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

The Making of the Bill of Rights

How Should Congress Debate the Bill of Rights?

Committee of the Whole

Those who were most in favor of amendments, including Madison, were least inclined to see the matter relegated to a special committee. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts—the first state to include recommended amendments with its ratification—claimed that a special committee would be “disrespectful to those States which have proposed amendments.” 

Advocates of amendments preferred instead that they be debated in a Committee of the Whole (a procedure that allowed the entire House to debate measures with less formality than when it sat as the House of Representatives). Although Madison likewise wished to avoid a select committee, he was nonetheless willing to be flexible as to the mode in which amendments would be considered by the House, just so long as he was not put off.

After lengthy protestations that the House did not have time to take up the question, the House ultimately decided that Madison’s proposal, as well as the proposals submitted by the states, would be shunted to a select committee composed of a member from every state.

At least Madison was named as one of the members of that committee. And, perhaps to Madison’s surprise, the select committee was in fact extremely deferential to Madison’s proposal. The committee reworded many of his suggested amendments, and considerably abridged his preamble, but it neither added nor subtracted anything substantive.