After the Revolution, the States adopted their own constitutions, many of which contained the Bill of Rights. The Americans still faced the challenge of creating a central government for their new nation. In 1777 the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which were ratified in 1781.
Under the Articles, the states retained their “sovereignty, freedom and independence,” while the national government was kept weak and inferior. Over the next few years it became evident that the system of government that had been chosen was not strong enough to completely settle and defend the frontier, regulating trade, currency and commerce, and organizing thirteen states into one union. (1)
So in the summer of 1787 delegates from the twelve states convened in Philadelphia to draft a new Constitution. They proposed a strong national government that would assume many of the powers previously imposed upon the states.
(1) “No sooner than had the Continental Congress laid the proposed Constitution before the people for ratification, ” Irving Brant writes, “than a cry went up: it contained no Bill of Rights.”(2) People objected because the liberties they had fought for in the Revolution were not being protected by the Constitution, and then could be ignored by the federal government. The Anti-Federalist called for another convention to outline a Bill of Rights before the Constitution was approved. The Federalist, fearing that the progress would unravel completely, urged immediate ratification.
With the understanding of a Bill of Rights to follow later. Eventually the Federalist prevailed. By 1788, eleven states had ratified the Constitution. Six states, however, sent Congress proposals for amendments, modeled on their state constitutions and designed to protect individual rights.
James Madison realized that the public desire for a Bill of Rights could not be ignored. In 1789, after reviewing the state proposed amendments and the state Bill of Rights to be considered by Congress, he proposed nine amendments to be considered by Congress for insertion into the text of the Constitution. After deliberation, debate, and some alterations, the House and Senate voted to add the amendments on the end of the Constitution and sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification. (1) Only ten of theses were ratified and from those are what we know as the Bill of Rights today.
As ratified in 1791, the Bill of Rights protected individual rights from violation by the federal government. For example the First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law…
” Madison’s original draft had contained a proposal that would have also prohibited state governments from violating the Bill of Rights, but the Senate deleted it. (1)
It was not until after the Civil War that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were enacted and began protecting individuals against the states. The Fourteenth Amendment has been the principal means by which this protection has been accomplished. It reads, in part, “No State shall.
..deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The Supreme Court had interpreted this guarantee of liberty to embrace the fundamental liberties in the Bill of Rights, meaning that the state governments must observe and protect them to the same extent as the federal government this is also known called incorporation.
The amendments in the Bill of Rights are said to be incorporated against the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. There has been an ongoing debate on the Supreme Court about the extent of incorporation, and whether the entire Bill of Rights, or only some of it’s guarantees, should be incorporated against the states. (1)
The Supreme Court views and attitudes can change over time. First the membership of the court changes when a justice retires or dies, and when the new justice is appointed to fill his position the new justice may not share the same views as the previous one.
Also, new developments occur with the passing of time, which may cause a change in attitudes and feelings bringing about new concerns on an issue. (3)
One Supreme Court reversal with far reaching consequences involved the Court’s interpretation of whether the Bill of Rights protected citizens from state, as well as national violations. In 1833 case of Barron v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, the Court ruled that the Bill of Rights could only be applied to strike down illegal actions taken by national government.
This interpretation was first seriously challenged after the Civil War, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. Congressman John A. Bingham, the chief author of this Amendment, said that due process and equal protection clauses were intended to guard the rights of all citizens against state violations. Nevertheless, for many more years to come the Supreme Court still held to it’s constricted view and did not extend the Bill of Rights to State offences.
Finally, in 1925, the Court began to change its position on this issue in the landmark case Gitlow v. New York. When the Supreme Court announced it’s decision and declared that freedom of speech and freedom of the press, are also “among the fundamental personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States.” (3)
In 1954, a landmark segregation case came before the Supreme Court.
Black students had been denied admission to all-white schools in Topeka, Kansas; under Kansas law, cities with more than 15.000 residents it was acceptable to operate separate school systems, providing that both schools were substantially equal in educational facilities. But in Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that segregation by race in public schools is unconstitutional.
Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared, “… We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.
Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” With this outstanding decision, the Supreme Court buried the separate-but-equal principal that it had sturdily supported a half a century earlier.(3)
The Supreme Court has made rulings and changed them over the course of time. These are the things that should be expected to change and grow with the changing times.
The needs of the people are different now than they were two hundred years ago. Yet, at the same time we still cling to the bases of the Bill of Rights, that gave us many of the rights we have today. We as a society still want to be protected and assured of our freedoms and rights and don’t like it when those rights are threatened. The initial Constitution and Bill of Rights wasn’t written to include everyone in the rights and freedoms of citizens.
And it was seen then that our needs as a nation would change and these documents would need to be able to expand and grow with the country.
The Bill of Rights has been one of the corner stones that we as Americans have enjoyed and taken for granted for the many years since its creation. The rights granted to us in the Bill of rights are the same right many people of the world are still fighting for even to the very day. We as Americans have become so accustom to having these rights we often take these rights for granted.
There is no way of denying it’s historical significance, if you just stop and try and imagine your life without your freedoms and rights. These freedoms are what makes this country what it is and it also allows the people within the United States to enjoy the freedom dreamed about by the founders of this country as well. But as a country of whole, we take our rights and freedoms that our ancestors fought for, for granted.