The Tenth Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791 as a part of the Bill of Rights.
When the U.S. Constitution was initially proposed and ratified, several members of Congress, especially within the antifederalist faction, took issue with its lack of a bill of rights.
Antifederalists argued that a bill of rights would explicitly define the rights of the people, in effect preventing them from being violated. Several state constitutions contained a bill of rights – if the federal government took precedent to state government, it followed that the federal constitution should have one as well. In contrast, federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, did not believe a bill of rights was necessary. Since the government was limited to its delegated powers, it seemed unnecessary to define the rights of the people. In fact, some federalists thought a bill of rights was a dangerous concept – rights omitted may be considered unretained.
In the end, the antifederalist concerns were heeded as several states ratified the Constitution on the condition that a bill of rights would be added. After the Constitution’s ratification in 1788, James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights, drawing inspiration from the Virginia Declaration of Rights and amendments proposed by the states during ratification. He initially recorded 19 amendments; the House and Senate pared these down to 12 before they were sent to the states for ratification. The first 2 amendments, which pertained to apportionment in the House and pay for Congress, were rejected by the states, leaving the first 10 amendments as we know them today.
Along with the Ninth Amendment, the Tenth Amendment addressed the concern of many federalists: that rights omitted would be rights unretained. The Tenth Amendment stressed that powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the individual states, would, by default, always be retained by the states/people – NOT the federal government.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing this crucial piece of American law. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Selected online resources on the Tenth Amendment:
The National Constitution Center offers a collection of introductory essays by top liberal and conservative legal scholars that give overviews of Tenth Amendment as agreed upon by both authors, as well as separate brief statements of these scholars’ disagreements about the law’s interpretation.
James Madison’s Montpelier: A Constitutional Conversation on the Tenth Amendment
In 2013, James Madison’s Montpelier hosted a panel of scholars to discuss the Tenth Amendment’s origins, in particular the way that James Madison, Federalists, and Antifederalists looked at the delegation of powers. JMC faculty partner Lynn Uzzell was an expert featured on the panel.
The Library of Congress website features both an online exhibit and web guide for the Bill of Rights. The online exhibit, “Creating the United States,” tracks the origins of the Bill of Rights using primary documents, including a speech that describes the it as “little better than whipsyllabub, frothy and full of wind.” The web guide also offers an extensive collection of resources on the Bill of Rights and the thought process behind it.
The National Archives, home of the Bill of Rights, has videos, teaching and learning resources, and articles on its website. This year, the National Archives held a program on December 12 in which a panel of scholars and authors explored the unique history of the first 10 amendments and the ways in which they have influenced national constitutions around the world from 1791 to today.
*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on states’ rights, the Tenth Amendment or its history and interpretations, and would like your work included here, send it to us at email@example.com.