Debates in the First Congress: The Five Dimensions of Development

Federal Hall in New York, as it appeared in 1797. This was the site of the First Congress in 1789. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Dimension I: Madison’s Speech, June 8

  • Madison’s Speech Proposing Amendments to the Constitution (June 8, 1789)
    In this speech, Madison had difficulty persuading the Federalist majority in the House of Representatives to take seriously the issue of amending the Constitution. Some representatives doubted that amendments were needed while others argued that consideration be postponed. Madison insisted that Congress attend to the wishes of “a respectable number of our constituents,” that the representatives “incorporate such amendments in the Constitution as will secure those rights, which they consider as not sufficiently guarded.”
  • Madison’s Nine Proposals
  • Madison’s Proposals Integrated into the Constitution
    by Gordon Lloyd

Dimension II: The House Select Committee Report, July 21-28

Dimension III: The House Version, August 13-24

  • House Debates Select Committee Report (edited) (August 13-24, 1789)
    The House debated the report of the select committee between August 13 and 24. The report and these debates show that Madison was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt to “interweave” the proposed amendments into the body of the Constitution and to alter the Preamble of the Constitution to incorporate, expressly, the principles of the Declaration of Independence. He was successful, however, in limiting the scope of the amendments to a declaration of rights.
  • House Approves Seventeen Amendments (August 24, 1789)
    Following the debates in the House, seventeen amendments were approved.

Dimension IV: The Senate Version, August 25-September 9

Dimension V: The Conference Committee, September 14-28




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.

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