The Articles of Confederation were the first constitution of the United States of America. In February 21, 1787, the Articles Congress called a convention of state delegates at Philadelphia to propose a plan of government. Unlike earlier attempts, the convention was not meant for new laws or piecemeal alterations, but for total revision.
Most of the Bill of Rights concerns legal protections for those accused of crimes. For instance, the fourth through eighth amendments provide protection from unreasonable search and seizure, the privilege against self-incrimination, and the right to a fair and speedy jury trial that will be free from unusual punishments. The First Amendment, perhaps the broadest and most famous of the Bill of Rights, establishes a range of political and civil rights including those of free speech, assembly, press, and religion.
Madison skillfully reviewed numerous proposals and examples from state constitutions and ultimately selected nineteen potential amendments to the Constitution. As one might expect, the nationalist Madison took care to make sure that none of the proposed amendments would fundamentally weaken the new central government. In the end, ten amendments were ratified in 1791.
However much the opponents of the Constitution may have used the issue of a bill of rights as a tactical device (hoping thereby to secure a second convention that might undo some of the more odious features of the proposed new government), they also intended something more. There is a deeper meaning to their discontent. The debate over the need for a bill of rights stirs fundamental questions of American constitutionalism, for much of that debate expresses the people's continuing and conflicting need for, and fear of, a government that could truly govern.
The U.S. Constitution was prepared in secret, behind locked doors that were guarded by sentries. Some of the original framers and many delegates in the state ratifying conventions were very troubled that the original Constitution lacked a description of individual rights. In 1791, Americans added a list of rights to the Constitution. The first ten amendments became known as The Bill of Rights.
The fact that there already was a federal government naturally raised questions about the status of the 1787 Convention and its handiwork... When the proposed reforms turned out to be nothing less than a revolutionary reconstruction of government, harder questions were asked. And when, finally, the plan was forwarded to the several state ratifying conventions for the consent of the people on terms that directly violated the Articles' provision for amendment, there was no blinking the fact that the Philadelphia Convention had acted beyond its authority.
The Framers drew up our basic charter against a background rich in the theorizing of scholars and statesmen regarding the proper ordering in a system of government of conferring sufficient power to govern while withholding the ability to abridge the liberties of the governed. When the colonies separated from Great Britain following the Revolution, the framers of their constitutions were imbued with the profound tradition of separation of powers, and they freely and expressly embodied in their charters the principle.
Of the 55 delegates attending the Constitutional Convention, 39 signed and 3 delegates dissented. Two of America’s “founding fathers” didn’t sign the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was representing his country in France and John Adams was doing the same in Great Britain... At 81, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention and at 26, Jonathon Dayton of New Jersey was the youngest.
Who were these men called to Philadelphia during that scorching summer of 1787? They were, for the most part, considered to be the foremost legal and political minds within the young nation. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson, then serving as U.S. envoy to France, characterized the membership of the convention as "an assembly of demi-gods."
A movement to reform the Articles began, and invitations to attend a convention in Philadelphia to discuss changes to the Articles were sent to the state legislatures in 1787. In May of that year, delegates from 12 of the 13 states (Rhode Island sent no representatives) convened in Philadelphia to begin the work of redesigning government. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention quickly began work on drafting a new Constitution for the United States.
The need for the Constitution grew out of problems with the Articles of Confederation, which established a "firm league of friendship" between the states, and vested most power in a Congress of the Confederation. This power was, however, extremely limited... Crucially, it could not raise any funds itself, and was entirely dependent on the states themselves for the money necessary to operate... Any decision of consequence required a unanimous vote, which led to a government that was paralyzed and ineffectual.