Many Americans think of the Constitution as a document that protects specific individual rights. Originally, though, it was only designed to establish a just government. Federalists believed the structure of the government was sufficient to ensure individual liberty, but Anti-Federalists were reluctant to sign unless a Bill of Rights detailing these liberties was included.

The Federalist Perspective

The introduction to the United States Constitution says that it is being written, among other reasons, to "secure the blessings of liberty." So, it might seem odd that the text of the original document focuses much less on these liberties and much more on the structure of the new government. For example, the roles of Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court are described in detail. The Federalists, including James Madison, believed that with a balanced and limited government like this a specific list of individual rights wasn't needed. Some delegates were also worried that trying to agree on such a list could lead to unnecessary conflict and a problematically incomplete list.

The Anti-Federalist Compromise

Anti-Federalists like Thomas Jefferson believed that a specific list of rights was crucial, especially to protect citizens in the future if the government became corrupt. To get the Constitution signed, the delegates agreed to add a Bill of Rights soon after ratification. The last two amendments in the Bill of Rights address some of the Federalist concerns by pointing out that the document is not a complete list of rights, and all rights not specifically granted to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states or individuals.