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Bill of rights

Bill of rights, constitutional document that defines the rights of a people, safeguarding them against undue governmental interference. In the United States these rights and safeguards are embodied in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. After the American Revolution there was great popular demand for constitutionally defined rights to limit the power of the new government. Bills of rights were drafted in 8 states between 1776 and 1781, but when the Constitution was drawn up in 1787 no such bill was included, and ratification by the states lagged until promises were made that a bill of rights would be added. When the first Congress met in 1789, James Madison presented one containing 12 amendments, 10 of which were accepted. On Dec. 15, 1791, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proclaimed the Federal Bill of Rights in full force. The bill guarantees freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. It protects against arbitrary searches and self-incrimination. It sets out proper procedures for trials, giving to all the right to trial by jury and to cross-examination of witnesses. In addition to these rights, the 5th Amendment provides that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Between 1798 and 1971, the states ratified 16 additional amendments to the Constitution.

See also: Constitution of the United States.

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