The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. 

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


  1. The Tenth Amendment serves as a key point of compromise between the two groups who forged the Constitution, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. While the Federalists sought to steer the nation toward a strong centralized government, the Anti-Federalists favored a weak central government, with political power largely distributed between state governments and individuals. The Tenth Amendment provides for the Anti-Federalist agenda because it stipulates that any powers not specifically granted to the federal government in the Constitution “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The Ninth Amendment represents a provision that clarifies the broader role of the Bill of Rights. The Federalists argued that naming certain rights for individual citizens removes every unnamed right by default. The Ninth Amendment addresses this precise problem by dictating that the particular rights listed in the Constitution do not “deny or disparage” any other rights, all of which are retained by the American people.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The Eighth Amendment is nearly identical to a measure in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which dictates that “excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The English law was motivated by the case of Titus Oates, who was imprisoned in 1685 after his false accusations resulted in numerous executions of innocent people. Oates’s punishment was to be annually brought out for three days of public shaming: two days spent pilloried—constrained and locked to a post in a public square—and one day spent tied to a moving cart to be dragged through the streets and whipped. Because of the depravity of Oates’s punishment, English and, in turn, American lawmakers set legal measures against similarly “cruel and unusual punishments.” This clause, however, has not historically included certain forms of execution, which has been a source of ongoing debate.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. While the Sixth Amendment provides rights to defendants in criminal cases, the Seventh Amendment offers the right of trial by jury to defendants of common law cases. Common law cases tend to focus on property and are significantly less severe than criminal cases, which focus on crimes which endanger the health and safety of other people. The Seventh Amendment is often considered one of the most straightforward amendments. There are two particularly notable facts about it. First, while the amendment was ratified, it has never been officially incorporated by the states. Most states voluntarily follow the Seventh Amendment but it has not been federally enforced. Second, it remains unclear why there is a threshold sum of twenty dollars. There is little scholarship on that clause, and no consensus.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The Sixth Amendment sets forth a number of critical guidelines for the procedures of criminal trials in court, all of which provide rights for accused criminals. Trials must be “speedy,” meaning that that the defendant has the right to be tried soon after being accused; the definition of “soon” is determined by the states. Trials must be public, encouraging transparency. Trials must be determined by an impartial and local jury. These last two provisions were motivated by the numerous trials of Americans held by British courts in the years leading up to the American Revolution. The British courts were not public and did not provide juries, resulting in sentences which struck many Americans as unjust. In the wake of those trials, which Thomas Jefferson decries in the Declaration of Independence, the American founders strove to offer protections and rights for defendants.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This protection against the deprivation of “life, liberty, or property” was directly inspired by John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Locke writes that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” The founding fathers were profoundly influenced by Locke’s political philosophy, and wrote a nearly identical clause into the Declaration of Independence.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The category of “capital, or otherwise infamous, crimes[s]” referred to here are crimes punishable by death. The etymology of “capital” reveals the reasoning. The word comes from the Latin caput, meaning head. The most extreme offenses are “capital,” or of the head, because capital offenders were traditionally sentenced to beheading.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was conceived as a protection against the invasive actions of the British Army in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Following the legislation of the British Parliament, the troops would use “writs of assistance” to enter and seize the property of American colonists. A “writ of assistance” is a generalized search warrant and allows government troops and officials to intrude on civilians with few restrictions. The Fourth Amendment prevents government officials from attaining a warrant to enter a citizen’s property without “probable cause,” which requires substantial evidence and reasoning. This measure has proved critical in shaping the operations of American law enforcement agencies.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The inclusion of the Third Amendment was motivated by the actions of the British army in the American colonies in the years leading up to and during the American Revolutionary War. The British Army often quartered, or housed, their troops in the private homes of American colonists. This trend caused sufficient irritation and grief that the Constitutional Congress saw fit to include a measure against such actions in the future. The Third Amendment has been the least litigated amendment in US legal history, spurring the American Bar Association to nickname it the “runt piglet” of the Bill of Rights.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The origins of the Second Amendment can be traced back to two sources. The first is the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which includes a provision stating “That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.” That law was motivated by the tumult in England during the late 17th century, including clashes between Protestants and Catholics—which explains why only Protestants could have arms. According to British law, citizens had natural rights to life, and therefore to self-defense, and therefore to arms. The second source was the necessity of militias in the American Revolution. The American colonies would have likely failed to secure independence from Great Britain had it not been for the self-organized militias who rallied to fight against the occupying British troops. Recognizing the role of those militias, the Constitutional Congress included the Second Amendment, which allows citizens to bear arms because of the importance of “a well-regulated militia.” James Madison, who authored the Bill of Rights, retained from the English text the word “arms,” which comes from the Latin arma, meaning “tools.” Due to the inherent dangers of allowing citizens to arm themselves, the Second Amendment has remained one of the most controversial amendments.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The noun “redress” refers to the reparation or compensation for any wrongs committed or losses caused. The First Amendment allows for the American people to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” an act which is central to the process of democratic governance. In contrast to autocratic regimes, democracies depend on the ability of their citizens to contribute to the political process, which includes petitioning unfavorable measures made by the government.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. This amendment makes a provision for the people to assemble “peaceably.” The founders understood that a crucial piece of any democratic government is the free exchange of ideas, including dissent and disagreement. Thus, it is important for people to be able to assemble to express a viewpoint or push for a change. The word “peaceably” draws a line between the peaceful expression of ideas and violent rioting, which remains illegal and punishable.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The noun “press” refers to the news media and the products of writers and journalists. The word comes from the “printing press,” the physical machine which creates printed documents, newspapers, and books. Thus, “the press” came to refer to the content produced by the actual press. This clause in the First Amendment, which provides “freedom of speech” and “of the press,” has proved critical in shaping American society and culture. The essence of the clause is that, as individuals and organizations, Americans can express their ideas without fear of incrimination.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. In this case, the verb “respect” refers to the act of favoring, valuing, or preferring something. Therefore, when the first clause claims to make no laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” it means the federal government will not officially favor one religion over any other. This does not mean the government disrespects any religion, either; in fact, the amendment goes on to allow for the “free exercise” of religion. It is this section of the First Amendment which delineates the important principle of the “separation of church and state,” a phrase which Thomas Jefferson coined in an 1802 letter. Religion has no control over politics, just as politics have no control over religion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor