The Bill of Rights in Historical Perspective

March 13-15, 2015


During the ratification debates, many Antifederalists criticized the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights.  James Madison and other Federalists responded that, because the Constitution already restricted the authority of the national government through its enumerated powers, a bill of rights was not needed to further protect rights.  This seminar will start by discussing what both sides in the debate agreed on:  natural rights need certain protections from government power.  Then it will explore how the Bill of Rights was meant to provide additional protections.  Next, it will consider how certain developments—such as the "incorporation doctrine" following adoption of the 14th Amendment and competing theories of constitutional interpretation—have affected the Bill of Rights over time.  Finally, the seminar will examine specific provisions of the Bill of Rights, looking at their historic origins and tracing their meanings throughout American history.

Seminar Scholars

Susan M. Leeson was a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court and a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Before her judicial service, Leeson taught political science at Willamette University (political theory and public law) and dispute resolution, legal history, and jurisprudence at the College of Law.  She also has been a Judicial Fellow at the United States Supreme Court and a law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Leeson has co-authored texts on constitutional law and dispute resolution, and published articles on law and political theory.  Currently, she is the staff mediator for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.  She speaks regularly at teacher institutes on constitutional history and contemporary issues.   Leeson’s  Ph.D. (Government) is from the Claremont Graduate School and her J.D. is from Willamette College of Law.


Lynn Uzzell, PhD, received her doctorate in politics at the University of Dallas and her bachelors degree at Black Hills State University. Dr. Uzzell   has taught extensively about the Constitution and is an expert on the Constitutional Convention. She has taught political philosophy, American politics, rhetoric, and Leadership and the Humanities at Baylor University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Richmond. She is currently Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and senior editor of ConText, an online resource for Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention.