Today in History: December 15
In 2006, the eve of December 15, marked the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 164 or 165 BCE. Hanukkah falls on the eve of the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar. Also referred to as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah recalls the Talmudic story of the Temple's one-day supply of oil miraculously burning for eight days.
The Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress has long been recognized as one of the world's foremost centers for the study of Hebrew and Yiddish materials. Established in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitica and Oriental Literature, it grew from Jacob H. Schiff's 1912 gift of nearly 10,000 books and pamphlets from the private collection of a well-known bibliographer and bookseller Ephraim Deinard. The section houses works in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, and Amharic. Holdings are especially strong in the areas of the Bible and rabbinics, liturgy, responsa, Jewish history, and Hebrew language and literature.
- See the online exhibitions Religion and the Founding of the American Republic for information concerning Jewish communities in early America and From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America which depicts treasures of American Judaica and includes an image of a Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp.
- Search Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present on Jewish or synagogue for drawings, photos, and data pages on historic synagogues and buildings in the United States as well as in the Virgin Islands.
- Search the American Memory pictorial collections and the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog on synagogue for additional photographs of historic synagogues.
- Explore Yiddish theater, a uniquely American dramatic form that developed in urban Eastern European Jewish communities during the early twentieth century. Seventy-seven unpublished Yiddish playscripts are available through the collection American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920. Chanukah Party: A Drama in 4 Acts, written in 1909 is one such play.
- American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 contains both personal recollections and examples of Yiddish folklore. Search the collection on Jewish to locate accounts of Jewish culture and traditions such as "A Genzil for the Holidays."
- Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century contains publicity brochures, promotional advertisements, and talent circulars for some 4,500 performers who were part of the Chautauqua circuit. Performers and lecturers were familiar names as popular entertainers or well known in the political, religious, and cultural worlds. Search on Jewish to view 100 such items.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the term synagogue to learn about Jewish communities in the U.S.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.
Statues and Sculpture over the Door of the Gallery of House Chamber, U.S. Capitol. George Mason Medallion I,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959
On December 15, 1791, the new United States of America ratified the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights of peaceful assembly and petition. Other amendments guarantee the rights of the people to form a "well-regulated militia," to keep and bear arms, the rights to private property, fair treatment for accused criminals, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from self-incrimination, a speedy and impartial jury trial, and representation by counsel.
The Bill of Rights draws influence and inspiration from the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), and various later efforts in England and America to expand fundamental rights. George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights formed the basis of the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.
James Madison, Fourth President of the United States,
Pendleton's lithography, from painting by Gilbert Stuart,
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present
Mason (1725-92), a native of Fairfax County, Virginia, championed individual liberties throughout his life. In 1776, he drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights and a large part of Virginia's state constitution. In 1787, as one of the most vocal members of the Constitutional Convention, Mason expressed great concern that assurances of individual liberties had not been incorporated into the Constitution, and, due to this concern and others, he elected not to sign the document.
The Bill of Rights answered Mason's greatest concern and the concerns of many ratifying states. As a representative in the First Federal Congress, James Madison ushered seventeen amendments to the Constitution through the House of Representatives. These amendments were subsequently reduced to the twelve amendments passed by Congress and sent to the states on September 25, 1789. The first two proposed amendments, concerning the number of constituents for each representative and the compensation of members of Congress, were not ratified. By December 15, 1791, articles three through twelve were ratified by the required number of states and became known as the Bill of Rights.
The application of the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments to the Constitution frequently fosters contention. The United States Supreme Court is entrusted with the power to void acts of Congress that it finds to be in conflict with the Constitution or specifically with the Bill of Rights when the constitutionality of the acts arises in litigation. Thus, the amendments are frequently reinterpreted in fresh contexts and changing times.
Learn more about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:
- View the special presentation To Form a More Perfect Union in the collection Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 to learn about the history of the founding of America.
- Browse the Top Treasures section of the exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress to find Jefferson's Draft of the Virginia Constitution and many other significant documents.
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 contains a wide variety of legislative materials related to the Bill of Rights. For example, on June 8, 1789, James Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution, which can be found in the Annals of Congress. Additional debate related to these proposed amendments can be located in this collection by searching on the words amendments constitution in the First Congress, 1789 to 1791.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the terms free speech to learn more about this right as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Search the Archive on the terms Bill of Rights, Constitution, slavery, or civil rights for additional information.
- See the entry for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in the Library's Primary Documents in American History Web guide.
- The Constitution is an organic document that has been amended particularly as rights have been extended to groups of citizens over time. See Today in History features on the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) granting citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," and the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) extending suffrage to women.
- The James Madison Papers, 1723-1836 consist of approximately 12,000 items captured in some 72,000 digital images. Search this collection to find documents concerning the Bill of Rights, including Madison's notes for his speech on the proposed amendments to the Constitution.