Following the successful creation of a new Constitution, which outlined the form and structure of the U.S. government, a public debate concerning the need to protect individual freedoms arose. Many believed that guarantees of individual rights were not needed because, under the Constitution, the people held all power not specifically granted to the central government. Others, with the memory of British tyranny fresh in their minds, demanded a list of individual rights that would be guaranteed to all citizens.
As the debate wore on, Thomas Jefferson, then serving as ambassador to France, wrote a letter to James Madison back in America stating, “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.” This position quickly gained popularity and a compromise was finally reached. Several states, in their formal ratification of the Constitution, asked for such amendments, while others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered during the first meeting of Congress.
On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States offered twelve amendments to the Constitution that addressed individual freedoms. Two were not ratified immediately, but the remaining ten were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures on December 15, 1791. These first ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.