When the Constitution was approved in 1789, some people felt that it did not protect some basic rights and that the Constitution should be changed to protect those rights. On December 15, 1791, changes were made to the Constitution. These first 10 changes, or amendments, guarantee specific freedoms and rights; together they are called the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights includes some of the most basic freedoms and rights that we think of today in the United States. These are a few of the key ideas in each amendment:

  • First Amendment: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly
  • Second Amendment: the right of the people to keep and bear arms
  • Third Amendment: restricts housing soldiers in private homes
  • Fourth Amendment: protects against unreasonable search and seizure
  • Fifth Amendment: protects against self-testimony, being tried twice for the same crime, and the seizure of property under eminent domain
  • Sixth Amendment: the rights to a speedy trial, trial by jury, and to the services of a lawyer
  • Seventh Amendment: guarantees trial by jury in cases involving a certain dollar amount
  • Eighth Amendment: prohibits excessive bail or fines and cruel and unusual punishment for crimes
  • Ninth Amendment: listing of rights (in the Bill of Rights) does not mean that other rights are not in effect
  • Tenth Amendment: power not granted to the Federal Government is reserved for states or individual people

Bill of Rights facts and figures:

  • There were originally 12 amendments to the Constitution, but the first 2 were not adopted.
  • The Bill of Rights was influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights written in 1776 by George Mason.

To learn more, see the Bill of Rights site at the National Archives.