The Forgotten Bill of Rights

The Meaning of Liberty in Eighteenth Century American Political Thought


  • Gerard. J. Fitzpatrick



Although the Bill of Rights has become a sacred part of American constitutionalism, the meaning of liberty has changed significantly since the eighteenth century. Liberty two centuries ago was generally understood in communitarian terms: the people as a whole sought bills of rights to protect themselves against the usurpations of their rulers. Today Liberty is seen primarily in individual terms: the few, particularly unpopular and vulnerable minorities, invoke the Bill of Rights to secure themselves against the power of the many. Eighteenth century bills of rights thus rested upon a theory of liberty no longer remembered, a theory the author calls our 'forgotten bill of rights".