New Jersey History I Did Not Know: Bill of Rights Firsties

On December 15th, 1791 – 226 years ago today – Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to ratify 10 of 12 amendments ** to the U.S. Constitution, a list of limits of government power and constitutional protection for individual liberties.

And with that, the Bill of Rights became law. Thank you James Madison. And thank you New Jersey. You’re kind of a big deal.

What did we do? New Jersey ratified the Bill of Rights first– on November 20, 1789. Not even the only important civil rights first NJ has. We were also first extending the right to vote to women – in 1776. But we lost it, before we all got it again in 1920 (minus the obstacles we helped erect for black women). Below, the Bill of Rights we celebrate today That second one, though. The anachronistic language has provided inspiration for a lot of people to get in the way of sensible use and manufacture of guns … eh Loretta Weinberg?


Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

** What happened to those other two amendments? Well, one of them never made it. “Article the First,” it was called; a formula to determine the size of the House of Representatives based on population. We rejected that and now we cap the House at 435 members. The other eventually did make it, but it took 202 years, 7 months and 10 days  to get ratified, the longest journey of any amendment (by far). It’s the 27th Amendment, not ratified till 1992, and it’s the last change we ever made to the Constitution. Intended as a stopgap to the power of Congress to set its own salaries, it requires that any changes to Congressional pay only take effect after the next term of office. I see what they were going for there, but look how the power of incumbency keeps these guys in office sometimes for decades (hi, Rodney)



Comment (1)

  1. Virginia Faulkner

    Before feeling too proud, it might be well to remember that New Jersey did not effectually ratify the 13th, 14th, or 15th amendments. It either rejected them or rescinded a ratification so that New Jersey’s vote did not count in the passage of any of these amendments. The fourteenth amendment was ratified by New Jersey in 2003.


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