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Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Rightby Ray Raphael
Synopses & Reviews
"As bitter partisanship continues to engulf American politics and society, it is with some relief that one opens Raphael's study of the historical Constitution to find a text more concerned with contextualizing the Founder Fathers than in interpreting them. One by one, Raphael (Founders) addresses some of the more pervasive interpretations of the Constitution and the men who crafted it: that the Framers opposed a strong federal government and taxation; that the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights were central texts to the Founding Fathers; that James Madison was the architect of the Constitution, culminating in a criticism of Originalism — the principle, held most prominently by Justices Scalia and Thomas, that the Constitution ought be interpreted according to the Framers' 'original intent'. Through careful analysis of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Raphael demonstrates that nothing about the Constitution is as simple as contemporary discourse makes it seem; though many of the Framers came to the Convention with lofty ideals and ambitions, Raphael shows how they were constantly forced into pragmatic and ambiguous compromises. Though his diligent research is unlikely to sway originalists, libertarians, small government advocates, Raphael provides a counter argument that relies on historical record rather than ideology. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
With the entry of the Tea Party onto the political scene, the U.S. Constitution has become a political battleground, with liberals and conservatives trading fire over its meaning and intent. Amid all the hubbub, historian Ray Raphael was struck by how much both sides got wrong, and how falsehoods have largely overtaken history in Americans understanding of the nations most important document. In Constitutional Myths, he sorts out truth from fiction, juxtaposing what historians know about the Constitution with what most Americans (and politicians) think they know about it.
The surprising misconceptions Raphael corrects in Constitutional Myths include:
The Framers embraced limited government.
The Framers were enlightened and disinterested statesmen, not politicians pushing special interests.
The Constitution promoted democracy and promised equality.
The Founding Fathers gave us the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution provided the final answer” and must forever endure.
Raphael offers readers an accessible new understanding of the Constitution—one that is sure to provoke and entertain Americans across the political spectrum.
Americans of late have taken to waving the Constitution in the air and proclaiming, "The founders were on MY side! See, its all right here!" But these phantom constitutions bear little relation to the historical one.
By entering the world of the Constitutions framers, and experiencing it one day after the next as they did, Ray Raphael helps us understand how and why they created the document they did. Casting aside preconceptions and commonly held beliefs, he asks provocative questions that get to the heart of the document and its purposes: Was the aim of the Constitution really to limit government? Why didnt the framers include a Bill of Rights? Did they hate taxes? Was James Madison actually the "Father of the Constitution," as proclaimed in our textbooks? Can we find the true meaning of the Constitution by reading The Federalist Papers or by revealing the framers' "original intent"? The answers to these questions are bound to surprise and enlighten.
Before we can consider what the framers would do if they were alive today, we first need to see what they did during their own time, not in our terms, but theirs. Only then can we begin to resolve the sweeping question that affects us all: what does the Constitution, written at a different time, mean for us today? With this meticulously researched historical tour de force, Raphael sets the record straight—and sounds a vital call for a reasoned and evidence-driven debate about our founding document.
About the Author
Ray Raphael has taught at a one-room public high school, Humboldt State University, and College of the Redwoods. He is the author of twelve books, including Founders, Founding Myths, and A Peoples History of the American Revolution. He lives in Redway, California.
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History and Social Science » Law » Constitutional Law