Bill of Rights

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The Bill of Rights is one of the basic documents of British constitutional law. It was signed in 1689 by William of Orange and Mary II in return for their being affirmed as co-rulers of England and Ireland by the British Parliament after the Glorious Revolution.

The basic tenets of the Bill of rights were:

  • Englishmen possessed certain civil and political rights that could not be taken away.
  • Certain acts of James II were specifically named and declared illegal on this basis.
  • The flight of James from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution amounted to abdication of the throne.
  • Roman Catholics could not be king or queen of England.
  • William and Mary were the successors of James.
  • Succession should pass to the heirs of Mary, then to Princess Anne (later Queen Anne) and her heirs.

The bill was later supplemented by the Act of Settlement in 1701.

The Bill of Rights was a major step in the evolution of British government towards parliamentary supremacy, and the curtailment of the rights of the monarchy. In doing so it largely settled the political and religious turmoil that had convulsed Britain and Ireland in the 17th century.


The Bill of Rights is the name given to the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. During the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, the antifederalists criticized the Constitution because it did not mention any rights given to the people. The federalists countered that the first Congress would add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.

After the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress was held. Most of the delegates agreed that a Bill of Rights was needed and most of them desired the same rights. The task of drafting the Bill of Rights fell to James Madison. It had been decided earlier that the Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution as amendments (the list of rights was not included in the Constitution itself because it was feared that changing the document would necessitate the rather painful process of re-ratifying the Constitution).

The Bill of Rights includes rights such as freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly. It also includes a clause assuring the American people that the bill of rights does not list every right given to Americans, but rather lists the most important rights.

Twelve amendments were originally proposed in 1789, but two failed to pass. The eleventh was ratified in 1992 as the 27th amendment to the constitution. The twelfth is theoretically still pending, but unlikely to ever pass (it deals with setting the size of Congress, and proposes a formula that wouldn't work for today's population).

The Bill of Rights passed the House easily. When it was sent to the Senate, the senators removed an amendment that forbade states from modifying the rights of the people. Since meetings of the Senate are not public, no one can say for sure why this amendment was removed. The fourteenth amendment, passed in 1868, has been widely interpreted by courts to do exactly that.

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