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Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  54 reviews
CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title
Winner of the George Washington Book Prize

When the delegates left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1787, the new Constitution they had written was no more than a proposal. Elected conventions in at least nine of the thirteen states would have to ratify it before it could take effect. There was reason to doubt whet
Paperback, 608 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published October 19th 2010)
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Maier has written a book long waiting and needing to be written. For all the books that have been written about the creation of the US Constitution, relatively little has been written explicating the ensuing process of its being ratified by the necessary number of states. The original materials that Maier had available to her and that she needed to study were voluminous, and it is greatly to her credit that she has reviewed and summarized them into a fascinating and useful narrative for the gene ...more
Hannah Spaar
This book could alternatively be titled "The Tale of America's Greatest Political Sausage."

It is hilarious while reading about the tactics necessary to pass the Constitution to listen to modern politicians praise it as a perfect, sacred document. If you didn't already realize how much it has needed to be expanded on over the years (redefining suffrage and representation as well as the Roosevelts' great expansion of the scope of the nation), you might be shocked to realize that the Constitution w
Joyce Lagow

In modern times, the Constitution of the United States has been held by its citizens in such esteem (when they pay attention to it at all) as to put it in the category of a “sacred text.” But that was by no means the case in 1787 and 1788, when the newly-drafted Constitution was sent to the states for ratification.

The fledgling nation was in terrible shape in 1787. The Articles of Confederation, under which the young republic had operated, were inadequate. Most pressing was the issue of revenue.
Igor Faynshteyn
This is a very comprehensive and what should now be a definitive and scholarly account of the ratification debates in the states. It is not an examination/discussion of the Federalist Papers, which were aimed primarily at New York and weren't otherwise widely circulated throughout the states. Rather, the book captures the debates at the state ratifying conventions primarily in the years 1787-1788, and also some discussion of the late ratifiers (North Carolina and Rhode Island) in 1789 and 1790.

Most of us are familiar with at least the outline of this story, perhaps from an American History or Civics class: the Constitution had to be ratified by at least 9 states in order to replace the Articles of Confederation (in those states) and a debate went on between the "Federalists" who supported the Constitution and the "Anti-Federalists" who felt that it curtailed states' rights too much and would lead to tyranny. This history tells a more complete version of that tale. Those who solemnly i ...more
Good look at what it took to pass the Constitution

I had read nothing about North Carolina's ratification history, nor Rhode Island's, so on this grounds alone, the book is great. Beyond that, Maier gets beyond Federalist/Antifederalist rhetoric (much of it Federalist-driven) and gets beyond "The Federalist" as well.

Political tactics and more all unfold in this book, from Pennsylvania's failed rush to be "The First State" through Massachusetts Federalists' careful, thought-out strategy, on to Vi
Steven Peterson
Over time, I have had a real interest in the founding period of the United States. The battle over ratification is one of those points in which I am especially interested (I have even done some professional research on the subject, to the extent that that has any relevance). This book, though, delves nicely into the ratification struggle after the Constitutional Convention concluded its business in 1787.

The book is well detailed, discussing the events in the various states' ratification conventi
Mike Hankins
Very long book, but worth the time. It's a state by state analysis of ratification, emphasizes how close it came and the potential for failure at every point along the way. Maier reveals the federalist strategy of building momentum to pressure ratification. Mass. was the key one, and ratified after a long and heavily opposed article-by-article debate, but gave a model for other states to follow in recommending but not requiring amendments. Maier rejects the term "antifederalist," which was used ...more
Mark Singer
Pauline Maier wrote a very detailed yet readable account of the the ratification process of the US Constitution. As she wrote in the forward, there are many books written on how the Constitution was created in the summer of 1787, but not so much on the how ratification was achieved. Federalist versus Anti-Federalist, the war of the presses, politics at the state conventions; it's all here.
Bob Gustafson
The author collected the facts and put them into a book. New Jersey and Georgia aside, she was thorough. She chose not to cover the constitutional convention. She chose to end her story when the last of the thirteen, Rhode Island, ratified. Each state had a ratifying convention (New Hampshire had two) and she told the story of the ratifying conventions one at a time leaving out Georgia and New Jersey.

This was a difficult story to tell, but it could have been told better, I believe. She could hav
Pauline Maier's "Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution 1787-1788" is the definitive story of one of the greatest debates in political history. Many famous names of the founding generation and many not so famous sat down and went through the newly coined U.S. constitution article by article to decide if it lived up to and defended the rights the American people had won during their war of independence. The articles of Confederation had bee running the young republic but had to establis ...more
Michael Johnston
Of all topics in American history, the early days of our founding are among the most heavily researched and written about. There is no lack of scholarly work on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the "Founding Fathers". Nearly all are about the dramatic actions of a small band of visionary leaders that saw an opportunity to found "a more perfect union" based on the political theories of (among others) John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. This book is different.

To begin with, nearly al
Pauline Maier’s Ratification is a thorough yet lively telling of the process by which the US Constitution was ratified by "the people." It picks up the story after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia unveiled the new Constitution and follows the ratification through the various state conventions and the development of the first 10 amendments (known after the Civil War as the Bill of Rights).

It’s a story that I knew very little about. I assume that most people, like me, thought the won
Mike Russo
There's a reason the state ratification conventions don't get the same attention the Philadelphia Convention to actually draft the Constitution does -- at the latter, you've got high-stakes negotiation, the clash of intellectual heavyweights, and the eventual shape of the American Republic being slowly hammered out.

Plus they had Gouverneur Morris in Philadelphia. That dude's awesome: peglegged womanizing Founding Father, what's not to love?

By way of contrast, the state ratification conventions f
Paul Frandano
Just an observation rather than a review: Maier's thrilling, blow-by-blow story of ratification reads like a parable, and a condemnation, of our own contemporary politics. How could it not? The fight for ratification was bitterly contested in every state and marked the beginning of political parties. It also inspired, as Joseph Ellis observes, "the most comprehensive and consequential political debate in American history." Aligned against the Constitution were such formidable figures as Patrick ...more
Frank Stein
I was surprised to read that this was the first complete book on the ratification of the U.S. constitution out there. Fortunately, Maier finally gives the subject the comprehensive and enlightening treatment it deserves. She was able to complete this daunting task due to the publication of the "Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution" which compiled the papers on ratification, which were once scattered across the country, into an accessible whole. Now, this book may work like ...more
This is a fascinating book about the ratification of the Constitution. The author, Pauline Maier, states in her preface that this is one of the few books whose sole topic is the ratification of the Constitution in all thirteen of the original states. Given the importance of this event it seems unusual that it took so long for someone to write this book. A very important tool that made it possible is The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. This project which is being done ...more
Eric Atkisson
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. The story of our Constitution's ratification is so much more complicated and fascinating than most Americans realize, and though few at the time disagreed that the Articles of Confederation were a failure, there was nothing inevitable about the Constitution's ratification. It's also interesting to see how our modern perspective on the Constitution as a guarantee of limited government was quite the opposite of how most Americans viewed it at the time. ...more
If you're a history generalist, looking for a broad-based overview of the lives and times of our founding generation, this book will not satisfy, despite the prominence of several luminaries (Washington, Madison, Hamilton, et al). However, for those who are looking for a more targeted examination of a seminal event (really, series of events) that created the foundation of American government for the past two-plus centuries, as well as a great summation of the debates that informed the understand ...more
Aaron Crofut
The labor of creating the Constitution may have been completed in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, but the ballgame had just begun. Nine states would need to ratify the document before it was adopted. And many of those states went through the Constitution in incredible detail, bringing forth the top minds of the country (as well as many a backbencher who still demanded their say) to debate the role of the federal government in the United States.

The topic is quite interesting and Maier's rese
Ron Tenney
After reading Pauline Maier's book on the Declaration of Independence, I wanted to read more from this very accessible historian. I have had a long-standing interest in the Constitution. This book seemed like a nice addition to my understanding of the foundation of this most longstanding and durable document. I am now about 100 pages into this book. I must admit that I first bought this book on It was impossible for me to keep the names, dates and events sorted out in my min
Aaron Haberman
Maier has produced a thoroughly researched and comprehensive history of the ratification process of the constitution. It shows conclusively that the primary concerns of those opposed to the new constitution centered around the powers given to the centralized Congress and the lack of a bill of rights, and not so much around the position of the executive or the Supreme Court (ironically the two areas of greatest concern today). She also does a nice job of explaining why the various states ultimate ...more
Michael Fortner
I could only get through about one-third of this book. This goes over every debate point and editorial, on a state-by-state basis, that was discussed during the ratification of the Constitution. It covers the major payers - particulary George Washington - but mostly it gives the history of many of the smaller, but important, players - many of whom you probably haven't heard of unless you have a PhD in American History. But this book is only for people who can't get enough of this stuff. If you h ...more
Maier does an excellent job of guiding the reader through the ratification process, which of course we teach in schools today as if it was pre-ordained. Some of the arguments raised in 1788 are similar to the concerns raised today about the overreach of the federal government. It is a great read.
It was really interesting to see how the different states handled ratification and the differences and similarities between the various states. One thing I found amazing was how much people cared and how they got involved in the debate. The delegates to the various conventions were really helping to set the way our country would be governed, and the process worked. Maybe that shouldn't be so surprising given that they had just fought the Revolution, but I was surprised.

One interesting side note.
Pete Christopoulos
Want to learn about the ratification of the constitution? This will explain a lot however, I wouldn't say it was a quick enjoyable read. I learned quite a bit but felt like I was back in school trying to get through a US History class.
This book is a fantastic look into the creation of the constitution and the hows and whys it came to be. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history.
Actually, I think it should be a textbook for our high school American history classes. Every American citizen should understand what these times were like, what the leaders and public figures went through, as well as what they were thinking. The author was also wise enough to refrain from forcing her opinion into the historical
This is an informative and entertaining history of the ratification of the US Constitution, by a professor of history at MIT. Ratification was one of our first political contests, and for all the current reverence for the Constitution, it was surprisingly contentious. Maier focuses on the state ratifying conventions one at a time, beginning with Pennsylvania and ending with Rhode Island's belated ratification in December of 1789; she pays particular attention to the four crucial states of Pennsy ...more
"It’s a highly readable state-by-state narrative of a strangely understudied period in American political and constitutional history. Maier paints a vivid picture of the many uncertainties surrounding the ratification process: would there have to be a second constitutional convention to consider amendments proposed in the states? Were local assemblies and town meetings authorized to debate the merits of the Constitution? What difference did the sequence in which the state conventions met have fo ...more
Will Hornbeck
Chock full of historical material that most accounts leave out. Vividly tells a story that isn't often told. Bizarrely biased towards the anti-federalists to counteract what she views as federalist bias in the historical literature.
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Dr. Pauline Maier was a historian of the American Revolution, though her work also addressed the late colonial period and the history of the United States after the end of the Revolutionary War. She was the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Maier achieved prominence over a fifty-year career of critically acclaimed scholarly histo
More about Pauline Maier...
American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain 1765-76 The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams Inventing America: A History of the United States The Declaration of Independence/The Constitution of the United States

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“Universal experience,” he began, proved the necessity of “the most express declarations and reservations … to protect the just rights and liberty of Mankind from the Silent, powerful, and ever active conspiracy of those who govern.” The new Constitution should therefore “be bottomed upon a declaration, or Bill of Rights, clearly and precisely stating the principles upon which the Social Compact is founded.” 0 likes
“If Lee discussed his proposals with Washington during a visit to Mount Vernon on November 11 and 12, he no doubt received a cold reception. Washington certainly did not take kindly to the constitutional objections that George Mason sent him on October 7, with no sense, it seems, of how much hostility they would provoke. Washington wrote Madison (who was attending Congress in New York) that Mason had carefully distributed his objections among the seceding members of the Pennsylvania assembly, who repeated them in their published “address.” Washington thought Mason was also behind Lee’s arguments. Mason, in short, had caused the opposition to the Constitution in both Congress and the Pennsylvania assembly, and for no good reason: Madison insisted that there was little if anything worthy of serious consideration in Mason’s objections, which he dismissed, one by one.” 0 likes
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