The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution

ISBN : 9780199942039

Michael J. Klarman
880 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2016
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Most Americans revere their Constitution yet know relatively little about its origins. Indeed, until now, nobody has written a comprehensive history of the Constitution's making. Based on prodigious research and told largely through participants' voices, Michael J. Klarman's The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution fills that void. Klarman's narrative features colorful characters and riveting stories, such as the rebellion by debtor farmers in Massachusetts that contributed enormously to the Constitution's creation, George Washington's agonized deliberations over whether to attend the Philadelphia convention, Patrick Henry's demagogic efforts to defeat ratification in Virginia, and the political machinations of Alexander Hamilton and John Jay at the New York ratifying convention that produced an improbable victory for ratification. Three principal themes characterize Klarman's narrative. The first is contingency. The Philadelphia convention almost did not take place; once assembled, it nearly failed; and the Constitution it produced almost went unratified. Second, the Constitution was more a product of ordinary political struggle than of disinterested political philosophizing. Creditors and debtors, city dwellers and backcountry farmers, northerners and southerners-all had competing interests and fought for them with the weapons of ordinary politics, such as the disparaging of adversaries' motives, character assassination, and even threats of violence. Finally, the Framers wrote a Constitution very different from what most Americans anticipated or wanted. Many of its features were designed to insulate the national government from populist political influence. Why was the Philadelphia convention so unrepresentative of national opinion, and how did the Framers convince ordinary Americans to approve a scheme that drastically reduced their political influence? For anyone interested in a comprehensive, lively, and provocative account of the making of the American Constitution, this is the ideal volume.



Chapter 1: Flaws in the Articles of Confederation
Lack of a Taxing Power
Lack of a Commerce Power
Failed Efforts at Amendment
Other Flaws in the Articles
Sectional Conflict

Chapter 2: Economic Turmoil in the States and the Road to Philadelphia
Paper Money and Debtor Relief Legislation
Shays's Rebellion
The Annapolis Convention
To the Philadelphia Convention

Chapter 3: The Constitutional Convention
Madison's Agenda
The Virginia Plan
Expanding the Powers of the National Government
Establishing the Supremacy of the National Government
The National Legislature
Apportioning Representation in the National Legislature
Other Features of the Senate
The Executive Branch
Interpreting the Convention

Chapter 4: Slavery and the Constitutional Constitution
How To Count Slaves in Apportioning National Political Power
Slavery and Economic Issues
Other Issues Involving Slavery
Slavery and Ratification

Chapter 5: Critics of the Constitution: The Antifederalists
The Legitimacy of the Constitution
Was Fundamental Reform Necessary?
The Taxing Power
Military Powers
The Commerce Power and the Treaty-Making Power
Other Congressional Powers
The Federal Judiciary
The House of Representatives
The Senate
The President
Checks and Balances
Article I, Section 10
Actual Motivations

Chapter 6: The Ratifying Contest
The Nature of the Debate
The Federalists' Advantages in the Ratifying Contest
First Steps Toward Ratification
Running Into Snags in New England
Maryland and South Carolina
New York
North Carolina and Rhode Island
The Federalists' Great Fears: Conditional Ratification and a Second Convention
Interpreting Ratification

Chapter 7: The Bill of Rights
The Arguments Pro and Con
Madison's Election to Congress
Madison and the Bill of Rights in Congress
Madison's Amendments
Interpreting the Enactment of the Bill of Rights

Chapter 8: Conclusion
Hostility Toward Democracy
Ratification as Ordinary Politics
Excluding Intermediate Alternatives
The Decline of Legitimacy Objections
How the Constitution Did and Did Not Adapt to Democracy
From the Perspective of Today

About the author: 

Michael Klarman is Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, Harvard University.

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