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BILL OF RIGHTS: An Essential Guarantee of Civil Liberties or Controversial Abridgement of Freedoms?
In 1787, delegates from 12 of the 13 states gathered at a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation, the governing document of the United States. The U.S. government had to be strengthened to some extent, delegates agreed, but some feared that too powerful a national government might threaten the sovereign rights of the states and the individual rights of Americans. Early on, delegates chose to abandon the Articles of Confederation entirely and draft a new plan of government, the U.S. Constitution. Some delegates proposed adding a Bill of Rights to the new Constitution to guarantee individual civil liberties and ensure that the federal government not become too strong. Others, however, argued that the Constitution already included mechanisms to prevent infringements on basic freedoms and that trying to list every right could, in fact, limit civil liberties to only those rights listed.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Is a Bill of Rights crucial to guaranteeing state sovereignty and individual freedom against a strong, national government? Or is a Bill of Rights unnecessary, and even a threat to individual liberties? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History’s clear and unbiased examination of the Bill of Rights this month.
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