For the 4th!

In my book on the Bill of Rights, I argue that the first set of amendments was not widely known by that term until the 1930s. A friend of mine recently sent me an excerpt of Black’s Law Dictionary (circa 1910) containing its entry for the term “Bill of Rights.”

“A formal and emphatic legislative assertion and declaration of popular rights and liberties usually promulgated upon a change in government; particularly the [citation to the English Bill of Rights of 1689]. Also the summary of the rights and liberties of the people, or of the principles of constitutional law deemed essential and fundamental, contained in many of the American state constitutions.”

Nothing, of course, about any American national bill of rights.

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3 Responses

  1. This is very interesting! But wasn’t the phrase “bill of rights” used during the debate between the federalists and anti-federalists? Perhaps my memories are faulty, but I could have sworn that phrase was thrown around before the Constitution was ratified.

  2. Joe says:


    Then again, he wrote a book on the subject, and you can see his take.

  3. Mike Stern says:

    The first edition of Blacks was published in 1891, then 1910, 1933 and 1951. So it would be interesting to know when it changed. My copy is Fifth Edition, published in 1979, (yes, I am old), defines “Bill of rights” as “First ten Amendments to U.S. Constitution.”