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History of the Bill of Rights

Who proposed the Bill of Rights? Was it always known by this nomenclature? Professor Randy Barnett explains that James Madison wrote a “bill of rights” similar to the “Declaration of Rights” in the Virginia state constitution. Madison’s bill of rights was added as a list of amendments to the US Constitution and thus was simply known as the “Amendments.” Only in the 20th century did the first ten amendments become known as the “Bill of Rights.” https://youtube.com/watch?v=YWXly5xxw7I


It fell to James Madison, who was a representative from Orange County, Virginia, to insist that the first Congress take up the matter of adding amendments and a bill of rights to the Constitution. When Madison made his speech proposing amendments to the Constitution, he said the first of these amendments that he was proposing could be considered something like a bill of rights. Well, if we look back and see the list that he proposed, we'll see that the first of those amendments was a general declaration of these fundamental, natural rights of individuals, very much modeled after George Mason's Declaration of Rights that was in the Virginia Constitution, the Virginia Declaration of Rights. That provision that Madison said could be construed as a bill of rights was actually not put into the Constitution. It was intended to be added to the Preamble and it wasn't. So what we call the Bill of Rights was really, at the time, simply called the Amendments. What we call the Bill of Rights was actually not called the Bill of Rights until sometime in the 20th Century, possibly as late as during the Roosevelt administration. Prior to that, the first ten amendments were known as the Amendments to the Constitution, some of which protect individual rights. Others are structural themselves in nature. So it's fine to call them the Bill of Rights as long as we realize that's somewhat anachronistic.

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