In the United States, the bill of rights consist of the 10 amendments that were stipulated during the ratification of the constitution and have been significant in defining the legal rights, responsibilities and obligation of the United States citizens. Delegates from 13 independent states came together in 1787 to draft the first constitution of the United States. They were to be recognized as the principal actors in the drafting of the constitution (Cogan, 2015). The delegation met in Philadelphia to come with a set of checks and balances that acknowledged the need for a federal judiciary, a legislature and strong executive. It was a considered a remarkable achievement in the United States but it did not consider the rights of the individual, and for this reason, the first constitution draft was marred with flaws.
The Philadelphia constitution specified the functions of government systems but lacked a declaration of the individual rights (Cogan, 2015). It also failed to state what the government could not do, or in other words there was no protection of individual rights from abuse by the government. Failure to include the bill of rights in the constitution saw a four year debate, where the federalists and the antifederalists argued on the inclusion and exclusion of the bill of rights in the constitution respectively. The bill of rights is the tool that is used by law to define the rights of an individual in the United States that cannot be denied by any organ of the government including the senate. The bill of rights protects the dignity of the citizens and serves as a tool to defend the fundamental liberties of a person.
In contradiction to the anti-federalist, the bill of rights was not included in the first drafting of the constitution mainly due to the views that were held by the federalists who argued that there is an increased possibility of the bill of rights giving more power to the people and the states, an issue that would limit the federal power (Cogan, 2015). The federalists deemed it inappropriate for the constitution to include a list of limits on the government and therefore the federalists generally argued that the bill of rights was not necessary and in the drafting of the constitution the convention delegates left out the bill of rights (Zink, 2017). It was later argued by the anti-federalists that without a well-defined bill of rights in the constitution, the freedom and individual liberty of the people would be short-lived (Morone & Kersh, 2016). The antifederalists argued that a constitution, without any acknowledgment of the individual rights gave too much power to the federal government. The addition of the bill of rights to the US constitution was necessary if the constitution had to be ratified. The antifederalists had been reluctant to ratify the constitution draft for fear of it giving too much power to the Washington DC government (Zink, 2014). In line with the declaration of the independence, the rights of citizens were to be given a primary recognition, and this gave support to the antifederalists’ argument of adding a bill of rights to the constitution.
The anti-federalist movement behind the addition of the bill of rights into the constitution originated from earlier American mistrust of the federal government power which emanated from the colonial experience (Zink, 2017). The antifederalist group, which was in the forefront in pushing for the addition of the bill of rights to the United States constitution, based its arguments on the major principles and the declaration of the independence that considered the people and the states to be more powerful that the federal government (Coates IV, 2015). The fight for a documented bill of rights in the constitution was grounded on the earlier American min-conditioning which bore the phrase, ‘power and liberty are enemies.’ This movement had very little trust on the new government’s promise of protecting the rights of citizens without having it documented in the constitution.
In conclusion, the significance of the inclusion of the bill of rights to the US constitution is understood by considering a scenario where it was absent. If this bill was not included, the government would have the power of working against the people’s individual rights and liberties. The federal government would have the ability of imposing on religion and limiting people’s freedom of worship, speech and other liberties. There would be a negative use of the military by the government without a bill that limits any possibility of the government abusing its military power. The government would have no law limiting its actions and would, without noticing, turn into oppressing the citizens, which would call for another revolution.
- Cogan, N. H. (2015). The complete Bill of Rights: The drafts, debates, sources, and origins. Oxford University Press.
- Coates IV, J. C. (2015). Corporate speech & the First Amendment: history, data, and implications. Const. Comment., 30, 223.
- Morone, J. A., & Kersh, R. (2016). By the people: Debating American government. Oxford University Press.
- Zink, J. R. (2014). James Wilson versus the Bill of Rights: Progress, Popular Sovereignty, and the Idea of the US Constitution. Political Research Quarterly, 67(2), 253-265.
- Zink, J. R. (2017). Conventional Wisdom: The Alternate Article V Mechanism for Proposing Amendments to the US Constitution by John R. Vile. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 2016. 288 pp. $49.95.