Based on the memory of the British violation of civil rights that was fresh in their minds, the opponents charged that the constitution would allow the central government to be tyrannical. These opponents were pressing for a bill of rights that was able to spell out the individual citizen’s immunities. In the year 1789, the United States’ first Congress proposed to the legislatures of states the twelve amendments that met the arguments frequently advanced against the constitution. The first two amendments were not ratified. The articles 3 to 12 were however ratified by the state legislatures and they constitute ten amendments of the constitution referred to as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was an addition to constitution made ratification a reality (Burgan, 2002). This paper delves why and how the amendments became part of the American constitution, issues of the original document that led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. It also includes the changes in society that led to later amendments as well as the effects of these later amendments.
How and why amendments become part of the constitution
The authority of making amendments to the United States’ constitution is derived from article V of the constitution. In the United States, there are two ways of making the amendments part of the constitution. First, amendments are proposed the Congress, which comprises of the senate and the House of Representatives. It is a requirement that two thirds of the houses approve the amendments, otherwise, they end at this point. Upon approval of the amendments, they are forwarded to the states legislatures, which approve them, based on their own rules. An amendment becomes a law when approved by three fourths of the states. Secondly, two-thirds of the 50 states legislatures may call for the constitutional convention with the aim of proposing amendments to the United States constitution. The main reason why amendments are made to be part of the constitution is to adjust to the ever-changing society (Palumbo, 2009).
Problems with the original document motivated the adoption of the Bill of Rights
- The supports of the new United States’ constitution feared the national government might abuse their powers.
- The government should not abuse a number of people that some basic rights might. Then, the Bill of Rights supporters decided that these rights should be identified in a new written document.
- The American people inherited a tradition of expressing firm limits on the government power developing out of the English struggles against the monarchs. Before the year 1971, the tradition was voiced in the laws and the constitutions of many states (Baldwin, 1990).
- The effects of the Bill of Rights
The powers of the government are limited by the first eight amendments through specification of appropriate liberties and rights. The 10th amendment underlines the fact the government exercises the powers that are granted to it by the constitution. The Bill of Rights has provisions that limit the state and local governments. For instance, the government can never violate the Bill of Rights unless the whole constitution is amended ((Baldwin, 1990).
Problems with the original document, or changes in society, that led to later amendments
People claimed that the original document threatened people’s liberties and it only specified the government did to the people. However, people believed that the new constitution would protect their liberties through power divisions. The citizens were given some rights that could not be taken away by the government but they were not defined in the original document. The Americans never wanted the government to have excess power and they were compelled to create the later amendments which gave them unalienable rights that the government cannot use against them (Bachrach, 1954).
Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments
The thirteenth amendment was abolition of slavery. It says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The fourteenth amendment is about civil rights. It was made to give citizenship to and protect the liberties of the freed slaves. It achieved this through prohibition of states from denying the privileges of citizens, depriving any person of his life, property, or liberty without due process of law. The fifteenth amendment is about black suffrage. It gave the African American people the right to vote (Historic Documents).
Effects of these later Amendments
Through the later amendments, the rights of individuals have been protected by limiting the powers of the national government. In addition, the amendments have enhanced various changes in the institutional procedures and structures that were originally created by the constitution (Hinsdale, 1917).
Without the collective devotion of all Americans, the Bill of Rights is a hollow shell. For the Bill of Rights to be more effective, it needs the labor of both men and women doing the government’s work. Finally, the Bill of Rights will be more meaningful if all Americans share a common belief that getting the liberties that are guaranteed by it deserves their support and is worth their toil.