Source: Patrick Henry Speaks of the Necessity of a Bill of Rights
Selection from The Debates in the Several State Conventions, Vol. III, edited by Jonathan Elliot. Published by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, copyright 1836.
Inclusion of a hill of rights in the Constitution became an issue at the ratification conventions in some states. At the Virginia convention, Patrick Henry explained why many Americans believed a bill of rights was needed.
[The] necessity of a bill of rights appears to me to be greater in this government that ever it was in any government before. . . . [All] nations have adopted this construction-that all rights not expressly and unequivocally reserved to the people are . . . relinquished to rulers, as necessarily inseparable from the delegated powers. It is so in Great Britain; for every possible right, which is not reserved to the people by some express provision or compact, is within the king's prerogative. It is so in that country which is said to be in such full possession of freedom. It is so in Spain, Germany, and other parts of the world. Let us consider the sentiments which have been entertained by the people of America on this subject. At the revolution, it must be admitted that it was their sense to set down those great rights which ought, in all countries, to be held inviolable and sacred. Virginia did so, we all remember. She made a compact to reserve, expressly, certain rights. . . .
It was expressly declared in our Confederation that every right was retained by the states, respectively, which was not given up to the government of the United States. But there is no such thing here [in the Constitution.]. You, therefore, by a natural and unavoidable implication, give up your rights to the general government. . . . By this Constitution, some of the best barriers of human rights are thrown away. . . . A bill of rights may be summed up in a few words. What do they tell us?-That our rights are reserved. Why not say so? Is it because it will consume too much paper? Gentlemen's reasoning against a bill of rights does not satisfy me. Without saying which has the right side, it remains doubtful. A bill of rights is a favorite thing with the Virginians and the people of the other states likewise. It may be their prejudice, but the government ought to suit their geniuses; otherwise, its operation will be unhappy. A bill of rights, even if its necessity be doubtful, will exclude the possibility of dispute; and, with great submission, I think the best way is to have no dispute. In the present Constitution, they are restrained from issuing general warrants to search suspected places, or seize persons not named, without evidence of the commission of a fact, &c. There was certainly some celestial influence governing those who deliberated on that Constitution; for they have, with the most cautious and enlightened circumspection, guarded those indefeasible rights which ought ever to be held sacred! The officers of Congress may come upon you now, fortified with all the terrors of paramount federal authority. Excisemen [tax collectors] may come in multitudes; for the limitation of their numbers no man knows. They may, unless the general government be restrained by a bill of rights, or some similar restriction, go into your cellars and rooms, and search, ransack, and measure, every thing you eat, drink, and wear. They ought to be restrained within proper bounds. With respect to the freedom. of the press, I need say nothing; for it is hoped that the gentlemen who shall compose Congress will take care to infringe as little as possible the rights of human nature. This will result from their integrity. They should, from prudence, abstain from violating the rights of their constituents.