The Failure of the Founding Fathers: Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy / Edition 1
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.
Many fine historians have written about the presidential election of 1800. But only Bruce Ackerman has placed all of the events surrounding the election into the context of American constitutional development. With his usual mixture of careful historical exegesis, narrative sweep, and bold interpretive imagination, Ackerman enables us to see a number of aspects of our constitutional history as if for the first time (beginning with the fact that the almost unknown case of Stuart v. Laird, was far more significant that Marbury v. Madison, decided a week earlier). Anyone interested in the development of American constitutionalism--and American political institutions--should be fascinated by this book.
Many fine historians have written about the presidential election of 1800. But only Bruce Ackerman has placed all of the events surrounding the election into the context of American constitutional development. With his usual mixture of careful historical exegesis, narrative sweep, and bold interpretive imagination, Ackerman enables us to see a number of aspects of our constitutional history as if for the first time (beginning with the fact that the almost unknown case of Stuart v. Laird, was far more significant that Marbury v. Madison, decided a week earlier). Anyone interested in the development of American constitutionalism--and American political institutions--should be fascinated by this book. Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School, author of Wrestling With Diversity
Bruce Ackerman has written a provocative account of the impact upon America's political future of the Jeffersonian opposition to the Federalists. Completely levitating himself out of the historiography of party formation, Ackerman in The Failure of the Founding Fathers demonstrates just how powerful the vexed election of 1800 proved to be. Joyce Appleby, University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans
Lucas A. Powe
Just like with his magnificent We the People, Bruce Ackerman has intertwined well researched history with an unparalleled skill as a constitutional theorist. The Failure of the Founding Fathers describes the maneuvering that validated Thomas Jefferson's claim to the presidency that then created a decade-long confrontation between the Jeffersonians in the elected branches of the Federalists in the judiciary. This is constitutional history at its finest. Lucas A. Powe, Jr., University of Texas at Austin, and author of The Warren Court and American Politics
The Failure of the Founding Fathers: Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy 2.5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
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.
More than 1 year ago
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.