On September 25, 1789, Congress sent the first twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution to the thirteen states for ratification. Of the twelve proposed amendments, numbers three through twelve were ratified by the states and were adopted, effective December 15, 1791. These first ten amendments to the Constitution became known as the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights were proposed by James Madison, who became the fourth President of the United States, in response to the failure in the Constitution to protect individual freedom and basic principles of human liberty. The Bill of Rights guarantees certain civil liberties and rights, including, for example, freedom of speech, the press, religion, due process of law, the right to a speedy trial and reserves all powers not delegated to the federal government to the people or the states.

Fourteen originals of the Bill of Rights were produced, one signed by each state and one for the federal archives. Of these original fourteen, only twelve survive. The original joint resolution proposing the Bill of Rights is on display in The Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. The joint resolution states:

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its power, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 15, 1941 as the first Bill of Rights Day. In his proclamation, he asked all government officials and people of the United States to display the flag on public buildings and to meet for prayers and ceremonies. In 1952, Congress ordered the Charters of Freedom – the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights – to be on display together for the first time.