It was 225 years ago, 15 December 1791, that the United States Congress approved the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, permitting The Bill of Rights to become an integral part of American Law and life. The Bill as originally submitted actually included twelve amendments but only ten were passed on this date.
The Bill of Rights, perhaps more than any other component of the United States Constitution, ensured that America’s bold experiment would have a unique and enduring place in the annals of human progress and human freedom. No previous government had ever explicitly and forthrightly placed such fundamental constraints upon its power, and certainly never at its very outset. True, there was precedence in this area – Magna Carta is often cited as the conceptual ancestor of The Bill of Rights, and the 17th Century English Bill of Rights was clearly influential as well – but nothing of this scope and scale had ever been established before.
As other nations revolted against their colonial rulers, particularly in Latin America, similar limitations were incorporated into new constitutions. Few have been as enduring and as influential as our own Bill of Rights, however. The notion that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the govern had been proposed long before the American revolution, but the notion that a government would itself limit its own powers was a new thing under the sun, and this made the beacon of America shine even more brightly in a world yearning for freedom.
We really should applaud the courage and integrity of people in government who, well remembering the abuses against which they had revolted, decided to hold true to their values and ensure that their new government could not lapse into the old tyranny.
Just to note, the Eleventh Amendment was never ratified. The proposed Twelfth Amendment was finally ratified 7 May 1992 as the Twenty-seventh Amendment!
Flower Mound, Texas
He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
— Thomas Paine