Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitutionby Jack Rakove
What did the U.S. Constitution originally mean, and who has understood its meaning best? Do we look to the intentions of its framers at the Federal Convention of 1787, or to those of its ratifiers in the states? Or should we trust our own judgment in deciding whether the original meaning of the Constitution should still guide its later interpretation? These are the… See more details below
What did the U.S. Constitution originally mean, and who has understood its meaning best? Do we look to the intentions of its framers at the Federal Convention of 1787, or to those of its ratifiers in the states? Or should we trust our own judgment in deciding whether the original meaning of the Constitution should still guide its later interpretation? These are the recurring questions in the ongoing process of analyzing and resolving constitutional issues, but they are also questions about the distant events of the eighteenth century. In this book, Jack Rakove approaches the debates surrounding the framing and ratification of the Constitution from the vantage point of history, examining the range of concerns that shaped the politics of constitution-making in the late 1780s, and which illuminate the debate about the role that "originalism" should play in constitutional interpretation. In answering these questions, Rakove reexamines the classic issues that the framers of the Constitution had to solve: federalism, representation, executive power, rights, and the idea that a constitution somehow embodied supreme law. In each of these cases, Original Meanings suggests that Americans of the early Republic held a spectrum of positions, some drawn from the controversial legacy of Anglo-American politics, others reflecting the course of events since 1776, the politics of the Federal Convention, or the spirited public debate that followed.
Since the 1980s, conservative legal scholars (e.g., Robert Bork) have espoused "originalism" in constitutional interpretation. Adding historical perspective to the legal debate, Rakove here dispels the idea that the Founding Fathers were a monolith; by examining the personal roles of the founders, particularly James Madison, who exercised perhaps the most significant influence over the framing of the Constitution, Rakove shows that the framers were a diverse lot, variegated in their view of the polity they had created. Cmpromise was integral to the politics of constitution-making, Rakove shows, and the need to forge a workable document took precedence over theoretical consistency. The survival of slavery was the most notorious, but not the only, matter on which the framers compromised; the very nuances of federalism itself were unaddressed, leaving a theoretical debate that contributed to the Civil War. Rakove seems to suggest that some of the framers (Jefferson, with his contempt for tradition, stands out), forthright as they were in recreating their political union after the failed Articles of Confederation, would be puzzled at our tendency to worship their creation. Rakove appears to contend that the Constitution was intended to be a living document, not a static, once-and-for-all enumeration of all individual rights and federal powers. "How," asks the author rhetorically, "could those who wrote the Constitution possibly understand its meaning better than those who had the experience of observing and participating in its operation?"
A unique contribution to the historical and legal debate surrounding the Constitution.
- Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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- 5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)
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