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The Debate on the Constitution : Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification : Part One, September 1787-February 1788 (Library of America)Hardcover– June 1, 1993
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About the Author
BERNARD BAILYN is Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, emeritus, at Harvard University. He is the author many acclaimed works, including The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution.
Editor Bernard Bailyn has assembled a first-rate collection of letters, circulars, pamphlets, speeches, and what would be the colonial equivalent of modern op-ed pieces that allows today's readers to witness the founding of a government through the eyes of (and with the voices of) those who were really there. But don't be fooled into thinking this is going to be the stilted, polite prose that often belongs to 18th century philosophers or debaters. Many of the pieces Bailyn has selected are remakrkably spry and teeming with understated wit. Those who think that mud-slinging, negative campaigning, and assaults on the integrity of the opponent are modern day creations may be surprised to see that those in the 18th century could be just as nitpicky, petty, and ascerbic as their present day decendants -- and yet still remain surprisingly gentlemanly about the whole thing. Some letter writers absolutely seethe with irritation at their opposition, and by presenting his debaters in roughly chronological order, Bailyn ensures that for every "Oh yeah?" uttered by a Federalist, there will soon be a responsive "Yeah!" from the anti-Federalist side. It all makes for lively and informative reading, and one wonders if such a critical debate could be carried out with such manners in today's media. It should come as no surprise that most of the Hamilton-Madison-Jay Federalist Papers are in here, as are the level-headed, persuasive anti-Federalist arguments of James Wilson and George Mason.Read more ›
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Part one opens with Benjamin Franklin's speech at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, September 17,1787. Two pages long, this speech and all the others that follow, are short, easy to read and in tolerably modern english. Both sides of the argument are presented, not just the federalist opinion but also the anti-federalist. Many concerns the anti-federalist writers had have proven true. We have created an aristocracy. We do have trouble with our standing peace time army being used to oppress the citizenry. Thank God they had the forsight to require the inclusion of a written bill of rights. These books are required reading for every educated citizen. Quit reading my review and place these books in your shopping basket right now
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Study of the Federalist Papers, of course included in this two volume series, is a conduit for understanding the American ethic. When the Federalist Papers are viewed as included in this chronological deliberation between the Federalists and Antifederalists, they become even more profound than the enormous depth they can achieve when read alone. The concerns of Brutus and Agrippa are answered, the repititive call for a 'Bill of Rights' revealed. Madison wrote to Jefferson in 1825 defining the Federalist Papers as 'may fairly enough be regarded as the most authentic exposition of the text of the federal constituion, as understood by the Body which prepared & the authority which accepted it.' The enormous insight gained from tracking the arguments and concerns of the proposed Constituion , and the responses of the Federalist cannot be easily estimated, yet the result is a much more informed conscience of the American experience. Madison in the same letter mentioned above stated that Federalist Essays did not foresee all the misconstructions which to that date had occured, nor prevent some it did foresee. For the concerned and deliberate citizen of today many of these issues remain, issues such as Federalism are current topics and all too often the opinions of the few become the conscience of the many, examining these volume will do much to alleviate this vexing condition. More alarming is the realization that many of the fears of the Antifederalists have become a reality in todays polity. An excellent and comprehensive collection thank you Bernard Bailyn.
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"The Debate on the Constitution" is a wealth of primary source material for true students of U.S. History. Caveat emptor though. If you fancy yourself an armchair historian because you've read a few of David McCullough's readable histories, then you may find yourself overwhelmed when you try to tackle this collection of circulars, speeches, and articles. To truly appreciate the intellect imbued in many of these passages, one should probably have a background in Hume, Montesquieu, Locke, Blackstone and a host of others. If you read this volume and cannot grasp the beauty of Madison's "The Federalist X" or the sheer logical brilliance of Hamilton's "The Federalist XXXII - XXXIII," then you may need to give yourself a primer on the theoretical underpinnings of colonial history before you digest the rest of this work.
What Bailyn does collect here is not to be ignored. There are very few omissions that one should go out and hunt down in order to see the entire effort of controverting the nascent Constitution. If you find yourself siding with George Mason and James Monroe more often than James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, then it would behoove you to pick up the entire collected works of the anti federalists, but it is not necessary to get a thorough panoramic of the debate.
On the negative side (small negative side, mind you), Bailyn uses a format that I have never enjoyed for works of this length: endnotes rather than footnotes. I have studied formative U.S. history for over a decade, and I still needed to read several of the notes. Most readers should read all of the notes. Therein lies the problem.Read more ›