In his latest populist reality check, Raphael (Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive, 2012, etc.) demonstrates how objectively studying the original broken political system lends insight into ours.
Take off your rose-colored glasses, people: The Founding Fathers embraced a strong federal government, at the risk of falling into anarchy and disintegration. Therein lies the kernel of the author’s readable demystification of some of the ongoing crusades by conservatives touting the supremacy of “originalism.” From the beginning, the fledgling republic was plagued by what George Washington observed as “illiberality, jealousy & local policy” by the states’ tendentious representatives in Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were scrapped, and so-called nationalists like Washington, Robert Morris, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton pushed for a “national and supreme” government with teeth to provide for the common defense and levy taxes—albeit with plenty of argument about direct taxation. Raphael reminds us that the tax burden was allowed “to fall more heavily on the rich…a long-standing tradition dating back to early colonial times.” Thanks to the notes taken by Madison, whom Raphael elegantly calls the “scribe” of the Constitution rather than its “father,” we see the roiling jealousies and bickering of the delegates in Philadelphia in 1787—e.g., in the battle between small states and large states over representation and in the manner of selecting a president, among other things. Raphael carefully sifts through the subsequent Federalist Papers delineating the ratification debate, and he shows the framers’ fluidity of argument, rather than inflexibility.
With documents amply provided at the close of the text, Raphael provides a truly accessible teaching tool.