Sunday, May 3, 2015

Carol Berkin's "The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties"

Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Emerita at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, First Generations, Jonathan Sewall, and Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Madison was heavily invested in the next proposal. It guaranteed the equal right of conscience, freedom of the press, and trial by jury. The rights themselves were uncontroversial, but the umbrella extended to protect them was certain to be challenged. For the proposal denied the state governments as well as the federal government any power to violate these rights.

Antifederalist members of the House recognized this for what it was: a challenge to the sovereign authority of the states. South Carolina’s Thomas Tudor Tucker spoke for them when he declared it best “to leave the state governments to themselves, and not to interfere with them more than they already do.” Many of us, he added, thought federal interference “rather too much” as it was. He demanded that this infraction of state sovereignty be deleted….
While most Americans may assume that Congress welcomed the chance to vote for a bill of rights, they would be wrong. Madison’s own party at the time, the Federalists, dominated the House and they thought discussing a set of amendments was a terrible waste of time. The federal government had no power to infringe on these rights, they said, and besides, the first Congress had far more important things to do than create a ‘parchment barrier” to oppression. Madison however believed it was good politics to pass a bill of rights. Many voters were still wary of the new government exactly because it did not seen fit to make a ringing defense of their rights and many anti-administration Representatives who wanted to preserve the supremacy of the states were eager to harness that wariness. Madison thought a bill of rights would, in modern terms, separate the anti-administration leadership from the base. He persisted— and the House finally began to debate his proposals. The debates revealed a divide that, on other issues, persists even in our own day: where, in a federal system, does ultimate sovereignty lie? Is it with the central government or with the states?
Learn more about The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties.

My Book, The Movie: Wondrous Beauty.

My Book, The Movie: The Bill of Rights.

Writers Read: Carol Berkin.

--Marshal Zeringue