Congress and the Creation of the Bill of Rights
Documents and Transcriptions:
- Senate's revisions of the House-passed articles of amendment, September 9, 1789
- Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as passed by the Senate, September 14, 1789
- George Mason's Objections to the Constitution, September 1787 (PDF)
- The Dissent of the Minority at the Pennsylvania Convention, December 12, 1787 (PDF)
- James Madison's Proposed Amendments, June 8, 1787 (PDF)
- The Bill of Rights as Ratified by the States, December 15, 1791 (PDF)
By studying the House and Senate's working copies of the Bill of Rights, and other related documents, students will use primary source materials to learn how the First Congress created the Bill of Rights to protect individual rights, and about the essential role James Madison played in that process.
How did James Madison and the First Congress win political support for the U.S. Constitution at a crucial moment in America's history, and how do the House and Senate working copies of the Bill of Rights provide insight into their efforts to guarantee individual rights?
Learning Steps (45 minutes each):
Investigating the source of the Bill of Rights and its author by analyzing the of the Senate's revisions of the House-passed articles of amendment [Facsimile Document 1] and the circumstances of its creation:
Instructions: Divide the class into two groups. Each group pursues a set of questions listed below. Each group has 30 minutes to work on their questions. Each group will then report back to the full class and discuss for 15 minutes. The class should consider: Who was primarily responsible for the creation of this document, and in what circumstances did it originate?
Group One: The Bill of Rights emerged from the process of lawmaking, and knowing the process of its creation helps a historian understand its significance. View the historical actions Congress undertook to create the Bill of Rights.
- The Senate's revisions to the House-passed articles of amendment [Facsimile Document 1]
show contrasting opinions about the nature of rights and whether specific rights should be listed in the Constitution.
- What direct evidence does the document contain about the range of opinions in Congress and the importance of listing rights? (Hint: contrast the House and Senate contributions using Facsimile Document 2—Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as passed by the Senate, September 14, 1789)
- What indirect evidence do the documents contain about how national thinking on this question evolved between 1787 and 1791? (Hint: contrast the absence of a Bill of Rights in the Constitutiowith this document and with what became the Bill of Rights [Transcription 4].
- What hypotheses can be drawn about the relative strength over time of the Federalists (those favoring ratification of the Constitution) and Anti-federalists (those against the ratification of the Constitution)?
Group Two: Who first proposed the ideas that were shaped into this document, and how was his contribution significant?
- James Madison did not support including a list of rights in the Constitution when he served in the Constitutional Convention. What questions might one ask to understand why he proposed a list of amendments to Congress and worked for its passage?
- Why might Madison have seized the opportunity to lead on the question of revising the Constitution?
- How much change is evident from contrasting Madison's originally proposed amendments [Transcription 3] with the amendments passed by the House [Facsimile Document 1]? What does the amount of change between the two suggest about Madison's work as a legislator? (Hint: the printed text of Facsimile Document 1 is the House version.)
Analyzing the congressional context of the House and Senate's work as a step in the legislative process and the interplay between the two bodies:
Instructions: Divide the class into four groups and have each group complete the activities listed below.
- Each group should work independently to analyze the proposed amendments by using table 1 (PDF)
to conduct a closer reading of each of the four transcriptions (George Mason's Objections to the Constitution, September 1787; The Dissent of the Minority at the Pennsylvania Convention, December 12, 1787;
James Madison's Proposed Amendments, June 8, 1789;The Bill of Rights as Ratified by the States, December 15, 1791.
- Based on evidence provided in the documents, identify the top three concerns and their order of importance to the authors.
- Which amendments concern structures of government?
- Which amendments concern the rights of individuals?
- Students should reform groups composed of one representative from each of the original groups.
Each new group should contain students with insight into each of the four document transcriptions.
Each new group should then draw across all four transcriptions to address the following questions:
- What structural concerns were found in more than one document?
- What criminal law protections were found in more than one document?
- What protections of individual right were found in more than one document?
- Which document reflected the most serious concern with structural issues?
- Which document reflected the greatest fear of excessive state power?
- Which document reflected the greatest fear of excessive federal power?
- How would you arrange these documents on a spectrum representing Federalist ideas on the right and Anti-federalist ideas on the left?
- The new groups should synthesize what they have learned by considering these questions:
- Looking at Facsimile Document 1 and 2, where would the House proposed amendments and Senate proposed amendments fit on the spectrum representing Federalist ideas on the right and Anti-federalist ideas on the left?
- Looking at all the documents (two facsimiles and four transcriptions) in chronological order, do they suggest that the discussion of amendments was moving toward the Federalist or Anti-federalist position?
Close reading and analysis of the Senate's revisions of the House-passed articles of amendment, September 9, 1789 [Facsimile Document 1] by students working collaboratively in groups:
Instructions: Divide the class into four groups. Each group should complete two of activities 1-7 and share the results of their study with the whole class. Conclude with each student respond individually in writing to activity 8.
- Establish context: Identify the point in the legislative process reflected by Senate's revisions of the House-passed articles of amendment, September 9, 1789 [Facsimile Document 1]
- Identify the main idea of each amendment proposed by the House by using table 2. (PDF)
- Identify the main idea of each amendment that remained unchanged after the Senate's revisions.
- Take a closer look at the Senate's deliberation by writing out the third and fourth articles in the printed text then in the annotated version to construct the full list of variations under consideration using table 3. (PDF) (Each annotation suggests a different version of the amendment.)
- Each group should create a visual representation of the important rights and structures discussed in the House version and a contrasting representation of those discussed in the Senate version of the proposed amendments.
- Each group should create a flow chart that shows the evolution of an idea at the heart of an amendment (e.g. freedom of assembly) through each step of the legislative process from Madison's proposal to the ratified Bill of Rights.
- Use the materials created in the previous steps to contrast the opinions of the House from the Senate about what amendments should be included.
- Have each student write a brief statement of how they would combine and update articles three and four to fit with America's needs today.
Synthesizing learning from all of the documents and activities:
Instructions: Have the students either stay in their new groups or return to their original groups to share ideas by discussing the following questions:
- Which proposed amendment received the most attention (reflected in its appearance on the documents and changes in its wording at various stages) throughout the legislative process?
- Which proposed amendment had the most support throughout the process (reflected by its appearing the most frequently and suffering the fewest changes)?
- How many of Madison's originally proposed amendments remained when the Senate finished its work?
- To what extent did the Senate's amendments reflect the opinions of the Anti-federalists?
- How might the history and government of the United States have been different if Madison's proposed amendment saying that no "state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases" had been ratified?