INVENTING THE PEOPLE: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America by Edmund S. Morgan

INVENTING THE PEOPLE: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America

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A new interpretation of the rise of the ""rule of the people"" in England and America, by the distinguished revolutionary historian Morgan (American History/Yale), author of The Genius of George Washington (1981) and a dozen others. One of Morgan's strengths as a historian is his ability to recognize the seeds of a trend in an ironic counter-trend. In the past, for instance, he has argued that the juxtaposition of slavery and the idea of freedom was actually logical, for by curtailing the growth of a discontented white laboring class, slavery nourished white representative government. Similarly, here Morgan argues that the old concept of the divine right of kings was in fact the seedbed of popular control of government. In some trenchantly argued essays, the author elaborates on this theme. For example, the adversaries of King Charles I used the ""divine right"" concept to oust his most egregious advisors, reasoning that since the king was divine and could not be corrupted, it was their duty to save him from bad counsellors. From there, the ""slippery slope"" ultimately led to a weakened king, a ruling Parliament, and what Morgan calls the ""fiction"" of popular control in America. The author claims that the shared belief in this ""fiction"" binds our country--even though what really happened in 1787 was that the Founding Fathers ""invented"" the idea of an American people and ""imposed"" a government on them. Although Morgan's final argument is a bit strained--the ""people,"" after all, had to vote to ratify their new government--this is, overall, a well-constructed historical argument.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
Publisher: Norton