1791.
These rights – which were established by famous anti-Federalists such as James Madison, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson – were introduced as a way to promise liberties to all citizens and protect the American people from an abusive government.
Why Was the Bill of Rights Created?
Throughout history, there have been good monarchs and bad monarchs. While the good led their country admirably and brought about harmony, the bad brought long-lasting damage and division among their people!
Leaders like Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, Louis XVI of France, and King John of England were all monarchs that oppressed their citizens, spent money frivolously, and brought about turmoil.
However, history began to change when a group of colonists was sent across the sea to find land in the New World. Even though this colony, called Jamestown, would later be dissolved, it gave the people a taste of independence outside of constitutional monarchy.
As time went on, tension grew between the colonists and their monarch in such a way that was unlikely to be resolved. The answer in the eyes of the colonists was to start a new government founded on democracy.
After much bloodshed, the new country was finally free from British rule, and the Declaration of Independence was signed. From this point forward, the Founding Fathers would need to create a document stating how the United States of America would function and operate.
The Constitution was written and approved on September 17, 1787, although it didn’t take long before many realized it was deficient and failed to address several conflicts being seen among the 13 colonies.
Congress set out to revise the weaknesses seen in the original Constitution. However, it would take quite some time, as these ratifications (the Bill of Rights) wouldn’t go into effect until three years later, on December 15, 1791.
Who Wrote the Bill of Rights?
The Bill of Rights was inspired by the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and drafted by anti-Federalist James Madison. From the start, there was much debate between the Federalists (who wished to keep the Constitution as-is) and anti-Federalists (who wanted the Constitution amended).
Why Wasn’t the Bill of Rights Originally in the U.S. Constitution?
The idea of having individual rights was discussed during the writing of the Constitution. However, it was dismissed because many Federalist writers deemed it unnecessary.
The Federalists believed that the Constitution was sufficient in its original form and was not intended to compete with the rights of the people. They also found that stating individual rights would lead to misinterpretations and cause people to keep adding more rights as time went on – leaving the Constitution forever up for correction.
As time went on, the people began to agree that corrections to the Constitution were needed, as the government was unable to raise funds, enforce foreign treaties, and suppress rebellions.
Anti-Federalists were concerned that if rights weren’t explicitly put into place, the President could potentially act like a king and lord over the people. This would put them back in the situation they had just escaped!
When it came to the debate on whether or not the Constitution would forever be up for correction, Thomas Jefferson stated in a letter to Madison, “Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can.”
What Does the Bill of Rights Say?
The Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments, the first stating...
“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.”
The other nine amendments address protection against illegal searches, as well as the right to keep and bear arms. To read all ten amendments, as well as the preamble to the Bill of Rights, check out this Bill of Rights PDF by the National Archives.
Teaching Kids About the Bill of Rights
It’s hard to imagine the Constitution without the Bill of Rights. If it weren’t for the work of our Founding Fathers, who humbly admitted the need for correction, we wouldn’t be the country we are today.
So, next time you vote, attend a church service, watch the news, or speak freely in public – know that the Bill of Rights made it possible!
With all that said, you can see why learning about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is crucial when studying American history, as these important documents set the stage for history to follow and put into perspective current political issues found in modern society.
If you’re planning to teach your kids about the Bill of Rights text in a way that is understandable and fun, we encourage you to check out our Time Travelers U.S. History Studies – specifically our American Revolution study.
From politics to conflicts, this unit covers battles like the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress and the making of the Constitution, as well as many other famous figures who helped shape our country!