5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the Bill of Rights that spells out the liberties and civil rights for American citizens was sent to the state legislatures for approval. Here are 5 things you didn't know about this important document that is part of the foundation of America.


You Can Thank George Mason for the Bill of Rights There is a good chance you never heard of George Mason. But if it were not for this forgotten founding father, the Constitution might have never been given its venerated Bill of Rights. George Mason was a member of the Virginia General Assembly that drafted Virginia's Declaration of Rights. "[All] men," the finished product said, "are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent rights … namely the enjoyment of life and liberty." Apparently, Thomas Jefferson was listening because he included similar phrasing in the Declaration of Independence. In 1787, with the Constitutional Convention wrapping up, George Mason argued that a bill of inalienable rights should be added. This idea was rejected by the State Delegates. So, in protest, Mason refused to sign the completed Constitution.

Congress Passed 12 Amendments, But Two Were Later Excluded Originally, Representative Madison presented 19 amendments. On August 24, 1789, the House of Representatives passed 17 of them. The following month, members of the U.S. Senate reduced that number to 12. However, during its final passage on December 15, 1791, 10 were approved which collectively became the Bill of Rights.


One of the Original Amendments Wasn’t Ratified Until 1992 An amendment that would restrict Congress from giving itself a raise in pay or cut in salary was never ratified by the states, which requires a three-fourths majority. So, for 202 years, it was stuck in limbo. Gregory Watson, an undergraduate at the University of Texas, who was writing a term paper on the Bill of Rights, discovered this Congressional Pay Amendment. As he dug deeper, the student found that it was still “technically pending before state legislatures.” Watson took on the challenge to get it passed by mounting an aggressive letter-writing campaign to each of the states. On May 20, 1992, it was finally approved, and the constitution was updated to include it as the 27th Amendment. In the end, Watson only received a C on his term paper, which hardly seems fair.

Two Original Copies of the Bill of Rights Are Missing There were 14 handwritten official copies of the Bill of Rights authorized by Congress and President George Washington, however, two are missing. It turns out that New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Georgia misplaced their copies over the years; although it is believed that the New York and Georgia copies burned, the first in a fire in 1911 and the second in the Civil War. A lost copy was believed to have been located in 1945 and is at the Library of Congress while a second copy was obtained by the New York Public Library, which resides for part of the year in New York and part of the year in Pennsylvania. 

North Carolina’s Copy Was Stolen During the Civil War During the Civil War, a Union infantryman stole the North Carolina copy of the Bill of Rights from the capitol in 1865, and took it home to Ohio as a souvenir. He sold it the next year for $5. After disappearing for years, it finally resurfaced in 2005, when an antique collector attempted to sell it to the National Constitutional Center. FBI agents seized the document, and by 2007 it was finally returned to its home state.