Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
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Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  300 ratings  ·  31 reviews
What did the U.S. Constitution originally mean, and who has understood its meaning best? Do we look to the intentions of its framers at the Federal Convention of 1787, or to those of its ratifiers in the states? Or should we trust our own judgment in deciding whether the original meaning of the Constitution should still guide its later interpretation? These are the recurri...more
Paperback, First Vintage Books Edition, 457 pages
Published June 1997 by Vintage Books (first published March 26th 1996)
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Professor Rakove's work is a must read for anyone interested in the idea of 'original intent'. In his opening chapter "The Perils of Originalism" he raises a couple of questions. Whose intent and understanding are we to look at, the Framers or the Ratifiers? Are we to look at specific individuals, just a few, or the entirety of those Framers and/or Ratifiers? Inasmuch as several of them changed their opinions over the course of their live, at what time in their life are we to look?
The next coupl...more
Mark Paul
Sep 06, 2010 Mark Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the sources of our institutions and rights
This exhaustively researched and beautifully written account of the politics and ideas behind the making of the U.S. Constitution is a model of history at its very best.

Through close and scrupulously fair attention to the arguments of both those who drafted the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787 and the anti-Federalists who opposed its ratification, Rakove brings to life the political issues and conflicts that shaped the provisions of the Constitution and informed the often conflicting meanin...more
The notion that the "original intentions" of the framers should guide subsequent generations of Americans begs the question, "Who were the framers?" Were these "framers" in lock-step agreement about the meaning of the words in the Constitution? Can we really know the intentions of those who, like Madison and Hamilton, tried to conceal their true intentions from the Congress, their adversaries, and the public? Are we to be forever frozen in the late eighteenth century? Robert Jackson, paraphrasin...more
It is infuriating to me that historians hide their brilliant interpretations of a concept so pertinent to today's political discussion behind incoherent writing styles. This book is at times hopelessly dense, frustrating the everyday interest in early American history. I assume that the Pulitzer is for the message and not the style, but boy do I wish that this guy had a more involved editor and a publisher that cared about typeface and readability. Everything about this book is just dense, and l...more
For those who like to argue with people who claim to know what the founding fathers were thinking (and that we should adhere strictly to their plan). Rakove gives the best short-ish history of the writing of the US constitution, pointing out along the way that the whole thing was basically a compromise to keep as many interests happy as possible. Take that, Scalia/Thomas; James Madison was smarter than the both of you combined.
Rakove's book is a silly attack on the Originalist theory of constitutional interpretation. Rakove's argument basically boils down to "Lawyers can't do history! History is for Historians! Whaa! Whaa! Whaa!"
Original Meanings gives some new insights into this current notion of the original meanings of the Founding Fathers in crafting the U.S. Constitution. Not an easy read--fairly scholarly. This book won the Pulitzer Prize. Some extremely interesting insights and quotes as to what many of the Founding Fathers felt about whether the Constitution should be looked at from their point of view or whether it really is a "living document." Also, a factor that I had never heard discussed is what the origin...more
Wills Hill
Feb 20, 2013 Wills Hill marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Original meanings: politics and ideas in the making of the Constitution

Jack N. Rakove
22 Reviews
A.A. Knopf, 1996 - 439 pages
What did the U.S. Constitution originally mean, and who has understood its meaning best? Do we look to the intentions of its framers at the Federal Convention of 1787, or to those of its ratifiers in the states? Or should we trust our own judgment in deciding whether the original meaning of the Constitution should still guide its later interpretation? These are the recurring...more
Drew Danko
This is a very scholarly book which I found difficult to read and retain. If you are not writing a term paper or a thesis then you better be into constitutional history big time. I was looking for a book that would help me better understand the intentions of the framers when they wrote some of the more currently controversial amendments such as the right to bear arms,etc. This book delves into the back story of the writing and ratification of the constitution. It is well written and does provide...more
Igor Faynshteyn
This is a deeply and meticulously researched book, by one of the leading Constitutional scholars/historians Jack Rakove (as distinct from constitutional law; he is not a lawyer). The scholarship is superb and it is as indispensable for politics and law as it is profound historically.

The book is comprehensive: it covers James Madison and his political philosophy writings preceding and during the making of the Constitution; the period preceding and leading to the Constitutional Convention in 1787,...more
Very good book for research; however, reading this book both reflects onto me my interests and also my growth as a truth-seeker. To truly understand the words of the Constitution requires the study, in my opinion, of the texts that made up the era including the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, and the other political philosophers of the Enlightenment era. Additionally, the Federalist Papers must be taken into account too. The author does a very excellent job in putting together the information...more
Dave Peticolas

What does the notion of the Constitution's 'Original Meaning' really mean? Rakove's books is a methodical, but still readable, exploration of that subject through historical analysis. Rakove shows what a tricky concept 'original meaning' actually amounts to.

Gerry Connolly
Jack Rakove's scholarly book Original Meanings lays out the debates and intentions of the Constitution. Also makes plain the pseudo-intellectual content of Scalia and originalism. Absurd and dangerous judicial approach.
A scholarly work about the creation of the constitution, including some discussion about the current debate of constitutional interpretation by examining original intent of the founders. Or should it be the ratifiers? Or was the intent that the meaning would evolve through judicial interpretation. See p. 18 Argument re: ignoring the charge to amend the Articles: p. 101-109,134. Science of Politics p 154-160. States in a state of nature 1063-5. "Coda" nice discussion of originalist arguments p 36...more
Sean Chick
I wish I could rate this higher, for some passages are good and Rakove does a fie job of showing the murky, contested and archaic aspects of the Constitution's original meaning. But where he succeeds at explaining some of the ideas, his language seems to veer off into the vague. Most of all he fails to discuss the politics with the same energy, insight, and detail. So there you have it a flawed and mostly unoriginal book that is obsessed with Madison.
Marné Yates
Okay, the only reason I didn't like this book was because I hardly understood it. Even my professor for my senior seminar said that we were going to have a book-burning party when we were finished...and I have NEVER wanted to burn a book. Until now. Jack N. Rakove is an absolute GENIOUS...who should never be allowed to write books. Even though it won the Pulitzer. Haha.
Warning: This book is not for the layperson. Or maybe I'm just a weak reader. The author may have some good ideas and the history might be important to learn, but I couldn't learn anything from this book due to its purely academic and obfuscating language and writing style. All of its secrets are locked behind the gates of poor delivery.
Terry Earley
Recommended by Paul Recanzone. Thanks Paul.

Though very dense in many chapters, and I did skip a lot of esoteric legal and political stuff, this was instructive. I am glad I read it. It describes the reasons why we have a tradition of looking at the constitution for direction on difficult legal issues.
"A deeply satisfying account of the political world from which the United States Constitution issued." � New York Times Book Review

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A tough book to read but well worth the time and effort. The chapters on the presidency and rights are well worth it alone. I'd recommend reading books on the constitutional conventions first to give yourself a good grounding in the arguments of the time before reading this book.
If you went to get deep into the details of the debates that surrounded the constitution and the anti-federalists vs the federalists, then this is the book for you. I found it to be a bit repetitive.
I read this a few years ago. It is a great read but it is really heavy non-fiction. You have to be dedicated to the subject to want to read for the content.
Dustin Schafer
This book was sleepy and uncomfortable to read. It did have insightful sections, but unless you LOVE American history and know it very well, don't bother.
A. Gamble
Very informative, but incredibly dense. The chapter on the Bill of Rights is worth chugging through the entire book to reach.
Doug Hart
Great sections on ratification and the bill of rights . . . everything else is a little sleepy though
Craig J.
Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack N. Rakove (1997)
Nov 10, 2011 Brynne rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brynne by: Brian Vogler
Shelves: 2011
I'm not sure that I fully understood everything in this book. At least I tried...
Greg Smith
Yawn...can't believe this was a Putlizer prize winner.
Holly Procida
Can't lie, it was a little dry.

Important reading, but so dull.
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Jack Rakove is the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and professor of political science and (by courtesy) law at Stanford, where he has taught since 1980. His principal areas of research include the origins of the American Revolution and Constitution, the political practice and theory of James Madison, and the role of historical knowledge in constitutional litigation....more
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“How could those who wrote the Constitution possibly understand its meaning better than those who had the experience of observing and participating in its operation? It is one thing to rail against the evils of politically unaccountable judges enlarging constitutional rights beyond the ideas and purposes of their adopters; another to explain why morally sustainable claims of equality be held captive to the extraordinary obstacles of Article V or subject to the partial and incomplete understandings of 1789 or 1868.” 1 likes
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