The Comparative Constitutions Project and National Constitution Center, have produced a slick little app that allows users to explore the language in the Bill of Rights, comparing the text from original source documents and early drafts to the language that was eventually adopted in the U.S. Constitution. It’s really interesting to see the language of, for instance, the Second Amendment evolve from this, in the December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania Ratification Convention Minority Statement . . .
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own state, or the United States, or for the purposes of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military shall be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power. That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead.
To Madison’s original proposal in June 1789:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
To this, proposed by Roger Sherman, in July 1789:
The Militia shall be under the government of the laws of the respective States, when not in the actual Service of the United States, but Such rules as may be prescribed by Congress for their uniform organization & discipline shall be observed in officering and training them. But military Service Shall not be required of persons religiously Scrupulous of bearing arms.
Until we finally get to the famous words we know so well:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.
There are quite a few historical sources available for the Second Amendment, and the rest of the Bill of Rights (as well as a some other ideas that didn’t make the final cut.)
As befits the mission of the National Constitution Center, this is an America-centric app, which means that it compares the rights in the US Constitution to what’s available overseas. So, users can see which countries have banned double jeopardy, or which protect the right to a Grand Jury trial. Of course, this is just a pure textual comparison, with no value judgement offered on the part of the creators as to whether or not a right in any true sense is actually protected. For instance, I learned that Cuban citizens
…have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, movies, and other organs of the mass media are State or social property and can never be private property. This assures their use at the exclusive service of the working people and in the interest of society.
In keeping with the objectives of socialist society. Okay then.
Anyway, if you have any interest in constitutional law or legal history, you’ll easily end up killing an hour or so here like I just did.