National Archives Presents the ORIGINAL Bill of Rights - with 12 Amendments!
Press Release · Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bill of Rights Day is December 15 – 219th Anniversary

Washington, DC…The following is a document alert -- part of a program sponsored by the National Archives to notify the media of documents in the holdings of the National Archives that are relevant to national holidays, anniversaries or current events. This program is based on original records from the National Archives, its 13 Presidential libraries and 14 regional facilities, and is designed to offer the media an historical perspective on events that occur periodically and to highlight historical antecedents to current political or diplomatic initiatives.

Americans cherish the first amendment as the expression of this country’s most treasured personal freedoms. However, the ringing phrases that inventory freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition, and the right to a fair and speedy trial were not originally the first amendment in the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights is actually an informal name for the joint resolution which the first Congress passed on September 25, 1789. The original resolution, engrossed (written in a large hand) on parchment and signed by Speaker of the House Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, and President of the Senate John Adams, is the Federal government's official copy which is on permanent display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives in Washington, DC. It contains 12 – not 10 – amendments.

In this original Bill of Rights, the first article outlines the ratio of constituents to each congressional representative:

Article the first [Not Ratified]
After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Had this been ratified, there would be far more than 435 members of Congress –nearly 6,000. Currently, each member represents on average about 650,000 people.

The second article concerns congressional pay (this article was ratified in 1992 as the 27th amendment - 203 years after it was first suggested):

Article the second
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

And the third article outlines personal freedoms:

Article the third
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The then-11 states voted on this resolution on December 15, 1791. When the final votes were counted, only the latter ten of the 12 articles were ratified. These articles, originally numbered three through 12, became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the U.S. Bill of Rights. Thus Article the third became Article the first - the First Amendment.

The original Bill of Rights came to the National Archives in 1938 from the Department of State, which served as the keeper of important government records prior to the establishment of the National Archives in 1934. The other two documents on permanent display at the National Archives, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, came to the National Archives in 1952 from the Library of Congress.


The Bill of Rights was not initially part of the U.S. Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, the proposal to include a bill of rights was considered and defeated.

The fact that the Constitution did not include a bill of rights to specifically protect Americans' hard-won rights sparked the most heated debates during the ratification process. To the Federalists, those who favored the Constitution, a bill of rights was unnecessary because the Federal Government was limited in its powers and could not interfere with the rights of the people or the states; also, most states had bills of rights. To the Anti-Federalists, those who opposed the Constitution, the prospect of establishing a strong central government without an explicit list of rights guaranteed to the people was unthinkable. Some states resisted ratifying a Constitution that had no guarantee of individual freedoms. Throughout the ratification process, individuals and state ratification conventions called for the adoption of a bill of rights.

The First Federal Congress at Federal Hall in New York City took up the question of a bill of rights almost immediately, and engaged in passionate debate. Throughout the summer of 1789, Congress drafted and passed a resolution proposing 12 articles as first amendments to the new Constitution, now known as the Bill of Rights. The proposed articles guaranteed individual rights and freedoms and were critical to the formation of a democratic government. On September 25, by joint resolution, Congress passed 12 articles of amendment. President George Washington signed this resolution on October 2, 1789 and forwarded copies to the 11 states that had ratified the U.S. Constitution. Washington also forwarded courtesy copies to Rhode Island and North Carolina, states that had not ratified the Constitution and could not act on this resolution.

The 11 states began the process of ratifying these 12 articles. Each state was to hold a referendum, asking its voters to approve or disapprove each article. Ratification of any article by at least three quarters of the states meant acceptance of that article. Six weeks after receiving the resolution, North Carolina ratified the Constitution. (North Carolina had resisted ratifying the Constitution because the document did not guarantee individual rights.) During this process Vermont became the first state to join the Union after the Constitution was ratified, and Rhode Island (the lone holdout) also joined. Each state tallied its votes and forwarded the results to Congress.

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For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at (202) 357-5300.

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