David O. Stewart presents a superb narrative history of four tumultuous months in 1787 when a group of contentious delegates from the states of the fledgling Republic met in Philadelphia to hammer out the document that would become the law of the land. Summoning all the dramatic tension of those long, hostile debates, Stewart parses the personalities and political agendas of all major players, capturing with deft precision the issues -- states' rights, equal representation, slavery, et al. -- at the heart of the summer's hard bargaining. Readers in search of an accurate and accessible account of the convention that framed our Constitution will find Stewart's popular history a worthy companion to Catherine Drinker Bowen's 1966 classic, Miracle at Philadelphia.
Since Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia appeared in 1966, no work has challenged its classic status. Now, Stewart's work does. Briskly written, full of deft characterizations and drama, grounded firmly in the records of the Constitutional Convention and its members' letters, this is a splendid rendering of the document's creation. All the debates are here, as are all the convention's personalities. It detracts nothing from Stewart's lively story to point out that it's just that—a tale—and not an interpretation. Stewart, a constitutional lawyer in Washington, D.C., ignores the recent decades' penetrating scholarship about the Constitution's creation in favor of a fast-paced narrative of a long, hot summer's work. Only one choice mars the book. Stewart, like Bowen, wants us to see the four summer months as the only period when the Constitution was created. But as James Madison and others acknowledged soon afterward, the state ratifying conventions and the First Federal Congress, which added the Bill of Rights, also contributed to the Constitution as we know it. Stewart's excellent book will appeal to those looking for descriptive history at its best, not for a fresh take on the subject. B&w illus. (Apr.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Stewart, who specializes in constitutional law cases and served a year as law clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, studies the chief conflicts faced during the Constitutional Convention and the men (e.g., George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, and John Rutledge) who played key roles in deciding the issues at hand. The convention itself is covered chronologically, with chapters structured by specific time periods. Stewart ably describes the political and economic challenges of forming a new nation, exploring how particular individuals created strategies to allow states to put aside their parochial interests and form a national government that would respect the rights of citizens. He gives a clear and careful description of contrasting views of the Virginia and New Jersey plans, which concerned the constitutional roles of small states. He also enlarges on the underlying importance of the slavery controversy in the Constitution's structuring of representation, and problems relating to the admission of new states, such as Maine and Wisconsin, into the Union. Designed for general audiences, this book is strongly recommended for both public and academic libraries.
A careful account of how the Founders fashioned America's central document. Only a decade after gaining independence from Britain, the 13 colonies found their loose alignment under the Articles of Confederation utterly deficient. They were unable to levy taxes, regulate trade, settle border and navigational disputes, raise a military or issue a common currency. A taxpayer revolt turned bloody in Massachusetts and the still formidable threat of Spain and England in North America helped accelerate calls to amend the Articles. During a humid Philadelphia summer and under a rule of secrecy, 55 delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island demurred) exceeded their authority, scrapped the unwieldy Articles and wrote instead a charter of government for and by the people. Attorney Stewart focuses on how this "assembly of demi-gods" (Jefferson's phrase) reconciled the vast differences among the states-large vs. small, slave vs. free, agricultural vs. mercantile-and adjusted federal and state powers accordingly. Two towering figures, Washington and Franklin, lent their prestige to the convention. With the exceptions of Madison and Hamilton, history's notice of the rest (the likes of Gouverneur Morris, Roger Sherman, David Brearley and three distinguished dissenters, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry and Edmund Randolph) centers on their contributions to the convention's unprecedented deliberations. Stewart touches lightly on the delegates' personalities; he's at his best discussing the wrangling that resulted in a document simultaneously "the child of lofty idealism and rough political bargains." The delegates didn't get everything right. The notorious three-fifths rule embedded slavery in the charter; itrequired a civil war to expunge this injustice, and the Founders' conception of the presidency has been frequently, though less violently, amended. Still, history's first written constitution has proven remarkably durable. Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia (1966) remains the unsurpassed popular history of the Convention, but Stewart's highly readable narrative need defer to little else.