The first 10 amendments to the Constitution—our beloved Bill of Rights—were not even known as such until years after ratification in 1791.
Magliocca (Samuel R. Rosen Professor/Indiana Univ. School of Law; American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment, 2013, etc.), who has written widely on constitutional issues, confesses to some surprise when he discovered that the Bill of Rights initially had no nimbus of reverence swirling around it. Nor did politicians or the courts, including the Supreme Court, refer to the amendments by that name until much later. The author takes us on a scholarly journey—there are 41 pages of small-font footnotes—through the history of those amendments and how we gradually began to refer to them as we do now and how we came to revere them. Magliocca takes us back to the English Declaration of Rights (1689) and discusses some other worthy ancestors of the American Bill—several are included as appendices, including the English Declaration, the Virginia Declaration (1776), and the Universal Declaration (1948). The author also weaves a nifty tale about how a copy of the original amendments ended up in the hands of a sticky-fingered family; it was not until 2003 that the government reacquired it. Magliocca aims at a diligent readership: his diction is serious, often academic, and resolutely unbiased, and the narrative is definitive. He cites legislation and court cases and even credits Hitler for accelerating our affection for the amendments. (We saw the abridgment of rights elsewhere, causing us to embrace our own.) There are some interesting passages, as well, about what Franklin Roosevelt called the “Second Bill of Rights”—one of which was health care.
Yet more surprises from our Founders, who never weary, it seems, of reminding us that things are more complicated than we remember or believe.