- Pub. Date:
- Harvard University Press
The ink was barely dry on the Constitution when it was almost destroyed by the rise of political parties in the United States. As Bruce Ackerman shows, the Framers had not anticipated the two-party system, and when Republicans battled Federalists for the presidency in 1800, the rules laid down by the Constitution exacerbated the crisis. With Republican militias preparing to march on Washington, the House of Representatives deadlocked between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Based on seven years of archival research, the book describes previously unknown aspects of the electoral college crisis. Ackerman shows how Thomas Jefferson counted his Federalist rivals out of the House runoff, and how the Federalists threatened to place John Marshall in the presidential chair. Nevertheless, the Constitution managed to survive through acts of statesmanship and luck.
Despite the intentions of the Framers, the presidency had become a plebiscitarian office. Thomas Jefferson gained office as the People's choice and acted vigorously to fulfill his popular mandate. This transformation of the presidency serves as the basis for a new look at Marbury v. Madison, the case that first asserted the Supreme Court's power of judicial review. Ackerman shows that Marbury is best seen in combination with another case, Stuart v. Laird, as part of a retreat by the Court in the face of the plebiscitarian presidency. This "switch in time" proved crucial to the Court's survival, allowing it to integrate Federalist and Republican themes into the living Constitution of the early republic.
Ackerman presents a revised understanding of the early days of two great institutions that continue to have a major impact on American history: the plebiscitarian presidency and a Supreme Court that struggles to put the presidency's claims of a popular mandate into constitutional perspective.
|Publisher:||Harvard University Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.44(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.37(d)|
Table of Contents
Part One: The People's President
Introduction: America on the Brink
1. The Original Misunderstanding
2. John Marshall for President
3. Jefferson Counts Himself In
4. On the Brink
5. What Went Right?
Part Two: The People and the Court
Introduction: Constitutional Brinksmanship
6. Federalist Counterattack
7. Republican Triumph
8. Marbury v. Stuart
9. Presidential Purge
Horatius's Presidential Knot
Judge Bassett's Protest
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ackerman shows how the early government made the transition from the 'theoretical' Constitution of 1787 to a check-and-balance government with three branches of power. The two-party system we take for granted today did not exist before the Election of 1800. The resulting lame-duck problems provided many opportunities for the post-election period to degenerate into our first Banana Republic. Adams appointed new judges, the leader in the House eventually overplayed his hand, the Senate held two impeachment trials, and Sec of State Marshal remained as Chief Justice for 34 years. Even for those accquainted with the early history of the U.S., there are several historical insights to be appreciated. The irony that Jefferson was the first Republican, whose evolution into the modern day Democratic Party reflects how the focus on holding power causes political parties to loose sight of their principles. Supreme Court justices would continue to 'ride the circuit' until 1891 and only gain control of their docket in 1925. Structural problems would be fixed by the 12th and 20th amendments. Ackerman's 'presidential race against time' - to convert a popular mandate into legislative and constitutional success - would became a firmly established feature of the American political system.
Although Ackerman knows the facts and the facts are interesting, his analysis is colored and deeply flawed by his love of Jefferson. He talks of a pending civil war, when 95% of Americans at this time did not know what was going on. He constantly tells us of public mandate for Jefferson, when only 6 out of 16 states picked their electors by the public, and most of these states were from the south. Oh and by the way,the 3/5 rule gave the south and Jefferson an enormous advantage.