- Paperback: 376 pages
- Publisher: Univ Pr of Kansas; Reprint edition (December 1, 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0700603115
- ISBN-13: 978-0700603114
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution Reprint Edition
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"A witty and energetic study of the ideas and passions of the Framers."—New York Times Book Review
"Bristles with wit and intellectual energy."—Christian Science Monitor
"A masterpiece. McDonald’s status as an interpreter of the Constitution is unequalled—magisterial."—National Review
"Thoroughly impressive. A book that is consistently enlightening and one that, more than any of McDonald’s previous works, stands as a monument to his remarkable talents."—William and Mary Quarterly
"As provocative as it is difficult to put down."—Georgia Historical Quarterly
"The best single volume on the origins of the Constitution."—Choice
"An important, comprehensive statement about the most fundamental period in American history. It deals authoritatively with topics no student of America can afford to ignore."—Harvey Mansfield, author of The Spirit of Liberalism
From the Back Cover
'A witty and energetic study of the ideas and passions of the Framers.' - New York Times Book Review'An important, comprehensive statement about the most fundamental period in American history. It deals authoritatively with topics no student of American can afford to ignore.' - Harvey Mansfield, author of the Spirit of Liberalism
Top customer reviews
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Novus Ordo Seclorum flows very logically. The main chapter titles illustrate the logical flow:
1. The Problem
2. The Rights of Englishmen
3. Systems of Political Theory
4. Systems of Political Economy
5. The Lessons of Experience, 1776-1787
6. The Framers
7. The Convention
8. Powers, Principles and Consequences
Some of the most significant ideas that stuck with me after reading Novus include the following:
1. The Lockean Idea of Equality: All men are created equal in the sense that none has a natural right to rule others (politically). This idea was intended as an argument against absolute monarchy, the divine right of kings, claimed by the Stuart monarchs of the 17th Century. It was probably in this sense that the phrase found its way into the Declaration of Independence. Subsequent criticism of Jefferson as hypocritical for writing such high sounding words while holding slaves is justifiable in terms of today’s political standards. However, in 1776, the words were focused entirely upward at the monarchy. The idea that they could apply downward had not yet been commonly understood.
2. Locke postulated a logical system of natural law based on three principles: (1) Man has a duty to honor his Creator, (2) Therefore, Mankind ought to be preserved since to do otherwise would dishonor the Creator, (3) Since Mankind needs to live in Society to preserve itself, if follows that Society must be preserved.
3. Locke goes on: In a State of Nature, the earth and all things belong to Mankind in common. However, every individual own his body and his labor, and, consequently, the products of his labor. When he mixes his labor with what Nature has provided, he creates property that is uniquely his own.
4. There were two strains of Republicanism: Puritanical Republicanism sought moral solutions to political and economic problems while Agrarian Republicanism sought more effective political-economic-social arrangements to solve these problems. Puritanical Republicanism, as the name suggests, was strongest in New England, while Agrarian Republicanism was strongest in the middle and southern colonies. (I’m not sure why the term Agrarian was chosen since the approach would appear to apply to commercial and manufacturing settings as well as agricultural.)
5. In the late 18th Century, three systems of political economy were in competition: (1) The Mercantilists held that all economics, and international trade in particular, were a zero-sum system based on a fixed, finite pool of wealth, (2) The Physiocrats held that the pool of wealth could be increased but only slightly and only by means of agricultural labor, (3) Capitalism held that the pool of wealth could be increased dramatically by capital investment and more efficient allocation of labor.
6. Following the American Revolution, the states, under the Articles of Confederation, sought to impose mercantilist systems in their economic relations with each other as well as with the outside world. The Constitution established free trade among the states (Article 1), thereby creating the largest free trade zone in the world. I have read elsewhere that the elimination of the Corn Laws in Britain in the 1840s led to the rise of capitalism and free trade throughout the Atlantic world. I now suspect that, after Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, the US Constitution was the next most significant document leading to growth of capitalism and free trade. To me, at least, this was a significant revelation. Thanks, Dr. McDonald.
Novus Ordo Seclorum Forrest McDonald
This book goes deep into the foundation of the Constitution…the result was an amalgam of doctrines-political, philosophical, colloquial- like no other.
The chronicles of the past gave them countless examples on how governments failed, but nowhere could they find a concise record of how one began.
The laws of England, while workable in England, were found to be ill-fitted in colonial America. Unlike the geographic confinements of Britain, with the limited natural resources at their disposal, there was great abundance of land in the colonies. Trees were everywhere; restrictions on harvesting lumber were meaningless. Game was seemingly unlimited throughout the colonies; the restrictive hunting laws of England, accordingly, couldn’t be applied without creating points of friction. The evolution of the American individual thus begins its course. In time, the yeoman farmer or merchant develops a resistance to taxes and overreaching government incursions.
The learned classes throughout the colonies thus begin to search the written record for different forms of government and theories concerning wealth distribution, taxation, representation, mercantilism and so on. A corresponding plethora of political philosophers are sought for guidance: Blackstone, Hume, Montesquieu, Adam Smith among many others; and a given philosophic direction would be abandoned once that point of view no longer served a given change of circumstances, such as John Locke’s theories prior to then after the actual war. A different people, the author points out, has emerged. (Hamilton’s contributions were somewhat unique, in that he relied heavily on the philosophy of Emmerich Vattel whose writing were not well known by the other founders. This is addressed at length in Forrest McDonald’s book on Hamilton.)
Interesting episode on page 265, demonstrating the careful diligence to detail that was maintained. A semi-colon is substituted for a comma, evidently put there with ulterior motives by Guoverneur Morris. This minor change of punctuation would have altered the meaning of article 1, section 8 of the Constitution. (You might say ,-;=!) The legerdemain was noted and corrected by Roger Sherman. There’s also a footnote on this page, addressing the issue further.
Speaking of footnotes, they are placed at the bottom of the page, not in back of the book; and they’re helpful footnotes which clarify the paragraph concerned, not just an endless trail of “ibids” and “see alsos.” This format is pointed out by the author in the preface.
History lessons are encountered along the way: Shay’s Rebellion, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts and so forth.
A captivating trip through the time machine of history, along the bricked sidewalks of old Philadelphia, through the cobblestone courtyards and vast woodlands of New England, and across the rolling hills of Virginia.
Appendix A: delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
Appendix B: The Constitution, less Bill of Rights.
293 pages to appendix A. a sturdy paperback, ample room for writing notes, with an alluring cover of forest green.