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On 15, Feb 2012 | No Comments | In | By Rachael Benjamin

The Bill of Rights

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Both a film and video game, The Bill of Rights tells the story of a struggle that nearly tore the country apart before it had really even been established. But out of their compromise came one of our nation’s most central documents and the foundation for some of our most celebrated freedoms.

We all know that the Constitution guarantees every American certain basic rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to assembly, the right to a jury trial are just some of the rights explicitly protected by our Constitution. But these freedoms weren’t in the original version of the Constitution. In fact, many of the framers of the Constitution were dead set against including them in the document.

James Madison, who would become the fourth President of the United States, was the document’s primary author. Called the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison didn’t think we needed a Bill of Rights and the document that emerged from the Convention in 1787 reflected his conviction. He believed the Constitution as it was written already spelled out what the Federal Government could do – and, he believed, if it wasn’t in that document, it wasn’t any of the Federal Government’s business. No further protection was necessary.

Others among the Founders, such as Virginia delegate George Mason, vigorously disagreed. They weren’t so sure that the new government would be any better than the British had been. A long and bloody war to win independence had only recently ended, after all, and Mason wanted to ensure that the new government could not erase the freedoms they’d fought hard to secure. He declared that he would rather “chop off my right hand” than support a Constitution that did not include a Bill of Rights.

So, just a few years after the original Constitution was written, a new political battle ensued, pitting the Founding Fathers against one another and threatening the ratification of the document over which they’d wrestled so hard and long to create. The Federalists, including Madison, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, feared that if some rights were listed, others not explicitly enumerated would be left vulnerable. On the other side, the Anti-federalists, including Mason, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were adamant that the Constitution must guarantee certain fundamental rights that no government could take away. They believed that not listing rights risked there not being any rights.


  • Bill of Rights Game
    Play the Bill of Rights of game online and discover surprising facts about these important amendments.

    The Constitution Project Website
    Visit the Constitution Project website for the latest news and links to view all of the Constitution Project Films.

    Other programs in the Constitution Project Series

    Learn more about James Madison

  • Producer, Writer and Narrator, Robe Imbriano
    Field Producer, Carla Denly
    Associate Producers, Thomas Beckner and Gregory Blanc
    Editor, Marc Tidalgo
    Graphics Animators, Victoria Nece, Hiroaki Sasa and Tristian Goik
    Photography, Edward Marritz
    Senior Production Associate, Charles Farrell
    Production Associate, Andy Ogden
    Supervising Producer, Christina Lowery
    Sound, Mark Mandler
    Music, Ben Decter
    Additional Photography, Mark Stoddard and Thomas Beckner
    Production Accountants, Mara Connolly and Andrea Yellen
    Intern, Brian Taylor
    Assistant to the Executive Producer, Lauren Mitte
    Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings
    Executive Producer, Tom Yellin

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