Reply To: Ref Book on Ratification Debates


Prof. Maier, who died recently, was an outstanding historian. Her AMERICAN SCRIPTURE is the very best book on the Declaration of Independence, for example. Besides that, she told me that she admired M.E. Bradford, which means she was not the kind of partisan historian one sees too often these days.

However, RATIFICATION is a disappointment. I don’t know why. When the book came out, I read it and wrote to her via e-mail that I didn’t understand how she had missed the point that I highlighted in “Edmund Randolph and Virginia Constitutionalism,” a 2004 article in the scholarly journal THE REVIEW OF POLITICS: that Governor Randolph repeatedly assured the Virginia Ratification Convention that the new Congress would have only the powers “expressly” granted by the Constitution. She told me she had read my article and had no explanation why she hadn’t addressed the point.

More glaringly, she also omitted discussion of George Nicholas’s assurances in the same convention that Virginia would be one of thirteen parties to a compact and would be able to secede in case the Federal Government abused its powers. I looked forward to her discussion of this, and I found … nothing.

These points both directly contradict what John Marshall said in MCCULLOCH V. MARYLAND, perhaps the most important Supreme Court decision in history. Randolph and Nicholas weren’t just any Joes, but two of the three leading Federalist orators in the most important state’s ratification convention — one of them the Old Dominion’s governor and the sponsor in the Philadelphia Convention of the Virginia Plan. Maier’s completely ignoring this material is … perplexing.

For detailed accounts of this, see my VIRGINIA’S AMERICAN REVOLUTION and JAMES MADISON AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Maier’s book is a good book for a general outline of the ratification contest, but I’m afraid it’s not the kind of slam-dunk I hoped it would be. I’d start with my two books and Robert Rutland’s THE ORDEAL OF THE CONSTITUTION.