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Bill of Rights Day 2021 – Pic of the Week

Today, December 15, is Bill of Rights Day, the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. On this day in 1791, the Virginia General Assembly completed the ratification process for those amendments. Virginia’s ratification of the Bill of Rights fulfilled the requirement that federal constitutional amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of the states before becoming the law of the land.

The first Federal Congress passed a joint resolution on September 25, 1789, sending 12 amendments to the states for their consideration. The amendments that became the Bill of Rights were amendments number three through 12 of those proposed amendments. The first amendment on the original list presented a formula for determining the size of the House of Representatives. The second amendment on the list stated that Congress may not benefit from an increase or decrease in pay that it legislates for its members until after a subsequent congressional election takes place. This second amendment became the 27th Amendment in 1992. James Madison initially presented a list of 20 proposed amendments. The House of Representatives revised the list, finally approving 17 amendments. The Senate then returned with further revisions reducing that number to 12.

The list of 12 amendments appears in the images below of pages from a 1789 imprint of the acts of the first Federal Congress. (Note that the long title below highlights that only 11 states had ratified the Constitution at the time of printing. North Carolina did not ratify until November 21, 1791. Rhode Island ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.)

Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America: begun and held at the city of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March in the year MDCCLXXXIX, and of the independence of the United States the thirteenth: being the acts passed at the first session of the First Congress of the United States: to wit, New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South-Carolina, and Georgia, which eleven states respectively ratified the Constitution of government for the United States proposed by the Federal Convention held in Philadelphia on the seventeenth of September, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven. New-York: Printed by Hodge, Allen and Campbell, and sold at their respective book-stores: also by T. Lloyd, 1789.

The 12 proposed amendments to the United States Constitution that Congress sent to the States on September 25, 1789.

Congress sent to the states 12 proposed amendments to the Constitution for their consideration. They appear here in a 1789 printing of the Acts passed at a Congress of the United States… (New York, Hodge Allen, and Campbell, 1789). Photo by Nathan Dorn.

An interesting feature of this particular copy is that the signature of its former owner, George Washington, the first President of the United States under the new Constitution, appears on the title page. To learn more about this item, please read this older post on In Custodia Legis that depicts the signature on the title page and gives some background on the publication and some of its features. We have also produced a video about this item that can be accessed here.

Image of the 12 proposed amendments that Congress sent to the states on September 25, 1789.

Photo by Nathan Dorn.

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