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Primary Source of the Month

Draft of the Bill of Rights

Draft of the Bill of Rights, September 9, 1789 (click to enlarge)
The National Archives

The Bill of Rights went through many revisions before the amendments were ratified on December 17, 1791. The inclusion of a Bill of Rights was hotly debated during the ratification of the Constitution. There were many who felt that the rights did not need to be stated because they were implied in the Constitution, and that specifying rights was dangerous because it implied rights not listed did not belong to the people. Others felt a bill of rights was necessary to prevent future tyranny. Several states agreed to ratify the Constitution only if amendments protecting the rights of citizens were added.

James Madison introduced a draft to the First Federal Congress on June 8, 1789 that wove the rights directly into the text of the Constitution. After deliberation on what rights to include, the House of Representatives passed a list of seventeen amendments to the Constitution to the house on August 24, 1789. The Senate then cut the list down to twelve amendments. This document shows the cuts and additional edits made by the Senate to the House's proposal. The document edited by the Senate was proposed as a joint resolution on September 25th, 1789 and sent to the states for ratification. Amendments three through twelve of the draft were ratified and became the Bill of Rights. The two that weren't ratified? The first specified the ratio for how many Representatives should be in the House based on population, and the second said members of Congress could not change their salaries while in office (this later became the 27th amendment).

The Bill of Rights is one of the United States' most integral and revered documents, and the rights therein are still debated, interpreted, and contested today.