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Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

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ISBN13: 9780809080618
ISBN10: 0809080613
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Average Americans were the true framers of the Constitution.

Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post-Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.

Review:

"'Is the Constitution a democratic document? Yes, says University of Richmond historian Holton (Forced Founders), but not because the men who wrote it were especially democratically inclined. The framers, Holton says, distrusted the middling farmers who made up much of America's voting population, and believed governance should be left in large part to the elites. But the framers also knew that if the document they drafted did not address ordinary citizens' concerns, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers created a more radical document — 'an underdogs' Constitution,' Holton calls it — than they otherwise would have done. Holton's book, which may be the most suggestive study of the politics of the Constitution and the early republic since Drew McCoy's 1980 The Elusive Republic, is full of surprising insights; for example, his discussion of newspaper writers' defense of a woman's right to purchase the occasional luxury item flies in the face of much scholarship on virtue, gender and fashion in postrevolutionary America. Holton concludes with an inspiring rallying cry for democracy, saying that Americans today seem to have abandoned ordinary late-18th-century citizens' 'intens[e]... democratic aspiration,' resigned, he says, to the power of global corporations and of wealth in American politics.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"

Review:

"Holton demonstrates a lucid and systematic dismantling of the myths surrounding the making of our national government. His succinct account persuasively revives the economic interpretation of the Constitution in terms well-suited for our times..." Robert A. Gross, James L. And Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History, University of Connecticut, and author of The Minutemen and Their World

Review:

"In this account, real people — farmers, soldiers, taxpayers, speculators, creditors and entrepreneurs — replace images of the Founders, and intimate issues like tax fairness, economic effects, and electoral accountability matter far more than abstractions. The result is a new and compelling history." Christine Desan, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Review:

"In this brilliantly researched study Holton thus revives an economic interpretation of the Constitution and in the process reminds us that ordinary American farmers after the Revolution imagined a strikingly different nation from the one that the Founders gave us." T.H. Breen, Director, Center for Historical Studies, Northwestern University

Review:

"[A] tough, realistic way of thinking about the founders. Unruly Americans is a brilliant book, rich with insights into the American Revolution and the Constitution." Alfred Young, author of Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution

Book News Annotation:

Legions of American schoolchildren have been taught that the US Constitution was written to encourage democracy and protect civil rights. Holton (history, U. of Richmond) offers a dissenting view, noting that the Bill of Rights would not have been appended to the Constitution were it not for its opponents, the anti-federalists. However, he goes even further, arguing that the specific purpose of the framers of the Constitution was specifically to limit democracy, believing as they did that the state assemblies were too responsive to their constituents, particularly in granting relief for public and private debts. In addition to presenting this narrative of the Constitution's origins, Holton gives voice to the views of those the framers feared, who agreed that the country was on the wrong track but believed that the problem was elite misrule and the solution was more democracy, not less. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution

Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitutions origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate.  The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse Americas post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans. 

 

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shayss Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.

Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia.
A National Book Award Finalist

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

A Washington Post Top 100 Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
A George Washington Book Prize Finalist
 
Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we have now. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse Americas post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans. 

 

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton writes that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to make America more attractive to investment. The linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shayss Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in many other states) produced the Constitution we know today.

"The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict—raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention—would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award)."—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor
"Holton is an associate professor at the University of Richmond. In his previous book, Forced Founders, he argued that Washington, Jefferson, and other members of the Colonial elite joined the Revolution in response to grassroots rebellions. With Unruly Americans, Holton carries that thesis forward to the making of the Constitution, arguing that ‘the rebellions, threats, and warnings of the postwar years—which he explores in detail—‘cast light on the origins of the Constitution . . . But if that seems ungenerous to the Founding Fathers, Holton carefully builds his case that it was the tax-and-debt issue that led at least indirectly to convening the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The debts were incurred from the bonds issued to finance the Revolution—bonds that were frequently held by speculators—and the taxes were needed to pay off those debts. The insurgent farmers, Holton writes, ‘extorted substantial tax and debt relief from reluctant state legislatures.”—Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe  

"According to Holton, when most people articulate their favorite parts of the Constitution, they actually list things found in the Bill of Rights. However, the Constitution was ratified without these rights attached to it. Holton examines why the Constitution was ratified absent those rights. One explanation is that the Founders considered the states too democratic and the state legislatures too willing to appease the will of the majority. The author resurrects arguments by lesser-known political players who thought that the Union could be carried without abandoning legislative rule, and in the process he gives Charles Beard's economic interpretation a second look with surprising conclusions. State legislatures granted tax and debt relief in the years between the conclusion of the revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Many citizens who demanded the legislature respond to their distress thought that their rebellion would bring about a democratic solution. State legislatures, absent pressure from the people, wrecked the economy. The motivation for the Constitution, therefore, is not merely based on the Founders' own self-interest—broadly felt domestic economic turmoil necessitated a more perfect Union. Recommended. General readers, all undergraduates, and researchers."—E. S. Root, West Liberty State College, Choice 

“You simply cant read Unruly Americans without admiring the depth of Holtons research into the financial and political debates of this brief period in the mid-1780s. Currency depreciation, bond speculation, economic policy, the war debt: these are the subjects that the players in Holtons story most wanted to argue about—and did argue about in the greatest detail.”—Robin Einhorn, The Nation

“Holton describes the founders point of view this way: ‘From the Founders perspective, the policies adopted by the state during the American Revolution has near driven it aground. From the Founders perspective, the policies adopted by state legislatures in the 1780s proved that ordinary Americans were not entirely capable of ruling themselves. And from here Holton goes on to very persuasively argue the farmers point of view as it influenced the framers decisions. The route he takes, thoroughly researched and beautifully plotted, breathes fresh air into what sometimes seems a stale subject . . . This is magnificent history for the history buff, the academic . . . any inquiring mind, student or lover of good research and thoughtful conclusions . . . This is a challenging book, a fun book, a work that in the final analysis proves from its chronicle of bitter dissent more about the still viable mechanics of our democracy, and its hallowed blueprint, than any hackneyed historical tribute could ever achieve.”—Mary Garrett, The Advocate (Tennessee)

"The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict—raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention—would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award)."—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor

"Holton demonstrates a lucid and systematic dismantling of the myths surrounding the making of our national government. His succinct account persuasively revives the economic interpretation of the Constitution in terms well-suited for our times, and it will surely become the essential work for students of the founding era. The Constitution enabled the ascent of the United States to great political and economic power, Holton makes plain, but at a profound cost to democracy. If Americans today find our national politicians entrenched in office, out of touch with their constituents, and responsive to lobbyists for the rich, they will understand why after reading this compelling book."—Robert A. Gross, James L. And Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History, University of Connecticut, and author of The Minutemen and Their World

"Woody Holton reframes the coming of the Constitution, revealing the rich debate Americans conducted over the cause of capital in the new land.  In this account, real people—farmers, soldiers, taxpayers, speculators, creditors and entrepreneurs—replace images of the Founders, and intimate issues like tax fairness, economic effects, and electoral accountability matter far more than  abstractions.  The result is a new and compelling history."—Christine Desan, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"Woody Holton invites us to revise most of what we think we know about the origins of the United States Constitution. In this account the Founding Fathers do not appear as selfless philosophers journeying to Philadelphia to explore competing theories of republican government. Rather, Holton describes them as deeply anxious men, determined to contain a surge of popular democracy that seemed to threaten their financial interests . . . Holton thus revives an economic interpretation of the Constitution and in the process reminds us that ordinary American farmers after the Revolution imagined a strikingly different nation from the one that the Founders gave us."—T.H. Breen, Director, Center for Historical Studies, Northwestern University

"Here is a book that helps answer the puzzle of how in 1787 the framers of the Constitution curbed what they considered 'the excess of democracy' in the states and at the same time accommodated democratic pressures. Using a vast array of little appreciated contemporary sources, Holton constructs a fresh, sinewy argument that unfolds with a mounting sense of excitement. The result is a tough, realistic way of thinking about the founders. Unruly Americans is . . . rich with insights into the American Revolution and the Constitution."—Alfred Young, author of Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution

"It turns out that average Americans from the 'unruly mob' had more to do with insuring the personal liberties we Americans now hold dear than did the Framers we so revere. Woody Holton's fascinating and energetic new book makes us take a fresh look at the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. The populist underpinnings of our Republic are real, and this has clear implications for the role that citizens ought to play today in reforming American democracy. Holton's lesson: If the establishment won't change the system, the people can. They've done it from the beginning." —Larry J. Sabato, Director, Center for Politics, University of Virginia

"The motivation of the framers of our constitution is a constant and often hotly debated topic among historians. At one extreme are those who see the framers as brilliant, democratic politicians who did a masterful job of juggling competing interests while remaining true to the ideal of personal liberty. At the other extreme are the economic determinists who view the founders as members of the privileged classes, insistent upon protecting their interests from the encroachments of the masses. Holton certainly would be most comfortable in the latter camp, but his arguments here are free of dogmatism, and he offers some interesting twists on old assertions. He maintains that the delegates to the convention were attempting to limit the democratic tendencies of the individual state legislatures by curbing their powers to issue paper money and offer relief to debtors. Faced with vehement popular opposition to ratification, the Bill of Rights, Holton claims, was promised only to tip the balance in favor of ratification . . . he makes a credible case that some delegates feared the dangers of democracy."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

“Economic interpretation of the Constitution is not new, but Holtons makes for particularly fascinating reading . . . Surprisingly compelling at every turn and awesomely researched; highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

"Is the Constitution a democratic document? Yes, says University of Richmond historian [Woody] Holton (Forced Founders), but not because the men who wrote it were especially democratically inclined. The framers, Holton says, distrusted the middling farmers who made up much of America's voting population, and believed governance should be left in large part to the elites. But the framers also knew that if the document they drafted did not address ordinary citizens' concerns, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers created a more radical document—an underdogs' Constitution, Holton calls it—than they otherwise would have done. Holton's book, which may be the most suggestive study of the politics of the Constitution and the early republic since Drew McCoy's 1980 The Elusive Republic, is full of surprising insights; for example, his discussion of newspaper writers' defense of a woman's right to purchase the occasional luxury item flies in the face of much scholarship on virtue, gender and fashion in postrevolutionary America. Holton concludes with an inspiring rallying cry for democracy, saying that Americans today seem to have abandoned ordinary late-18th-century citizens' intens[e] . . . democratic aspiration, resigned, he says, to the power of global corporations and of wealth in American politics."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

Synopsis:

Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution

Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post-Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere. Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. A National Book Award Finalist

A Washington Post Best Book of the YearA Washington Post Top 100 Book of the YearA Boston Globe Best Book of the YearA George Washington Book Prize Finalist Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we have now. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post-Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton writes that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to make America more attractive to investment. The linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in many other states) produced the Constitution we know today. The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict--raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention--would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award).--Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor Holton is an associate professor at the University of Richmond. In his previous book, Forced Founders, he argued that Washington, Jefferson, and other members of the Colonial elite joined the Revolution in response to grassroots rebellions. With Unruly Americans, Holton carries that thesis forward to the making of the Constitution, arguing that 'the rebellions, threats, and warnings of the postwar years'--which he explores in detail--'cast light on the origins of the Constitution' . . . But if that seems ungenerous to the Founding Fathers, Holton carefully builds his case that it was the tax-and-debt issue that led at least indirectly to convening the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The debts were incurred from the bonds issued to finance the Revolution--bonds that were frequently held by speculators--and the taxes were needed to pay off those debts. The insurgent farmers, Holton writes, 'extorted substantial tax and debt relief from reluctant state legislatures.'--Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

According to Holton, when most people articulate their favorite parts of the Constitution, they actually list things found in the Bill of Rights. However, the Constitution was ratified without these rights attached to it. Holton examines why the Constitution was ratified absent those rights. One explanation is that the Founders considered the states too democratic and the state legislatures too willing to appease the will of the majority. The author resurrects arguments by lesser-known political players who thought that the Union could be carried without abandoning legislative rule, and in the process he gives Charles Beard's economic interpretation a second look with surprising conclusions. State legislatures granted tax and debt relief in the years between the conclusion of the revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Many citizens who demanded the legislature respond to their distress thought that their rebellion would bring about a democratic solution. State legislatures, absent pressure from the people, wrecked the economy. The motivation for the Constitution, therefore, is not merely based on the Founders' own self-interest--broadly felt domestic economic turmoil necessitated a more

About the Author

Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia.

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OneMansView, August 14, 2009 (view all comments by OneMansView)
A little known chapter in American history

A lot of myth surrounds the American founding. It is not uncommon for many to see a continuum from the Declaration to the Constitution with liberty, freedom, and democracy being solidified along the way. But the exhilaration and potential for empowerment felt in 1776 had largely dissipated by the middle 1780s, as well as the commonality of purpose between elites and others. The defeat of England brought with it economic and political discord. This book discusses at length the economic hard times that were pervasive in the thirteen states dating at least from the last battle of the Revolutionary War in 1781, the attempts to deal with those problems ranging from self-help to legislation, and the impact of those developments on calling for a constitutional convention and the subsequent provisions of the US Constitution.

The states under the Articles of Confederation were not on a sound financial footing when the War broke out. The currency, certificates, bonds, etc that were issued to pay soldiers and buy supplies greatly depreciated over the next several years. In addition, the hard money supply dried up. Upon discharge, soldiers were forced to sell their certificates at steep discounts to speculators. Both creditors and bondholders insisted on payment of debts and interest on bonds. State governments raised taxes primarily to pay that interest.

Farmers and artisans, especially in light of a lack of circulating currency, were faced with both debts and taxes that they could not pay. Widespread foreclosures and confiscation of property administered by local sheriffs were the result. But those middling folks felt more victimized than deficient in compliance. The huge rate of return that speculators got on discounted bonds was especially irksome. The people living mostly in the western part of the states forcibly obstructed courts, sheriffs, and auctions and demanded that legislatures give some measure of debt and tax relief, as well as reintroduce paper money. Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786/87 is the foremost example of citizen self-help.

The ineffectualness of the Articles of Confederation coupled with what elites saw as irresponsibility and too much democracy on the part of average people forced a constitutional convention in May, 1787. The author discusses the balance that the elites of the Convention (virtually all lawyers, merchants, and large landowners) had to achieve in curtailing democracy while appearing to secure it. The provision for people electing members of the lower house of Congress was offset by large electoral districts, which diminishes the potential impact of interest groups, like debt-ridden farmers. No longer could states issue currency or give relief to debtors. But the newly established right of the federal government to collect import taxes greatly reduced onerous individual tax burdens.

The book is a corrective to the usual discussions on the Constitution making process; however, it is the broad focus of the delegates and not the day-to-day Convention affairs that concerns this author. The detailing of the financial hard times is a bit muddled and scattered and repetitious. Also, it seems that the author overstates the impact that the people had on the final version of the Constitution, despite any unruliness. The founders actually made few concessions to democracy. The anti-Federalists hardly took up the cause of democracy; they too were elites but were chagrined over the loss of state power.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780809080618
Author:
Holton, Woody
Publisher:
Hill and Wang
Subject:
General
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Constitutional
Subject:
Constitutional history
Subject:
Constitutions
Subject:
Political History
Subject:
United States - 18th Century
Subject:
General History
Subject:
Constitutional history -- United States.
Subject:
US History - 20th Century
Subject:
United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Subject:
US History-General
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20081014
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes Notes and an Index
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
8.89 x 6.62 x 1.26 in

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Product details 384 pages Hill & Wang - English 9780809080618 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Is the Constitution a democratic document? Yes, says University of Richmond historian Holton (Forced Founders), but not because the men who wrote it were especially democratically inclined. The framers, Holton says, distrusted the middling farmers who made up much of America's voting population, and believed governance should be left in large part to the elites. But the framers also knew that if the document they drafted did not address ordinary citizens' concerns, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers created a more radical document — 'an underdogs' Constitution,' Holton calls it — than they otherwise would have done. Holton's book, which may be the most suggestive study of the politics of the Constitution and the early republic since Drew McCoy's 1980 The Elusive Republic, is full of surprising insights; for example, his discussion of newspaper writers' defense of a woman's right to purchase the occasional luxury item flies in the face of much scholarship on virtue, gender and fashion in postrevolutionary America. Holton concludes with an inspiring rallying cry for democracy, saying that Americans today seem to have abandoned ordinary late-18th-century citizens' 'intens[e]... democratic aspiration,' resigned, he says, to the power of global corporations and of wealth in American politics.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Review" by , "Holton demonstrates a lucid and systematic dismantling of the myths surrounding the making of our national government. His succinct account persuasively revives the economic interpretation of the Constitution in terms well-suited for our times..." Robert A. Gross, James L. And Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History, University of Connecticut, and author of The Minutemen and Their World
"Review" by , "In this account, real people — farmers, soldiers, taxpayers, speculators, creditors and entrepreneurs — replace images of the Founders, and intimate issues like tax fairness, economic effects, and electoral accountability matter far more than abstractions. The result is a new and compelling history."
"Review" by , "In this brilliantly researched study Holton thus revives an economic interpretation of the Constitution and in the process reminds us that ordinary American farmers after the Revolution imagined a strikingly different nation from the one that the Founders gave us."
"Review" by , "[A] tough, realistic way of thinking about the founders. Unruly Americans is a brilliant book, rich with insights into the American Revolution and the Constitution."
"Synopsis" by ,
Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution

Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitutions origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate.  The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse Americas post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans. 

 

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shayss Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.

Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia.
A National Book Award Finalist

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

A Washington Post Top 100 Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
A George Washington Book Prize Finalist
 
Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we have now. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse Americas post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans. 

 

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton writes that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to make America more attractive to investment. The linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shayss Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in many other states) produced the Constitution we know today.

"The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict—raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention—would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award)."—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor
"Holton is an associate professor at the University of Richmond. In his previous book, Forced Founders, he argued that Washington, Jefferson, and other members of the Colonial elite joined the Revolution in response to grassroots rebellions. With Unruly Americans, Holton carries that thesis forward to the making of the Constitution, arguing that ‘the rebellions, threats, and warnings of the postwar years—which he explores in detail—‘cast light on the origins of the Constitution . . . But if that seems ungenerous to the Founding Fathers, Holton carefully builds his case that it was the tax-and-debt issue that led at least indirectly to convening the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The debts were incurred from the bonds issued to finance the Revolution—bonds that were frequently held by speculators—and the taxes were needed to pay off those debts. The insurgent farmers, Holton writes, ‘extorted substantial tax and debt relief from reluctant state legislatures.”—Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe  

"According to Holton, when most people articulate their favorite parts of the Constitution, they actually list things found in the Bill of Rights. However, the Constitution was ratified without these rights attached to it. Holton examines why the Constitution was ratified absent those rights. One explanation is that the Founders considered the states too democratic and the state legislatures too willing to appease the will of the majority. The author resurrects arguments by lesser-known political players who thought that the Union could be carried without abandoning legislative rule, and in the process he gives Charles Beard's economic interpretation a second look with surprising conclusions. State legislatures granted tax and debt relief in the years between the conclusion of the revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Many citizens who demanded the legislature respond to their distress thought that their rebellion would bring about a democratic solution. State legislatures, absent pressure from the people, wrecked the economy. The motivation for the Constitution, therefore, is not merely based on the Founders' own self-interest—broadly felt domestic economic turmoil necessitated a more perfect Union. Recommended. General readers, all undergraduates, and researchers."—E. S. Root, West Liberty State College, Choice 

“You simply cant read Unruly Americans without admiring the depth of Holtons research into the financial and political debates of this brief period in the mid-1780s. Currency depreciation, bond speculation, economic policy, the war debt: these are the subjects that the players in Holtons story most wanted to argue about—and did argue about in the greatest detail.”—Robin Einhorn, The Nation

“Holton describes the founders point of view this way: ‘From the Founders perspective, the policies adopted by the state during the American Revolution has near driven it aground. From the Founders perspective, the policies adopted by state legislatures in the 1780s proved that ordinary Americans were not entirely capable of ruling themselves. And from here Holton goes on to very persuasively argue the farmers point of view as it influenced the framers decisions. The route he takes, thoroughly researched and beautifully plotted, breathes fresh air into what sometimes seems a stale subject . . . This is magnificent history for the history buff, the academic . . . any inquiring mind, student or lover of good research and thoughtful conclusions . . . This is a challenging book, a fun book, a work that in the final analysis proves from its chronicle of bitter dissent more about the still viable mechanics of our democracy, and its hallowed blueprint, than any hackneyed historical tribute could ever achieve.”—Mary Garrett, The Advocate (Tennessee)

"The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict—raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention—would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award)."—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor

"Holton demonstrates a lucid and systematic dismantling of the myths surrounding the making of our national government. His succinct account persuasively revives the economic interpretation of the Constitution in terms well-suited for our times, and it will surely become the essential work for students of the founding era. The Constitution enabled the ascent of the United States to great political and economic power, Holton makes plain, but at a profound cost to democracy. If Americans today find our national politicians entrenched in office, out of touch with their constituents, and responsive to lobbyists for the rich, they will understand why after reading this compelling book."—Robert A. Gross, James L. And Shirley A. Draper Professor of Early American History, University of Connecticut, and author of The Minutemen and Their World

"Woody Holton reframes the coming of the Constitution, revealing the rich debate Americans conducted over the cause of capital in the new land.  In this account, real people—farmers, soldiers, taxpayers, speculators, creditors and entrepreneurs—replace images of the Founders, and intimate issues like tax fairness, economic effects, and electoral accountability matter far more than  abstractions.  The result is a new and compelling history."—Christine Desan, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"Woody Holton invites us to revise most of what we think we know about the origins of the United States Constitution. In this account the Founding Fathers do not appear as selfless philosophers journeying to Philadelphia to explore competing theories of republican government. Rather, Holton describes them as deeply anxious men, determined to contain a surge of popular democracy that seemed to threaten their financial interests . . . Holton thus revives an economic interpretation of the Constitution and in the process reminds us that ordinary American farmers after the Revolution imagined a strikingly different nation from the one that the Founders gave us."—T.H. Breen, Director, Center for Historical Studies, Northwestern University

"Here is a book that helps answer the puzzle of how in 1787 the framers of the Constitution curbed what they considered 'the excess of democracy' in the states and at the same time accommodated democratic pressures. Using a vast array of little appreciated contemporary sources, Holton constructs a fresh, sinewy argument that unfolds with a mounting sense of excitement. The result is a tough, realistic way of thinking about the founders. Unruly Americans is . . . rich with insights into the American Revolution and the Constitution."—Alfred Young, author of Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution

"It turns out that average Americans from the 'unruly mob' had more to do with insuring the personal liberties we Americans now hold dear than did the Framers we so revere. Woody Holton's fascinating and energetic new book makes us take a fresh look at the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. The populist underpinnings of our Republic are real, and this has clear implications for the role that citizens ought to play today in reforming American democracy. Holton's lesson: If the establishment won't change the system, the people can. They've done it from the beginning." —Larry J. Sabato, Director, Center for Politics, University of Virginia

"The motivation of the framers of our constitution is a constant and often hotly debated topic among historians. At one extreme are those who see the framers as brilliant, democratic politicians who did a masterful job of juggling competing interests while remaining true to the ideal of personal liberty. At the other extreme are the economic determinists who view the founders as members of the privileged classes, insistent upon protecting their interests from the encroachments of the masses. Holton certainly would be most comfortable in the latter camp, but his arguments here are free of dogmatism, and he offers some interesting twists on old assertions. He maintains that the delegates to the convention were attempting to limit the democratic tendencies of the individual state legislatures by curbing their powers to issue paper money and offer relief to debtors. Faced with vehement popular opposition to ratification, the Bill of Rights, Holton claims, was promised only to tip the balance in favor of ratification . . . he makes a credible case that some delegates feared the dangers of democracy."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

“Economic interpretation of the Constitution is not new, but Holtons makes for particularly fascinating reading . . . Surprisingly compelling at every turn and awesomely researched; highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

"Is the Constitution a democratic document? Yes, says University of Richmond historian [Woody] Holton (Forced Founders), but not because the men who wrote it were especially democratically inclined. The framers, Holton says, distrusted the middling farmers who made up much of America's voting population, and believed governance should be left in large part to the elites. But the framers also knew that if the document they drafted did not address ordinary citizens' concerns, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers created a more radical document—an underdogs' Constitution, Holton calls it—than they otherwise would have done. Holton's book, which may be the most suggestive study of the politics of the Constitution and the early republic since Drew McCoy's 1980 The Elusive Republic, is full of surprising insights; for example, his discussion of newspaper writers' defense of a woman's right to purchase the occasional luxury item flies in the face of much scholarship on virtue, gender and fashion in postrevolutionary America. Holton concludes with an inspiring rallying cry for democracy, saying that Americans today seem to have abandoned ordinary late-18th-century citizens' intens[e] . . . democratic aspiration, resigned, he says, to the power of global corporations and of wealth in American politics."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

"Synopsis" by , Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution

Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post-Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere. Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. A National Book Award Finalist

A Washington Post Best Book of the YearA Washington Post Top 100 Book of the YearA Boston Globe Best Book of the YearA George Washington Book Prize Finalist Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we have now. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post-Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.

If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton writes that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to make America more attractive to investment. The linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in many other states) produced the Constitution we know today. The years between 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended, and 1787, when the US Constitution was framed, were ones of fateful conflict between American debtors and creditors. Described in impressive detail by historian Woody Holton in Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, this conflict--raging in newspapers, state legislatures, and the Constitutional Convention--would help define the form of the United States government. It's an unusual lens through which to view the shaping of the US Constitution, but Holton, an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond, makes a sharply compelling case in Unruly Americans (recently nominated for a 2007 National Book Award).--Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor Holton is an associate professor at the University of Richmond. In his previous book, Forced Founders, he argued that Washington, Jefferson, and other members of the Colonial elite joined the Revolution in response to grassroots rebellions. With Unruly Americans, Holton carries that thesis forward to the making of the Constitution, arguing that 'the rebellions, threats, and warnings of the postwar years'--which he explores in detail--'cast light on the origins of the Constitution' . . . But if that seems ungenerous to the Founding Fathers, Holton carefully builds his case that it was the tax-and-debt issue that led at least indirectly to convening the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The debts were incurred from the bonds issued to finance the Revolution--bonds that were frequently held by speculators--and the taxes were needed to pay off those debts. The insurgent farmers, Holton writes, 'extorted substantial tax and debt relief from reluctant state legislatures.'--Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe

According to Holton, when most people articulate their favorite parts of the Constitution, they actually list things found in the Bill of Rights. However, the Constitution was ratified without these rights attached to it. Holton examines why the Constitution was ratified absent those rights. One explanation is that the Founders considered the states too democratic and the state legislatures too willing to appease the will of the majority. The author resurrects arguments by lesser-known political players who thought that the Union could be carried without abandoning legislative rule, and in the process he gives Charles Beard's economic interpretation a second look with surprising conclusions. State legislatures granted tax and debt relief in the years between the conclusion of the revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Many citizens who demanded the legislature respond to their distress thought that their rebellion would bring about a democratic solution. State legislatures, absent pressure from the people, wrecked the economy. The motivation for the Constitution, therefore, is not merely based on the Founders' own self-interest--broadly felt domestic economic turmoil necessitated a more

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