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The Debate on the Constitution, Part 1: Federalist and Anti-Federalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification: September 1787 to February 1788

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In this Library of America volume (and its companion) is captured, on a scale unmatched by any previous collection, the extraordinary energy and eloquence of our first national political campaign. When the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended its secret proceedings on September 17, 1787, few Americans were prepared for the document that emerged. Instead of revisi In this Library of America volume (and its companion) is captured, on a scale unmatched by any previous collection, the extraordinary energy and eloquence of our first national political campaign. When the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended its secret proceedings on September 17, 1787, few Americans were prepared for the document that emerged. Instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, the framers had created a fundamentally new national plan that placed over the states a supreme government with broad powers. They proposed to submit it to conventions in each state, elected “by the People thereof,” for ratification. Immediately, a fierce storm of argument broke. Federalist supporters, Antifederalist opponents, and seekers of a middle ground strove to balance public order and personal liberty as they praised, condemned, challenged, and analyzed the new Constitution. Assembled here in chronological order are hundreds of newspaper articles, pamphlets, speeches, and private letters written or delivered in the aftermath of the Constitutional Convention. Along with familiar figures like Franklin, Madison, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, and Washington, scores of less famous citizens are represented, all speaking clearly and passionately about government. The most famous writings of the ratification struggle—the Federalist essays of Hamilton and Madison—are placed in their original context, alongside the arguments of able antagonists, such as “Brutus” and the “Federal Farmer.” Part One includes press polemics and private commentaries from September 1787 to January 1788. That autumn, powerful arguments were made against the new charter by Virginian George Mason and the still-unidentified “Federal Farmer,” while in New York newspapers, the Federalist essays initiated a brilliant defense. Dozens of speeches from the state ratifying conventions show how the “draft of a plan, nothing but a dead letter,” in Madison’s words, had “life and validity…breathed into it by the voice of the people.” Included are the conventions in Pennsylvania, where James Wilson confronted the democratic skepticism of those representing the western frontier, and in Massachusetts, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams forged a crucial compromise that saved the country from years of political convulsion. Informative notes, biographical profiles of all writers, speakers, and recipients, and a detailed chronology of relevant events from 1774 to 1804 provide fascinating background. A general index allows readers to follow specific topics, and an appendix includes the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution (with all amendments).


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In this Library of America volume (and its companion) is captured, on a scale unmatched by any previous collection, the extraordinary energy and eloquence of our first national political campaign. When the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended its secret proceedings on September 17, 1787, few Americans were prepared for the document that emerged. Instead of revisi In this Library of America volume (and its companion) is captured, on a scale unmatched by any previous collection, the extraordinary energy and eloquence of our first national political campaign. When the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended its secret proceedings on September 17, 1787, few Americans were prepared for the document that emerged. Instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, the framers had created a fundamentally new national plan that placed over the states a supreme government with broad powers. They proposed to submit it to conventions in each state, elected “by the People thereof,” for ratification. Immediately, a fierce storm of argument broke. Federalist supporters, Antifederalist opponents, and seekers of a middle ground strove to balance public order and personal liberty as they praised, condemned, challenged, and analyzed the new Constitution. Assembled here in chronological order are hundreds of newspaper articles, pamphlets, speeches, and private letters written or delivered in the aftermath of the Constitutional Convention. Along with familiar figures like Franklin, Madison, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, and Washington, scores of less famous citizens are represented, all speaking clearly and passionately about government. The most famous writings of the ratification struggle—the Federalist essays of Hamilton and Madison—are placed in their original context, alongside the arguments of able antagonists, such as “Brutus” and the “Federal Farmer.” Part One includes press polemics and private commentaries from September 1787 to January 1788. That autumn, powerful arguments were made against the new charter by Virginian George Mason and the still-unidentified “Federal Farmer,” while in New York newspapers, the Federalist essays initiated a brilliant defense. Dozens of speeches from the state ratifying conventions show how the “draft of a plan, nothing but a dead letter,” in Madison’s words, had “life and validity…breathed into it by the voice of the people.” Included are the conventions in Pennsylvania, where James Wilson confronted the democratic skepticism of those representing the western frontier, and in Massachusetts, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams forged a crucial compromise that saved the country from years of political convulsion. Informative notes, biographical profiles of all writers, speakers, and recipients, and a detailed chronology of relevant events from 1774 to 1804 provide fascinating background. A general index allows readers to follow specific topics, and an appendix includes the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution (with all amendments).

30 review for The Debate on the Constitution, Part 1: Federalist and Anti-Federalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle over Ratification: September 1787 to February 1788

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This monumental book, clocking in at over 1000 pages, is merely part one of a two part series of primary texts relating to the struggle over the ratification of the Constitution of the United States by noted Atlantic historian Bernard Bailyn [1].  While this is a long book, for the most part it was a very enjoyable one to read, as one could get a sense, mostly, of the skill of the debaters on the constitution, on their hopes and fears, their intense interest in matters of ancient history and cur This monumental book, clocking in at over 1000 pages, is merely part one of a two part series of primary texts relating to the struggle over the ratification of the Constitution of the United States by noted Atlantic historian Bernard Bailyn [1].  While this is a long book, for the most part it was a very enjoyable one to read, as one could get a sense, mostly, of the skill of the debaters on the constitution, on their hopes and fears, their intense interest in matters of ancient history and current events, and their full involvement as a peripheral state in the Atlantic world.  While there are accessible volumes that provide the Federalist papers and that provide a separate list of anti-federalist papers as a contrast, there are few books I am aware of that deal with the complex interplay and connections between the two in the way that this book does.  One gets the feeling in reading this monumental work of scholarship that flame wars and pamphlet wars were at a far more elevated level in the late 18th century than they are at present. This particular volume is divided into two parts.  The first part, taking up the vast majority of the material, looks at the debates over ratification in the press and in private correspondence from September 17, 1787 to January 12, 1788 (I).  The second part of the book looks at the debates in the state ratifying conventions of Pennsylvania between November 20 and December 15, 1787, Connecticut between January 3 and 9, 1788, and in Massachusetts between January 9 and February 7, 1788.  Included in the discussions are transcriptions of speeches, private letters (including one particularly bad example of hooked-on-phonics written to James Madison from one of his not particularly eloquent neighbors), as well as pamphlets, many of them written under elegant and classical pseudonyms that reflected the fears and concerns of Americans at the time over whether the Constitution was a necessary response to pervasive anarchy and a broken government that was incapable of defending the people of the United States or providing to the reputation of the fledgling republic abroad, or whether the Constitution would create a dangerously expansive federal government that would run roughshod over the people.  As a reader I found both perspectives to be pretty persuasive.  Appended on to the lengthy primary documents from characters as diverse as George Washington and Samuel Adams and Noah Webster (of dictionary fame) to obscure members of ratifying conventions in rural Massachusetts and Western Pennsylvania is a detailed chronology of the period by the editor and a thoughtful and expansive set of notes on the sources as well as short biographies of all of the senders and recipients of correspondence and speakers included in this volume. There are a variety of reasons why someone would want to tackle this book even though it is a large one.  For one, this book puts the debate over the Constitution in the context of its then-contemporary politics, where we can see the fears and desires of the community caught up in a complicated moment of history.  We see how political conditions encouraged compromise and elegant statesmanship and how despite fierce partisan divides that the political community as a whole was able to overcome its mistrust and create institutions to support a shared commitment to freedom as well as order.  We see some prescient warnings about corruption in government and the reminder that populism itself was a problem even at our nation's founding, and that local elites were not always willing to easily support a government that would represent the commonweal of the American people as a whole.  This is a rare book that both provides a detailed look at the practice of politics in the early American republic, that places those local politics in a context of interest in the larger body of political tension involving nations like Switzerland and Sweden as well as more familiar Atlantic powers like Britain and France, and that is relevant to our own contemporary concerns about a lack of trust in government officials and a large divide among the populace. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Samcwright

    “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition....what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” - Federalist 51 This is a two volume series (2,000 pages) containing a curated set of the letters and writings that accompanied the debate over ratification of the constitution. I’m a nerd and I love this stuff beca “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition....what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” - Federalist 51 This is a two volume series (2,000 pages) containing a curated set of the letters and writings that accompanied the debate over ratification of the constitution. I’m a nerd and I love this stuff because it highlights how the framers designed a system to harness the human desire for power (and I’m fascinated by human nature). They debate many of the issues we debate today - executive overreach, what the “right to bear arms” means, free speech, religious liberty, taxes, judicial review, negative vs positive rights, federal vs state’s rights, and many others. If you don’t want to read it all (and it’s a lot), I’d recommend reading (just do an online search) Ben Franklin’s speech at the end of the convention (“I agree to this constitution with all its faults...”), Cato 1 (“Deliberate with coolness, analyze with criticism, reflect with candor”), James Wilson’s Speech October 6, 1787, “A Citizen of America” by Noah Webster, Letters from a Federal Farmer and the response by Timothy Pickering (“the best constitution we...have any right to expect”), Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith (“the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”), George Mason’s Objections to the Constitution November 22, 1787, Federalist 1 and 10 (the overview of the federalist papers and their importance in addressing factions), John Hancock’s final observations February 6, 1788 (“we must all rise or fall together), Giles Hickory by Noah Webster (“liberty is never secured by paper declarations”), Federalist 51 (separation of powers and checks and balances), Federalist 78 (judicial review - in combination with Marbury v Madison), Rev Caldwell and Rev Spencer debate religious toleration July 30, 1788. That’s just a start and there is so much great material in these books.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Bailyn, an author and editor whose works I read often, discusses the debates on the ratification of the United States Constitution in this text. While most of the work is not his (it is composed of primary sources), everything put together in this volume serves as a perspective of what was actually happening at the debate which was pivotal to America. As a writer, I learned from Bailyn that sometimes it is more important to connect relatable ideas and information than write a narrative contrived Bailyn, an author and editor whose works I read often, discusses the debates on the ratification of the United States Constitution in this text. While most of the work is not his (it is composed of primary sources), everything put together in this volume serves as a perspective of what was actually happening at the debate which was pivotal to America. As a writer, I learned from Bailyn that sometimes it is more important to connect relatable ideas and information than write a narrative contrived to be interrelated. While he does preface the documents, the overall structure is for any individual that wants to see what the framers of the Constitution were thinking at the time of its ratification.

  4. 4 out of 5

    P.S. Winn

    Anyone wondering about the constitution needs to pick up this book packed with great information. So many great speeches, articles and more preserved for ordinary citizens to look at and make their own decisions on what the founding fathers wanted and if America is still living up to the dream.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ron Tenney

    Rhett is a good influence on me. He convinced me to stop buying paperbacks when there was a good hardback alternative. It was just that when we traveled, I needed to pack as light as possible. Remember life before Kindles, Nooks, etc.? So any book published and bound my the Library of America is a keeper in Rhett's eyes. That is why I bought these books in the first place. They cover a topic I am interested in as well as they are beautifully bound. The problem for Rhett now is that I can't stop Rhett is a good influence on me. He convinced me to stop buying paperbacks when there was a good hardback alternative. It was just that when we traveled, I needed to pack as light as possible. Remember life before Kindles, Nooks, etc.? So any book published and bound my the Library of America is a keeper in Rhett's eyes. That is why I bought these books in the first place. They cover a topic I am interested in as well as they are beautifully bound. The problem for Rhett now is that I can't stop desecrating these books with my notes and scribbles on so many pages. I maintain that rather than decreasing the eventual resale value, someday he will like to see what the old man was thinking about when he read this. These two volumes are wonderful "primary sources" to the minds of the best writers and thinkers during the critical period of our history, from 1787 to 1788. I can't honestly imagine reading them cover to cover. The writers are repetitious and a bit over the top in how they posit their points. But as reference books, they are a wonderful addition to a person's library if they are interested in how America came to be.

  6. 5 out of 5

    S.D.

    Volume 1 of The Debate on the Constitution assembles a chronological history of letters, editorials, broadsides, pamphlets, and many of the Federalist Papers. These documents provide objective insight into the complications and controversies that embroiled the ratification process of the U.S. Constitution. Here, without the taint of historical interpretation, are the strengths & weaknesses of anti-federalist arguments; the reasoning of Delegation dissenters Mason, Gerry, and Randolph; the intell Volume 1 of The Debate on the Constitution assembles a chronological history of letters, editorials, broadsides, pamphlets, and many of the Federalist Papers. These documents provide objective insight into the complications and controversies that embroiled the ratification process of the U.S. Constitution. Here, without the taint of historical interpretation, are the strengths & weaknesses of anti-federalist arguments; the reasoning of Delegation dissenters Mason, Gerry, and Randolph; the intellectual, though sometimes misguided, passion of the Federalists; the opinions of average citizens, and the texts of the Articles of Confederation and Constitution. Essential reading for all who are interested in the nature of American political thought.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frederick

    The published arguments over the Constitution of the United States show that before it came to be worshipped as no less than inspired by God Himself there was little agreement on its value. To some, it was a perfect political document, the perfect one of the age. To others it was an example of tyranny, an economic blue print for the domination of one class over another. This outstanding collection of documents is a must for any student of American history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This volume was fascinating because you read both sides of the debate as they reply to each other. I love reading the raw data. You can see the antecedents of constitutional arguments still going on.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    I stopped reading this. I had already read a previous book about the Philadelphia convention that was far more interesting (Plain and Simple Men?). This book, however, does document what happened AFTER the convention to get to ratification, and exposes quite alot of chicanery along the way.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sheldon Doney

    Reading the arguments for and against the ratification of the Constitution provides great insights.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Fabulous source documents for understanding what motivated the Framers to write what they did-- and what they meant in the context of their time -- particularly with regard to the Bill of Rights.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Weston Mccarron

    Excellent insight into the issues surrounding the adoption of the Constitution. Definitely a must-read for anyone getting involved in politics in the US.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve Hart

    wow. ...and i can't believe i'm only half done. wow. ...and i can't believe i'm only half done.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barry R

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alan Johnson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Imran M Jaferey

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carolann Madding

  19. 4 out of 5

    San Ittoo

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Buntyn

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vic Dillahay

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Cambria

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kara Nagle

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bob Matthews

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Doug Vaughn

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