The Bill of Rights in Context

What follows are a series of documents that provide context for understanding the Bill of Rights, including the Bill of Rights itself (which you should read even if you think you know what it says: pay attention to language and how the rights are defined).  The English Bill of Rights of 1689 is the most important historical precursor that directly shaped the American versions.  The Virginia Declaration of Rights shows an American antecedent at the state level.  The document on rejected amendments is a collection of proposed alterations to the Constitution that provide insight into the broader rights many Americans wanted protected on the federal level.  Finally, there is a letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson in which the so-called "Father of the Bill of Rights" offers less than rousing support for the document.  (I have set the documents to open in separate windows for you to be able to compare them with one another).

The Bill of Rights (1791)

The English Bill of Rights of 1689

The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776)

Rejected Amendments

Madison on the Bill of Rights