What would life be like without the freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and the right to petition?
Danville (Virginia) Corporation Court, 1963 Civil Rights Case Files, 1963–1973, Accession 38099, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. (High Res)
Resolution Respecting Baptist Petition. Undated draft resolution in the handwriting of Patrick Henry, adopted by the Third Virginia Convention on August 16, 1775. Papers of the Third Virginia Convention, Revolutionary Government. Record Group 2. Library of Virginia. (Transcription | High Res)
“The Rights of the People—Women are People. Suffrage Victory Map.” 1920. Broadside. Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Papers, Acc. 22002. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. (High Res)
For more information on the individual documents, see their entries at Shaping the Constitution. (See the links section of this plan)
Late in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, George Mason of Virginia proposed adding a bill of rights to the Constitution. Mason was the principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, but he did not persuade the other delegates that the Constitution needed its own bill of rights.
In Virginia, after the convention narrowly voted to ratify the Constitution, opponents of ratification and a number of the men who voted to ratify it, but who also agreed with some of the objections that had been made, proposed a long list of amendments, some of which were intended to reduce the power of the new government and some of which drew on the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights for explicit protection of fundamental liberties.
As a member of the United States House of Representatives in 1789, James Madison drew on the amendments that the Virginia and other state ratification conventions had proposed to introduce the first draft of what became the Bill of Rights. As the amendments worked their ways through the House and the Senate, they took the shape that we now know, the first ten amendments. In the autumn of 1789 Congress submitted them and two other amendments to the state legislatures for ratification.
Fifteen and a half years after Virginia adopted its own Declaration of Rights, on December 15, 1791, the Commonwealth became the eleventh state to approve the third through twelfth amendments, which thereupon became the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known ever after as the Bill of Rights. The second of the amendments proposed in 1789 was ratified in May 1992 and became the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights prohibits the federal government from abridging the freedoms of religion, speech, and press and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances; the right to keep and bear arms; the right of the people not to have troops quartered in their homes; the right to protection against unreasonable government searches and seizures; the right to jury trials in civil and criminal cases and of a grand jury in criminal cases; the right to due process of law in court; a prohibition on government taking private property without just compensation; a prohibition on excessive bail and fines and on cruel and unusual punishments; and two amendments defining rights of people and of the states: "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the People"; and "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People."
• Explore and discuss the images with the class.
• Divide the class into five groups and assign each group with one of the
rights/freedoms (speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition).
• Ask the students to discuss within their group what life would be like without
their assigned right.
• Have the groups develop a scenario describing how the absence of their right or
freedom would affect society as a whole.
• Have each group share their scenarios and discuss.
Questions to consider:
1. What defines a citizen in the present day? What and who defined citizenship in
2. Is religious tolerance important? Why or why not?
3. What did people petition about in the past? What do people petition about now?
4. Can you think of any current events that challenge or exercise the rights