Of all documents in the history of our nation, none are held as sacred as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. This trinity of parchments forms the foundation upon which our entire republic rests. Of course, everyone celebrates the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Constitution Day in September is also fairly well-known. However, almost no one remembers that today, December 15, is Bill of Rights Day. On this day in 1791, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution went into effect after final ratification by the state of Virginia.
As important as we all consider the Bill of Rights to be today, it is difficult to wrap one’s head around the fact that this seminal list of individual rights almost never came into being. In the final days of the Constitutional Convention, delegates George Mason and Elbridge Gerry proposed that the Constitution prominently feature a list of individual rights granted to citizens.
Shockingly, the resolution was defeated unanimously. At the time, the Founding Fathers believed that a list of rights would be counterintuitive. By listing out rights that the government could not infringe, the Founders reasoned that the government would interpret that to mean that they could do anything else they wanted. Instead, the Founders designed the federal government to hold only enumerated powers, meaning a short and exclusive list of things the federal government was allowed to do.
As the Constitution went out for ratification, it faced considerable resistance in certain states because it did not have a Bill of Rights. Finally, the reluctant James Madison promised to work to introduce such a list to Congress once the Constitution was signed. In a refreshing display of character not often seen in Congress today, Madison followed through on his promise and the rest is history. Although the road to the Bill of Rights was a long one, our nation is better for it. Say a prayer of thanks today for the brave work of Madison, Mason, Gerry, and others who fought to protect our God-given individual liberties. The Bill of Rights is a part of American heritage worth celebrating.