From Publishers Weekly
Thomas Jefferson called it the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written. High praise, indeed, for The Federalist
, that compendium of brilliant essays on power written in 1787–1788 by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (with an assist from John Jay) to persuade waverers to ratify the proposed Constitution. Recent scholars have downplayed the work's influence, claiming the essays circulated only among New Yorkers or convinced no one who wasn't already convinced. Meyerson (Political Numeracy
), a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, argues conversely that The Federalist
remains of critical importance for understanding not only early America but today's divisive debates on issues like clean-air regulation and medical marijuana. In the book's first half, he succinctly narrates the astonishing story of how Hamilton and Madison—the first combustible and heedless, the other priggish and intellectual—subsumed their differences and forged a genuine friendship that lasted only as long as their writing partnership. In the second part, Meyerson analyzes the various meanings and conflicting interpretations of The Federalist
over the following centuries. By combining the personal and the constitutional, law and history, Meyerson has produced a remarkably insightful volume on a crucial American document. (Mar.)
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Part historian, part lawyer, Meyerson explicates James Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s 1787–88 publicity campaign touting the new Constitution. Bundled into the famous book The Federalist, the duo’s essays remain a point of origin in constitutional interpretation, though their relevance and influence at the time are questioned by some today. Defending The Federalist against modern critics, Meyerson credits it with impressing its initial audience and with impact on the present Supreme Court. Analyzing the opinions of justices who have cited The Federalist, Meyerson wends through the concept of originalism, the extent to which the intent of the Constitution’s framers can be discerned and applied. A good way to fire up a law class perhaps, but the history-minded may be more drawn to how the Madison-Hamilton odd couple got together, considering their subsequent political animosity. Noting their exasperation with the Articles of Confederation and sketching in the course of their (and John Jay’s) collaboration under the quill name of Publius, Meyerson delivers biography as ably as he does political ideas. --Gilbert Taylor