Rights Secured in the Constitution

Without stretching to make a point, I think it is possible to list twenty rights that are in the unamended or Philadelphia Constitution. These rights in the Constitution go beyond the obvious “big four”: the individual right to habeas corpus relief, the right to no bills of attainder or ex-post facto laws, and the right to no ” tainting of blood” to the next generation with respect to conviction of treason. Also involved as we move from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution is a reappraisal of the rights of the people of the nation over against the states in which they also reside and the rights of the people of the states over against the national government.

What follows is my compilation and it is not simply about individual rights to be protected from government, but about rights to participate in government and the kind of government that is supposed to protect rights. If we follow the argument of The Federalist and the preamble to the 1787 Constitution, a major objective of the Founders’ Constitution was to secure liberty and justice. And to that end, more than “parchment barriers” were needed. In addition to an “extension of the orbit,” four institutional “improvements” were implemented: a bicameral legislature, the separation of Congressional and Executive powers, an independent judiciary, and “a scheme of representation.”

America changed the Bill of Rights story from an attempt to restrain the behavior of the one and the few toward the majority to an attempt to restrain the behavior of the majority toward the one and the few. The Constitution is an important part in the shift in the nature of the narrative. The proposed Constitution proposed to secure the rights of the one and the few by providing a constitutional framework within which the majority was supposed to operate.

The U.S. Constitution

Article I, Section 1: Bicameral Legislature

Article I, Section 2: the right to vote for the First Branch

Article I, Section 2: the right to run for the First Branch

Article I, Section 2: the right to representation in the First Branch

Article I, Section 3: the right to run for the Second Branch

Article I, Section 6: the right of Congress members to free “speech and debate”

Article I, Section 9: Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus

Article I, Sections 9 and 10: No Federal, and No State, Ex-Post Facto Law

Article I, Sections 9 and 10: No Federal, and No State, Bill of Attainder

Article I, Sections 9 and 10: No Federal, and No State, Title of Nobility

Article I, Section 10: No State Impairing Obligation of Contracts

Article II, Section 1: Separation of Legislative and Executive Powers

Article II, Section 1: Independent Judiciary

Article III, Section 2: Trial by Jury in Criminal Cases

Article III, Section 3: Conviction of Treason

Article IV, Section 1: Full Faith and Credit

Article IV, Section 2: Privileges and Immunities

Article V, Section 1: The right of the People to Alter and Amend

Article VI, Section 1: No Religious Test for any US Office

Article VII, Section 1: The Right of the People to Ratify the Constitution

Contents

Introduction

Introductions, the documentary history of each amendment, and major themes about the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

From Political Liberty to Social Freedom

Using artwork, see how the idea of rights has changed throughout American history.

View Feature

Documentary Origins and Politics of the Bill of Rights

Interactive chart showing the origins of each of the rights in the Bill of Rights.

View Interactive

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