This Day in History

Dec. 15, 1791: Bill of Rights Ratified

Time Periods: Revolution & Constitution: 1765 - 1799
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance, Social Class
Bill of Rights

Source: US National Archives.

On Dec. 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified.

Howard Zinn said in 1991, at an ACLU celebration of the Bicentennial of the Bill of Rights,

Whatever freedoms we have in the United States — of speech, of the press, of assembly, and more — do not come simply from the existence on paper of the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution, but from the struggles of citizens to bring those Amendments alive in reality.

And so we should celebrate today, not the words of the Bill of Rights, certainly not the political leaders who utter those words and violate them every day. We should celebrate, honor, all those people who risked their jobs, their freedom, sometimes their lives, to affirm the rights we all have, rights not limited to some document, but rights our common sense tells us we should all have as human beings. Who should, for example, we celebrate? Continue reading.

To teach outside the textbook about the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we recommend:

Free downloadable booklet for middle and high school from the ACLU called “Rights Matter: The Story of the Bill of Rights” in English and Spanish.

The lesson Constitution Role Play: Whose “More Perfect Union”? and The Constitutional Convention: Who Really Won? which allows students to explore what kind of Constitution would have resulted from founders who were representative of the entire country — including enslaved people, workers, and farmers.

Find more resources and related “This Day in History” posts below.