On December 15, 1791, the new United States of America ratified the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens. The Bill of Rights draws influence and inspiration from the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), and various later efforts in England and America to expand fundamental rights. George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights formed the basis of the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.
James Mason (1725-92), a native of Fairfax County, Virginia, championed individual liberties throughout his life. In 1776, he drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights and a large part of Virginia’s state constitution. In 1787, as one of the most vocal members of the Constitutional Convention, Mason expressed great concern that assurances of individual liberties had not been incorporated into the Constitution, and, due to this concern and others, he elected not to sign the document.
As a champaign promise George Washington agreed to work with Mason to incorporate individual rights into the new US Constitution through its amendment process. The Bill of Rights answered Mason’s greatest concern and the concerns of many ratifying states. As a representative in the First Federal Congress, James Madison ushered seventeen amendments to the Constitution through the House of Representatives. These amendments were subsequently reduced to the twelve amendments passed by Congress and sent to the states on September 25, 1789. Two proposed amendments, concerning the number of constituents for each representative and the compensation of members of Congress, were not ratified but by December 15, 1791, articles three through twelve were ratified by the required nine states and became known as the Bill of Rights.