ABOUT THIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS INTERACTIVE
ABOUT WRITING RIGHTS
Writing Rights allows users to explore an important set of documents that shaped the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Which documents are represented?
Writing Rights displays historical sources that Neil H. Cogan, in The Complete Bill of Rights, identifies as having similar content to each Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Sources are organized by Amendment.
Begin by choosing one of the ten amendments from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen. The stages of each Amendment’s drafting are represented by the documents in the five columns (desktop) or four drop down menus (mobile). From left to right (desktop) or from top to bottom (mobile), the four sets of documents are:
- Historical Sources: Most of these items were written before Congress began discussing the Bill of Rights, but a few were written after the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was submitted to states for approval. For some amendments, multiple boxes in the Historical Sources category may refer to the same document. Each box represents the particular clause in a document that is related to the Amendment.
- Madison’s Original Proposals. James Madison's original proposals for the Bill of Rights, submitted to Congress in 1789.
- The House’s Proposals. House of Representatives revisions to Madison's proposals and House of Representatives final language.
- The Senate Amendments: Senate revisions to Madison's proposals and Senate final language.
What do the pathways represent?
When the user clicks on any document, some number of pathways light up between that document and those in other columns. Neil Cogan and other historians have suggested that documents connected by paths are highly related, and potentially interdependent. But users can evaluate their content themselves (see below).
Once a user selects an Amendment and a document from one of the four categories of historical sources, the text of that document and the finalized Amendment appear together in a pop-up box. From here, there are two main tools one can use to assess document similarity:
- Matching language. For each document pair, we have identified all phrases of three more words that are shared between the two documents. These matching phrases are highlighted in each text.
- Word similarity. We have also calculated the proportion of important, legally meaningful terms that are shared between the two documents. This value is shown by the percentage in the lower left corner of the Comparison pane, and represented by the yellow bar across the bottom of that pane.
Take a look at these two values across any documents that interest you, and see what patterns you can find. When were various words and phrases contained in the Bill of Rights first introduced? Which alternative phrasings were abandoned? Which were maintained throughout the drafts?
ABOUT RIGHTS AROUND THE WORLD
Rights around the world allows users to compare rights in the U.S. Constitution to corresponding rights in national constitutions in force across the world.
Which countries and constitutions are represented?
The documents shown in Rights Around the World are drawn from the Constitute Project [link] database, which collects and annotates constitutional texts for nearly every country in the world.
Begin by selecting one of the topics from the radial menu. Countries whose constitutions protect that right will be highlighted in yellow on the map. To zoom in on a particular map region, simply use the “+” and “-” buttons at the bottom of the screen.
If you'd like to view the language contained in a particular country's constitution, simply click on that country, and select the Comparison button. The language from that country's constitution will be displayed on the left, while the corresponding language from the US Constitution will be shown on the right.
Constitutions contain a remarkably diverse array ideas and legal requirements. As a result, provisions that address the same general topic may actually share very little language.
To quantify the similarity between a given country's provisions on a particular topic, and the corresponding language in the US Constitution, we've calculated the proportion of important, legally meaningful terms that are shared between the two documents. This value is shown by the percentage in the lower right corner of the Comparison pane, and represented by the yellow bar across the bottom of that pane.
Take a look at the constitutional provisions from around the world for your favorite right. Are there any texts that surprise you? Is there a country that you think should protect some right, but isn't listed? If you'd like to explore constitutional rights further, feel free to explore the dataset in more detail at https://www.constituteproject.org/.
This National Constitution Center infographic was developed by the National Constitution Center and researchers associated with the Comparative Constitutions Project, at the University of Texas at Austin. Thanks to Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez and WEBii.net for web design and development, respectively.