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Overview & List of Documents

This collection of documents on the Bill of Rights provides historical background on the rights that the colonists claimed to hold, and explains why and how those rights became the rights enshrined in the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It focuses on the argument over whether a Bill of Rights was necessary, as this argument revealed much about the founding generation’s view of government and, in particular, the federal arrangement in the Constitution. This is the third of four volumes that will cover the Founding of the United States. The American Founding, already published, is the capstone of the four. The others — the volume on the Constitutional Convention, also already published; this collection; and a volume on the ratification of the Constitution — tell aspects of the founding story in more detail. Together, the four volumes on the Founding provide the essentials for understanding the Founding as the Founders understood it.

  • The Massachusetts Body of Liberties, December 1641
  • The Maryland Act Concerning Religion, April 21, 1649
  • The Virginia Declaration of Rights and Constitution, June 12 and 29, 1776
  • The New Jersey Constitution, July 3, 1776
  • The Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights and Constitution, September 28, 1776
  • The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and Constitution, March 2, 1780
  • James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance, June 20, 1785
  • The Northwest Ordinance, July 3, 1787
  • Objections at the Constitutional Convention, September 10, 12, 15, and 17, 1787
  • James Wilson’s State House Speech, October 6, 1787
  • The Federal Farmer IV, October 12, 1787
  • Richard Henry Lee to Edmund Randolph, October 16, 1787
  • An Old Whig IV, October 27, 1787
  • Brutus II, November 1, 1787
  • The Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania, December 18, 1787
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787
  • The Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 24–27, 1788
  • The New York Ratifying Convention, June 17–July 25, 1788
  • Federalist 84, July 16, 1788
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, July 31, 1788
  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 17, 1788
  • Representative Madison Argues for a Bill of Rights, June 8, 1789
  • The House Version, July 28, August 13–24, 1789
  • The Senate Version, August 25–September 9, 1789
  • The Congress sends Twelve Amendments to the States, September 25, 1789
  • Amendments I-X: The Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791