William Rawle's Constitutional Commentary

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    After watching the lecture on the commentaries made on the Constitution, I took a look at William Rawle’s A VIEW OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which was recommended. While Dr. McClanahan positively focused on Rawle’s discussion of secession, I’ve noticed that Rawle’s interpretation of the Bill of Rights in Chapter 10 seems suspect. For instance, he seems to suggest that the Bill of Rights (except the First Amendment) was binding on the states. Further, the First Amendment is interpreted to be a mere limit from the use of prior restraint and Rawle maintains that other restrictions on the press by the Congress would be constitutional. What should be made of his arguments? Are they simply to be discounted?


    Yes, Rawle’s interpretation of the BOR is suspect and he implies that because several States did not have a BOR that the federal BOR applies to the States, with the exception of the First (though he does say that the BOR restricts the legislature when introducing the subject, and by legislature he meant the U.S. Congress). I would say that his interpretation is incorrect (even SCOTUS agreed in Baron v. Baltimore) and that the founding generation in general would disagree with his interpretation, but that does not minimize his position on the Union and secession. Even Story got some things right in his “Commentaries.”

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