The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. These ten amendments began as twelve “articles” authored by James Madison in 1789, the last ten of which were ratified by three-fourths of the States in 1791, becoming officially part of the U.S. Constitution on December 15th of that year. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 15 to be Bill of Rights Day in 1941, marking the 150th anniversary of the Bill’s ratification. The observance has been officially recognized by U.S. presidents ever since.
I thought I’d try to recommend a book for each amendment:
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.
Read Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix in which freedom of speech, assembly, and religion are all curtailed in a dystopian future society that only allows two children per family.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Read The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, the story of a boy in Colonial America who uses his grandfather’s gun to defend his family from the Indians.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Read The Summer of my German Soldier, a young adult book by Betty Greene in which Patty shelters a German POW.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Read Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow or Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartlett to examine a case in which the government almost certainly violated this amendment in the interest of public health.
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie the plot hinges on some of these legal protections for accused criminals, British-style.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Read The Magna Carta by James Daugherty. Trial by jury was a key provision of the Magna Carta; the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Read Trial by Journal by Kate Klise in which Lily Watson becomes the first juvenile juror in U.S. history.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Read Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. This new book by Newbery author Stead is for older middle school and high school readers. It could be argued that the eighth amendment prohibition against ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ is violated in this tale of sexting, friendship, and middle school woes.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin tells about the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964.
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.
Read In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman for an overview of all the first ten amendments and the events leading up to their inclusion in the U.S. constitution.
Happy Bill of Rights Day!