The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

A Film and Interactive Game.

We all know that the Constitution guarantees every American certain basic rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to assembly, the right to a jury trial are just some of the rights explicitly protected by our Constitution. But these freedoms weren’t in the original version of the Constitution. In fact, many of the framers of the Constitution were dead set against including them in the document.

James Madison, who would become the fourth President of the United States, was the document’s primary author. Called the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison didn’t think we needed a Bill of Rights and the document that emerged from the Convention in 1787 reflected his conviction. He believed the Constitution as it was written already spelled out what the Federal Government could do – and, he believed, if it wasn’t in that document, it wasn’t any of the Federal Government’s business. No further protection was necessary.

Others among the Founders, such as Virginia delegate George Mason, vigorously disagreed. They weren’t so sure that the new government would be any better than the British had been. A long and bloody war to win independence had only recently ended, after all, and Mason wanted to ensure that the new government could not erase the freedoms they’d fought hard to secure. He declared that he would rather “chop off my right hand” than support a Constitution that did not include a Bill of Rights.

So, just a few years after the original Constitution was written, a new political battle ensued, pitting the Founding Fathers against one another and threatening the ratification of the document over which they’d wrestled so hard and long to create. The Federalists, including Madison, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, feared that if some rights were listed, others not explicitly enumerated would be left vulnerable. On the other side, the Anti-federalists, including Mason, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were adamant that the Constitution must guarantee certain fundamental rights that no government could take away. They believed that not listing rights risked there not being any rights.

Both a film and video game, “The Bill of Rights” tells the story of a struggle that nearly tore the country apart before it had really even been established. But out of their compromise came one of our nation’s most central documents and the foundation for some of our most celebrated freedoms.

Image Gallery

Further Reading

Learn more about James Madison

For other programs in the Constitution Project Series, visit Annenberg Classroom

Credits

Producer, Writer and Narrator, Robe Imbriano
Field Producer, Carla Denly
Associate Producers, Thomas Beckner and Gregory Blanc
Editor, Marc Tidalgo
Graphics Animators, Victoria Nece, Hiroaki Sasa and Tristian Goik
Photography, Edward Marritz
Senior Production Associate, Charles Farrell
Production Associate, Andy Ogden
Supervising Producer, Christina Lowery
Sound, Mark Mandler
Music, Ben Decter
Additional Photography, Mark Stoddard and Thomas Beckner
Production Accountants, Mara Connolly and Andrea Yellen
Intern, Brian Taylor
Assistant to the Executive Producer, Lauren Mitte
Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings
Executive Producer, Tom Yellin

Comments are closed.