Early Press Coverage of the Bill of Rights
By Steve Goldman
NCSA Member #9
It was 200 years ago that the Bill of Rights was adopted by the United States of America and became a part of our Constitution as the first ten amendments. The Constitution itself was primarily a blueprint for the National government and was adopted by a majority of the states with the ratification by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. The criticism of the original Constitution was that it did not contain specific guarantees of personal rights and liberties. Because of a lack of these guarantees of rights, large states like Massachusetts, New York and Virginia had doubts about the adoption of this document. The Federalists at the Massachusetts state Convention agreed to recommend a list of amendments and thus convinced the Commonwealth to consent to ratification. In the wake of the Massachusetts example, six remaining states ratified the Constitution but stipulated similar conditions as a part of this ratification.
It was James Madison, representative from Virginia, who was the driving force behind the Bill of Rights. On June 8, 1789, Madison offered to the House a selected list of amendments based upon numerous proposals advocated by various states. A select committee of the House reported out seventeen amendments which were reduced to twelve by the Senate. These 12 were agreed to by a joint resolution of the Senate and House on September 25, 1789. It is the original of this document, on which are inscribed the twelve amendments proposed by Congress, that we call the Bill of Rights. Ten of the proposed twelve amendments were ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the states, and became law on December 15, 1791 with the ratification by Virginia, the eleventh state to take this action. Two amendments not adopted were one which limited the size of the House of Representatives and the other which forbade members of the House and the Senate to raise their own compensation.
The first newspaper to report the Bill of Rights in a recognizable form was the "Gazette of the U.S." of June 13, 1789. On page 3 appeared an article listing the seventeen amendments originally proposed by Madison.
The first newspaper appearance of the Bill of Rights that was offered to the states for ratification was in the October 3, 1789 issue of the "Gazette of the U.S.". This issue contained the twelve proposed amendments that were pared down to ten.
It is interesting to note that of the fifteen original copies of this document, only eleven are known to exist at this time. Four of the copies were lost or destroyed.