No Bill of Rights

George Mason
George Mason, delegate from Virginia

Steven Brooke Studios

No Bill of Rights

"[Colonel Mason] wished the plan had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights…It would give great quiet to the people; and with aid of the State declarations, a bill might be prepared in a few hours."

- James Madison quoting George Mason, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention

After the Style Committee report was read by the Secretary, the Convention discussed a range of topics, including limiting the veto and adding a Bill of Rights.

Mr. Williamson (NC) moved to reconsider the clause requiring 3/4 of each house to overrule a presidential veto. He wished to substitute a 2/3 vote. Williamson noted he had proposed a 3/4 override but had since been convinced that it "puts too much in the power of the president." The delegates engaged in spirited and even wearily humorous debate on the relative merits of either fraction.

James Madison noted that the ¾ figure was agreed to protect executive rights (as well as to protect from popular or legislative injustice) when the president was to elected by the legislature for seven years. Now the people were to elect the president for four years. Nonetheless he thought a 2/3 override was too little. Still it was probable that controversial laws would be limited in duration and need to be renewed compensating for a lesser fraction to override them.

The reconsideration was agreed to and it passed six states to four.

As the convention discussed when jury trials were to be required by the Constitution, George Mason stated he wished the plan had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights. With the aid of the State constitutions a Bill might be prepared in a few hours. Elbridge Gerry called for a committee to prepare a Bill; Mason seconded. This was the first proposal of the convention for a Bill of Rights. It was rejected by all ten states present.

Was it as some, including Alexander Hamilton, stated that since the Constitution only gave the Federal Government the powers specified, there was no need to specify individual rights? Or were the delegates just too exhausted to take on another task so close to the end of deliberations?

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Thursday, September 13, 1787
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Last updated: February 26, 2015

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