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A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

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A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution Cover

ISBN13: 9780156028721
ISBN10: 0156028727
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"" If you've ever wondered how a group of 18th-century soldiers , farmers , lawyers and businessmen managed to come up with our miracle of a Constitution . . . Berkin explains it in her exciting re-creation."-The Star-Ledger (Newark)

We know the story of the American Revolution, from the Declaration of Independence to Cornwallis's defeat. But our first government ended in disaster, leaving the budding country in a terrible crisis. When a group of men traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to save a nation in danger of collapse, they had no great expectations for the meeting that would make history and lead to a constitution and a government that have outlasted their highest hopes. Revisiting original documents and using her deep knowledge of eighteenth-century history and politics, Carol Berkin reveals the human strength behind our country's great constitution.

"Take s a f re s h l ook at the much-trampled ground of Philadelphia in 1787. Drops the, 'It all came down to us written on a stone tablet' pose and goes into all the confusion, paranoia and luck involved."-MOLLY IVINS, The Seattle Times

C A R O L B E R K I N is a professor of American History at Baruch College and the Ph.D. program in History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The author of five books, Berkin was a commentator for the PBS documentary Benjamin Franklin.

Synopsis:

A rich narrative portrait of post-revolutionary America and the men who shaped its political future

 

Though the American Revolution is widely recognized as our nation's founding story, the years immediately following the war—when our government was a disaster and the country was in a terrible crisis—were in fact the most crucial in establishing the country's independence. The group of men who traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 had no idea what kind of history their meeting would make. But all their ideas, arguments, and compromises—from the creation of the Constitution itself, article by article, to the insistence that it remain a living, evolving document—laid the foundation for a government that has surpassed the founders' greatest hopes. Revisiting all the original historical documents of the period and drawing from her deep knowledge of eighteenth-century politics, Carol Berkin opens up the hearts and minds of America's founders, revealing the issues they faced, the times they lived in, and their humble expectations of success.

Synopsis:

"Carol Berkin has now written the liveliest and most concise account yet of the adoption of the Constitution. With unflagging verve, she sweeps readers along as she introduces the players, canvasses the issues, and explains the critical decisions. And she manages the neat and difficult trick of presenting the framers of the Constitution as living, breathing, calculating politicians while simultaneously capturing the deep seriousness of their debates and achievements. The result is a sparkling, fast-paced, and always engaging introduction to the modern world's first great exercise in constitutional invention."-- Jack N. Rakove, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic

"A story all modern Americans need to know--the exciting and true tale of our nation's origins, as narrated by one of our best historians."--Professor Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

About the Author

Carol Berkin is a professor of American History at Baruch College and the Ph.D. Program in History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She has written five scholarly books and contributed to several collections of articles and textbooks. Berkin was a commentator for the A&E series Founding Fathers and Founding Brothers, as well as a commentator for the PBS documentary, Benjamin Franklin. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

CHAPTER ONE

The Call for a Convention

CHAPTER TWO

Making Mr. Madison Wait

CHAPTER THREE

A Gathering of Demigods

CHAPTER FOUR

The Perils of Power

CHAPTER FIVE

Schisms, Threats, and Compromises

CHAPTER SIX

Debating the Presidency Once Again

CHAPTER SEVEN

The Convention Ends

CHAPTER EIGHT

The Battle for Ratification

CHAPTER NINE

The Inauguration of President George Washington

CHAPTER TEN

Epilogue

The Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

The Articles of Confederation

The United States Constitution

A Note on Sources

Acknowledgments

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

James Grattan, July 27, 2009 (view all comments by James Grattan)
Nice introduction to a very difficult undertaking (3.7*s)

This book is a short, though insightful, overview of the US Constitutional Convention of 1787, focusing on the reasons for holding it, the major debates and divides, and the key participants, including personality aspects. The author’s stated motivation in writing this book was the US presidential election of 2000, which brought constitutional issues to the fore, and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, which demonstrated the necessity of having a capable, responsive national government. Dealing with such events is certainly grounded in our founding.

The newly emerged America in the mid-1780s under the Articles of Confederation was a country in disarray and highly vulnerable. There was no central authority to deal with interstate rivalries concerning trade and currencies, national indebtedness, foreign affairs and trade, the depredations of the British, Spanish, and Indians on the frontier, etc. As the author indicates, all of the delegates that streamed into Philadelphia throughout May, 1787 were “nationalists,” in the sense all knew a stronger central government was needed, although many were unaware that a second revolution – the replacement of a government – was being contemplated by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. However, there were vast differences in perspectives ranging from the “continentalism” of Hamilton to the sovereign-state approach of others. The author also points out the fear that elites had over democratic assertions in the various states. Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786 played no little role in precipitating a constitutional convention.

It took nearly four months in hot, steamy Philadelphia to work out the details of a new constitution. The debates were vigorous, often circuitous, and frequently shifting, but were greatly facilitated by an up-front agreement to shroud the proceedings in virtually total secrecy. Only the note-taking of a few delegates, namely James Madison, revealed many years later, permits us to see the manner in which our Constitution was formed. The delegates would have undoubtedly been little pleased to learn that their indecisiveness in the frequent reopening of settled compromises would be revealed.

According to the author, it was simply assumed that the legislative branch would be the most powerful body in a new government. But Madison’s Virginia Plan proposing a bicameral body dominated by the large states was quickly put down; the so-called Connecticut Compromise with equal representation for states in the Senate largely prevailed. The matter of establishing an executive branch was most controversial because of the comparisons with monarchy. Yet the delegates began to fear the potential tyranny of Congress: what body could check Congressional excess. An independent executive could veto legislation and wage war, but Congress balanced those powers with rights of impeachment and to declare war. Almost at the last minute the delegates rejected the selection of the President by Congress to one seven year term and adopted the state-by-state elector system that still exists. However, democracy or the direct election of the President by the people remained a significant problem for the elite delegates. The issue of slavery was largely ignored with the exception being that the southern states wanted to continue the slave trade with no import taxes, at least into the near future. At least one delegate George Mason refused to sign the completed constitution at least partly because slavery was not disallowed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the focus on the personalities involved in the Convention. The author makes clear that the delegates represented the elite class of colonial society, many being lawyers, merchants, and large landowners. The composition of the convention shifted during the four months. Some delegates left due to fundamental disagreements with the proceedings, others had family and business obligations. At any phase of the convention, the particular mix of delegates did impact the voting on proposals. In an appendix, the author includes mini-profiles of every delegate, including traits of fastidiousness, sloppiness, slovenliness, drunkenness, debauchery, erudition, and the like. The author identifies Roger Sherman, James Madison, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris as the most frequent speakers at the convention, with Morris taking the floor some 173 times. In addition, it was Morris who drafted the final version of the Constitution, including the famous Preamble.

Clearly, the author’s intent is to offer a fairly brisk account of the Constitutional Convention and, even more briefly, the subsequent ratification process. She does note the prescience of the nationalists to adopt the label of “Federalists” in the selling of the Constitution, which is quite a stretch for the actual construct achieved. While the book is informative, there is the sense that some details have been included at the expense of others. The entire Bill of Rights debate and adoption are barely mentioned. The Constitution is included in the Appendix, absent all amendments, however. The inclusion of the Articles of Confederation seems unnecessary. The author does reiterate two main points: the knowledge of the founders that an imperfect document had been created and that the modern, very powerful Presidency would never have been tolerated in 1787. All in all, a nice introduction to the formation of the US Constitution.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780156028721
Author:
Berkin, Carol
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Subject:
History
Subject:
North American
Subject:
North America
Subject:
United States - Revolutionary War
Subject:
Constitutions
Subject:
Political History
Subject:
Statesmen
Subject:
History & Theory - General
Subject:
United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Subject:
US History-Revolution and Constitution Era
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20031031
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 9 to 12
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 0.66 lb
Age Level:
from 14

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » US History » 18th Century
History and Social Science » US History » Documents
History and Social Science » US History » Revolution and Constitution Era

A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution Used Trade Paper
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Product details 320 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156028721 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A rich narrative portrait of post-revolutionary America and the men who shaped its political future

 

Though the American Revolution is widely recognized as our nation's founding story, the years immediately following the war—when our government was a disaster and the country was in a terrible crisis—were in fact the most crucial in establishing the country's independence. The group of men who traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 had no idea what kind of history their meeting would make. But all their ideas, arguments, and compromises—from the creation of the Constitution itself, article by article, to the insistence that it remain a living, evolving document—laid the foundation for a government that has surpassed the founders' greatest hopes. Revisiting all the original historical documents of the period and drawing from her deep knowledge of eighteenth-century politics, Carol Berkin opens up the hearts and minds of America's founders, revealing the issues they faced, the times they lived in, and their humble expectations of success.

"Synopsis" by ,
"Carol Berkin has now written the liveliest and most concise account yet of the adoption of the Constitution. With unflagging verve, she sweeps readers along as she introduces the players, canvasses the issues, and explains the critical decisions. And she manages the neat and difficult trick of presenting the framers of the Constitution as living, breathing, calculating politicians while simultaneously capturing the deep seriousness of their debates and achievements. The result is a sparkling, fast-paced, and always engaging introduction to the modern world's first great exercise in constitutional invention."-- Jack N. Rakove, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic

"A story all modern Americans need to know--the exciting and true tale of our nation's origins, as narrated by one of our best historians."--Professor Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

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