Bill of Rights Day

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Bill of Rights, September 25, 1789. (National Archives Identifier 14080)

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day which commemorates the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

As we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights on December 15—Bill of Rights Day—let’s take a look back at the origins and history of that day.

On December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, later known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified.

These amendments protect our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, protest, and conscience, and guarantees our equal protection under the law.

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Address of President Roosevelt on the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Bill of Rights, December 15, 1941 (National Archives Identifier 197998)

During the 150th anniversary commemorations in 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the President, “to issue a proclamation designating December 15, 1941, as Bill of Rights Day, calling upon officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on that day, and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and prayer.”

In November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation dedicating December 15, 1941, as Bill of Rights Day. In his message he referred to the document as “the great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity.”

Later, in his radio address on Bill of Rights Day—a week after we entered World War II—Roosevelt applauded liberty loving nations who support the rights outlined our charter, and denounced counties like Nazi Germany for its destruction of those very rights.

In 1946, Congress again made the request and this time President Harry Truman issued the proclamation.

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Photograph of President Harry Truman at the Charters of Freedom unveiling, December 15, 1952.

In it, Truman noted that having just fought World War II against those who didn’t believe in individual rights, its “fitting that we should set aside a day for solemn contemplation of our liberties and of the recent world-wide battle to protect them from annihilation.”

The following year Truman reissued the proclamation then not again during his Presidency.

Ironically, in 1952—a year Truman did not issue a Bill of Rights Day proclamation—he provided the remarks for the unveiling of the Bill of Rights, with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, on exhibit in the National Archives.

During the ceremony, which was held on December 15, 1952, Truman declared “we are assembled here on this Bill of Rights Day to do honor to the three great documents which, together, constitute the charter of our form of government.”

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President Harry Truman’s Daily Appointment for December 15, 1952. (National Archives Identifier 4655688)

Since 1962, the President has acknowledged Bill of Rights Day every year. The proclamation was often paired with a proclamation on Human Rights Day and Week which commemorates the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

You can come see the original Bill of Rights on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).

For more information on the National Archives celebration on Bill of Rights Day visit our website.

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