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Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right

Overview


Americans of late have taken to waving the Constitution in the air and proclaiming, "The founders were on MY side! See, it’s all right here!" But these phantom constitutions bear little relation to the historical one.

By entering the world of the Constitution’s framers, and experiencing it one day after the next as they did, Ray Raphael helps us understand how and why they created the document they did. Casting aside preconceptions and commonly held beliefs, he asks provocative...

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Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right

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Overview


Americans of late have taken to waving the Constitution in the air and proclaiming, "The founders were on MY side! See, it’s all right here!" But these phantom constitutions bear little relation to the historical one.

By entering the world of the Constitution’s framers, and experiencing it one day after the next as they did, Ray Raphael helps us understand how and why they created the document they did. Casting aside preconceptions and commonly held beliefs, he asks provocative questions that get to the heart of the document and its purposes: Was the aim of the Constitution really to limit government? Why didn’t the framers include a Bill of Rights? Did they hate taxes? Was James Madison actually the "Father of the Constitution," as proclaimed in our textbooks? Can we find the true meaning of the Constitution by reading The Federalist Papers or by revealing the framers' "original intent"? The answers to these questions are bound to surprise and enlighten.

Before we can consider what the framers would do if they were alive today, we first need to see what they did during their own time, not in our terms, but theirs. Only then can we begin to resolve the sweeping question that affects us all: what does the Constitution, written at a different time, mean for us today? With this meticulously researched historical tour de force, Raphael sets the record straight—and sounds a vital call for a reasoned and evidence-driven debate about our founding document.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As bitter partisanship continues to engulf American politics and society, it is with some relief that one opens Raphael's study of the historical Constitution to find a text more concerned with contextualizing the Founder Fathers than in interpreting them. One by one, Raphael (Founders) addresses some of the more pervasive interpretations of the Constitution and the men who crafted it: that the Framers opposed a strong federal government and taxation; that the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights were central texts to the Founding Fathers; that James Madison was the architect of the Constitution, culminating in a criticism of Originalism—the principle, held most prominently by Justices Scalia and Thomas, that the Constitution ought be interpreted according to the Framers' "original intent". Through careful analysis of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Raphael demonstrates that nothing about the Constitution is as simple as contemporary discourse makes it seem; though many of the Framers came to the Convention with lofty ideals and ambitions, Raphael shows how they were constantly forced into pragmatic and ambiguous compromises. Though his diligent research is unlikely to sway originalists, libertarians, small government advocates, Raphael provides a counter argument that relies on historical record rather than ideology. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"We all love myths, but Ray gets it right. His narrative sticks to the historical record, and his arguments are tightly reasoned. Constitutional Myths is wonderfully lucid and highly informative." —Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 and professor of history, Pepperdine University

"Ray Raphael’s Constitutional Myths is a timely exposé about the ways in which Americans, and American politicians in particular, have frequently been misled by myths about the origins and history of the U.S. Constitution. It is an extraordinarily important and nuanced work of history that places the Constitution, and the men who created it, in their proper eighteenth-century context." —Richard R. Beeman, author of Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, and professor of history, University of Pennsylvania

"Tired of the nonsense that we’re being asked to believe about the Constitution and the founders? The universal antidote is this marvelous book. Ray Raphael’s Constitutional Myths blends formidable historical research with rigorous argument and clear, direct prose. Raphael blasts to smithereens a whole constellation of tall tales about the Constitution, its origins, and its interpretation. Not only is it a blessed relief, it’s fun to watch Raphael’s iconoclasm at work. Essential reading, now more than ever." —R.B. Bernstein, author of The Founding Fathers Reconsidered and Thomas Jefferson

"Public officials have often had the strange experience of being confronted by angry citizens who demand that they stop violating the Constitution, citing as proof of such violations the failure to abide by imagined provisions that aren’t actually in the Constitution at all. In Constitutional Myths, Ray Raphael sets out to separate fact from fiction, the differences between the Constitution our Founders created and the one that exists only in our own desire for the political outcomes we prefer." —former Congressman Mickey Edwards

"Take off your rose-colored glasses, people: The Founding Fathers embraced a strong federal government, at the risk of falling into anarchy and disintegration. Therein lies the kernel of the author’s readable demystification of some of the ongoing crusades by conservatives touting the supremacy of 'originalism'. . . . With documents amply provided at the close of the text, Raphael provides a truly accessible teaching tool." —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
In his latest populist reality check, Raphael (Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive, 2012, etc.) demonstrates how objectively studying the original broken political system lends insight into ours. Take off your rose-colored glasses, people: The Founding Fathers embraced a strong federal government, at the risk of falling into anarchy and disintegration. Therein lies the kernel of the author's readable demystification of some of the ongoing crusades by conservatives touting the supremacy of "originalism." From the beginning, the fledgling republic was plagued by what George Washington observed as "illiberality, jealousy & local policy" by the states' tendentious representatives in Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were scrapped, and so-called nationalists like Washington, Robert Morris, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton pushed for a "national and supreme" government with teeth to provide for the common defense and levy taxes--albeit with plenty of argument about direct taxation. Raphael reminds us that the tax burden was allowed "to fall more heavily on the rich…a long-standing tradition dating back to early colonial times." Thanks to the notes taken by Madison, whom Raphael elegantly calls the "scribe" of the Constitution rather than its "father," we see the roiling jealousies and bickering of the delegates in Philadelphia in 1787--e.g., in the battle between small states and large states over representation and in the manner of selecting a president, among other things. Raphael carefully sifts through the subsequent Federalist Papers delineating the ratification debate, and he shows the framers' fluidity of argument, rather than inflexibility. With documents amply provided at the close of the text, Raphael provides a truly accessible teaching tool.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595588326
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 424,282
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Ray Raphael is a Senior Research Fellow with Humboldt State University in Northern California. His sixteen books include A People’s History of the American Revolution; Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past; and Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive.
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