Creating the Bill of Rights

Right to Bear Arms: Antecedent Documents

English Declaration of Rights, 1689

Fearing abuses of rights and the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church under the Catholic King James II (reigned 1685–1688), the English parliament deposed James. They invited his Protestant daughter and son-in-law to assume the throne, but imposed the 1689 Declaration of Rights on King William III (reigned 1689–1702) and Queen Mary II (reigned 1689–1694) as a precondition to being crowned. However, Parliament was more concerned with protecting its own rights and privileges than those of individuals.

Title: Declaration of Rights in Anno Regni Gulielmi & Mariae, Regis & Reginae Angliae,
Scotiae, Franciae, & Hiberniae, Primo

City: London
Publisher: Charles Bill and Thomas Newcomb
Date: 1689
Collection: Law Library, Library of Congress

English Declaration of Rights

Madison Speech in the House of Representatives, 1789

Although James Madison had opposed any early amendments to the federal Constitution, he hoped to derail the growing demand for major constitutional changes by offering amendments concerning individual rights (Bill of Rights) as a diversion. In his June 8, 1789, speech Madison proposed incorporating the changes into the body of the Constitution, rather than having them be a supplement or addendum.

Author: James Madison
Title: Speech in the House of Representatives
Publisher: New York Daily Advertiser
Date: June 8, 1789
Collection: Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

Madison Speech in the House of Representatives

Draft Report of a Special Committee of Congress, 1789

A committee of the House of Representatives appointed by James Madison originally envisioned that amendments concerning individual rights would be incorporated into the body of the Constitution, not appended as a supplement. This July 28, 1789, committee report presented by John Vining (1758–1802) of Delaware clearly shows the incorporation plan with the rights scattered throughout the Constitution.

Author: Roger Sherman
Title: Draft Report of a Special Committee of Congress
Medium: Manuscript
Date: ca. July 21, 1789
Collection: James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Draft Report of a Special Committee of Congress

Report of the House Committee on Amendments, 1789

Most supporters of amending the Constitution envisioned inserting amendments into the body of the text. Congressman Roger Sherman of Connecticut argued that any amendments should be appended to the Constitution. In August 1789, the House of Representatives adopted Sherman's argument that inserting them into the text would be confusing and voted to add the amendments as a supplement. This list of proposed amendments in Sherman's writing is probably a draft of a report by a committee on which he served. Differing markedly from the amendments finally proposed and sent to the states, it provides valuable insights into the creation of the Bill of Rights.

Title: Report of the House of Representatives Committee on the Subject of Amendments to the Constitution. Extract from the Journal [of the House of Representatives]
City: New York
Publisher: Thomas Greenleaf
Date: 1789
Collection: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Report of the House Committee on Amendments