The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction
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A leading scholar of constitutional law delivers an incisive and brilliant new account of the Bill of Rights and explodes conventional wisdom about our most basic charter of liberty. Akhil Reed Amar not only illuminates the text, structure, and history of the 1789 Bill but also argues that its present character owes more to antislavery activists of the Reconstruction era than to the Founding Fathers who created the Bill.”The Bill of Rights stands as the high temple of our constitutional order–America’s Parthenon–and yet we lack a clear view of it,” Akhil Reed Amar writes in his introduction to The Bill of Rights. “Instead of being studied holistically, the Bill has been broken up … with each segment examined in isolation.” With The Bill of Rights, Amar aims to put the pieces back together and take a longer view of a document few Americans truly understand. Part history of the Bill, part analysis of what the Founding Fathers’ intentions really were, this book provides a unique interpretation of the Constitution. It is Amar’s hypothesis that, contrary to popular belief, the Bill of Rights was not originally constructed to protect the minority against the majority, but rather to empower popular majorities. It wasn’t until 19th-century post-Civil War reconstruction and the introduction of the 14th Amendment that the notion of individual rights took hold. Prior to that, the various amendments to the Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights were more about the structure of government and designed to protect citizens against a self-interested regime. Yet so great has been the impact of the 14th Amendment on modern legal thought that the Bill’s original intentions have almost been forgotten.
Through skillful interpretation and solid research, Amar both reconstructs the original thinking of the Founding Fathers and chronicles the radical changes that have occurred since the inclusion of the 14th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The results make for provocative reading no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.