The Preamble to the Bill of Rights

Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.:

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Footnotes

  1. Article V of the Constitution states the process for proposing and approving amendments. In order to propose an amendment, two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives must agree to do so. After Congress is in agreement, three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendment before it becomes law.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The ten amendments that would become known as the Bill of Rights began as seventeen articles passed in the House of Representatives on August 24, 1789. The Senate then approved twelve of the articles on September 9, and both houses of Congress approved those twelve on September 25, sending them to the states for ratification. Ten were ratified on December 15, 1791. One eventually became the Twenty-seventh Amendment, and another, which regulates numbers of Congressional representatives, is still technically pending ratification by the states.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The Bill of Rights was crafted in response to pushback from Anti-Federalists, who opposed the new Constitution and supported revising the Articles of Confederation. They feared that without a Bill of Rights to restrict government power, the Constitution would turn the fledgling United States into a new type of monarchy with the president functioning as a king. Madison’s language, which recalls the Declaration of Independence’s lines about the “abuses and usurpations” of King George III, is a promise to the states that the new Constitution will not be an echo of the monarchy from which they departed.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  4. As of 1789, the United States was still composed of the original thirteen states. The Constitution was ratified with relative ease by Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut, but reached its first obstacle with Massachusetts. Massachusetts eventually ratified after an agreement was reached at the Massachusetts Convention, which stipulated that the state would ratify alongside a recommendation for a bill of rights. Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York all ratified soon after with the same recommendation clause in place, with the ratification in New Hampshire representing the necessary two-thirds to make the Constitution law. North Carolina and Rhode Island most strongly resisted the Constitution and did not ratify until the establishment of the new government essentially forced them into compliance in 1790.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  5. The adjective “beneficent” refers to someone or something that performs good or positive deeds. Its use here addresses the fear of many Anti-federalists that the Constitution gave the federal government too much power. Madison and other contributors to the Bill of Rights addressed this fear by ensuring that the government’s goals will be beneficial to the public, extending “the ground of public confidence in the Government.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The Declaration of Independence not only catalogued King George III’s abuses of power but also served as a social contract for the new nation. For a government to effectively govern, the people must have confidence and faith that it is acting according to their best interests. This conceit was at the heart of the debate between the Federalists, who advocated for a new Constitution and an expansion of federal power, and the Anti-Federalists, who supported revising the Articles of Confederation and ensuring personal liberties would not be infringed upon.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Prior to the Residence Act, several cities served as meeting grounds for the United States Congress and its predecessors: the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Articles of Confederation were adopted in York, Pennsylvania; after the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey; finally, after time in Annapolis, Maryland, and Trenton, New Jersey, Congress met in New York City. The city of New York served as home to Congress from its first formal session on March 4, 1789, through July 1790. Today, Congress convenes in Washington, D.C.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The amendments that became known as the Bill of Rights were not ratified by the states until December 15, 1791. This preamble represents the first draft of the first Congress. Originally there were seventeen articles proposed by the House of Representatives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution states that Congress must meet at least once a year on the first Monday in December; however, it continues to say that Congress may pass a law to appoint a different day. The Congress under the Articles of Confederation resolved to meet on March 4th, 1789, the first session of the first Congress under the US Constitution.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor