Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
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Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution
Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.
If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution is a 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
Anti-Federalists said. They pleaded with their countrymen not to hearken to those who, like the ancient Israelites, “in a frenzy … demanded a king.”49 Federalists were not naïve about the challenge of reconciling ordinary citizens to a Constitution designed to drain away their political power. Benjamin Lincoln, who had commanded the army that suppressed Shays’s Rebellion, warned that no one should expect “those men who were so lately intoxicated with large draughts of liberty and who were
Virginian.17 Both of these explanations are plausible, but the patterns Madison had established earlier in his political career suggest a third. Only by switching sides in the war bonds controversy could Madison remain loyal to a principle. Since legislatures constantly try to abuse power, he believed, they must constantly be opposed. Like most free Americans, Madison feared parliamentary tyranny in the 1760s and early 1770s. Once independence had been declared, the state assemblymen and the
1786; “Excise,” Hampshire Herald, Feb. 7, 1786. 10 “A Friend to Order,” Independent Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1786; [Isaiah Thomas], editor’s footnote to “Paper Money,” Worcester Magazine 2:25 (3rd week of Sept. 1786), 294n. 11 Leonard Woods Labaree, ed., The Public Records of the State of Connecticut … (Hartford, Conn., 1943, 1945), 5:15–19, 432–33, 6:102; Whitney K. Bates, “The State Finances of Massachusetts, 1780-1789” (master’s thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1948), 92–93; Henry Harrison
205. 29 George Mason, Aug. 13, 1787, in Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, 2:273–74. 30 Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, speech in South Carolina ratifying convention, May 14, 1788, in Bailyn, ed., Debate on the Constitution, 2:586; Wills, Explaining America, 205. 31 Hamilton, Federalist 60:3. 32 Gouverneur Morris, July 19, 1787, in Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention , 2:54. 33 Drew McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy
focus upon the series of “great compromises” that towered, like a chain of mountain peaks, over the members’ day-to-day toil on more mundane matters. And yet twenty-first-century Americans are rarely exposed to what was arguably the greatest compromise of all: numerous explicitly elitist proposals, each of which would have obtained majority support if the delegates had had free rein, had to be abandoned—or at least replaced with more subtle devices—because they jeopardized ratification. These