Alliance Public Library hosts ‘Bill of Rights and You’ exhibit

January 3, 2017 GMT

With the presidential election concluding recently, Americans have been immersed in debate over gun rights, free speech and freedom of religion. Coincidentally, the landmark document that protects those individual freedoms marked its 225th anniversary of ratification in 2016.

In commemoration, the National Archives has created a traveling pop-up exhibit, “The Bill of Rights and You,” which is on display through mid-February at the Alliance Public Library.

Adult Services Librarian Patricia Jones said, “Humanities Nebraska sent out information about the exhibit — that it was being made available free of charge to museums, libraries and schools. So we submitted an application.”

Alliance Public Library received the exhibit on Dec. 19 and displayed it prominently in the front of the library.

Jones offered a brief history lesson explaining the Bill of Rights and the exhibit. She said that the Constitution’s predecessor was the Articles of Confederation, established after the Revolutionary War.

“The Articles of Confederation, essentially treated each state as if it were an independent, sovereign county, only loosely bound to the other states,” said Jones. “This created a number of problems, and it soon became apparent that a stronger federal government was needed. In 1797 a constitutional convention was called to either fix the structure or create a new one.”

Jones went on to explain that when the Constitution was originally written in 1787, it contained a structure of government that included the three branches, separation of powers and checks and balances. However, the Constitution did not contain any specific protection of personal rights and liberties, protecting individuals from government abuses.

Anti-Federalists objected. States ratified this new Constitution, but requested that a list of individual rights be added. James Madison proposed several amendments which were rewritten by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate. In the end, Congress approved twelve and submitted them to the states for approval. In 1791, ten of those amendments were ratified, creating the Bill of Rights.

The meshing of these two ideas — the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — has helped make the U.S. Constitution the longest lasting of any nation in the world.

“The Bill of Rights and You” explores the origins of those first ten amendments as well as the 14th Amendment (Due Process), which applies the Bill of Rights not only to federal actions, but to state actions. The exhibit illustrates how each amendment protects U.S. citizens and looks at how Americans exercise the rights outlined in the amendments.

“It also talks about how citizens have been able to make changes, like the civil rights movement,” said Jones.

“The Bill of Rights and You” co-curator Jennifer Johnson said, “The Bill of Rights represents the Founder’s vision that it would be the people, through votes, that could change the Constitution with enough consensus. And when the people desired a Bill of Rights, our first ten amendments were added to our governing charter.”

The exhibit is organized by the National Archives and Records Administration and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES). The exhibit was developed in collaboration with the National Archives’ National Outreach Initiative. The exhibit is presented by AT&T, Seedlings Foundation, the National Archives Foundation and the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

The Alliance Public Library is located at 1750 Sweetwater Ave. in Alliance. Library hours are Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.