The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It superseded the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution, in 1789. Originally comprising seven articles, it delineates the national frame and constraints of government. The Constitution's first three articles embody the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress (Article I); the executive, consisting of the president and subordinate officers (Article II); and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts (Article III). Article IV, Article V, and Article VI embody concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments, the states in relationship to the federal government, and the shared process of constitutional amendment. Article VII establishes the procedure subsequently used by the 13 states to ratify it. The Constitution of the United States is the oldest and longest-standing written and codified national constitution in force in the world today. The drafting of the Constitution, often referred to as its framing, was completed at the Constitutional Convention, which assembled at Independence Hall in Philadelphia between May 25 and September 17, 1787. Delegates to the convention were chosen by the state legislatures of 12 of the 13 original states; Rhode Island refused to send delegates. The convention's initial mandate was limited to amending the Articles of Confederation, which had proven highly ineffective in meeting the young nation's needs. Almost immediately, however, delegates began considering measures to replace the Articles. The first proposal discussed, introduced by delegates from Virginia, called for a bicameral (two-house) Congress that was to be elected on a proportional basis based on state population, an elected chief executive, and an appointed judicial branch. An alternative to the Virginia Plan, known as the New Jersey Plan, also called for an elected executive but retained the legislative structure created by the Articles, a unicameral Congress where all states had one vote. On June 19, 1787, delegates rejected the New Jersey Plan with three states voting in favor, seven against, and one divided. The plan's defeat led to a series of compromises centering primarily on two issues: slavery and proportional representation. The first of these pitted Northern states, where slavery was slowly being abolished, against Southern states, whose agricultural economies depended on slave labor. The issue of proportional representation was of similar concern to less populous states, which under the Articles had the same power as larger states. To satisfy interests in the South, particularly in Georgia and South Carolina, the delegates agreed to protect the slave trade, that is, the importation of slaves, for 20 years. Slavery was protected further by allowing states to count three-fifths of their slaves as part of their populations, for the purpose of representation in the federal government, and by requiring the return of escaped slaves to their owners, even if captured in states where slavery had been abolished. Finally, the delegates adopted the Connecticut Compromise, which proposed a Congress with proportional representation in the lower house and equal representation in the upper house (the Senate) giving each state two senators. While these compromises held the Union together and aided the Constitution's ratification, slavery continued for six more decades and the less populous states continue to have disproportional representation in the U.S. Senate and Electoral College.(Wikipedia)
A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution,
Harcourt; First Edition (September 13, 2002),
Historian Carol Berkin's A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution is a rich narrative portrait of post-revolutionary America and the men who shaped its political future.
"Just as the Constitution was a brilliant solution to the problems of the 1780s, Carol Berkin's book is a brilliant account of the making of that constitution. Written with great verve and clarity, it nicely captures all the contingency and unpredictability in the framing of the Constitution."—Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood
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.Note: The new hardcovers available from Amazon, offer a much better price for value than the paperback edition.
Power and Liberty,
Oxford University Press,
From the Publisher: "New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood elucidates the debates over the founding documents of the United States.
The half century extending from the imperial crisis between Britain and its colonies in the 1760s to the early decades of the new republic of the United States was the greatest and most creative era of constitutionalism in American history, and perhaps in the world. During these decades, Americans explored and debated all aspects of politics and constitutionalism--the nature of power, liberty, representation, rights, the division of authority between different spheres of government, sovereignty, judicial authority, and written constitutions. The results of these issues produced institutions that have lasted for over two centuries. In this new book, eminent historian Gordon S. Wood distills a lifetime of work on constitutional innovations during the Revolutionary era. In concise form, he illuminates critical events in the nation's founding, ranging from the imperial debate that led to the Declaration of Independence to the revolutionary state constitution making in 1776 and the creation of the Federal Constitution in 1787. Among other topics, he discusses slavery and constitutionalism, the emergence of the judiciary as one of the major tripartite institutions of government, the demarcation between public and private, and the formation of states' rights. Here is an immensely readable synthesis of the key era in the making of the history of the United States, presenting timely insights on the Constitution and the nation's foundational legal and political documents"
"No one has done more to teach us about the origins of American constitutionalism than Gordon S. Wood. Now, at a moment when we are trembling over the strength of our constitutional system, Wood gives us a deft shorthand account of how it all began. For anyone who wants to understand what made American constitutionalism such a vital political experiment, this is the place to start." -- Jack Rakove, author of Beyond Belief, Beyond Conscience: The Radical Significance of the Free Exercise of Religion
"Gordon Wood has packed a lifetime of learning into this splendid little volume. In his capable hands, our founding charters, grown stale from familiarity, regain their freshness and allure as revolutionary documents that redefined our politics. Wood has an uncanny ability to project himself into the past and to report on his findings as if he had been a personal witness to those distant events." -- Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton
"Masterful... No historian knows more about the founding years of the U.S. than Wood. In his latest, he once again demonstrates his characteristic clarity... A fresh, lucid distillation of Wood's vast learning about the origins of American government." --Kirkus, Starred Review
"No living historian has done more to illuminate the origins of our constitutional heritage in the Revolutionary era."--National Review
REQUIRED READING FOR THE WHOLE YEAR OF HISTORY OF THE USA
Land of Hope,
From the Publisher:
"For too long we’ve lacked a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that offers American readers a clear, informative, and inspiring narrative account of their country. Such a fresh retelling of the American story is especially needed today, to shape and deepen young Americans’ sense of the land they inhabit, help them to understand its roots and share in its memories, all the while equipping them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society. The existing texts simply fail to tell that story with energy and conviction. Too often they reflect a fragmented outlook that fails to convey to American readers the grand trajectory of their own history. A great nation needs and deserves a great and coherent narrative, as an expression of its own self-understanding and its aspirations; and it needs to be able to convey that narrative effectively. Of course, it goes without saying that such a narrative cannot be a fairy tale of the past. It will not be convincing if it is not truthful. But as Land of Hope brilliantly shows, there is no contradiction between a truthful account of the American past and an inspiring one. Readers of Land of Hope will find both in its pages."
“At a time of severe partisanship that has infected many accounts of our nation’s past, this brilliant new history, Land of Hope, written in lucid and often lyrical prose, is much needed. It is accurate, honest, and free of the unhistorical condescension so often paid to the people of America’s past. This generous but not uncritical story of our nation’s history ought to be read by every American. It explains and justifies the right kind of patriotism.”― Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
“We’ve long needed a readable text that truly tells the American story, neither hiding the serious injustices in our history nor soft-pedaling our nation’s extraordinary achievements. Such a text cannot be a mere compilation of facts, and it certainly could not be written by someone lacking a deep understanding and appreciation of America’s constitutional ideals and institutions. Bringing his impressive skills as a political theorist, historian, and writer to bear, Wilfred McClay has supplied the need.”― Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
“No one has told the story of America with greater balance or better prose than Wilfred McClay. Land of Hope is a history book that you will not be able to put down. From the moment that ‘natives’ first crossed here over the Bering Strait, to the founding of America’s great experiment in republican government, to the horror and triumph of the Civil War...McClay’s account will capture your attention while offering an unforgettable education.”― James W. Ceaser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia