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Origins of the Bill of Rights (Yale Contemporary Law Series) [Paperback]

by Leonard W. Levy
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1, 2001 0300089015 978-0300089011
In this fascinating history of the origins of the Bill of Rights, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Leonard W. Levy offers a panoramic view of the liberties secured by the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Levy illuminates the behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings, public rhetoric, and political motivations of James Madison and others who overcame fierce opposition to ensure the ratification of these crucial liberties.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Americans began drafting a Bill of Rights suitable for their new republic, they were actually following longstanding Anglo-American tradition. In a well-researched, though hardly pathbreaking, history, Levy (Blasphemy, etc.), professor emeritus at the Claremont Graduate School, devotes chapters to important protections: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, habeas corpus, prohibitions on bills of attainder, etc. With each topic, he delves into its sourcesAEnglish common law, Enlightenment philosophy, colonial state constitutionsAably characterizing the social and historical forces that influenced the evolution of each right. It's an academic approach that's useful as history even if it solves few contemporary problems. Take, for example, Levy's discussion of the right to bear arms. When ratified, he notes, the Second Amendment created an individual rather than a collective right. But this settles the matter only if one believes that legal and constitutional history stopped in 1789. As recent constitutional theorists (e.g., Bruce Ackerman) have noted, law, including constitutional law, evolves, effectively undergoing amendment through a gradual consensus-building process involving courts, legislatures and the public. Indeed, Levy's own keen historical account illustrates how legal concepts have changed over time. His failure to confront or even acknowledge how this dynamism is at work in contemporary debates renders this book ultimately of only academic interest. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Constitutional historian Levy, author of 36 books concerning American politics and constitutional issues (e.g., The Palladium of Justice: Origins of Trial by Jury), provides a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the origins of the Bill of Rights and other constitutional provisions that protect rights. His historical analysis frames fundamental principles of "liberty" and "rights" by interpreting each of the first nine amendments to the Constitution and demonstrating differences between 18th-century American ideals and English common-law practice. His informative arguments in this important work concern nature and the sources of the Bill of Rights within American democracy, providing understanding for both scholars and citizens. Levy's approach to these controversial values, which protect the rights of the people, will be the source of future legal and public discussion. A significant contribution to understanding the Bill of Rights; highly recommended.ASteven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Yale Contemporary Law Series
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300089015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300089011
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
This is a very well-written and informative guide to the history and development of the Bill of Rights by one of our leading constitutional historians. It is clearly written, and can easily be followed by non-lawyers and non-historians. Nonetheless, the analysis is sophisticated.
The two parts most likely to draw attention are Levy's treatment of the Second and Ninth amendments to the Constitution. With regard to the Second, Levy joins the overwhelming number of constitutional scholars and historians who believe the Second Amendment protects an individual right to arms. And he does so unequivocally: "Believing that the amendment does not authorize an individual's right to keep and bear arms is wrong. The right to bear arms is an individual right. . . . Moreover, the right to bear arms does not necessarily have a military connotation, because Pennsylvania, whose constitution of 1776 first used the phrase 'the right to bear arms,' did not even have a state militia." (pp. 134-35). Levy even criticizes Harvard professor Laurence Tribe for saying otherwise (136) -- though in fact Tribe has changed his position and now agrees with Levy. But this took place as Levy's book was in press. At any rate, revisionist writers such as Garry Wills will find little comfort in this book.
On the Ninth Amendment, Levy may annoy many who disagree with him about the Second (and vice versa). Levy argues that the Ninth Amendment was meant to protect both positive rights (e.g., voting, the presumption of innocence, etc.) and natural rights, which he identifies with the Declaration of Independence's "Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
G.K. Chesterton wrote that if men do not learn history, they will lose their rights. Leonard Levy's book titled THE ORIGINS OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS justifies this remark, and this book gives a solid account of what should be important to Americans. Unfortunately, too many Americans do not know history and care little about their civil liberties. Yet, Levy' book is there for the record. Levy gives detailed background to civil liberties and explains that the Bill of Rights document was assure in early National U.S. History. THE ORIGINS OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS is a book that explains the modifications and enhancements of rights which are too often taken for granted or have been forgotten.

The Framers, as Levy calls them, did not include a Bill of Rights when they wrote the Constitution in the summer of 1787. Some of the Framers did not think they were necessary. Others argued that the state constitutions provided for civil liberties rendering a Bill of Rights unnecessary. However, the Anti-Federalists used the fact that because the U.S. Constitution did not have a Bill of Rights, that was reason not to ratify the document. The Federalists looked foolish when arguing that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary and quickly changed their views in support of the Bill of Rights. The political bargain was that a Bill of Rights would be proposed to be added to the U.S. Constutition, and ratificastion was based on this promise. The Anti-Federalists' complaint about a Bill of Rights is important. This reviewer wrote elsewhere that without the Anti-Federalists, there would be no Bill of Rights. Without a Bill of Rights, there would be no U.S. Constitution.

Levy begins the assertion of rights with the rights of Habeas Corpus and protection of Bills of Attainder.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An In-Depth Analysis of our Bill of Rights. January 3, 2000
By A Customer
All Americans cherish their rights given to them by God and our Bill of Rights. This book should be read by all people interested in the origins and formation of our Bill of Rights. This book refreshes our memory of celebrated cases in English and American History that led the way in the formation of our Bill of Rights. The Zenger case in New York became the symbol for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The Wilkes case in England challenged general warrants and the seizures of private papers; a case that would also be felt on both sides of the Atlantic. This book also enlightens us of the importance and the influence on our Bill of Rights that the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights had. We also have the oppurtunity to explore the thoughts of some of our key founding fathers, most notably James Madison. Whatever you learn from this book, the most understood fact that the reader comes out with is that Americans, even before the formation of our constitution, had the innate belief that the government was under subjection by the people, and the rights of the people could not be infringed upon by any government.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful historical reference for the Bill of Rights September 6, 2001
By A Customer
Well written and interesting. This book gives a wonderful historical perspective of the laws, practices, and history that led up to the framing of the Bill of Rights. With careful study, Levy has built a window into the politics, thoughts, and fears that led to the inclusion of the BOR and includes many examples of the reasons that they were included. Well written and entertaining, this lesson in American history reads like series of short stories.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons on the Bill of Rights
Origins of the Bill of Rights, Levy

Leonard W. Levy is the author of 36 books and has won many awards. He received a Pulitzer Prize for “Origins of the Fifth Amendment”. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Acute Observer
4.0 out of 5 stars How the founders understood our rights
This provides a scholarly background to our precious Bill of rights. For me, it loses one star for failing to narrate the framers' arguments for writing, and then ratifying the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by David H. Weiss
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for learning why
I always want to know "why" because learning why is the only way to really understand and appreciate the goodness of things. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Shan Thompson
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of information
This is a great book detailing the history and the contents of the Bill of Rights. Not the easiest read - but thorough and useful.
Published 16 months ago by Richard W Ekdahl
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on the subject
Thanks to this book, I understand my constitutional rights better than ever before, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Founding Fathers'courage and integrity to do... Read more
Published on January 18, 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Seperating Fact from Fiction
With all of the claims made by politicians from both parties and political pundits about their opponents trampling on the constitution or "according to our forefathers". Read more
Published on November 10, 2010 by spartanram
3.0 out of 5 stars Why Have a Bill of Rights?
It may come as a surprise to some that several framers of the Constitution thought that a Bill of Rights was not even necessary. Read more
Published on January 1, 2007 by Publius
5.0 out of 5 stars Origins of the Bill of Rights
The upset with politicians today is nothing new. "Origins.." puts a human history face on the Bill of Rights. Read more
Published on August 2, 2001 by Betty Sylva
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible for Anyone Interested in Preserving Our Rights
Levy, the author of many books on this & related topics, oudoes himself with this gem. It's a refreshing change from the insinuations of today's anti-rights crowd, who seem to... Read more
Published on July 19, 2001 by Allan from San Francisco
4.0 out of 5 stars Origins of the Bill of Rights
Leonard Levy's Origins of the Bill of Rights is a concise monograph that traces the development of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Read more
Published on May 22, 2001 by J. Lindner
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