Readying itself and the people for declaring independence, the Second Continental Congress had recommended in May of 1776 that, among the thirteen colonies, “where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established,” they should waste no time in adopting such a government. Two states elected to retain their old colonial charters. Of the eleven states that heeded Congress’ directive by adopting a new constitution, a total of seven attached a separate Declaration of Rights to it. The states that chose not to adopt a separate bill of rights, such as New York, generally incorporated some of the more essential rights, such as the right of habeas corpus, into the body of their constitutions.
Later, during the debates over the Bill of Rights, Americans would continue to disagree over the best way to protect their most cherished rights, and even where to place them in their political documents. But there was much less disagreement over which rights were most worthy of protection.