ORIGINAL MEANINGS by Jack N. Rakove

ORIGINAL MEANINGS

Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Rakove (History/Stanford Univ.; The Beginnings of National Politics, 1979, etc.) demonstrates the historical and theoretical complexity of the seemingly simple notion of a ``jurisprudence of original intention''--the theory that judges can interpret the Constitution solely by reference to the opinions of its framers. Since the 1980s, conservative legal scholars (e.g., Robert Bork) have espoused ``originalism'' in constitutional interpretation. Adding historical perspective to the legal debate, Rakove here dispels the idea that the Founding Fathers were a monolith; by examining the personal roles of the founders, particularly James Madison, who exercised perhaps the most significant influence over the framing of the Constitution, Rakove shows that the framers were a diverse lot, variegated in their view of the polity they had created. Cmpromise was integral to the politics of constitution-making, Rakove shows, and the need to forge a workable document took precedence over theoretical consistency. The survival of slavery was the most notorious, but not the only, matter on which the framers compromised; the very nuances of federalism itself were unaddressed, leaving a theoretical debate that contributed to the Civil War. Rakove seems to suggest that some of the framers (Jefferson, with his contempt for tradition, stands out), forthright as they were in recreating their political union after the failed Articles of Confederation, would be puzzled at our tendency to worship their creation. Rakove appears to contend that the Constitution was intended to be a living document, not a static, once-and-for-all enumeration of all individual rights and federal powers. ``How,'' asks the author rhetorically, ``could those who wrote the Constitution possibly understand its meaning better than those who had the experience of observing and participating in its operation?'' A unique contribution to the historical and legal debate surrounding the Constitution.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-57858-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996




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