On this day in 1789, New Jersey ratifies the Bill of Rights, becoming the first state to do so. New Jersey’s action was a first step toward making the first 10 amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence.
The Anti-Federalist critics of the U.S. Constitution were afraid that a too-strong federal government would become just another sort of the monarchical regime from which they had recently been freed. They believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government by outlining its rights but failing to delineate the rights of the individuals living under it. Before the Massachusetts ratifying convention would accept the Constitution, then, which they finally did in February 1788, the document’s Federalist supporters had to promise to create a Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution immediately upon the creation of a new government under the document. This helped to assuage the Anti-Federalists’ concerns.
As promised, the newly elected Congress drafted the Bill of Rights on December 25, 1789. Drafted by James Madison and loosely based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the first 10 amendments give the following rights to all United States citizens:
1. Freedom of religion, speech and assembly2. Right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of a well-regulated militia 3. No forcible quartering of soldiers during peacetime 4. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure 5. Right to a grand jury for capital crimes and due process. Protection from double jeopardy, self-incrimination and public confiscation of private property without “just compensation” 6. Right to “speedy and public” trial by jury and a competent defense 7. Right to trial by jury for monetary cases above $20 8. Protection against “excessive” bail or fines and “cruel and unusual” punishments 9. Rights not enumerated are “retained by the people” 10. Rights not given to the federal government or prohibited the state governments by the Constitution, “are reserved to the States… or to the people”