Negotiating the Constitution: The Earliest Debates over Original Intent

Overview

No concept sparks more controversy in constitutional debate than "original intent." Offering a legal historian's approach to the subject, this book demonstrates that the framers deliberately obscured one of their more important decisions. Joseph M. Lynch argues that the Constitution was a product of political struggles involving regional interests, economic concerns, and ideology. The framers, he maintains, settled on enigmatic wording of the Necessary and Proper Clause and of the General Welfare provision in the...
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Overview

No concept sparks more controversy in constitutional debate than "original intent." Offering a legal historian's approach to the subject, this book demonstrates that the framers deliberately obscured one of their more important decisions. Joseph M. Lynch argues that the Constitution was a product of political struggles involving regional interests, economic concerns, and ideology. The framers, he maintains, settled on enigmatic wording of the Necessary and Proper Clause and of the General Welfare provision in the Spending Clause as a compromise, leaving the extent of federal power to be determined by the political process. During ratification, however, attempts by dissident framers to undo the compromise were repelled in The Federalist: charges of overly broad congressional powers were met with protestations that in fact these powers were limited. Lynch describes how early lawmakers applied the Constitution to such issues as executive power and privilege, the deportation of aliens, and the prohibition of seditious speech. He follows the disputes over the interpretation of this document—focusing on James Madison's changing views—as the new government took shape and political parties were formed. Lynch points out that the first six Congresses and President George Washington disregarded the framers' intentions when they were deemed impractical to follow. In contrast, he warns that the version of original intent put forth in recent Supreme Court opinions regarding congressional power could hinder Congress in serving the nation.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lynch looks to the first six Congresses to see how those who framed and ratified the Constitution actually understood it in practice; in the process, he provides a rich history of the constitutional tugs-of-war in the early republic. . . Lynch concludes that, because the founders themselves could not agree on the original intention behind the Constitution's most important provisions, then one need not bother with a search for that intention."—Gary L. McDowell, Times Literary Supplement, 8/31/01

"Lynch succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the hypocrisy that often reigned among political elites during a crucial period in American history."—Choice. February, 2000

"Joseph M. Lynch . . . has made an important scholarly contribution to the debate over the meaning of the Constitution. Negotiating the Constitution is a carefully researched and lively book which argues that the immediate political concerns of the Framers colored their more principled goals of creating and implementing a workable constitution."—James F. Pontuso. Rhetoric and Public Affairs. Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2000

"Throughout his book Lynch ably chops logic and tests positions for their fit with the Constitution's text, the debates over framing and ratification, and the stands that the same men took on other occasions. . . The book offers a provocative dose of lawyer's history."—Charles A. Lofgren, Claremont Mckenna College. The Journal of American History, December 2000

"This book is well-informed and remarkably exhaustive."—Lance Banning, University of Kentucky. American Historical Review. October, 2000

"Lynch's careful attention to the host of constitutional arguments raised in controversies both great and small reveals an interesting, . . . highly informative, and . . . deeply engaging story. Anyone interested in the constitutional controversies of the early Republic or in the details of James Madison's career in Congress would do well to read Negotiating the Constitution."—Joseph R. Reisert, Colby College, The Law and Politics Book Review. February, 2000

"This book is a carefully crafted, thoroughly researched, engagingly skeptical, and at times quite pugnacious account of what happened to the Constitution in the period between its adoption and the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Lynch convincingly demonstrates that relatively little confidence can be placed in the post-1789 views and actions of the Constitution's framers as guides to the meaning of that document. His work strikes a refreshing note, in welcome contrast to the all-too-common tendency for scholars of the founding era to take for granted the notion that somehow the framers were of a different order of being."—Herbert Sloan, Barnard College, Columbia University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801472718
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 8.44 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The Constitutional Convention : Virginians and power 8
Ch. 2 The politics and promises of ratification 31
Ch. 3 Virginia's interests : Madison's shifting canons 50
Ch. 4 Madison and strict construction 71
Ch. 5 The emergence of opposition 93
Ch. 6 Opposition and foreign policy 114
Ch. 7 Strict construction : impracticalities and trivialities 127
Ch. 8 Jay's treaty and the withering of Madison's authority 140
Ch. 9 Turbulence, aliens, and sedition 165
Ch. 10 Sedition and the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions 191
Ch. 11 The fall of the Federalists 208
Epilogue : text, intent, and practicality 218
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