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The First Congress:
The Bill of Rights

The amendments are “limited to points which are important in the eyes of many and can be objectionable in those of none. The structure & stamina of Govt. are as little touched as possible.”

Representative James Madison to Edmund Randolph, June 15, 1789

Some delegates to the Constitutional Convention had suggested adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, but the idea generated little support. When opponents of the Constitution used the lack of a Bill of Rights to whip up opposition to ratification the issue resurfaced. Several states adopted the new Constitution because its supporters promised that Congress would take up the issue and amend the Constitution.

Representative James Madison of Virginia had originally thought a Bill of Rights was unnecessary, but by the time of the First Congress he realized that such amendments were a political necessity. On June 8, 1789, with the support of President Washington, Madison proposed several amendments on the House floor. In September, after reorganizing the proposals several times, Congress submitted 12 amendments for ratification. On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 11th state to ratify 10 of the 12 proposed. These became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The two that failed dealt with the size of the House and with congressional pay raises. The latter, however, was eventually ratified by the states in 1992 and became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.

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