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Free in the World: American Slavery and Constitutional Failure

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The American Constitution is often held up as a model for other countries to imitate. According to Mark Brandon, however, it is a model not just of success, but also of failure. In this book, Brandon examines the breakdown of American constitutional order in the nineteenth century, paying special attention to slavery as an institution and as a subject of political rhetoric. He draws on historical narrative and constitutional theory to argue that the Constitution failed both because it denied to slaves and free ...
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Overview

The American Constitution is often held up as a model for other countries to imitate. According to Mark Brandon, however, it is a model not just of success, but also of failure. In this book, Brandon examines the breakdown of American constitutional order in the nineteenth century, paying special attention to slavery as an institution and as a subject of political rhetoric. He draws on historical narrative and constitutional theory to argue that the Constitution failed both because it denied to slaves and free blacks the means to participate in political life and because it could not reconcile the increasingly divergent constitutional cultures of North and South. These failures reflect the broader fact that written constitutions are not automatic solutions to political problems, but can divide as well as unite people.

Brandon also develops a general typology of constitutional failure. He identifies several ways in which failure can occur, shows that failure in one area may signify success in another, and argues that the possibility of failure is built into the foundations of all constitutional regimes. In the course of the argument, Brandon examines such topics as the role of founding myths in establishing and undermining constitutional authority, the effects of having conflicting myths in a single regime, the debate over interpretive authority, the constitutional legitimacy of secession, and the constitutional reasons that Reconstruction failed. The book is a striking contribution both to constitutional theory and to our understanding of the constitutional issues surrounding slavery.

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Editorial Reviews

Rogers M. Smith
Though I disagree with his characterization of Lincoln, I agree emphatically with Brandon's broader message: that written constitutionalism is an enterprise that can fail as well as succeed, and that we need to study written constitutionalism as a political experiment, understanding its forms of failure as well as its contributions, if we are to gain insight into what we lose and gain by such a system of governance. In advancing such inquiry, Brandon's book is a credit to his Princeton mentors and himself as well as a valuable contribution to public law and political science.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691015811
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/12/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 267
  • Product dimensions: 6.29 (w) x 9.47 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 Constitutionalism, History, and Constitutional Failure 3
Ch. 2 Foundings, Myths, and Constitutional Division 34
Ch. 3 Interpretive Authority and Constitutional Division, Part I 63
Ch. 4 Interpretive Authority and Constitutional Division, Part II 85
Ch. 5 Lincoln, Douglas, and the Illusion of Division 116
Ch. 6 Constitutional Autonomy, Discourse, and Failure 139
Ch. 7 No Exit? Secession and Constitutionalism 167
Ch. 8 Remaking America: Reconstruction and Constitutional Failure 200
Epilogue 216
Bibliography 227
Index of Cases 239
General Index 242
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