Ref Book on Ratification Debates

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    This message might most directly apply Dr McClanahan.

    At tonight’s book club meeting was presented with a book entitled “Ratification: The People debate the Constitution,” by Pauline Maier as a result of my previous presentations on Ratification of the Constitution and Antebellum Expert Commentaries.

    Are you familiar with the book and, if so, is it worth reading as an honest attempt at inclusive history?


    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.


    I was openly critical of Maier in the original conclusion to my “Founding Fathers Guide to the Constiutiton,” for the same reasons Kevin outlined, but that was omitted through editing. I intended the FFGTC to be a brief primer on the Constitution as ratified taking into account the way the Constitution was argued it would be interpreted in the ratifying conventions. I think the historical “profession” has willfully ignored these debates because it contradicts the Hamilton/Marshall/Webster/Lincoln paradigm.


    That’s one possibility. Another is that they just can’t be bothered to read primary materials.

    I recommend Prof. McClanahan’s book as an explanation of the Constitution’s original meaning, by the way, but didn’t think that was what you wanted.


    After my experience in graduate school, I am a bit more cynical and skeptical concerning the profession. Most of the “pros” I ran across only read the material that agreed with their point of view and marginalized or ignored the rest. They don’t take into account your scholarly treatment of VA, both in journal articles and in your thoroughly researched book, so it is not just primary material they ignore. Of course, as Novick outlined in “That Noble Dream,” objectivity is something that has been rare to non-existent in the profession since its inception.


    grumble grumble

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