Why is it that it seems that everyone refers to the first ten amendments to the Constitution as something separate and apart from the Constitution, itself? Because those who do that don’t understand the Constitution.
If you look at the history of the Constitution you’re going to be shocked. We shouldn’t even have a Constitution. Technically, there never was a “constitutional convention” because such a convention was never authorized.
When the colonies first became thirteen, separate, distinct, and independent nations they made the decision to band together for their “common good”. I.e., certain and specific duties that each of them would have to do independently they perceived could be done better by an organization created for that purpose – performing those common tasks. Voila! The Articles of Confederation.
The “problem” with the Articles was that they were inefficient and didn’t go far enough in explaining what duties and authority the new federal government had. Nor did they give that government the power to enforce its authority. Those we refer to as “the Founders” decided that they’d had enough and determined to make things better.
A convention was called. Not a constitutional convention as the Constitution didn’t even exist. This convention was called in order to “fix” the Articles. Make them better. Make them work. Only, that isn’t quite what happened.
Based on the concept so wonderfully stated in the Declaration of Independence that people have the right to change their government when they decide to do so, the delegates to the convention decided that there was no “fixing” the Articles. It was necessary to simply throw them out and start all over. And that’s precisely what they did.
In some respects, the convention was a knock-down, drag-out fight. That fight was over whether a centralized government would be superior in all respects to the governments of the new nations formed out of the former colonies. Those advocating a “strong”, centralized government essentially lost the fight.
The result of those efforts was really not “new”. It was simply a more detailed version of the Articles with a whole lot more information and explanation. Not only did it set out the duties and responsibilities of each branch of government but it also made room for future changes.
The process chosen was the amendment process. Amendments can be called for by Congress or the nations. In either case, it requires that two-thirds of the existing nations of the Republic agree to any proposed amendments, or “ratification”.
It seemed that the Constitution covered all of the bases. Except for one. There was no explicit guarantee of individual and national rights. There was nothing in the Constitution, as ratified, that specifically stated that government at all levels was required to guarantee those rights. But, the Constitution was ratified anyway. How could that be with so many people of power and influence demanding such guarantees?
There was a compromise. It was really rather simple. Those objecting to dealing with a guarantee of rights in the immediate version of the Constitution agreed to do two things: 1) get it ratified first; and, 2) use the amendment process to include those guarantees wanted by so many. And that’s what happened.
James Madison, et al., placed a bill before Congress calling for such guarantees. Hint – that’s why the first ten amendments are referred to the “bill” of rights. It was a bill, a proposal. It called for amending the Constitution and set out a number of changes. Those proposed changes were changed. Then those changes were changed until, finally, we ended up with what we have today. The first ten amendments.
Now, the interesting thing about this is that most people have never heard of the clause that states that all amendments to the Constitution, once ratified by the requisite number of nation-States, become a part of the Constitution as if they had been originally included. There is no amendment separate and apart from the Constitution.
So the next time you hear someone refer to the “Bill of Rights” ask them if they’re referring to the Constitution, itself, or to the actual bill which resulted in the all of those amendments to the Constitution. Then smile to yourself and bless their little hearts for trying.