Constitutional Argument as Jeremiad

15 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2011

Date Written: February 10, 2011


The "jeremiad" - a lamentation over how a community has fallen away from its religious values - is a particular form of sermon that can be traced back to preachers in 16th century Europe. The Puritans brought it to America in the 17th century. Intellectual historian Perry Miller has called the jeremiad America's first distinctive literary genre.

Sacvan Bercovitch's book "The American Jeremiad" contends that the jeremiad as a mode of rhetoric has always played an important role in American political discourse. This paper extends that analysis to the jeremiad's role in American constitutional argument. Examining recent work by Jack Balkin and Jedediah Purdy through the lens of the jeremiad helps bring into focus some key concepts in the area of constitutional interpretation.

Keywords: Jeremiad, Bercovitch, Purdy, Balkin, Perry Miller, Herman Melville, constitutional interpretation

Suggested Citation

O'Neill, Timothy P., Constitutional Argument as Jeremiad (February 10, 2011). Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Timothy P. O'Neill (Contact Author)

John Marshall Law School ( email )

315 South Plymouth Court
Chicago, IL 60604
United States

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