Bill of Rights: Part One

Portrait of James Madison by John Vanderlyn (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This is part one of a a two-part episode.

On this date in 1791, the United States Bill of Rights became law when the state of Virginia ratified it.

Here are some things you may not have known about the story behind the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States is the result of hard fought negotiations between federalists and antifederalists during the summer of 1787. Originally, the meeting that became the Constitutional Convention was intended to revise the Articles of Confederation, which had been in place since 1777.

The Articles of Confederation established how the individual states would work together, and it created a weak national government. The national government had no president, executive agencies, judiciary or right to tax.

Federalists such as James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of throwing out the Articles of Confederation in favor of a new constitution which would establish a strong national government, known as a federal system.

A proposal to add a bill of rights during the convention was defeated. Hamilton, among many, believed such an addition would be dangerous. It was his belief that the inclusion of some rights would imply that rights not specifically mentioned didn’t exist.

The Constitution required ratification by nine of the 13 states before it came into effect. Five states ratified the constitution with little trouble. Massachusetts on the other hand, was a different story.

A contentious convention from the start, the low point of the Bay State’s meeting was a fist fight between federalist Francis Dana and anti-federalist Elbridge Gerry. Cooler heads prevailed as the convention agreed to ratify under the condition that the group also propose amendments. Massachusetts’ suggestions included the basis for what would become the fifth and 10th amendments. Ratifications by Maryland, South Carolina and New Hampshire pushed the Constitution over the nine-state requirement. Shortly after, Virginia and New York ratified, while North Carolina and Rhode Island waited until after the document came into effect in 1788.

By the time the first Congress was seated in 1789, James Madison had come around on the idea of a bill of rights. Although his reasoning was largely strategic. He pledged to introduce a bill of rights as amendments to the Constitution as part of his effort to defeat James Monroe for a seat in the House of Representatives. He also believed that introducing a bill of rights would help preempt a second constitutional convention that could lead to the dissolution of the new federal government.

Madison wrote what would become 20 proposed amendments. The House whittled this down to 17 amendments, while the Senate condensed it to 12. The 12 proposed amendments were then referred to the states for ratification.

On tomorrow’s episode, we’ll delve into the amendments themselves.

Today’s question: What document is seen as the world’s first bill of rights?

Today is International Tea Day, Kingdom Day in the Netherlands, and Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty in Russia.

It’s unofficially Cat Herders Day, National Cupcake Day, and National Regifting Day.

It’s the birthday of engineer Gustave Eiffel, who was born in 1832; actor and comedian Tim Conway, who is 83; and actor Don Johnson, who is 67.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1989, the top song in the U.S. was “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.

The No. 1 movie was “The War of the Roses,” while the novel “Daddy” by Danielle Steele topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What wireless technology was named after a Danish king’s nickname?

Submit your answer at and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at We’ll reveal the correct answer on tomorrow’s episode.


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