Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bill of Rights Day

On November 27, 1941, one hundred and fifty years after the Bill of Rights was ratified, President Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2524, declaring December 15th “Bill of Rights Day.”  Last year President Obama calledupon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities” to celebrate our civil liberties, honor those who have worked toward civil rights, and “rededicate ourselves to driving a new century of American progress.”

Time Magazine created a series of videos on the Bill of Rights.  Below is the video on the First Amendment.  If you enjoy it, you can explore the other nine.

There's also a fun cartoon about the Bill of Rights. 

The original draft of the Constitution didn’t include a formal commitment to individual rights.  In fact, George Mason’s last minute motion to include a Bill of Rights in the Constitution was unanimously defeated. Some years earlier Mason, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, served as part of a Commission charged with developing a bill of rights for the Virginia Constitution. He considered this omission in the US Constitution so egregious that he refused to sign.

The Master Bill Draft recommended by a committee helping to develop the US Constitution, drew heavily from Mason’s work, releasing a nearly identical copy as their first proposal. In a 1788 letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson Madison described his thoughts on a bill of rights:

“I have never thought the omission a material defect, nor been anxious to supply it even by subsequent amendment, for any other reason than that it is anxiously desired by others.  I have favored it because I suppose it might be of use, and if properly executed could not be of disservice.”

Yet, following this letter, James Madison introduced seventeen possible amendments, which formed the basis of our current Bill of Rights.

Groups celebrating Bill of Rights Day include an ACLU chapter and a coalition of gun-rights groups.  Yet, despite some efforts to celebrate and educate, it was noted that Bill of Rights Day is not regarded with the same degree of importance as other holidays that garner national attention, such as Independence Day.

Here are some ways you can mark Bill of Rights Day:

  • Read the Bill of Rights, and the documents that inspired it (Virginia Declaration of Rights, Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights 1689)
  • Pick up one of the recent books in our collection:
    • Patrick M Garry, Limited Government and the Bill of Rights (2012) [Classified Stacks KF4749.G37 2012].
    • Jeff Broadwater, James Madison a Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation (2012).
    • Eric T. Kasper, To Secure the Liberty of the People: James Madison’s Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court’s Interpretation (2010) [Classified Stacks KF4749.K36 2010]. 
  • Want a break?  Play a Bill of Right Day game! iCivics created a game where you manage your own law firm specializing in Constitutional Law, called Do I have A Right?. See if you can get your firm’s name in “the Daily Prestige.”

Have a happy Bill of Rights Day!

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