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

Demand for (and Resistance to) the United States Bill of Rights

Public Debates in the Press


While these debates over a bill of rights were raging in the state ratifying conventions, a similar war of words was being waged in the press. The Antifederalist “Centinel” (No. 2) explicitly took on Wilson’s arguments against a bill of rights. This Constitution may be intended to be one of limited powers, the author of Centinel said, but “the lust of power is so universal, that a speculative unascertained rule of construction would be a poor security for the liberties of the people.”

The danger was perceived as being especially acute because of certain “sweeping” clauses found in the Constitution. In particular, the provision in Article VI declaring that this government’s constitutional powers would be considered the “supreme law of the land” would leave the people’s rights imperiled unless they first constructed constitutional barriers against the onslaught.

Publius Responds

Publius, in the Federalist papers, responded to this hew and cry by objecting that such a dogged insistence that liberties could not be safe without a bill of rights was a wholly new doctrine in America. Madison pointed out in Federalist No. 38 that the Articles of Confederation had no bill of rights, and no one had thought their rights any less secure for it. Hamilton subtly suggested that hypocrisy might be at work among those newly converted devotees of a bill of rights. He pointed out in Federalist No. 84 that “the opposers of the new system in this State, who profess an unlimited admiration for [New York’s] constitution [which contained no bill of rights], are among the most intemperate partisans of a bill of rights” for the United States Constitution. The Federalists would eventually lose the debate over a bill of rights. But the arguments that this debate generated would provide the inspiration and the catalyst for the 9th Amendment, as we shall see later.