Thursday, August 18, 2011

Historic Event

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
Plain, Honest Men: 
The Making of the American Constitution 

"We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The history of the making of the Constitution is presented here as it was created by an impressive group of individuals. Richard Beeman's excellent detailed account of the summer of 1787 relates the revolutionary results of these individuals in the context of their time. I was impressed with the character of the men who were able to work in secrecy for months even though their views were passionate and varied from state to state and even within some delegations. Holding the group together were the well-known personages of Washington, Madison and Franklin. But there were many others who made major contributions and put forward ideas that, even when rejected, spurred the debate. Some of the other notables included Gouvernor Morris who shaped the language of the document, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, Edmund Randolph and others.

One notable incident the author discusses is the late arrival of the delegates from New Hampshire almost two months after the start of the Convention. I found this discussion fascinating, especially his final remarks:
“It is difficult in retrospect to comprehend why any state—or any individual from any state—would consciously choose to be absent from one of the most important gatherings in modern history. But, as we have already seen from the tardy beginnings of the Convention, few at the time recognized the epochal quality of the gathering in Philadelphia.”(p 243)
I wondered what is important in history and how do you know when you are participating in important or momentous decisions? I wondered whether some of the delegates (Franklin or Madison perhaps) had some idea of the import of their meetings? That there was not the same energy among all the delegates does not seem surprising but the importance of their affairs was certainly not evident to all.  Another issue that has continued to be important in American political history is the battle between Federalism and Nationalism that would be so well-defined by James Madison in The Federalist Papers (Number 39).  The Constitution reflected the balance that these delegates were able to achieve through this summer of compromise, discussion and decisions.

The character of the delegates was impressive as was their camaraderie, for the time spent socializing was important as well. The partisan debates, especially between the small versus large states, mirrored partisan politics that is still with us today. The resolution of the structure of the Constitution was not always assured but achieved through compromise and hard work. This is a scholarly yet readable history that succeeds in providing you with the feeling as you read it that you are there with these plain, honest men.

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