Philanthropy and the Bill of Rights

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
The Bill of Rights established a relationship between the federal government and its people. It is a set of standards against which other legislation is judged. The Bill of Rights was created to protect, promote plurality, autonomy and the freedom of choice much like the philanthropic sector allows citizens to exercise individual initiative and support democratic ideals; a backbone of our society.


The Bill of Rights is the collective name of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights identified the limitations of the government and prevented abuse by the government against the citizenry. While the document is not a list of all the rights of American citizens, it contains the most important rights as defined by the Founding Fathers. The following provides a brief interpretation of the Bill of Rights:

  1. Freedom of speech, religion, the press and peaceful assembly.

  2. Keep and bear arms.

  3. Protection from the mandatory quartering of troops without owner consent.

  4. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

  5. Due process, protection against double jeopardy and self-incrimination.

  6. Speedy and public trial by a jury of peers.

  7. Civil trial by jury.

  8. Prohibition of excessive bail and cruel or unusual punishment.

  9. Protection of other rights not included.

  10. Right to residual power by the states and its citizens.

Historic Roots

While the Bill of Rights has English lineage (e.g., Magna Carta, John Locke), the uniqueness of America gave the Constitution unique characteristics. The original Constitution of 1787, drafted three years after the end of the American Revolutionary War, did not include such instructions. Many Anti-Federalists believed that including only a partial list of liberties(freedom from ex post facto laws and the writ of habeas corpus) suggested the loss of other liberties. In 1789, James Madison authored the Bill of Rights, deriving content from the earlier works of George Mason. Three years later, Virginia ratified ten of the twelve proposed amendments, which are the Bill of Rights we enjoy today.


The Bill of Rights established a relationship between the federal government and its people. It is a set of standards against which other legislation is judged. Thirty-nine men who belonged to a constitutional convention signed the Bill of Rights. The oldest person to sign the document was Benjamin Franklin at 81 years old. The youngest individual, Jonathan Dayton, was 26 ( Amending the Constitution requires the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states and a Constitutional Convention or a two-thirds vote in Congress. The importance of the Bill of Rights cannot be understated; it has been used and interpreted - often with controversy - in countless legal cases ranging from small city judges to Supreme Court justices since its creation over 200 years ago.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The Bill of Rights was created to protect, promote plurality, autonomy and the freedom of choice much like the philanthropic sector allows citizens to exercise individual initiative and support democratic ideals; a backbone of our society. Nonprofit organizations serve the needs of different groups, whether they are of a political, economic, social, or religious nature, and allow members to profess and exercise their individual liberties, as granted by the first ten amendments.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, upon his death at age 84, bequeathed in trust for 200 years the amount of £1000 sterling (around $4,000) to the cities of Philadelphia and Boston; the Franklin trust eventually founded schools and other beneficiary organizations. He also established the first American hospital, a library, a voluntary fire department and a scholarly society. Franklin emphasized the need for collaboration for the betterment of society (Morgan 2002) and was the first to establish the idea of an endowment.

The foresight of the Founding Fathers and the flexibility they incorporated into the amendments were instrumental to the flourishment of the philanthropic sector as known today.

Key Related Ideas

The Anti-Federalists was a political colonial group opposed to centralized federal control outlined by the Federalist party. To balance the score, the Anti-Federalists initiated the Bill of Rights which provided more liberties to individuals and states.

The Constitutional Convention was a meeting at Independence Hall in Pennsylvania, PA, where the Constitution was debated, deliberated and agreed by vote.

Ex post facto law (Latin: "from a thing done afterward") is a term referring to retroactive laws that criminalize behavior considered legal when originally executed.

The Federalists was a party, formed by Alexander Hamilton, responsible for the Federalist Papers, which outlined the need for a strong central government.

The Magna Carta (1215) (Latin: "great charter") was a historic English document that outlined certain rights and established the notion of limited government. With the support of the church, a group of English citizens forced King John to sign the document..

The Mayflower Compact (1620) was a social contract established by the Pilgrims to make laws and other policy for the colony. This was a major step for citizens of the New World in breaking from English tradition.

The Writ of Habeas Corpus (Latin: "that you have the body") was used in a court setting to determine lawful imprisonment of a citizen.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Benjamin Franklin: Franklin was a printer, scholar, philosopher, inventor, philanthropist, and Founding Father. He was a co-signer of the Bill of Rights.

  • James Madison: Madison, a lawyer and the 4 th president, co-authored the Federalist Papers. He is often viewed as the "Father of the Constitution" and composer of the Bill of Rights.

  • George Mason: Mason, a statesman and patriot, created the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the Bill of Rights drafted by James Madison.

  • John Locke: Locke was a 17 th century Englishman and philosopher who influenced the Founding Fathers. He advocated for life, liberty, and property and that all men were created equal (Ayers 1999).

  • Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson, the 3 rd president, was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. However, he did not sign the Constitution as he was in France at the time serving as an ambassador.

  • Thomas Paine: Paine authored Common Sense , a pro-liberty pamphlet and is credited with creating the name "United States of America." He is quoted with saying, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

Related Nonprofit Organizations

The Bill of Rights Institute educates high school students and teachers about the United States' founding principles through programs that teach the words and ideas of the Founders ( ).

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It makes its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and preserves a large collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations ( ).

The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum complex and research organization. It is seeks to enlarge a shared understanding of the nation's identity by offering authoritative experiences that connect Americans to their history and heritage while encouraging innovation, research and discovery in science ( ).

Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Ayers, Michael. Locke: The Great Philosophers . New York: Routeledge, 1999. ISBN: 0415923832.
  • "Fascinating Facts about the U.S. Constitution." Oak Hill Publishing Company.
  • Legal Information Institute. "Lexicon." Cornell Law School.
  • Legal Information Institute. "US Constitution." Cornell Law School.
  • Levy, Leonard Williams. Origins of the Bill of Rights . New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. ISBN: 0300089015.
  • Morgan, Edmund S. Benjamin Franklin . New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0300095325.


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University.