In 1789, twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution were proposed. The purpose of these amendments was to protect individual freedoms and to limit the power of government. Of the twelve amendments, ten were passed in 1791 (the 1st through 10th amendments) and one was passed in 1992 (the 27th amendment). The dearest freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights include the right to bear arms, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best ensure the beneficient ends of its institution.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several states as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, viz.

Articles in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of america, proposed by Congress and Ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

In Canada, the Bill of Rights was a piece of legislation passed in 1960 by the federal government under Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. It marked Canada's first major legal departure from the British system of an unwritten constitution based on common law and convention, toward the American model of codified rights.

The bill was passed unilaterally by the federal Parliament after several years of squabbling with the provincial governments (who would have had to have agreed to any constitutional amendment) over what rights should have been included and which left out. As such, the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government and could have been repealed or overridden by any subsequent government that found it inconvenient.

For Canada, the Bill of Rights was a remarkably modern and forward-looking document. Some of the material in its preamble, such as the references to the family and so on, appear startlingly anachronistic, but the fact the government passed sweeping new legislation in the late 1950s prohibiting racial discrimination is impressive. Of course, Diefenbaker had a record-setting majority in the House of Commons at the time, and lost it in the next election.

The Bill of Rights was succeeded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into effect in 1982 after significantly more squabbling among the provinces and federal government.

Canadian Bill of Rights

1960, c. 44

An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Assented to 10th August 1960


The Parliament of Canada, affirming that the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of the human person and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions;

Affirming also that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law;

And being desirous of enshrining these principles and the human rights and fundamental freedoms derived from them, in a Bill of Rights which shall reflect the respect of Parliament for its constitutional authority and which shall ensure the protection of these rights and freedoms in Canada:

Therefore Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:



1. It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

  1. the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;
  2. the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;
  3. freedom of religion;
  4. freedom of speech;
  5. freedom of assembly and association; and
  6. freedom of the press.

2. Every law of Canada shall, unless it is expressly declared by an Act of the Parliament of Canada that it shall operate notwithstanding the Canadian Bill of Rights, be so construed and applied as not to abrogate, abridge or infringe or to authorize the abrogation, abridgment or infringement of any of the rights or freedoms herein recognized and declared, and in particular, no law of Canada shall be construed or applied so as to

  1. authorize or effect the arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile of any person;
  2. impose or authorize the imposition of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment;
  3. deprive a person who has been arrested or detained
    1. of the right to be informed promptly of the reason for his arrest or detention,
    2. of the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay, or
    3. of the remedy by way of habeas corpus for the determination of the validity of his detention and for his release if the detention is not lawful;
  4. authorize a court, tribunal, commission, board or other authority to compel a person to give evidence if he is denied counsel, protection against self crimination or other constitutional safeguards;
  5. deprive a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations;
  6. deprive a person charged with a criminal offence of the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, or of the right to reasonable bail without just cause; or
  7. deprive a person of the right to the assistance of an interpreter in any proceedings in which he is involved or in which he is a party or a witness, before a court, commission, board or other tribunal, if he does not understand or speak the language in which such proceedings are conducted.

3. (1) Subject to subsection (2), the Minister of Justice shall, in accordance with such regulations as may be prescribed by the Governor in Council, examine every regulation transmitted to the Clerk of the Privy Council for registration pursuant to the Statutory Instruments Act and every Bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of this Part and he shall report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons at the first convenient opportunity.

(2) A regulation need not be examined in accordance with subsection (1) if prior to being made it was examined as a proposed regulation in accordance with section 3 of the Statutory Instruments Act to ensure that it was not inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of this Part.

4. The provisions of this Part shall be known as the Canadian Bill of Rights.


5. (1) Nothing in Part I shall be construed to abrogate or abridge any human right or fundamental freedom not enumerated therein that may have existed in Canada at the commencement of this Act.

(2) The expression "law of Canada" in Part I means an Act of the Parliament of Canada enacted before or after the coming into force of this Act, any order, rule or regulation thereunder, and any law in force in Canada or in any part of Canada at the commencement of this Act that is subject to be repealed, abolished or altered by the Parliament of Canada.

(3) The provisions of Part I shall be construed as extending only to matters coming within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada.

“in my weak judgment, a government is strong

when it applies to the most important end of all governments,

the rights and privileges of the people…

jury trial, the press and religion, and other essential rights

are not to be given up.”

-Patrick Henry

Written by rebellious and officially unrecognized statesmen of on unborn nation, the American Constitution has stood longer than any other modern charter. Its expansiveness coupled with the flexibility and personal freedom protections of the Bill of Rights has seen the United States from thirteen British-ruled colonies to fifty unified states comprising the worlds first “super-power”.

Modern America seems too easily to forget its modest roots as a struggling protectorate of another nation; but our forefathers, who fought the tyrannical laws imposed upon them, were met with this situation. British Parliament passed the Sugar and Currency Acts in 1764, which were specifically designed to bring money to the Crown from the colonies by raising levy on non-British imports and banning the production and circulation of American money. Many colonies reacted with protest to these compulsory sanctions (taxation without representation) by refusing to purchase or use imported British merchandise.

Further reason for resistance was found the following year with the passing of the Quartering Act, in which the colonists were forced to provide barracks and provisions for British troops. Shortly thereafter the Stamp Act was passed. The stamps issued by Britain were used as proof of tax paid on pamphlets, tracts, newspapers, playing cards and other daily use items. This bill prompted the organization of a clandestine group who worked to “dissuade” the Parliament’s stamp agents from collecting the tax. They were known as the Sons of Liberty, and were so successful in their persuasion that all stamp agents resigned before the tax came into effect.

Meeting in Independence Hall in May of 1776, the Second Continental Congress advocated the creation of a new colonial authority by and for the people of their respective states: “Adopt such a government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular and America in general.” Richard H. Lee, of Virginia made the motion in Congress that the colonies “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.” After a drafting committee was formed to create a manuscript announcing America’s autonomy, Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the document. On July 2, 1776 Congress voted in favor of self-government and two days later recognized the Declaration of Independence.

During the session that he motioned for colonial autonomy, Lee also endorsed a confederacy of the proposed states. After a year of debates the Articles of Confederation were approved by Congress on November 15, 1777, but were not ratified by the states until 1781. The idea of a Bill of Rights for the Articles seemed, at the time, redundant to a collective of states representing themselves within a government without rule by a central authority. In this neophyte republic, all states were equally represented despite population and there was only Congress as government head. A supermajority (two- thirds of the former colonies) was requisite for any legislation to pass, and it was necessary for amendment to be supported by unanimous vote.

During the next four years efforts to revise the virginal Articles of Confederation were unsuccessful in garnering the undivided support needed for legal alteration. During this time America saw a dichotomy in a sudden boom of flourishing local and state politics tempered by territorial arguments, commercial interstate issues and imperious majorities. This changed in 1786 when the Virginia legislature brashly motioned that a convention of all thirteen states be held in May of 1787 to investigate possible solutions. The fifty-five men who arrived in Philadelphia for the “Grand Convention” took four months to declare their own government bankrupt, elect a president and cabinet and draft the Constitution of the United States of America. At its conclusion, delegates Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts rejected draft because it lacked a Bill of Rights


In June of 1788, New Hampshire became the necessary ninth state required to ratify the new U.S. Constitution, and on July 2nd Congress announced its official adoption. Still, the idea of a Bill of Rights beyond those included in state constitutions persisted as a major issue. Although originally opposed to the concept, James Madison drafted a Bill of Rights and used it as a running platform during his bid for a seat in the first House of Representatives. The Bill of Rights, based on Madison’s draft, was ratified on December 15, 1791.

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