From Publishers Weekly
This superficial account advances the unoriginal thesis that "sectionalism and slavery are key to understanding" the Constitutional Convention. Goldstone (The Friar and the Cipher
) recreates the convention, focusing in particular on four delegates: George Mason, a Virginia planter who ultimately refused to sign the Constitution; John Rutledge, a South Carolina lawyer and statesman; Oliver Ellsworth, a dour Connecticut attorney turned judge; and Roger Sherman, a Massachusetts native transplanted to Connecticut, who had risen from cobbler and almanac maker to respected politician. Sherman was the architect of the so-called Connecticut Compromise, which included the plan that states' representation in the House, but not the Senate, would be based on population. Goldstone rehearses the genesis of the three-fifths compromise (that for purposes of taxation and legislative apportionment, slaves would count as 3/5 of a person), the debate over the office of the president and the other key convention controversies. On the whole, Goldstone tells us nothing new. He insists that the framers were acting out of self-interest, not principle;an argument first advanced, with much more nuance, by the great historian Charles Beard in 1913. In short, this is the type of thin and derivative book that gives "popular history" a bad name. 30 b&w illus. not seen by PW
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In the nineteenth century, as the debate over slavery intensified, one wag asserted that the institution was the "sleeping serpent" under the table at the Constitutional Convention; that is, most delegates, while of course aware of the institution, regarded it as of marginal importance in their deliberations. Most nineteenth--century scholars supported that view. Goldstone convincingly maintains that the issue of slavery was actually a fundamental and divisive concern for the delegates. As recent economic studies have confirmed, slavery played an integral role in the northern as well as southern economies. Although debates over federal power and the status of trans-Appalachian territories were important, Goldstone shows that slavery was the issue that evoked the most intense passions and was the most resistant to compromise. He effectively uses primary sources, including James Madison's notes and the records of debates within individual states' ratification conventions; but he places the spoken and written words of participants within the context of their cultural and economic milieu. This is a well-argued contribution to our evolving understanding of the role of slavery in our nation's origins. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved