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Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  181 ratings  ·  29 reviews
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 rev
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Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by Hill and Wang
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Wayne White
Holton made some pretty controversial claims in this book, and I'm not convinced that the evidence fully backs up his thesis. His central claim--that the framers of the Constitution were interested in dampening the democratic impulses of the middling and lower sorts while simultaneously securing the economic interests of the elite--is a relatively old idea, promulgated by Charles Beard, among others. It is not really that controversial. Holton's claim, though, that the phrase "to establish justi ...more
Mamdouh Abdullah
كتاب يجيب الجلطة. ممكن يكون مفيد لمن يريد معرفة بناء الدستور اعتماداً على الحالة الاقتصادية، من دين وسندات وضمان.
Jan
Dec 10, 2014 Jan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Woody Holton offers an even-handed look at two groups of Americans on opposite sides of the debate over how much "democracy" they needed. On one side were the (usually well-off) investors who loaned out money, as well as those who had managed to speculate themselves into a fortune in war bonds (delightfully represented by Abagail Adams.) The creditors and bondholders firmly believed that "justice" and "virtue" required that the interest on their bonds be paid, and the money loaned be paid back. ...more
Joseph Stieb
Holton's book begins with a fascinating in-class exercise from his undergraduate teaching. He puts three columns on the board and asks students to shout out Constitutional principles and protections they admire. Once the columns are filled in, the students see that most of what they like about the constitution, especially the individual rights, did not come from the 1787 Constitution. Holton uses this story to illustrate a fundamental popular misunderstanding about the intent of the supporters o ...more
Alan Mauerman
This was a great idea for a book, but I got the general theme within the first few chapters and got bored with it. I did not finish the book.
I did not know much about this part of our county's history and I was waiting for the "human drama" in the writing style to make it come alive.
It has many parallels to today's crushing financial debt.
James Hatton
When I read history about the framing of the United States Constitution, I don't want to hear about heroes: Madison, Mason, Franklin, Morris, et al. Save that for faux TV. I want to know the real story; or something closer to the real story than some hero pep rally. This is that history. Why were the Articles of Confederation overthrown, illegally? What was going on the America at that time? What role did the American people have in determining the U.S. Constitution? And what was that tricky lit ...more
Alex
Every once in a while you read a book that makes you feel smarter, that teaches you something you hadn't known before. Unruly Americans was such a book.

Woody Holton digs deeper into the motives behind the Framers of the Constitution. He discusses the economic situation, the spate of popular uprisings, and the reactions of state legislatures to set the stage, then uses the writings of the Framers, such as Madison, to uncover their deeper motives. It turns out the many of the Framers were frustrat
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Rebecca
The author sets out to challenge our perceptions of the motivations of the Framers and the reasons behind the Constitution. He proposes that if it were not for ordinary citizens, that is, "Unruly Americans", the Constitution would not have half of the provisions that we hold dear. The great majority of the book is spent discussing the events and situation leading up to the Constitutional Convention. Not much is spent on the convention itself, ratification, or the aftermath. So the book is very e ...more
Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner
Feb 13, 2008 Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in Constutional History
Recommended to Tiffoknee the 3rd by: The library shelves.
I won't go so far as to give this book and actual star rating. Not yet. But what I am reading so far has me monstrously intrigued.

The author does an amazing job of reintroducing the prospect of an economically-rooted conceptualization of the US Constitution. Many a scholar has long since claimed to disprove these types of theories a la Charles Beard. Beard's Economic Interpretation of the Constitution was long the standard lens through which to view constitutional history. Ultimately, Beard's sc
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Igor Faynshteyn
Having read several books about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and about the politics of the era prior to reading this book, including the impressive "Original Meanings" by J. Rakove, I was disappointed with this book. Stylistically, it is fast paced and readable. At times, it feels like a long essay, or someone thinking out loud. But while it succeeds in readability, it fails at careful and serious analysis and interpretation.

"Unruly Americans" sets out to disprove what it claims most sc
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Socraticgadfly
Excellent demythologizing of Philadelphia 1787

This is an excellent, well-needed revisionist history of the creation of the Constitution.

While author Woody Holton doesn't go as far as Charles Beard in 1913 and call the Founding Fathers "economic royalists," he does clearly state (and demonstrate with plenty of evidence) that economic issues, and for one class of people, were probably the ultimately concern that led to the Constitutional Convention.

You've maybe heard of Shays' Rebellion in 1786 Ma
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Brad Stockreef
This is an advanced study of early American history if you have not completed and an understanding of basic early American history not the history taught in high school but in college this book would be very hard to understand
Mia
The author makes an interesting argument that the principles underlying the creation of the U.S. Constitution were less about protecting freedoms than about controlling dissent and protecting those with property and power -- or, at least, that's what I think he's arguing. I'm not sure if his writing style contributed to my constant distraction while reading, but I don't usually have such difficulty ferreting out the point an author is trying to make. I'm too much of a historical novice to know w ...more
Jamie
Anyone who claims the Constitution or the Founding Fathers as justification for whatever political agenda they're promoting should be forced to read this book. Clears up a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about what the Constitution really was -- an effort to put checks on an "excess of democracy" in the state legislatures.

Holton does do a good job of explaining the complex currency debates, war bond, and war debt issues without getting into the weeds. Unfortunately, the book is poorly orga
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Mike
Holton gives a different version of the origins of the U.S. Constitution. Arguing that the Framers were unhappy with the excesses of democracy in Confederation America. The Constitution was an effort to rein in democracy, take power from the states (and the people) and put it in the hands of the national government. There were also financial incentives, Holton, while claiming that Beard may have overstated the case, notes that many of the men at the Constitutional Convention stood to make many i ...more
Sam Newton
The Constitution was an economic power-grab by elitists who feared rising populism among lower and middle classes. Holton contends that the Constitution represented a compromise between the elites (who wanted a Constitution that completely eliminated popular sovereignty) and ordinary "unruly Americans" who would not have supported the Constitution without some concessions to their growing freedom and power. The Constitution attempts to check ordinary peoples' power, but it did not go far enough ...more
Lisa
Jun 06, 2008 Lisa marked it as did-not-finish
This one is going to have to go back to the library unfinished, simply because I was hoping for something different. I have no doubt that it is a superbly crafted book based on meticulous research. I'm sure that, if I had finished it, I would have given it 4 stars. (Not 5, because it's a bit pedantic and requires more knowledge of constitutional history than the average person possesses.) Perhaps I will try it again when I have more time.
Jeff Raymond
“Hey, I have an idea, I’ll write a 200+ page history of the Constitution using only debt and money as the basis.” Maybe the whole Ron Paul thing has really made me overly sensitive to money policy lately, but this got very tiring very quickly. An interesting premise that would have worked better in a compilation of ideas around the Constitution rather than a full-length work.
Jad
throughout the first chapter, one main thing that will atteact your attention which is that the rights that the united states citizens have now, weren't originally written in the constitution nor in the union document but was rather added later on after people demanded for those rights, claimed for freedom. it clearly shows that freedom is earned, not given.
Valarie
Jun 25, 2008 Valarie marked it as to-read
Picked up this book from the library for two reasons--one, this guy is the son of a former Virginia governor (who happened to be the last Republican my mother voted for before she gave up on the Party of Lincoln) and two, it was a finalist for the National Book Award (and, actually, may have won, I don't know). Will let you know how it is when I'm deeper in.
Tara
Disclaimer--I didn't finish this. I really had a hard time following everything. Its so INVOLVED! However, the introduction gave me the general overview and Dr. Holton's take on history is pretty awesome. I just don't have the time or desire to try and plow through this one.
Sarah
Great book about the intent of the framers and the origins of the constitution. A good companion piece to his book on Abigail Adams. I would have given it a fifth star were it not for my personal disinterest in economics (which necessarily form a significant amount of the book).
Nick
A bit tedious at times. This is a scholarly account of the circumstances that led the founding fathers to write the Constitution and write it the way they did. Overall a fascinating read, but you have to take the boring with the exciting.
Brad
Very solid book! An excellent take on how and why the U.S. Constitution came about the way it did. Holton cuts through a lot of the common myths regarding the establishment of the Constitution. Solid read!
Leandra Johnson
I need time to write this one. It deserves justice. I just don't have the time. Pick it up if you like books on the social ramifications and development of our constitution and the founding fathers.
Matthew Matheson
Jan 28, 2008 Matthew Matheson marked it as to-read
Cant find "How religion poisons everything"
(might not be a book)
Ending title to "God is not great"
Joshua
I have to give this book some love for its discussion of money. Also, Holton is a great historian.
Craig J.
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution by Woody Holton (2008)
Mac
Great thesis. Boring book.
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