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The Constitution in Congress: Democrats and Whigs, 1829-1861

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This acclaimed series, which has been called a biography of the U.S. Constitution, continues its examination of the role that the legislative and executive branches have played in the development of constitutional interpretation. While legal scholars typically look to the courts for guidance in deciphering the Constitution, The Constitution in Congress offers an indispensable survey of the congressional and executive history behind the development of the Constitution.

This third volume in David P. Currie's series, the early installments of which dealt with the Federalist period and the Jeffersonian era, now turns to the Jacksonian revolution of 1829 and the subsequent efforts by Democrats to dismantle Henry Clay's celebrated "American System" of nationalist economics. Currie relates and analyzes the ultimately successful efforts of Democratic presidents and their congressional allies to limit federal intervention in the economy, whether by supporting internal improvements, maintaining a national bank, establishing protective tariffs, or disposing of the public lands. Currie covers the political events of the period leading up to the start of the Civil War, showing how the slavery question, although seldom overtly discussed in the debates included in this volume, underlay the Southern insistence on strict interpretation of federal powers.

Like its predecessors, The Constitution in Congress: Democrats and Whigs, 1829-1861 will be an invaluable reference for legal scholars and constitutional historians alike.

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Editorial Reviews

CBA Record

"Currie has presented the arguments and debates in an even handed, clearly edited and heavily footnoted fashion that enables the reader to understand the impact of Congress and the Presidency on the development of the Constitution. . .  . I recommend it for the quality of Currie's research, analysis and writing. Like any good study of history, its value lies in showing us examples from the past as guides to the present."

"Historians will benefit from this legal scholar's lively perspective on antebellum constitutional controversies. This volume is a treasure trove of insights on fundamental questions of national development as well as minor issues that often meant much to the people and the states."
Law & Politics Book Review

"A first-rate descriptive account of constitutional debates during the middle part of the nineteenth century. Hence, Currie succeeds once again."

"This is meant to be a comprehensive reference work, not a thesis-driven interpretative analysis. . . . The very topic of this work and its research base—grinding through those interminably boring congressional debates—could have resulted in an extraordinarily tedious book. This book is not, largely because of Profesor Currie's lively, colloquial, and downright folksy prose. . . . This is one good read!"
Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“David P. Currie’s discussion is meticulous and informative. It is difficult to believe that he leaves unaddressed anything that would shed light on American constitutional development.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226129006
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David P. Currie (1936–2007) was the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the three other volumes in the Constitution in Congress series and the award-winning two-volume history The Constitution in the Supreme Court, all published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents



Part One: Death of a System



I. The Maysville Road

II. Rivers and Harbors

III. Ebb Tide

IV. The Undelivered Veto

V. Congress Insists (A Little)

VI. Tonnage Duties

VII. The Iron Horse

VIII. The Golden Gate

IX. The Telegraph


I. The 1833 Distribution Bill

II. The 1841 Distribution Law

III. The Mad

IV. The Learned

V. The Footloose


I. President Jackson's Veto

II. Removal of the Deposits

A. The Statute

B. The President's Powers

C. Censure and Protest

D. Expungement

E. Ruminations

III. State Banks and State Treasuries

IV. And Tyler Too


I. The South Carolina Exposition

II. The Hayne-Webster Debate

III. The Nullification Ordinance

IV. President Jackson's Response

V. The Compromise of 1833

VI. Cadenza

Part Two: The Kitchen Sink


I. Admiralty and Commerce

II. The Broken Bench

III. The Smithsonian

IV. Retrocession

V. Prayers

VI. Spoils


I. The Veto

A. The President's Pocket

B. Tippecanoe

C. Mr. Tyler and the Bank

D. Mr. Clay's Amendment

E. Mr. Tyler and the Tariff

F. Winding Down

II. The Appointing Power

III. The Sanctity of the Cabinet

IV. His Accidency

V. Casting Votes and Other Quiddities


I. The Impeachment of Judge Peck

II. Another Who Got Away

III. The Wheeling Bridge

IV. The Court of Claims

V. Good Behavior


I. Sam Houston

II. Miss Otis Regrets

III. The Caning of Senator Sumner

IV. The Sins of Orsamus Matteson

V. Immunity


I. Threshold Questions

II. Vacancies

A. Mississippi

B. Kentucky

C. Vermont

III. The Three I's

A. Illinois

B. Eligibility Encore

C. Indiana and Iowa


I. Districts

A. Time, Place, and Manner

B. Co-Opting the States

C. Undoing the Deed

II. The Speaker

III. The Snowstorm of 1856






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