A magisterial history of the creation of the United States Constitution.
By 1787, the American union was on its last legs, bankrupt, unable to tax or to wield military or economic power, and effectively unable to reform itself. That year's Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was ostensibly intended to propose amendments to the governing Articles of Confederation. Instead, working in secret under the guidance of James Madison, the delegates quickly set out to overthrow the Articles and create a new, truly national government from scratch. The odds against the various interests represented agreeing on anything of substance were very long, and the odds against ratification of the result by 13 jealous states were longer still. In crisp, precise style, and without undue reverence for the framers or their handiwork, Klarman (Law/Harvard Univ.; From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage, 2012, etc.) explores in great depth, with ample illustrative quotations, the varying proposals and the heated arguments for and against them. Particularly striking are what a blank slate the framers started from and the proposals that were rejected, including term limits for congressmen and election of the president by state legislatures. The author explains how sectional and other rivalries drove the sometimes-unexpected compromises that made an acceptable draft possible. His descriptions of the political circumstances underlying the convention are thorough and helpful in understanding the delegates' contemporary concerns. Klarman also provides a lively account of the raw political maneuvering necessary to achieve ratification by a minimum of nine states from an electorate largely hostile to the enterprise, which created a much more powerful central government than expected, subordinated the role of the states, and insulated much of it from direct popular control.
A monumental project carried off to a high degree of excellence. Though it may be too lengthy for all but the most patient general reader, constitutional scholars will find this thorough and authoritative work indispensable reading.