Bill of Rights

December 18, 2012, 8:30 pm

Not being a constitutional scholar, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this claim:

“In a nutshell, almost everything ordinary Americans think they know about the Bill of Rights, including the phrase ‘Bill of Rights,’ comes from the Reconstruction period. Not once did the Founders refer to these early amendments as a bill of rights.”



There’s no sign of an uptick post-Civil War, and the phrase “bill of rights” has been used steadily throughout American history since 1800.

“Bill of Rights,” capitalized, shows a different pattern:


Here the jump is in the 1930s, not Reconstruction.

But how about the founders? A search of the Federalist Papers for “Bill of Rights” reveals 19 hits, including several lengthy discussions by Hamilton of the English Bill of Rights, the bills of rights in several states, and whether the nascent Constitution needs a Bill of Rights. That hardly, it seems to me, a complete ignorance of the idea or the phrase itself. Much the opposite, in fact.

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