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The Nature of Rights at the American Founding and Beyond

The Nature of Rights at the American Founding and Beyond

Hardback Constitutionalism and Democracy

Edited by Barry Alan Shain, Contributions by Akhil Reed Amar, Contributions by James H. Hutson, Contributions by Stephen Macedo, Contributions by Richard A. Primus, Contributions by Jack N. Rakove, Contributions by John Phillip Reid, Contributions by Daniel T. Rodgers, Contributions by A. G. Roeber, Contributions by Barry Alan Shain

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  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Format: Hardback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 163mm x 239mm x 28mm | 635g
  • Publication date: 15 January 2008
  • Publication City/Country: Charlottesville
  • ISBN 10: 0813926661
  • ISBN 13: 9780813926667
  • Sales rank: 1,636,743

Product description

Americans have been claiming and defending rights since long before the nation achieved independence. But few Americans recognize how profoundly the nature of rights has changed over the past three hundred years. In "The Nature of Rights at the American Founding and Beyond", Barry Alan Shain gathers together essays by some of the leading scholars in American constitutional law and history to examine the nature of rights claims in eighteenth-century America and how they differed, if at all, from today's understandings. Was at its founding predominantly individualistic or, in some important way, communal? Similarly, which understanding of rights was of greater centrality: the historical "rights of Englishmen" or abstract natural rights? And who enjoyed these rights, however understood? Everyone? Or only economically privileged and militarily responsible male heads of households?The contributors also consider how such concepts of rights have continued to shape and reshape the American experience of political liberty to this day. Beginning with the arresting transformation in the grounding of rights prompted by the American War of Independence, the volume moves through what the contributors describe as the "Founders' Bill of Rights" to the "second" Bill of Rights that coincided with the Civil War, and ends with the language of rights erupting from the horrors of the Second World War and its aftermath in the Cold War. By asking what kind of nation the founding generation left us, or intended to leave us, the contributors are then able to compare that nation to the nation we have become. Most, if not all, of the essays demonstrate that the nature of rights in America has been anything but constant, and that the rights defended in the late eighteenth century stand at some distance from those celebrated today.

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Author information

Barry Alan Shain, Associate Professor of Political Science at Colgate University, is the author of The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought and Man, God, and Society: An Interpretive History of Individualism.

Review quote

"Professor Shain has assembled the leading thinkers on the American Founding. Their essays summarize the best works over the past few years on rights when the Constitution was ratified, and effectively demolish notions that rights today are what rights have always been.--Mark A. GraberUniversity of Maryland, author of "Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil"