Preamble Transcript

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William Jackson

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Preamble to the Bill of Rights

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights is the opening statement of the Bill of Rights that was voted on by Congress on September 25, 1789. After Congress voted to recommend twelve amendments to the Constitution to the thirteen states of the Union, each state held a Ratification Convention to discuss the merits of each proposed amendment, and to accept or reject each one. In the end, Ten Amendments were accepted by the states and they became law on December 15, 1791.

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights consists of four paragraphs. The first paragraph states that this is an act of the First Congress under the new Constitution, meeting in New York. The session began on March 4, 1789.

The next paragraph relates the fact that the legislatures of several states had requested that a number of amendments, or a Bill of Rights, be added to the Constitution. They believed that the Constitution was not clear enough in protecting certain rights of the people, such as the freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom of religion and the right to trial by jury.

There was a great public argument about these facts and many people said they would not support the Constitution at all if these rights were not addressed in it. So the leaders of the First Congress, including James Madison, who was the principal architect of the Constitution itself, decided to support the addition of certain amendments that would address these concerns, in order to build more confidence in the Constitution from more of the population.

The next paragraph of the Preamble to the Bill of Rights says that 2/3 of the Senate and the House of Representatives are proposing to the State legislatures certain amendments to the Constitution, which will become law if they are ratified, or accepted, by 3/4 of the states. This is referring to Article 5 of the Constitution itself which gives the requirements for amending the Constitution. The requirements are that 2/3 of each house of Congress must agree and propose the changes to the states, or that 2/3 of the state legislatures can recommend certain changes to the Congress who will then propose formal amendments. Then, in order for an amendment to become law, it must be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures. 

The fourth paragraph of the Preamble to the Bill of Rights is simply a statement introducing the actual amendments.


"Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

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 beneficent 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."


Note: The Bill of Rights were read into the Congressional Record see January 6, 2011 - Issue: Vol. 157, No. 2 — Daily Edition, 112th Congress (2011 - 2012) - 1st Session.

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