Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Afterword and Suggested Reading
Posted on 03/09/2011 11:55:08 AM PST by Publius
The flurry of newspaper pieces that began in October 1787 concluded some ten months later with a piece in which the reader senses as much exhaustion from Hamiltons pen as exhilaration, as much trepidation as triumph. It turned out to be quite a series of papers: 85 in total. Taken along with papers written by the opposition, whose somewhat misleading name of anti-Federalist came about in part through the machinations of Hamilton himself, they compose a window on the creation of a government that was unique in history up to its time.
The debates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 were conducted in secret and were, considering their subsequent effect on world history, sparsely documented. Despite the rhetorical detachment of Madison and Hamilton, who throughout the Federalist Papers consistently present the intentions of the Convention as something that had to be deduced, the two men were present and were central actors in the drama. It is principally from Madisons notes that the modern reader derives a sense of the tides of the debate at that Convention, and from his pen, the Constitution itself. For the rest of his very long life Madison denied the title Father of the Constitution, insisting that it was a child of many parents, born of theory, historical experience, and most of all, a spirit of compromise.
Hamiltons part in the Federalist Papers was clearly that of the leading advocate of a legal team, his approach that of an attorney presenting a case, his reputation as a fierce practitioner of the forensic arts evident in his written words. It is a posture often mistaken for arrogance, a mask an attorney must don in order to represent his client, and for Hamilton, who seldom would be accused of over-modesty in his life outside politics, his client was nothing less than the people of the future United States. It is only at the very end, in the last part of his last essay, that the reader glimpses the man breathless at the fruition of his own years of effort and awed his own word at the implications of success.
Throughout it all, the one towering figure seldom visible in the public debate, the eminence grise of the Constitution, was George Washington, who had formed his own preferences for central government, and in particular for the superiority of an army belonging to one as he had dodged enemy fire and rallied his defeated troops during the French and Indian War some thirty years prior. He, who had laid down his commanders sword to the astonishment of Europe and who would not be king, had taken the presidency of the Constitutional Convention with reluctance, and would accept the office of President that was designed for him in what was quite sincerely the same frame of mind. For constitutional government, however, he was far from reluctant. It was in no small measure his voice echoing in the debates at Poughkeepsie by way of his young aide-de-camp turned Chief of Staff, Alexander Hamilton.
John Jay, the minority author of the Federalist Papers and Washingtons principal correspondent in New York during the ratifying convention, would become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Adams would become Vice President, Edmund Randolph Attorney General, Thomas Jefferson Secretary of State, and James Monroe a senator from Virginia. Madison would become Speaker of the House. George Clinton, the anti-Federalist Governor of New York, would twice become Vice President. Aaron Burr, who would become Jeffersons Vice President, would also become Hamiltons murderer. Robert Livingston would swear Washington into office. These men were far from done in August 1788; they were barely beginning.
For the wheels of government had begun turning two months earlier when the Confederation Congress learned of New Hampshires ratification. After Virginias and then New Yorks, there remained only two states of the original thirteen who had not ratified: North Carolina and Rhode Island. It did not matter. There would be a national election on 7January 1789, and the issue within those two states would now turn from whether the Constitution would be ratified at all, to whether, and when, they would be allowed to participate.
There were certain irregularities that were the natural result of a nascent effort, but the January election did come off on schedule. On 4 March the first session of Congress was to sit; however by that date there were too few of the newly elected senators and representatives on hand in the capital of New York City to constitute a quorum, not reached for the House until 1 April, and for the Senate some five days later. Adams arrived on 21 April, to be sworn in as Vice President immediately, and with Washingtons arrival and swearing-in on 23 April, the United States had its first constitutional government.
It would not be a complete union, in the sense guaranteed by the old Articles of Confederation, until both of the holdout states ratified. In November 1789, North Carolina ratified, but not until the end of May 1790 would stubborn Rhode Island, the first state to declare its independence from Great Britain, finally accede. At that point Washington had been President for an entire year, and the capital was moving to Philadelphia.
But the work was not yet done. It had been made overwhelmingly clear during the ratification debates that a bill of rights was demanded as a barrier to the new federal governments assumption of powers not specifically enumerated. To this task James Madison now put his hand, drawing from such sources as the Virginia Constitution whose own Bill of Rights was crafted by anti-Federalist George Mason and by Madison himself. There were twelve such amendments presented to Congress in September 1789, which were approved and sent to the states for ratification. The reader may smile to note that one vote in favor was Patrick Henrys.
Ratification of ten of those twelve amendments became final on 15 December 1791 and unanimous four months later. That unanimity consisted of fourteen states, not thirteen, for Vermont had joined the Union as a separate state. One of those twelve amendments not ratified in 1791 became the 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992.
Far from abating, the stream of political events that had burst forth in 1776 was now a torrent with no sign of decreasing, a torrent that none of these men, not even the aged and weary Franklin, could resist. But now the Federalist Papers were history. Here the commentators must lay down their pens in the same spirit with which Hamilton had laid his to rest in 1788, not from any sense of finality, but with a distinct sense of wonder at the concretion of the plan of government and a sense of profound gratitude toward the men who made it happen.
9 March 2011
Two books take the Constitutional Convention and inspect it from different angles.
The Colliers avoid strict chronology and cover the Convention by thread. On a given day, many different subjects were taken up, and the authors cover each subject as a separate thread.
Stewart focuses on the role of James Wilson, a Framer who was lesser known, but critical to the formation of the Constitution.
James Thomas Flexner looks at two men who drove the entire effort.
Flexner focuses on the formation of Hamiltons character and his early years in the West Indies and New York.
This is the indispensable book about Washington.
Forrest McDonald is one of Americas treasures, a critical person in understanding the early years and the concept of federalism.
McDonald focuses on the role of Hamilton as Americas lawgiver.
This is the definitive book on federalism. Without it, this effort would have been far more difficult.
Ellis examines the interplay of the men who founded America.
This is the definitive book on the 1800 election, which changed the method of presidential election by way of the 12th Amendment.
Three books cover the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War with an eye to the evolution of the Federalist and Nationalist theologies of the formation of the Union.
The following are some of the readings of the Founders that led to their conception of government.
This is the single most quoted and referenced work in the Federalist Papers. Montesquieu was the reigning king of Enlightenment political philosophy in the late 18th Century.
This is an anti-monarchy, pro-republican volume written by a member of the Long Parliament during the English Civil Wars. After the Restoration, Sydney was tried and executed for having written it.
This is the seminal work on the superiority of republics as a form of government, based on the idealized days of the Roman Republic, written by a public official of the Renaissance Florentine Republic who was later racked by the Medici for his opposition.
The second treatise was Lockes fundamental thesis on civil government, containing the novel argument in favor of an individuals right to life, liberty and property.
This is an incendiary plea for the independence of the American colonies written by a brilliant, trouble-making English immigrant. Written two years after he had been sent to America by none other than Benjamin Franklin, it remains the single best-selling secular volume per capita in American history.
These are two later volumes resulting from the events of the War of Independence and the subsequent French Revolution.
This is a shocking volume from the stout defender of the American side in Parliament. Burke came to the conclusion that certain principles of liberty could lead to to license and violence as well as freedom. To the dismay of many of his political allies he defended the established French government on these grounds and predicted the Terror which was to come.
This is Paines stout defense of the principles of individual liberty indicted by his friend Burke in the latters Reflections, to which the Rights constitutes a reply. It caused Paine to be tried in absentia for treason in England, and his enemy Robespierre to attempt to guillotine him in France. Napoleon later chased him out of France for calling him a charlatan.
FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution
5 Oct 1787, Centinel #1
6 Oct 1787, James Wilsons Speech at the State House
8 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #1
9 Oct 1787, Federal Farmer #2
18 Oct 1787, Brutus #1
22 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #1
27 Oct 1787, John DeWitt #2
27 Oct 1787, Federalist #1
31 Oct 1787, Federalist #2
3 Nov 1787, Federalist #3
5 Nov 1787, John DeWitt #3
7 Nov 1787, Federalist #4
10 Nov 1787, Federalist #5
14 Nov 1787, Federalist #6
15 Nov 1787, Federalist #7
20 Nov 1787, Federalist #8
21 Nov 1787, Federalist #9
23 Nov 1787, Federalist #10
24 Nov 1787, Federalist #11
27 Nov 1787, Federalist #12
27 Nov 1787, Cato #5
28 Nov 1787, Federalist #13
29 Nov 1787, Brutus #4
30 Nov 1787, Federalist #14
1 Dec 1787, Federalist #15
4 Dec 1787, Federalist #16
5 Dec 1787, Federalist #17
7 Dec 1787, Federalist #18
8 Dec 1787, Federalist #19
11 Dec 1787, Federalist #20
12 Dec 1787, Federalist #21
14 Dec 1787, Federalist #22
18 Dec 1787, Federalist #23
18 Dec 1787, Address of the Pennsylvania Minority
19 Dec 1787, Federalist #24
21 Dec 1787, Federalist #25
22 Dec 1787, Federalist #26
25 Dec 1787, Federalist #27
26 Dec 1787, Federalist #28
27 Dec 1787, Brutus #6
28 Dec 1787, Federalist #30
1 Jan 1788, Federalist #31
3 Jan 1788, Federalist #32
3 Jan 1788, Federalist #33
3 Jan 1788, Cato #7
4 Jan 1788, Federalist #34
5 Jan 1788, Federalist #35
8 Jan 1788, Federalist #36
10 Jan 1788, Federalist #29
11 Jan 1788, Federalist #37
15 Jan 1788, Federalist #38
16 Jan 1788, Federalist #39
18 Jan 1788, Federalist #40
19 Jan 1788, Federalist #41
22 Jan 1788, Federalist #42
23 Jan 1788, Federalist #43
24 Jan 1788, Brutus #10
25 Jan 1788, Federalist #44
26 Jan 1788, Federalist #45
29 Jan 1788, Federalist #46
31 Jan 1788, Brutus #11
1 Feb 1788, Federalist #47
1 Feb 1788, Federalist #48
5 Feb 1788, Federalist #49
5 Feb 1788, Federalist #50
7 Feb 1788, Brutus #12, Part 1
8 Feb 1788, Federalist #51
8 Feb 1788, Federalist #52
12 Feb 1788, Federalist #53
12 Feb 1788, Federalist #54
14 Feb 1788, Brutus #12, Part 2
15 Feb 1788, Federalist #55
19 Feb 1788, Federalist #56
19 Feb 1788, Federalist #57
20 Feb 1788, Federalist #58
22 Feb 1788, Federalist #59
26 Feb 1788, Federalist #60
26 Feb 1788, Federalist #61
27 Feb 1788, Federalist #62
1 Mar 1788, Federalist #63
7 Mar 1788, Federalist #64
7 Mar 1788, Federalist #65
11 Mar 1788, Federalist #66
11 Mar 1788, Federalist #67
14 Mar 1788, Federalist #68
14 Mar 1788, Federalist #69
15 Mar 1788, Federalist #70
18 Mar 1788, Federalist #71
20 Mar 1788, Brutus #15
21 Mar 1788, Federalist #72
21 Mar 1788, Federalist #73
25 Mar 1788, Federalist #74
26 Mar 1788, Federalist #75
1 Apr 1788, Federalist #76
4 Apr 1788, Federalist #77
10 Apr 1788, Brutus #16
5 Jun 1788, Patrick Henrys Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention #1
7 Jun 1788, Patrick Henrys Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention #2
14 Jun 1788, Federalist #78
18 Jun 1788, Federalist #79
20 Jun 1788, Melancton Smiths Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention #1
21 Jun 1788, Melancton Smiths Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention #2
21 Jun 1788, Federalist #80
23 Jun 1788, Melancton Smiths Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention #3
27 Jun 1788, Melancton Smiths Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention #5
28 Jun 1788, Federalist #81
2 Jul 1788, Federalist #82
5 Jul 1788, Federalist #83
16 Jul 1788, Federalist #84
13 Aug 1788, Federalist #85
My daughter loves to read. She's been bringing books home from school. Most of them are from Scholastic, which, when I was growing up, I liked.
Last week, she asked me to read her to sleep from one of the books she brought from school. It was Out Of The Dust, by Karen Hesse. She asked me to read from a particular chapter of the book.
I was horrified by what I read. I won't even describe it here, it's not worth it. The book is utter trash. After reading it, I put the book down and said softly "they're preparing you to be slaves." She said "what do you mean?" I had to tell her I'd explain to her some day (she's ten).
What happened to the good books?
We went in to my wife's room; my wife wanted to hear it. I told her I'd read it to her later, I didn't want to read it again in front of our daughter.
Later, when I read it to my wife, she thought I was cherry-picking a bad part. She asked me to choose a page at random, and read that page. I did. When I stopped, my wife said "there are some sick teachers out there."
Where are the good books for kids? Girls, in particular?
Bookmarked, thanks for posting this.
That is quite a reading list!
I have a copy of the majority of those in my personal library and can second the motion as to their value to anyone seeking to understand what was REALLY happening back then.
Any FReeper can start a FReeper Book Club on any book. There are a few simple rules to follow.
Thanks for all your hard work.
My granddaughter likes the American Girl books.
I always loved Nancy Drew mysteries (and the Hardy boys).
My sister loved the Anne of Green Gables books.
My favorite book as a small child was “Little Black Sambo”. Our library (and many others)pulled it from the shelves because they deemed it “racist”. How ridiculous! It was wonderfully fun make believe about a little Indian boy with pointed shoes and pretty new clothes. He was not a black African person at all.
You can find most anything on the web. My son downloaded every Sherlock Holmes mystery (one per night) until he read them all. Many can be found on the Gutenberg project. Others can be found with a Google search.
We've had a pretty good run, in my opinion, this two centuries of creaky stability threatened by power mongers, would-be despots, social reformers, and utopian fascists who ultimately came up against the bulwark of the Constitution and have been relegated to nibbling at its peripheries and tunneling desperately to undermine its foundations. Unfortunately a fair number of these populate the institutions whose charge it is to defend the Constitution. The wonder is not the damage they have done but the strength of the edifice that still stands.
Ultimately Hamilton, who had to be dragged into the conclusion, was right: nothing in the Constitution is any stronger than it is made by the will of the voter to maintain it. When the voter becomes lazy, complacent, lulled by promises of great wealth to be had at the cost of only a little theft, that structure must fail in the end. "A republic, madame, if you can keep it," was Franklin's formulation, and his fear that the populace whose members were already forgetting the costs of liberty would end up selling it for a mess of pottage. That brilliant student of the human condition would be disgusted, I think, at the sight of those who have, and not a little thrilled by those of us who still refuse to, lo these two centuries hence.
If I learned one thing from all of this personally it is that we're still fighting about the same things. That's actually pretty encouraging. Thanks, all, for reading.
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Laura and her pioneer family share a home in the wilderness of Wisconsin in this first of a beloved series.
The Dollhouse Caper, Jean OConnell (books like this were a favorite of my daughter)
Where the Red Fern Grows (this was a favorite of my son)
100 Best Books of the 20th Century
These two series originated with the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was based on South Orange, New Jersey, but which has since moved on to better digs. Edward Stratemeyer wrote the plot outlines but hired anonymous ghost writers to actually write the books under various house names. In 1977 Canadian author Leslie McFarlane wrote The Ghost of the Hardy Boys, a story of how he ghost-wrote most of the first 26 books that comprised the series. It's one of the funniest books I've ever read.
By the early Sixties, the syndicate had a new generation of ghost writers rewrite the originals with a less literary content to match a less literary readership. The originals from the Twenties and Thirties are available from boutique publishers.
I occasionally play a parlor game where I state the following quote: "The Constitution means whatever the American people wish it to mean." Then I ask which president said that. The first guess is always FDR. I keep saying "Earlier" until I get to the correct answer: President John Quincy Adams, who said it in 1826. It is the mantra of the loose constructionists.
“LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS”
We just got through this one in the Montani house after finishing The Last Battle. The part about the pig’s bladder used as a balloon toy was hilarious. Oh the joy of having a young one.
Sounds like Thrasymachus in his argument with Socrates about 'justice.'
Great Job, Gentlemen.
Beautifully written and spot-on.
Congratulations Publius. You did it.
Reading and writing aren’t quite the same thing, are they? Reading is rather personal. When writing do you find it’s hard to let go of the ideas, at least sometimes?
The ideas will flow forward to the next book. “Democracy in America” is looking like it will be our next project.
Just a suggestion / hope. Perhaps you and billthedrill could take this ‘work of art’ and consider publishing it. Looking forward to the next one.
We will be turning it over to our agent in New York in the not too distant future.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.