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Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 19, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history. --Gilbert Taylor


“The ratification of the Constitution was the most comprehensive and consequential political debate in American history. It is quite amazing that the story has never before been told with the knowledge and flair it deserves. Here Pauline Maier, one of the leading historians of the revolutionary era, at the peak of her powers, tells that story with style, wit, and incomparable mastery of the sources.”

--Joseph J. Ellis, author of First Family: Abigail and John Adams

“Pauline Maier has written a magnificent, comprehensive account of the political contests by which the people of America, in James Madison’s words, breathed ‘life and validity’ into the United States Constitution. Her book will stand as the definitive account of the story of the ratification of the Constitution for many decades to come.”

--Richard R. Beeman, professor of history, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution

“With the confidence of a master, Pauline Maier has told the story of the ratification of the Constitution in a book that will endure for decades.”

--Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans

“[Pauline Maier] brilliantly tracks the fight over the Constitution’s ratification. . . . A scrupulously even-handed presentation based on impressive scholarship.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The adoption of the Constitution in 1787-1788 was the first great stroke of popular democracy in America, and perhaps its most successful and momentous as well. Yet surprisingly, the full story of ratification has never been told. Now, at long last, Pauline Maier’s sweeping account of ratification brilliantly describes how this great event took place.”
—Jack N. Rakove, author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution

“I can’t imagine a better subject for Pauline Maier’s storytelling skills than the statewide debates over whether to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Never before or since has such a broad cross-section of Americans addressed such fundamental issues of government. Maier follows the debate beyond the legislative chambers into the taverns and homes of ordinary Americans as they made their momentous decision.”

—Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams and Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684868547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684868547
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Until recently, there has been a dearth of books about the desperate political brawl to ratify the proposed US Constitution by the original thirteen colonies. There are many books about the creation of the document (think of the classic "Miracle At Philadephia" by Catherine Dinker Bowen in 1966) but precious little about the desperate fight among the thirteen states to pass it. Then, as now, there was debate among who advocate the primarcy of state's rights and those who favored a more centralized government after the debacle of the Articles of Confederation. The close affirmative votes in both Virginia (by a margin of 89-79) and New York (by a nail-biting vote of 30-27) showed that it could have gone either way.

Last year, Bruce Chatwick published "Triumvirate" about the efforts by James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton to coordinate the campaign to pass the Constitution. It is a shorter and more informal account of the same material covered by Pauline Maier in her 600+ page narrative entitled "Ratification." Both books focused upon the perilous passage by the big four states (Virginia, New York, Mass. and Pa.) while downplaying the role of the other nine states. Ms. Maier has a much more detailed account (with much smaller print type) with a larger focus upon the other major players than Chatwick's account. Both books are very readable with "Ratification" written in a more scholarly style. Regardless of which book the reader picks out, the story is compelling and dramatic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am only in the fourth chapter of this book (just as the public debate is heating up) but want to write this review, because 1) I can see the general form and substance of it so far, and (more importantly) 2) I get the feeling neither of the previous two reviewers have fully read it. (I say this because it is a long dense book but it was reviewed within a few days of publication, with neither review going into any details of the substance of the debates, nor how Maier distinctively presents them.)

I'll keep this short and simple for now and add an update when I finally finish.

What is so attractive about this book is how it purports to reveal a previously partially told story, one which we think is already complete and resolved, but is in fact still being debated today. Using extensive (all available) original sources, Maier turns her authoritative scholastic skills to perhaps the most important subject in our nation's history - the drafting and ratifying of our Constitution. For too long this has been an issue dominated by the (winning) Federalist protagonists - with scant or dismissive attention given to the (by implication disloyal, antagonist) "Antifederalists" (obviously not the name they chose for themselves), who ironically often took pseudonyms incorporating the name "federal", and were actually more federalist in really caring about a strong federation of states than the self-claimed "Federalists" were. The (centralizing) Federalist were unified mainly in wanting ratification to be a swift all or nothing proposal. The (decentralized) Antifederalist were anything but unified, which is why they lost.
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We owe a huge debt of thanks to Professor Pauline Maier for taking the time to review the records of the various state ratifying conventions that led to approval of the U.S. Constitution. In college we read The Federalist Papers, and we talk about the constitutional debates (often from James Madison's notes), but we really do not focus upon the fact that what the men in Philadelphia did has nothing to do with what the various state conventions thought the constitution meant. From the beginning, the conventions were taken aback by the phrase "We the People," in the preamble, because of the significance it had for the creation of a government. Whether the people had such authority when the congress had authorized a mere tightening of the Articles of Confederation was not a foregone conclusion. It was clear that the Articles would not work. But, since the Articles often required unanimity, could something else be offered which did not? What impact would this new central government have on the economic or political well-being of a state. How would peculiar insitutions such as slavery be impacted. Is it necessary to have a list of protections from federal governmental action in the same way that many state constitutions had a bill of rights against the states? All of these questions are addressed by Professor Maier in a most approchable manner. Whether the reader is a scholar who reads the footnotes and makes additional personal commments; or, like me, someone who reads a lot of history and reviewed the footnotes for more detail, or for location of an interesting source; or, for many, who ignore the footnotes and just enjoy the book, this work is a pleasure. I have studied and written about Constitutional Law, in one way or another, for 37 years.Read more ›
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Ratification, by MIT historian Pauline Maier, presents a detailed history of the debates in 1787-88 that preceded the ratification of the US Constitution. Today, two centuries plus two decades after the Constitution was ratified, it has long since achieved the status of holy writ, sacred scripture, never to be questioned. Part of its durability lies in the fact that it was questioned, vigorously, by many of prominent leaders at the time of its ratification. Dr. Maier has provided a detailed, state-by-state, history of the issues debated by these leaders in the 13 state ratifying conventions.

Some of these state-by-state histories may be of interest primarily to the dedicated student of the early years of the republic. However, the issues and the "parties" (forerunners of the first political parties) are important to anyone who hopes to understand the Constitution and the thoughts of those who wrote and ratified it as the basis for the US federal government.

The primary issues at the time of the Constitutional Convention included the following:

* Under the Articles of Confederation, the Federal Congress could print paper money (but not coin) and incur debts but had no power of taxation. Not surprisingly, inflation destroyed the value of the currency, and the government was insolvent. Something needed to be done.

* The Constitutional Convention was called by the Continental Congress to propose changes to the Articles of Confederation, not to replace them with a new charter. None-the-less, it the Convention drafted an entirely new Constitution and proposed that it be approved directly by the states, bypassing the Continental Congress.
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