A well-timed refresher course on the forces at play in the conception, ratification, and amendment of this revered (and sometimes reviled) document.
Don’t be deceived by the catchy title; this is not one of those cutesy lists from Buzzfeed or other social media outlets. It is a well-documented treatise on the importance of the Constitution that includes 18 pages of sources and 230 endnotes. All too often in our schools, study of the Constitution involves rote memorization of the end result. As Kurdas (Ponzi Regulation, 2014, etc.) ably demonstrates, however, it is not monolithic, but instead the product of great compromise among the founders of the nation: “They negotiated between North and South, states and federal power, freedom and governance, popular will and elite authority, bureaucrats and elected officers, race and union, national glory and individual wellbeing.” The author is at her best in such moments; she displays a sharp talent for concise renderings of complex matters. Of special interest are the final two chapters, which address the treatment of Native Americans and the issue of slavery as areas where the Constitution has been severely tested. With regard to the former, she summarizes: “In the sorry history of Indians versus the U.S., Jeffersonian-Jacksonian democracy proved to be oppressive, and only that creature of the Adamsite balance of powers, Marshall’s Court, supported the justice of Indian claims.” This sentence may seem daunting out of context, but attentive readers, led by the framework Kurdas has constructed, will make the necessary connections and understand its meaning. It is also in this section that the author devotes considerable space to Sam Houston, a unique figure whose role in history is perhaps not as well-known as it should be outside of Texas. If there is a drawback in this work, it appears right at the end, when Kurdas considers the current political climate and reveals her views on the debates surrounding the Second Amendment (should be defended at all costs with no room for compromise) or same-sex marriage (should be decided by a popular vote). To her credit, up until this point, she keeps her analysis relatively evenhanded, which is not an easy thing to do.
A lucid defense of the Constitution, full of contextual information to supplement and broaden basic knowledge.