Join us on 9/16 from 3-4pm Eastern Time for the Law Library of Congress 2021 Constitution Day Lecture!
The first ten amendments to the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, originally bound only the federal government and not the states. Rather than representing the nature of American freedom, the original Bill of Rights represented the nature of American federalism—the idea that liberty is best preserved by leaving subjects like speech, press, and religion under the control of the people in the several states. Sometime between the Founding & the Civil War, however, Americans came to view the Bill of Rights as representing something far greater than simply the limited authority of the national government. Abolitionists embraced the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment as an inviolable declaration of natural law and the right of every person not to be enslaved. Americans north and south increasingly looked to the Bill of Rights as declaring the fundamental privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. By the time of the Civil War, Americans were ready to transform the original federalist Bill of Rights into a charter of individual liberty binding upon both state and federal officials. The people accomplished this transformation when they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment which announced that henceforth “no state shall make or enforce any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
The Law Library would like to express our appreciation to the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice for promoting this event.
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