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The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute
When a self-proclaimed wonk decides to write about something, he talks to someone on the phone and then provides a transcript of his phone conversation.
Over the weekend, sometime MSNBC host Ezra Klein decided to write about American history, so he quoted a liberal law professor as proclaiming the following: “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.”
Fortunately, we have a copy of the Federalist Papers here at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research that allowed me to confirm this claim and rejoice in the glory of this beautiful and little-known historical factoid. But then!
My suspicions were first aroused when we discovered that someone (An Americans for Prosperity staffer? An NRA lobbyist?) had included the term “bill of rights” in the index. But it didn’t stop there! He also wrote an entire essay in the style of Alexander Hamilton’s contributions, cleverly disguising it as Number 84. It contains blatant falsifications such as:
The most considerable of the remaining objections is that the plan of the convention contains no bill of rights. (..) And yet the opposers of the new system, in this State, who profess an unlimited admiration for its constitution, are among the most intemperate partisans of a bill of rights. (..) The truth is, after all the declamations we have heard, that the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS.
The caps are, we are made to believe, in the original. It is ludicrous to believe that Alexander Hamilton would go out of his way to mock Ezra Klein and Akhil Reed Amar, the Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University, so I will be on the look-out for a new copy of The Federalist, one that hasn’t been rewritten and distorted by Tea Party radicals. For the historical evidence overwhelmingly supports the Sterling professor’s claims.
Consider, for example, that Thomas Jefferson did support enumerating certain rights in constitutional amendments. He obviously lacked the terminology to express this sentiment at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. Only in 1871 would he write the following to James Madison on the occasion of the latter’s 120th birthday: “Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference.”
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