"The Bill of Rights" by Akhil Reed            Amar

The Bill of Rights Creation and Reconstruction Akhil Reed Amar

Publication date:
10 Apr 2000
Yale University Press
432 pages: 210 x 140mm
2 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

"This is one of the most important books about constitutional interpretation of its generation."—Jeffrey Rosen, American Lawyer

Are the deep insights of Hugo Black, William Brennan, and Felix Frankfurter that have defined our cherished Bill of Rights fatally flawed? With meticulous historical scholarship and elegant legal interpretation a leading scholar of Constitutional law boldly answers yes as he explodes conventional wisdom about the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution in this incisive new account of our most basic charter of liberty. Akhil Reed Amar brilliantly illuminates in rich detail not simply the text, structure, and history of individual clauses of the 1789 Bill, but their intended relationships to each other and to other constitutional provisions. Amar’s corrective does not end there, however, for as his powerful narrative proves, a later generation of antislavery activists profoundly changed the meaning of the Bill in the Reconstruction era. With the Fourteenth Amendment, Americans underwent a new birth of freedom that transformed the old Bill of Rights.

We have as a result a complex historical document originally designed to protect the people against self-interested government and revised by the Fourteenth Amendment to guard minority against majority. In our continuing battles over freedom of religion and expression, arms bearing, privacy, states’ rights, and popular sovereignty, Amar concludes, we must hearken to both the Founding Fathers who created the Bill and their sons and daughters who reconstructed it.

Amar’s landmark work invites citizens to a deeper understanding of their Bill of Rights and will set the basic terms of debate about it for modern lawyers, jurists, and historians for years to come.

Akhil Reed Amar is Southmayd Professor of Law at Yale. He is the author of scores of articles on constitutional law and criminal procedure, as well as The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles, published by Yale University Press.

"Amar takes us on a historical odyssey . . . [He] offer[s] a striking and original analysis of the political values embodied in the amendments enacted to soothe their concerns. . . . In a rich clause-by clause analysis, Amar elaborates his thesis. . . . Amar’s stimulating republican interpretation restores the states and the people to their rightful place in the constitutional story."—James Henretta, New York Times Book Review

"Amar’s historical analysis enables the reader to appreciate the countermajoritarian nature of the document over time. . . . He places legal milestones in an understandable perspective."—Phillip Young Blue, Library Journal

A selection of the History Book Club

Honorable Mention in the Legal category for 1998, Association of American Publishers, Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division (AAP/PSP) Annual Awards Competition

Honorable mention in the 1999 Scribes Book Award Competition

Selected to receive a Gavel Award Certificate of Merit in the Book Category in the 1999 Competition for the Media and the Arts, given by the American Bar Association

"Amar’s argument is nothing short of brilliant: he recasts our understanding of the Bill of Rights in ways that have profound implications. No one presently writing is better able to combine legal and historical analysis."—Michael Les Benedict, Ohio State University

"By viewing the Bill of Rights as a document with an evolving meaning shaped by history, and by stressing how the Civil War and Reconstruction transformed the Bill of Rights, Amar has made a major contribution to the history of American liberties."—Eric Foner, Columbia University

"Essential reading for anyone who claims to care about the history of liberty in America, from the ACLU to the NRA, from the NAACP to the Federalist Society. Today’s Bill of Rights, Amar shows, owes less to the Founding Fathers of the 1780s and more to the antislavery crusaders of the 1860s—women alongside men, blacks alongside whites--than many of us had realized."—Nadine Strossen, professor, New York Law School and national president, American Civil Liberties Union

"Akhil Amar is one of the most creative thinkers in the legal academy. Not surprisingly, he has produced the best book ever written about what we call the Bill of Rights. He is especially illuminating about the vast differences between the assumptions as to what these amendments meant in 1789 as against their interpretation in 1868, when the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment expected them to be applied against the states."—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas, School of Law