Bill of Rights: History of Civil Liberties

History of Civil Liberties: Bill of Rights

Civil liberties are the confinements imposed on the power of the state and are designed to safeguard freedoms that the government cannot constitutionally interfere with. They are rights that the constitution provides the people to limit unwarranted intrusion by governments. Generally, civil liberties are fundamental freedoms that are provided either by the Bill of Rights or by the courts or legislature. The Bill of Rights refers to the first ten amendments to the American Constitution. They safeguard the basic rights of property and liberty. Civil liberties and the Bill of Rights have an interesting historical background.

The history of civil liberties dates back in the late 1600s when England developed legislations comparable to the modern Bill of Rights. They encompassed most of the civil liberties present today such as the right to free speech. As the British settled and established prosperous American colonies, the British rule and thinking gained predominance. As a result, during the declaration of US’ independence in the mid-1700s, the need for the protection of personal rights was realized. This need saw a large number of contemporary civil liberties become included in the Bill of Rights during the drafting of the US Constitution (Maier 499). Nevertheless, the Bill of Rights had no legal foundation as it was not included in the US Constitution. As such, it was just a statement of beliefs that did not provide the Supreme Court with the power to decree legislation unlawful.

As drafted in 1787, the US Constitution contained checks and balances that comprised the judiciary, legislature, and the executive branch. However, it was extremely faulty as it did not contain a specific bill or declaration of individual rights. It effectively outlined the things that government could do but failed to specify what it was not allowed to do. The US Constitution was also largely unsound because it was only applicable to the federal government and only protected white men, leaving out women and minorities. The lack of a Bill of Rights made it difficult for states to ratify the constitution. As a result, a heated debate on the inclusion of the bill, which lasted four years, ensued. The Anti-Federalists supported the inclusion of the Bill of Rights, while the Federalists opposed its incorporation. The Americans also expressed their desire for the protection of their newly found freedoms from the government’s interference. A long period of debating eventually led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights, which was strongly spurred by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (Douma 593). In 1791, the first ten amendments of the Constitution that included civil liberties became the law of the United States.

Right to trial is one of the historical civil liberties that originate from the Bill of Rights. In the Bill of Rights, the right to trial necessitates persons accused of committing a crime to be granted a fair hearing before being sentenced. The Fifth Amendment stipulates that no person should be required to answer for a crime unless they are presented or indicted by a Grand Jury. However, an exception is made in cases involving militia, naval, or land forces. The right to trial is also protected by the Sixth Amendment, which states that the defendant must be afforded a speedy and public trial. The Seventh Amendment further supports the right to trial by asserting that the right to trial shall be maintained for cases at common law whose controversy value transcends twenty dollars. Another historical civil liberty stemming from the Bill of Rights is the freedom of speech (Bill of Rights Institute). The right to free speech is backed by the First Amendment, which pronounces that Congress cannot establish any kind of law that bars people from exercising their freedom of speech or airing their grievances.

Works Cited

Bill of Rights Institute. “Bill of Rights of the United States of America (1791).” Bill of Rights      Institute. (2019).

Douma, Michael J. “How the First Ten Amendments Became the Bill of Rights.” Geo. JL & Pub. Policy, vol. 15, 2017, pp. 593.

Maier, Pauline. “The Strange History of the Bill of Rights.” Geo. JL & Pub. Pol’y, vol. 15, 2017, pp. 497.


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