In this episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, and Roy Rogers discuss the Bill of Rights, including its antecedents in British history and the colonial context, the politics that brought it about, and its legacy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Bill of Rights is one of the most revered documents in American history and culture. Like the Declaration of Independence, its very wording is ingrained in the American psyche. Unlike the Declaration, however, the Bill of Rights is actually a legally binding document. Despite the contemporary reverence accorded the document, it was actually produced by the First Federal Congress to allay the political tensions that emerged from the Constitutional Convention and the process of ratification. Though spearheaded by James Madison in 1789, citizens contributed to the debate over the need for a Bill of Rights and what it should contain in local and state conventions all across the country over the previous eighteen months. The Bill of Rights is simultaneously the culmination of centuries of British history, the American revolutionary experience, and the hopes of a revolutionary generation uncertain of the new republic’s long-term viability. Subsequently, the importance and meaning of the Bill of Rights has changed over the last two centuries along with the nation itself.
- Where did Americans get the idea for a bill of rights?
- What made a Bill of Rights necessary in 1788 but not in 1783?
- What were the arguments both for and against adopting a Bill of Rights?
- How did the politics of the late 1780s shape that debate?
- When did the Bill of Rights begin to take on the importance we now accord it?
- What is “incorporation?”
Amar, Akhil Reed. The Bill of Rights Creation and Reconstruction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
Berkin, Carol. The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Bowling, Kenneth R. “‘A Tub to the Whale’: The Founding Fathers and Adoption of the Federal Bill of Rights.” Journal of the Early Republic 8, no. 3 (1988): 223-251.
Brant, Irving. The Bill of Rights: Its Origin and Meaning. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.
Cogan, Neil H., ed. The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Conley, Patrick T., and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Madison: Madison House, 1992.
Cornell, Saul. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
De Pauw, Linda Grant, Charlene Bangs Bickford, and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 17 vols. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972-2004.
A Culture of Rights: The Bill of Rights in Philosophy, Politics, and Law, 1791-1991. Edited by Michael Lacey and Knud Haakonssen. New York, W. Wilson International, 1991.
Duncan, Christopher M. “Men of a Different Faith: The Anti-Federalist Ideal in Early American Political Thought.” Polity 26, no. 3 (1994): 387-415.
Hoffman, Ronald, and Peter J. Albert, eds. The Bill of Rights: Government Proscribed. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998.
Hutson, James H. “The Birth of the Bill of Rights: The State of Current Scholarship.” Prologue 20, no. 3 (September 1988): 143-161.
Kammen, Michael G. A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture. New York: Vintage, 1987.
Kenyon, Cecilia M. “Men of Little Faith: The Antifederalists on the Nature of Representative Government.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 12, no. 1 (2008): 3-43.
Labunski, Richard. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Leibiger, Stuart. “James Madison and Amendments to the Constitution, 1787-1789: ‘Parchment Barriers’.” The Journal of Southern History 59, no. 3 (1993): 441-468.
Levy, Leonard W. Origins of the Bill of Rights. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.
Rutland, Robert A. The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955.
Storing, Herbert J. What the Anti-Federalists Were For: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1981.