A Machine That Would Go Of Itself

Overview

In this volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen explores the U.S. Constitution's place in the public consciousness and its role as a symbol in American life, from ratification in 1788 to our own time.

As he examines what the Constitution has meant to the American people (perceptions and misperceptions, uses and abuses, knowledge and ignorance), Kammen shows that although there are recurrent declarations of reverence most of us neither know nor fully understand ...

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Overview

In this volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen explores the U.S. Constitution's place in the public consciousness and its role as a symbol in American life, from ratification in 1788 to our own time.

As he examines what the Constitution has meant to the American people (perceptions and misperceptions, uses and abuses, knowledge and ignorance), Kammen shows that although there are recurrent declarations of reverence most of us neither know nor fully understand our Constitution. How did this gap between ideal and reality come about? To explain it, Kammen examines the complex and contradictory feelings about the Constitution that emerged during its preparation and that have been with us ever since. He begins with our confusion as to the kind of Union we created, especially with regard to how much sovereignty the states actually surrendered to the central government. This confusion is the source of the constitutional crisis that led to the Civil War and its aftermath. Kammen also describes and analyzes changing perceptions of the differences and similarities between the British and American constitutions; turn-of-the-century debates about states' rights versus national authority; and disagreements about how easy or difficult it ought to be to amend the Constitution. Moving into the twentieth century, he notes the development of a "cult of the Constitution" following World War I, and the conflict over policy issues that persisted despite a shared commitment to the Constitution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Michael Kammen's brilliant book is the most helpful contribution to the emerging Bicentennial [of the federal Constitution of 1787] thus far because it demythologizes the Constitution in a responsible manner... This is a very important book."

Stanley N. Katz, Washington Post

"Michael Kammen has focused his vast learning and erudition on the cultural impact of the American Constitution. The result is unique, refreshing, and highly rewarding."

Stanley I. Kutler, American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412805834
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/15/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 580
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Kammen is the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at Cornell University. His books include Spheres of Liberty: Changing Perceptions of Liberty in American Culture and A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination. He was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization.

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