The Adoption of the Bill of Rights, 1789-1791
Although the new Constitution provided for a more stable government than the one established under the Articles of Confederation, many people expressed unhappiness about it. Even before its initial proposal by the Philadelphia Convention, and continuing throughout the ratification process, detractors expressed concern over the failure of the new government structure to provide specifically for the protection of individual rights, including the freedom of the press. "Centinel" summed up the fears of many when he warned his "Friends, Countrymen and Fellow Citizens" to be wary of the government because it limited "certain liberties and privileges secured to you by the constitution of this commonwealth." 1 Although the issue of a bill of rights did not prevent ratification of the Constitution, it slowed down the process and became an issue of concern that the new government had to deal with almost immediately.
The earliest concerns over the need for a national bill of rights appeared during the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. On August 20, 1787, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina submitted a series of proposals that would have protected a variety of civil liberties, including freedom of the press. The Convention referred the proposal to the Committee of Detail for further study; there it quietly died with no action taken. 2
The strongest call for protection of civil liberties in the proposed Constitution came from George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. 3 On September 12, the day the Convention began consideration of the final draft of the Constitution, Mason urged the addition of a bill of rights because "it would give great quiet to the people:" He further stated that "with the aid of the State declarations, a bill might be prepared in a few hours." Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts agreed and moved that a committee be appointed to prepare a bill of rights. Mason seconded the motion, but it received little support from other Con-