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When the US Constitution won widespread popular approval in 1788, it was the culmination of decades of passionate argument about legal and political first principles-a furious debate over the nature of government and the rights and duties of citizens that boiled over into Revolution.

But ratification hardly ended America’s constitutional conversation. For the next fifty years, both ordinary Americans and statesmen like George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson continued to wrestle with weighty constitutional questions, from the halls of government to the pages of newspapers. Should the nation’s borders be pushed beyond its original footprint? Should America allow slavery to spread westward? Where did Indian tribes fit into the picture? Women? Free blacks? What rule should the Constitution’s then-weakest branch, led for more than thirty years by Chief Justice John Marshall, play in these resolving such questions?

In The Words That Made Us, celebrated Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar tells the story of America’s constitutional conversation during its first eighty years-from its birth in 1760 through the 1830s, when the last of America’s early leaders died and bequeathed this boisterous and sophisticated conversation to posterity. Amar traces the threads of Constitutional discourse, uniting history and law in a vivid and sweeping narrative that seeks both to reveal this history anew and to make clear who was right and who was wrong on the biggest legal issues confronting early America.

Without proper popular understanding of the Constitution, America and the world suffer. In The Words That Made Us, Amar offers an essential history of the Constitution’s formative decades and an indispensable guide for anyone seeking to understand America’s Constitution and its relevance today.