After the American Revolution, political forces calling for a strong central government clashed with forces calling for a minimal government. The compromise that led to the United States Constitution of 1787 did much to ease conflicts between small states and large states, for example, and between the federal government and the individual states. It did little to curb the powers of the government and guarantee individual rights.
To answer these concerns, which were the subject of bitter and rancorous debate in the nation, Congress in 1789 proposed a Bill of Rights as a series of ten amendments to the Constitution. These amendments became law in 1791. Later amendments served to clarify and broaden the reach of the original Bill of Rights. Some key aspects of the Bill of Rights are:
- The First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a state church, gives the guarantee of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
- The Second Amendment, the guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.
- The Fourth Amendment, which protects people and homes from unreasonable searches and seizures.
- The Fifth Amendment, which prohibits people from being tried for the same crime twice (double jeopardy), and allows a person to refuse to testify against himself or herself in court.
- The Sixth Amendment, which gives the right to a speedy trial and other rights to people who have been accused of crimes.
- The Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
The Fourteen Amendment of 1868 made the Bill of Rights, for the most part, applicable to the individual states. It also guaranteed all people (not just citizens) the rights of due process of law and equal protection under the law.
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