It wasn't until 19th-century post-Civil War reconstruction and the introduction of the 14th Amendment that the notion of individual rights took hold. Prior to that, the various amendments to the Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights were more about the structure of government and designed to protect citizens against a self-interested regime. Yet so great has been the impact of the 14th Amendment on modern legal thought that the Bill's original intentions have almost been forgotten.
Through skillful interpretation and solid research, Amar both reconstructs the original thinking of the Founding Fathers and chronicles the radical changes that have occurred since the inclusion of the 14th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The results make for provocative reading no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.
The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee certain freedoms for Americans and are collectively terms the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers are those men who participated in the country's principal documents, primarily the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Reconstruction Acts after the Civil War were designed to guarantee the wartime gains of freed slaves and Republicans. The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified after the Civil War in order to guarantee the rights of freed slaves against the state governments of the former Confederacy.