The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

A Brief History of Rights Prior to the United States Bill of Rights

State Constitutions

Virginia Declaration of Rights

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,”

Virginia Declaration of Rights

Even before the Continental Congress declared independence, Virginia had adopted its own constitution and Declaration of Rights. In many ways, Virginia’s grand achievement was like the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights all rolled together. Like the Bill of Rights, Virginia’s Declaration guaranteed many of the traditional English rights American colonists had come to expect. For instance, the accused had the right “to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses,” and to have “a speedy trial by an impartial jury,” and to be protected against “cruel and unusual punishments.” But its Declaration of Rights also began with an assertion of abstract natural rights principles, similar to the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence.