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Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (1996)

af Jack N. Rakove

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From abortion to same-sex marriage, today's most urgent political debates will hinge on this two-part question: What did the United States Constitution originally mean and who now understands its meaning best? Rakove chronicles the Constitution from inception to ratification and, in doing so, traces its complex weave of ideology and interest, showing how this document has meant different things at different times to different groups of Americans.… (mere)

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Advertised as a historical review of what the writers of the Constitution may have understood it to mean, arguing that they may have understood it in a variety of ways based on past political experience. Probably intended as a rebuke to modern conservative "originalist" judicial philosophy. Actually, well over half the book is a very conventional account of the writing and ratifying of the Constitution, with very little discussion of how specific parts of the Constitution were understand at the time. Only the last chapters on "Rights"" (about the debates leading to the Bill of Rights) and on Madison's attempts to use originalism in later political struggles against his former Federalist allies really address the supposed focus of the book, and even those portions only refer to fairly narrow issues. ( )
  antiquary | Jul 20, 2017 |
This is not a thrilling book. It is dense, dry, and curiously devoid of color. But it has many lessons for right now. Just as Europe is arguing in disunity, so the states saddled themselves with the essentially impossible task of unanimity to enable a constitution. And with Rhode Island not even bothering to show up for negotiations, ratification was very iffy, much like Britain vetoing banking talks today. That and the insistence by southern states on slavery added a layer of compromise and hypocrisy that stained the process.
But the chief American preoccupation today is with Originalism - trying to enforce today what we think the framers and voters accepted in 1787. But to quote one of the more prominent of the framers, Thomas Jefferson, that is a fool's errand:
"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment."
Jefferson would scoff at The Tea Party.
1 stem DavidWineberg | Dec 26, 2011 |
From: Our Founders: How Did They Do It?
http://wp.me/p14mpp-bI
Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, Jack N. Rakove (1996).

The cover of the book boldly declares that this history is: “A deeply satisfying account of the political world from which the United States Constitution issued.”—The New York Times Book Review. I won't argue with that assessment.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—this remarkable assertion begins the Declaration of Independence as written by the founders of the country in 1776 after considerable heated debate and 11th hour compromises on wording. Some few years later, in 1789, the framers of the constitution began an extended and bitter debate that at times approached or exceeded the limits of polite argument. The goal, to write the U. S. Constitution for ratification by the people.

How did the framers manage to overcome their differences and compromise to create our constitution? I’m amazed that they could make any headway at all, but they did; and according to Rakove’s analysis the key was disciplined, open argument and, ultimately, compromise.

In the lexicon of American politics, writes Rakove, few words evoke as ambivalent a response as compromise. Compromise means fairness to some and moral failure and defeat to others. Rakove adds: “[Compromise] suggests a preference for consensus over confrontation, a willingness to meet opponents halfway rather than strive for ideological purity. … Compromise, in all its ambivalence, is a staple theme of most narrative accounts of the Federal Convention of 1787, and with good reason. In the end, the framers granted concessions to every interest that had a voice in Philadelphia, …”

I like this book, it is hard reading at times, but the research is accurate and detailed—the reader, of course, can agree or disagree with Professor Rakove’s opinions.

Carto
### ( )
  cartoslibrary | Jul 23, 2011 |
2987 Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, by Jack N. Rakove (read 7 Jun 1997) (Pulitzer History prize in 1997) This book I did not find a joy to read. It is erudite and awfully balanced and delves into the matter of ideas and concepts involved in the working of the 1787 constitutional convention more detailedly than I found I was interested in. So I cannot say I got as much out of reading this splendidly carefully written book as I should have. It is more intellectual in its approach to the questions it discusses so carefully than I found interesting. He shows that a blind adherence to the drafters' intent in writing the Constitution leaves something to be desired. The experience of working with and living under the
Constitution must be considered in resolving constitutional questions. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jan 7, 2008 |
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Chapter VI Debating the Constitution: "It has been frequently remarked," Alexander Hamilton observed in the opening paragraph of The Federalist, "that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force." p 131
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From abortion to same-sex marriage, today's most urgent political debates will hinge on this two-part question: What did the United States Constitution originally mean and who now understands its meaning best? Rakove chronicles the Constitution from inception to ratification and, in doing so, traces its complex weave of ideology and interest, showing how this document has meant different things at different times to different groups of Americans.

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