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Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

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  • Posted November 18, 2010

    Fantastic insight into meangingful political discourse

    We owe a huge debt of thanks to Professor Pauline Maier for taking the time to review the records of the various state ratifying conventions that led to approval of the U.S. Constitution. In college we read The Federalist Papers, and we talk about the constitutional debates (often from James Madison's notes), but we really do not focus upon the fact that what the men in Philadelphia did has nothing to do with what the various state conventions thought the constitution meant. From the beginning, the conventions were taken aback by the phrase "We the People," in the preamble, because of the significance it had for the creation of a government. Whether the people had such authority when the congress had authorized a mere tightening of the Articles of Confederation was not a foregone conclusion. It was clear that the Articles would not work. But, since the Articles often required unanimity, could something else be offered which did not? What impact would this new central government have on the economic or political well-being of a state. How would peculiar insitutions such as slavery be impacted. Is it necessary to have a list of protections from federal governmental action in the same way that many state constitutions had a bill of rights against the states? All of these questions are addressed by Professor Maier in a most approchable manner. Whether the reader is a scholar who reads the footnotes and makes additional personal commments; or, like me, someone who reads a lot of history and reviewed the footnotes for more detail, or for location of an interesting source; or, for many, who ignore the footnotes and just enjoy the book, this work is a pleasure. I have studied and written about Constitutional Law, in one way or another, for 37 years. It can be so dry that just the thought of picking up a text makes me thirsty. But, not so Professor Maier. I cannot honestly say that I had to stay up all night every night to finish the book. BUT, I can say that I kept wanting to find another stopping point, and another, until I realized it was so late I just had to stop if I was going to function the next day. This is virtually the only work of its kind. Professor Maier has filled an abyss in ratification material, and has made it fun to do so along the way.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    The financial collapse of 2008, coupled with the election of Bar

    The financial collapse of 2008, coupled with the election of Barack Obama as President that year, triggered what initially appeared to be a grass roots political movement which came to be known as the "Tea Party" movement. Many of those who identify with that movement have frequently stated that they are seeking to "take back the Constitution", although exactly what they mean by that phrase is often unclear. In any event, the frequent references to the Constitution by those who seem to actually know very little about that document or its fascinating history has triggered by own return to the study of the drafting and adoption of that founding document. While there have been several excellent works on the Constitutional Convention itself ("Miracle At Philadelphia"; "The Great Rehearsal"; "the Summer of 1787"; and "Plan, Honest Men"), until Pauline Maier's work, "Ratification", the historical literature lacked a comprehensive study of the history of the process by which that Constitution was ratified by the various state conventions. Dr. Maier, a professional historian and academic who has focused her professional career on colonial and early American history, has culled through the vast literature available on the state conventions and has written an extremely interesting and informative book on the history of that process. Although one can be intimidated by the length of the work (the text is 575 pages), reading it was well worth the time and effort. Maier writes in a clear and interesting manner, providing a state-by-state history of the ratification process. Although we take for granted that the adoption of the Constitution was inevitable and that it represents the best form of government that humans could devise (an obviously arguable point in itself), the adoption of the Constitution by the required nine ouf ot thirteen states was by no means a foregone conclusion. The battle over ratification was hard fought, at times brutal, as the states took up the issue of ratification one-by-one.The book presents a cast of fascinating characters on both sides of the great debate, some of whom are well known, and others of whom are less known, but who played a significant role in the debates. Those who supported ratification (known at that time as the "Federalists") included George Washington (although he did not directly participate publicly in the debates over ratification), James Madison, Alexnader Hamilton, and John Jay (the latter three having been the author of the "Federalist Papers"). the "anti-Federalists" included those who sought rejection of the Constitution, as well as those who argued that its adoption should be conditioned upon the adoption of various amendments. Among the most famous of the ardent anti-Federalists was Patrick Henry of Virginia, whose superb oratorical skills caused great consternation among the Virginia Federalists, who feared that Henry's formidable speaking ability and huge popularity would tip the scales in what was sure to be a close vote at the Virginia convention. The anti-Federalist Melancton Smith played a key role in the reaching of a compromise leading to New York's adoption of the Constitution, which occurred after Virginia's important vote in favor of adoption. (New Hampshire actually provided the crucial 9th vote in favor of ratification, followed by Virginia a few days later.
    One of the most interesting apsects of Maier's work is how the arguments of both sides at the time of the "great debates" continue to resonate in today's political discussions. The Tea Party and small government government conservatives of today continue to echo the concerns raised by many of the anti-Federalists, while today's "progressives" and liberals would, I believe, find more kinship with the Federalists of the Constitutional debates. Issues frequently raised by Anti-Federalists included concerns about intr4usions on states' rights and concerns about the taxing power which the new Constitution was granting to the Federal government. While the Federalists argued that a strong central government was needed to provide for the defense of the fledgling nation, many Anti-Federalists expressed fear that a strong standing army posed risks that a powerful central government would use that army to suppress the liberty of the states and of the population generally, and would co-opt the state militias. For those interested in American history generally, and Constitutional history in particular, "Ratification" is a fascinating and informative readl

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2010

    This begs your thoughts about the past and the present.

    "As the poverty of individual prevents luxury", Symmes said, "so the poverty of publick bodies... prevents tyranny. A nation cannot, perhaps, do a more politick thing, that to supply the purse of its sovereign with that parsimony , which results from a sense of the labour it costs."

    Read slowly and listen to the voices of the past. This is a powerful book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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