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Originalist jurisprudence, which enjoins a faithful adherence to the values enshrined in the late eighteenth-century Constitution, has become a prominent feature of contemporary American conservatism. Recovering the original meaning of the Constitution is far from straightforward, and raises major issues of historical interpretation. How far do the assumed historical underpinnings of originalist interpretation mesh with the findings of academic historians? To what extent has the conservative invocation of the Founding Fathers obscured a lost American Enlightenment? Nor is ‘tradition’ in American Constitutional law an unproblematic matter. How far does a desire to restore the original meaning of the Constitution ignore the role of ‘stare decisis’ (precedent) in America's common law heritage? It transpires, moreover, that the various schemes of historical interpretation in American Constitutional jurisprudence do not map easily onto a simple liberal–conservative divide.

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I should like to thank John Hudson for remarks on an earlier draft of this piece.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
  • ISSN: 0080-4401
  • EISSN: 1474-0648
  • URL: /core/journals/transactions-of-the-royal-historical-society
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