The Bill of Rights is the name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. They were introduced by James Madison to the First United States Congress in 1789 as a series of legislative articles and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States.
The Bill of Rights is a series of limitations on the power of the United States federal government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms. In federal criminal cases, it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital or "infamous crime", guarantees a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury composed of members of the state or judicial district in which the crime occurred, and prohibits double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States. Most of these restrictions on the federal government were later applied to the states by a series of legal decisions applying the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868. The Bill was influenced by George Mason's 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, works of the Age of Enlightenment pertaining to natural rights, and earlier English political documents such as Magna Carta (1215).
Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention on September 12, 1787 debated whether to include a Bill of Rights in the body of the U.S. Constitution, and an agreement to create the Bill of Rights helped to secure ratification of the Constitution itself. Ideological conflict between Federalists and anti-Federalists threatened the final ratification of the new national Constitution. Thus, the Bill addressed the concerns of some of the Constitution's influential opponents, including prominent Founding Fathers, who argued that the Constitution should not be ratified because it failed to protect the fundamental principles of human liberty.
Twelve articles were proposed to the States, but only the last ten articles were ratified in the 18th Century, corresponding to the First through Tenth Amendments. The proposed first Article, dealing with the number and apportionment of U.S. Representatives, never became part of the Constitution. The second Article, limiting the power of Congress to increase the salaries of its members, was ratified two centuries later as the 27th Amendment.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C..