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Primary Documents in American History

The Bill of Rights

Portrait of James Madison.
Portrait of James Madison.
Philada. (Philadelphia) : W.H. Morgan, [between 1809 and 1817]
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-16960 (b&w film copy neg.)

On September 25, 1789, the First Federal Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to the Constitution. The first two, concerning the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified.* Articles three through twelve, known as the Bill of Rights, became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution and contained guarantees of essential rights and liberties omitted in the crafting of the original document.

*Note: The original second amendment proposed by the First Federal Congress dealt with the compensation of members of Congress. Although rejected at the time, it was eventually ratified on May 7, 1992, as the 27th amendment.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution, which would eventually become known as the Bill of Rights.

Debate in the House of Representatives related to the proposed amendments to the Constitution can be located in the Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Congress, 1st Session, on the following dates in 1789:

*Note: There is no Senate debate because the Senate met in secret at the time. The Senate did not open its doors to the public until 1795.

A copy of the proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted to the state legislatures can be found in the appendix to the Senate Journal, First Congress, First Session.

Information on ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution by the various state legislatures is available in the appendix to the Annals of Congress, First Congress.

The Letters of Delegates to Congress contains a letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson dated October 17, 1788, that reveals Madison's views on the need for and role of a Bill of Rights.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution.

Search on the phrase "1st 10th Amendments" in this collection to locate additional documents related to the Bill of Rights.

George Washington Papers

The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.

Search Madison's Papers to find additional material related to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history.

Rare Book Selections

The digitized selections in this collection represent a few of the most interesting and important items in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

  • George Washington's first inaugural address called for constitutional amendments to satisfy citizen demands for a Bill of Rights.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: The New United States of America Adopted the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Chronicling America

    Search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages.

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic.


American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights

George Mason, of Fairfax County, Virginia, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are partially modeled. Mason refused to support the original Constitution because it failed to protect essential liberties. This document was also used by the Marquis de Lafayette in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Madison's Copy of the Proposed
Bill of Rights

In response to the demands of the Antifederalists for amendments guaranteeing individual rights, James Madison drafted twelve amendments to the Constitution. Seen here in one of only two known copies of the preliminary printing, these amendments were closely modeled on Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights. Articles three through twelve were ratified by the required number of states in December 1791 and became known as the Bill of Rights.

Creating the United States: Bill of Rights

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition includes a copy of the proposed amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights) prepared under the direction of John Beckley, clerk of the House, which were sent to President George Washington on September 25, 1789, for dispersal to the states for ratification.

Madison's Treasures

The documents presented in this exhibition are among the most significant items in the Library of Congress' James Madison collection, the largest single collection of original Madison documents in existence. The majority of these documents relate to two seminal events in which Madison played a major role: the drafting and ratification of the Constitution of the United States (1787-8) and the introduction (1789) in the First Federal Congress of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights.

Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor

This exhibition commemorates the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that England’s King John granted to his barons in 1215 in order to halt their rebellion and restore their allegiance to his throne. The exhibition contains a section on the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution, which includes Madison's copy of the proposed Bill of Rights.

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Explores the role religion played in the founding of the American colonies, in the shaping of early American life and politics, and in forming the American Republic. Includes a section entitled Religion and the Federal Government, which discusses references to religion and the Bill of Rights.

Today in History

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

October 27, 1787

Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

December 15, 1791

The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

America's Founding Documents, Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund

Interactive Constitution, National Constitution Center

Our Documents, Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Cogan, Neil H., ed. The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.[Catalog Record]

Conley, Patrick, and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1992. [Catalog Record]

Hickock, Eugene W., Jr. The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.[Catalog Record]

Labunski, Richard E. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. [Catalog Record]

Monk, Linda R. The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide. Alexandria, Va.: Close Up Publishing, 2000. [Catalog Record]

Lewis, Thomas T., ed. The Bill of Rights. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Veit, Helen E., Kenneth R. Bowling, and Charlene Bangs Bickford, eds. Creating the Bill of Rights: The Documentary Record from the First Federal Congress. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Banks, Joan. The U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Baxter, Roberta. The Bill of Rights. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Graham, Amy. A Look at the Bill of Rights: Protecting the Rights of Americans. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 2008. [Catalog Record]

Heymsfeld, Carla R. and Joan W. Lewis. George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights. Alexandria, Va.: Patriotic Education Incorporated, 1991. [Catalog Record]

Leavitt, Amie Jane. The Bill of Rights. Hockessin, Del.: Mitchell Lane, 2012. [Catalog Record]

Meltzer, Milton. The Bill of Rights: How We Got It and What It Means. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1990. [Catalog Record]

Sobel, Syl. The Bill of Rights: Protecting Our Freedom Then and Now. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Barrons Educational Series, 2008. [Catalog Record]

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  January 3, 2019
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