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Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America Paperback – September 17, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0393306231 ISBN-10: 0393306232 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393306232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393306231
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For Morgan, popular sovereigntygovernment of, by and for the peopleis a myth. Professor emeritus of history at Yale, he argues, in effect, that representative democracy is a tool to bolster rule by the powerful few over the many; the majority are thus led to believe they control their own destiny. In this quietly subversive rereading of our history, American colonists perfected the fiction of popular rule by involving voters in extravagant electoral campaigns and by insisting that elected representatives derived their power from their constituents. Meanwhile, elitist colonial rulers who owned considerable property pulled strings to get their way. Earlier, in England, members of the House of Commons and reformers challenged another governing fictionthe divine right of kingsand in so doing paved the way for popular sovereignty. Morgan offers a thought-provoking look at how the founding fathers assumed power.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Edmund S. Morgan . . . [is] a man with a rare gift for telling the story of the past simply and elegantly without sacrificing its abundant complexity. . . . The story he tells is of enormous interest and importance.” (Pauline Meier - New York Times Book Review)

“[A] provocative new study. . . . In a series of brilliant chapters, [Morgan] probes the myths that sustained eighteenth-century American notions of liberty.” (Keith Thomas - New York Review of Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a very perceptive examination of a central tenet of both the British and American democracies, that is, the one where the central government rests on popular sovereignty - on the people. The author shows that is mostly a convenient fiction, but one that must be honored to legitimate democratic governments. In the first place, "the people" is a most nebulous concept - sufficiently vague to not affix specific rights and duties.

The author devotes at least half the book to 17th century English political history where the divine right of kings was gradually replaced by popular sovereignty exercised by Parliament. He shows where the Long Parliament of 1640 assumed supreme authority in the name of the people with no mechanisms actually in place for the "people" to check Parliament. The Levellers of that time attempted to bridge the gap of empowerment for the people, but were essentially ignored and suppressed keeping power in the hands of the few.

In later years and in America, the myth of the power of people has been sustained in many ways: extolling the importance of the virtuous yeoman (farmer), requiring participation in local militias where local social hierarchies can be reinforced, elections where pre-selected, elite candidates pander for votes, and holding carnivals where the gentry and peasants pretend to swap social roles. In all of these cases there is the pretense of social equality. It is all an elaborate game where elites interact with the ordinary just enough to remind everyone both of their superiority and sameness and to deflect grass-roots efforts to exercise power.

There is a great deal of discussion concerning the agreement of men in a hypothetical past to emerge from a state of nature to form a community and then to establish a government.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Gardner on March 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'm barely a quarter of the way through the book. It's very dense in that there is so much to read and ponder within its covers. But what I have read shows that he has done his homework, and is presenting the material in a way that makes me feel like I was part of the popular debate occuring in the halls of government at the time.

If you want to know why the constitution is written the way it is, where our forefathers got the crazy idea that men are inherently sovereign and have God-given rights, you'll need to get this book. It explains the slow, awkward, and surprising evolution of philosophy as people began to realize kings were no more endowed with a a mandate from God than men were. If you can't imagine what was really going on in people's minds between the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, this book will fill in all of the missing gaps.
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Format: Paperback
This is not a history of the abstract political theory of popular sovereignty, but a detailed account of the evolving notions of political representation and the changes in political practice in England and the American Colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries and how they gave rise to the belief in the principle of popular sovereignty.

If you know absolutely nothing about the political turmoil of 17th century England, the book may be slightly overwhelming. Online videos on the English Civil War [1642-1649] and Oliver Cromwell are an easy way to get oriented to the period. Rulers from 1603 to 1714 (the age of the Stuarts) are James I [1603-1625], Charles I [1625-1649], Oliver Cromwell (not a king, nor a Stuart), Charles II [1660-1685], James II [1685-1688], William III [1689-1702] with Mary II [1689-1694], and Anne [1702-1714]. From 1714 to 1820 the British kings are George I [1714-1727], George II [1727-1760], and George III [1760-1820].
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A fine historical book worthy of being read by serious students of Democracy. See how we settled on representative government after the bad lessons learned in Europe.
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