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Although the United States is often criticized for its lack of historical consciousness, historicity provides a compelling rhetorical trump in constitutional argument, particularly according to advocates of original under-standing jurisprudence or “originalism.” Originalism has also proven to be quite popular as a constitutional position, especially in public discourse outside academe and the courts. I argue that originalism's appeal derives from Americans’interest in heritage. Using the literature on public history, memory, and cultural studies to distinguish the cultural phenomenon of heritage from history proper, I argue that originalism, like heritage, offers the possibility of an immediate and authentic encounter with the past tied to a critique of modernism as both antidemocratic and inauthentic. Originalism portrays the federal period as a special moment of civic unity, whose virtues have been preserved by the larger public, but have been eroded among elites by modernity.