On Dec. 15, 1791, Virginia became the last state to approve and thus satisfy the three-fourths ratification requirement for the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
The ratification of the Bill of Rights guaranteed the unalienable rights announced in the Declaration of Independence that were fought for during the American Revolution.
The delegates signed the U.S. Constitution to the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787. On June 21, 1788, it was adopted when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve it, as specified in Article VII. Yet, it was not until 2 1/2 years later that the Bill of Rights was finally ratified.
James Madison, dubbed the “Father of the Constitution,” drafted the Bill of Rights in New York City out of Federal Hall. Initially, he proposed 19 amendments. Through debate in the House of Representatives and subsequently the Senate, this was narrowed down to 12. Ratification commenced on Sept. 25, 1789, when the First Congress sent each state 12 proposed amendments through a joint resolution. Between 1789 and 1791, each state ratified 10 of those 12 amendments.
Because Virginia's approval provided the necessary three-fourths approval by the states, there was no legal need for further states to approve the amendments. For that reason, three states, which were among the original 13 colonies, did not ratify the Bill of Rights until its 150th anniversary on Dec. 15, 1939.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia symbolically ratified the Bill of Rights on this date.
The Bill of Rights is one of the most important documents in the history of the world. It guaranteed rights and liberties seldom respected anywhere previously — freedom of speech, religion, the press, peaceful assembly, and due process of law. It guaranteed fundamental rights that protect from the abuse of unchecked government power. It guarantees the essential liberties upon which the country was founded. The United States has “exercised, restricted, expanded, tested, and debated” these rights for over 200 years. But, through all its tests, the Bill of Rights prevailed and fortified the U.S. as the pinnacle of individual liberty throughout the history of human civilization.
Given the significance of this day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2524 on Nov. 27, 1941, designating Dec. 15 as Bill of Rights Day.