The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties, Carol Berkin

Reviewed by Jeremy D. Bailey



In writing the history of the proposal and ratification of the Bill of Rights, Carol Berkin made the eminently sensible decision to focus on James Madison. Were it not for Madison, who proposed and shepherded the Bill of Rights through the First Congress, it is unlikely that the Bill of Rights would have taken the form it did. Indeed, it is possible that it would not have happened. This is because hardcore supporters were too few to win majority votes, and opponents believed that the First Congress had more important things to do. Hence, the Bill of Rights can be explained only by way of Madison, who himself underwent a conversion of sorts. He was against the Bill of Rights before he was for it.

In Berkin’s presentation, Madison became a supporter of the Bill of Rights because he believed he could crush the anti-Federalist opposition by co-opting the one policy that united them. But Berkin says that Madison also changed his mind about the merits of the Bill of Rights in that he came to hold a “profound, and much broader understanding of a bill of rights,” namely, that “it might be able to directly shape—and regulate the behavior of the community itself” (p. 42). There is some tension in Berkin’s presentation of these two objectives. In the epilogue, she concludes that historical development has “fulfilled James Ma

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