The Strange History of the American Federal Bill of Rights
England, the United States, and the Atlantic World
Pauline Maier, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presents the Annual Lecture in Law and Society.
Inspired in part by the English Declaration of Rights of 1688, Americans began adding declarations of rights to their new state constitutions in 1776. Today the amendments to the Constitution proposed by the first Federal Congress are often described as a bill of rights. However, nobody at the time - Washington, Madison, nor even the great champion of bills of rights Thomas Jefferson - referred to them as such.
When did they acquire that title, and why? What does the complex story of the American 'bill of rights' suggest about the influence of English precedent on American constitutionalism, and of American constitutionalism on other parts of the Atlantic world?