A Unit of Study for Grade Seven
Clayton Middle School, Washoe County School District
This essay discusses the proposal of a Bill of Rights, the role of the Bill of Rights as a means to ratify the Constitution as well as the origin of these rights. It is interesting to note that although the Bill of Rights is considered by many toobe the most cherished document of our history it was not something that was planned from the beginning but rather as an after thought to secure passage of another document considered to be far more important at that time.
The proposal for a Bill of Rights:
Near the end of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 a group of men were adding the final touchesto changes they had made in the proposed government. It is known that their original charge was not to change our form of government completely, but rather fix some of the larger problems with the Articles of Confederation. No matter what the original intent, the men did in fact work tirelessly to create a brand new form of government by which to govern the country.
“A fewimportant rights were secured in the main body of the Constitution they drafted. But in the first 15 weeks of the 16 week convention, the idea of a general guarantee of rights was not raised, even though eight of the 13 states had such bills in their constitutions.” (Black pg. 74).
Near the close of this convention, George Mason, a Virginian and writer of that state’s constitution andbill of rights, spoke up suggesting a bill of rights be added to the newly created document. He believed that a declaration of rights was necessary to ensure that the government not take too much power from the citizens. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts seconded the idea. By a vote of 10-0 the idea of adding a bill of rights was struck down. The long hot session wrapped up and delegates returnedhome to work at getting the Constitution ratified by their own states. As a result of the defeat, both George Mason and Elbridge Gerry refused to sign the Constitution. They believed that the delegates acted hastly in vetoing the idea simply because they were hot, tired, and wanted to get back to their business at home.
Mason, a well-respected individual and articulate writer, havingauthored both Virginia’s Constitution and Bill of Rights, would suffer lasting repercussions from his decision not to sign the Constitution. He was however adamant about his decision and it is said he would have rather cut off his hand than signed a document without a bill of rights.
Role the Bill of Rights played in ratifying the Constitution:
At the close of the Constitutional Convention thestate delegations had voted 10-0 against the idea of a bill of rights. It was said in various ways that a bill of rights was not needed at a national government level because these rights were guaranteed at the state level in their constitutions. However, the lack of a bill of rights became the focus point during the ratification process.
When we think about the Constitutionthe first thing that comes to mind is the Bill of Rights, for this is what many people today consider to be the most important portion of the Constitution. “And when we think of the Constitution, another thought buzzing around our brains somewhere is of the framers, the 55 wig wearing demigods who wrote our basic national charter at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.” (Black pg. 73).How is it then that the same group of people did not create the two simultaneously? Some historians say that the group was tired and just wanted to go home. Others point to the fact that several individual states had already included Declarations of Rights in their own constitutions and therefore national ones would just repeat. It was said by many that a bill of rights separate from those...