GED Social Studies Practice Test: Individual Rights – Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights makes up the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution. While under British rule, the American colonists did not have many civil liberties. A civil liberty is a personal freedom. For instance, there was no freedom of speech or freedom of the press. If a colonist were to speak bad of the British crown or government official, he or she could be subject to penalty, even jail. Another civil liberty that did not exist was the right to bear arms (own a weapon). Although the American colonists did own weapons, it wasn’t a right to be able to have them. It was more of a privilege than a right, and privileges can be taken away without any real cause or reason. Furthermore, the colonists were even required by law to house and feed British troops stationed in the colonies. This was known as the quartering (giving quarters/housing) of troops. These were clear examples of the British government abusing its power and authority over the colonists. Needless to say, the lack of civil liberties angered the colonists a great deal and contributed to the American Revolution as discussed earlier.

After the American Revolution, and through the trials and the failed Articles of Confederation, the fathers developed the United States Constitution. While it has already be explained that the U.S. Constitution was a document created to serve as the law of United States, it was lacking something not already mentioned. In its original form, the U.S. Constitution did not grant citizens the civil liberties they so desperately wanted. That is, there was no mention of individual rights in the U.S. Constitution. Theoretically, there was nothing to stop the newly formed U.S. government from abusing its citizens just as the British crown (King George III) had. The country became divided over the lack of civil liberties within the Constitution. Those differences would contribute to the formation of the first two political parties in the United States: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, more on them later. Therefore, in order to get the U.S. Constitution approved (1789), it was promised that a set of guaranteed civil liberties would be officially added within two years.

Finally, in 1791, the U.S. Constitution was amended and the Bill of Rights was added. To amend means to change or add to an existing document. In this case, the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights included ten amendments that guaranteed civil liberties for U.S. citizens, while also reserving powers just for the state governments. The whole purpose was to ensure that the federal/central government did not have too much control over the country as a whole. The Bill of Rights includes civil liberties such as the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the freedom of religion, and no quartering of troops. As time has moved along and the United States continually developed, even more amendments have been added to the U.S. Constitution. In total, as of 2016, there are twenty-seven amendments. However, the first ten amendments will always be known as the Bill of Rights.


The Bill of Rights

Amendment I (1): Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition 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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Have the freedom to practice any religion they choose.
● Have the freedom to speak their mind without being penalized or jailed.
● Newspapers also have the freedom of speech/press.

Amendment II (2): Right to bear arms
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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens have the right to own guns.

Amendment III (3): Housing of soldiers
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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens do not have to allow soldiers to stay in their homes.

Amendment IV (4): Search and arrest warrants
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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Cannot be searched by the police/government without a warrant or a valid reason (probable cause).
● Are protected from the police/government taking/seizing their property without a warrant or a valid reason (probable cause).

Amendment V (5): Rights in criminal cases
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 offence 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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Cannot be tried for the same crime twice.
● Have the right to remain silent and do not have to speak with the police/government.


Amendment VI (6): Rights to a fair trial
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.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Will go to court in the place where the crime was committed.
● Have the right to be judged by a jury made up of community members.

The Jury

The Jury

Amendment VII (7): Rights in civil cases
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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII (8): Bails, fines, and punishments
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Will be punished appropriately for crimes they commit. The extent of the punishment will match the extent of the crime.

Amendment IX (9): Rights retained by the people
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

What does it mean?
United States citizens:
● Have basic rights that may not be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. However, just because they’re not written in black and white does not mean that they do not exist. The founding fathers were very clever in this amendment in that it makes the entire topic of civil rights open to interpretation. That is, they understood that new civil rights issues would arise as time went on and therefore wanted to provide a safety net to protect civil liberties in the future.

Amendment X (10): Powers retained by the states and the people
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 does it mean?
The tenth amendment was put in place for the state governments, not the citizens. Remember, the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights was to ensure that the federal/central government did not have too much power over the people and the states. The tenth amendment means that any powers not granted to the federal government (executive, legislative, and judicial branches), are automatically granted to the states. Again, the founding fathers were very clever in that they understood that the role of government would have to continually change as time went on. Therefore, to protect the rights of the state governments and to ensure that the federal government didn’t become too powerful, the tenth amendment was put in place. They viewed an out of control central government as an out of control king (King George III). Needless to say, the founding fathers did not want a central government that was too strong, but strong enough to do its job.

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