Though we often take the Bill of Rights for granted, it took a monumental fight to get it approved. Berkin (History/Baruch Coll.; Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, 2014, etc.) deftly examines its passage.
Of the states that initially ratified the Constitution, many included amendments and cries for a second Constitutional Convention. Replacing the restrictive Articles of Confederation, the Constitution addressed the continuing postwar economic depression and attempted to improve the cooperation of the 13 states. Many states, which had their own currencies and import duties, viewed the power to tax and regulate commerce as tyranny. To those, the checks and balances in the Constitution were not enough to preserve the states’ liberties, and the question of states rights vs. federalism was threatening to dissolve the union. As the new Congress met in New York in 1789, James Madison set about presenting a distillation of the hundreds of amendments requested by the ratifying states. It was a way to secure the loyalty of citizens who had fought for representation on a local level but were still wary of central government. Madison feared not an oppressive government but rather abusive practices of social majorities against minorities. He felt that the Bill of Rights was merely a “parchment barrier,” but he hoped it had the potential to become a standard of behavior. Even though passage was assured in the Federalist-dominated Congress, the author ably shows how difficult and obstructionist the House debate became as nerves frayed in the summer heat. With constant demands for a new Convention, Madison feared for the Constitution and knew that this Bill of Rights would distract attempts at rewriting it.
A highly readable American history lesson that provides a deeper understanding of the Bill of Rights, the fears that generated it and the miracle of the amendments.