Amar is no exponent of the great man theory of history, at least when it comes to the key documents of early America. He strongly suggests that America as a whole — through its great national conversation — did more to draft the Declaration of Independence than Jefferson, and more to write the Constitution than Madison. Most of the Constitution, he says, “simply followed from the logic” of the American constitutional conversation from 1764 to 1787.
This national conversation continued after the Constitution was written. It prompted the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments that enshrined freedom of speech, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and other rights highly valued by the public of that time. And it shaped how the newly created Constitution would be interpreted. Amar explains that in the early years, “conversation circles” played a major role in giving the new document meaning, as “the Constitution nudged senators to deliberate with senators; House members likewise to talk among themselves; justices to converse with local judges, juries and lawyers”; and “presidents to confer with” cabinet members and top staffers.
If it sounds as if Amar is suggesting that much of our constitutional heritage has been “crowdsourced,” he himself embraces that term. The Revolutionary era was, in his account, an age of communication rivaling our own technology-powered one. “The extraordinary conversational regime that dawned in the 1760s was not email, not the internet, not Google, not Facebook, not YouTube, not Instagram, Twitter or Zoom,” he writes. “But in hindsight this regime can be seen as anticipating these later developments” (emphasis added).