SO FAMILIAR are Americans today with the Bill of Rights that most would be shocked to learn that it was the lack of a bill of rights that caused most of the criticism of the finished Constitution. In fact, several influential members of the Constitutional Convention refused to sign the new Constitution because it did not include a bill of rights.

What could the framers of the Constitution have been thinking of, to neglect a matter so elementary, so much a part of the heritage of a free people?Such things as freedom of speech, press and religion; the right to assemble and petition government for redress of grievances; the right to bear arms; the right to refuse to quarter a soldier in your house; the right to be protected against unreasonable searches or seizures; the right to be protected against the deprivation of life, liberty or property; and the right to be guaranteed a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, with no excessive bail, fines or punishments.

In addition, the enumeration of certain rights in the Constitution should not be construed to deny other rights retained by the people - and the powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution should be reserved to the states - or the people.

We now take all these rights for granted as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, and they easily roll off our tongues.

Actually, the framers had not been against such rights. Rather, many of them thought the Constitution covered the matter as it stood and so any additional mention of those rights was just unnecessary.

Alexander Hamilton even thought a bill of rights would be dangerous. He said, "Why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power in Congress to do?" Dr. Benjamin Rush thought it "absurd to frame a formal declaration that our natural rights are acquired from ourselves."

But Thomas Jefferson, who was off serving as U.S. minister to France, wrote to James Madison of his concern over "the omission of a bill of rights . . . providing clearly . . . for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, and restrictions against monopolies."

Madison agreed, and so he included in his draft of George Washington's inaugural address a recommendation urging the new Congress to move swiftly to propose amendments showing "a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for public harmony."

Then Madison, who had been elected a representative from Virginia, also wrote Congress' reply to the president, agreeing that a bill of rights was needed. The man who was known as "Father of the Constitution" also became known as "Father of the Bill of Rights," because no one played a more influential role in their ultimate adoption.

Congress spent nearly four months debating, modifying, combining and rewording the proposals made by Madison. On Sept. 25, 1789, the House and Senate at last passed a joint resolution proposing 12 amendments to the Constitution, and signed copies of the joint resolution were sent to the states by President Washington.

When Congress proposed the 12 articles to amend the Constitution, the Union was made up of only 11 states, which had ratified the Constitution. But while they were considering the amendments, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont also ratified the Constitution and joined the Union, bringing the total number of states to 14. Thus, to achieve the three-fourths majority needed to ratify the proposed amendments as required by the Constitution, the approval of 11 states was necessary.

Ten of the 12 proposed amendments were ratified a little over two years after they were sent to the states. Articles 1 and 2, however, did not receive the support of three-fourths of the state legislatures and therefore were not ratified.

Article 1 dealt with the size of the House of Representatives and would have changed representation from one per 30,000 citizens to one per 50,000. If this article had been ratified, today we would have about 5,000 members of the House of Representatives.

Article 2 dealt with congressional salaries and would have prohibited any sitting Congress from raising its own salary. All salary increases would be prospective and would only go into effect for a future Congress.

Finally, on Dec. 15, 1791, now known as "Bill of Rights Day," Virginia became the 11th and final state needed to ratify articles three through 12, and these articles became the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, our Bill of Rights.

It was fitting that one of the most fervent supporters, Thomas Jefferson, as secretary of state, announced the ratification of the amendments in a letter to state governors on March 1, 1792.

*****

200-year-old document makes trek in style

THE SHEEPSKIN parchment is old and faded now, and its discolored fold is clearly evident. But its display is distinctly modern, more reminiscent of "Star Wars" than the American Revolution, even though it was the latter that forged it in battle and determination.

The famous document, a priceless one, is the 200-year-old Bill of Rights, 12 copies of which are known to exist. The Virginia copy is currently being transported in a high-tech caravan of 20th-century vehicles on a 26,000-mile journey across the country sponsored by Philip Morris Companies Inc. The trek began in Barre, Vt., last Oct. 10 and is to end in Richmond, Va., on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, Dec. 15, 1991.

On May 2, it will hit Salt Lake City and will be offered free in the Salt Palace from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. for three days running, May 2-4.

During that time, people can examine an original copy of the Bill of Rights, the centerpiece of an extraordinary 15,000-square-foot exhibition pavilion specially constructed for the bicentennial tour. The multimedia exhibit features state-of-the-art sound, lighting, audiovisual and security systems. It provides visitors of all ages with a dramatic entertainment experience, and at the same time affords total protection for the document.

Visitors are greeted by a collection of video images and graphic displays providing historical background on the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. As visitors move into the hexagonal-shaped audiovisual theater, they will be surrounded by dialogue that explores both past and contemporary civil liberties.

Light levels in the Bill of Rights viewing room are low to protect the document, but visitors can get as close as 2 feet to the environmental capsule that houses it. The climate-controlled capsule is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week for internal temperature, relative humidity, internal pressure, irradiance, shock, movement and vibration.

After visitors view the document, it descends into a protective vault beneath the viewing room floor. This vault system is similar to the design used at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the federal copy of the Bill of Rights are on permanent display.

Then visitors go to a post-show area where they canleisurely reflect on the document through a collection of displays dedicated to the amendments. If they choose, they can leave their own personal impressions of what the Bill of Rights means to them in a video message booth. They can also listen to statements made by other visitors in other states on adjacent monitors.

The innovative and highly sophisticated transportation and security provisions developed for moving and protecting the document and pavilion include 10 tractor trailers, four vans, three Jeeps, two buses and a specially designed "secure transport vehicle."

The secure transport vehicle is equipped with a satellite navigation system and an on-board computer system that continuously monitors the status of the document. It is fully armored and blast-resistant. A contingent of former U.S. Marines, previously assigned to U.S. Embassy security duty, protects the document 24 hours a day.

The document on tour is the Commonwealth of Virginia's original copy of the Bill of Rights, generously on loan from the Virginia State Library and Archives. It is fitting that this be the copy used because during the Revolutionary War most of the states included some written guarantee of rights in their constitutions, and Virginia was the first state to do so. Since many other states modeled their bill of rights after that of Virginia, no other state had greater influence in the development and passage of that historic document.

The Virginia copy is on fine parchment inscribed with iron gall ink, which was made from oak galls and iron sulfate. Because it is so corrosive, it could eat through poorer classes of parchment and paper.

Like many important documents in our history, the whereabouts of the Viriginia copy of the Bill of Rights was unknown for most of the 19th century. It is unknown exactly how it was rediscovered, but it was restored to near-original condition in 1987 by the Virginia State Library and Archives.