Joyce Lagow's Reviews > Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

Ratification by Pauline Maier
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Aug 02, 11

bookshelves: history, kindle-edition, us-history, favorites
Read from June 13 to July 31, 2011


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. The Federal government could not raise revenue directly, but only through requisitions on the state governments. Some paid at least part of their obligations, but most did not, thanks to war-time debts and wide-spread disruption in the economy resulting from the War for Independence. As a result, the United States was in danger of defaulting on its loans (what else is new) and had no money to pay its bills.

But revenue was not the only issue. The country had no army, and was totally dependent on poorly trained and equipped state militias. There was real danger from hostile Native Americans and threats from the British and Spanish. The legislative process was cumbersome.

As a result, a convention was called to meet in Philadelphia in order to amend the Articles of Confederation. But it soon became clear that it was better to write a whole new Constitution, since there was no real hope of salvaging the Articles into a workable document.

While the arguments for ratification were compelling, there were equally strong, valid arguments against adopting the Constitution as written, which was what was being asked. While different states raised varying numbers of objections, the ones on which all opponents agreed were direct taxation, representation, and a lack of specific guarantees or a Bill of Rights such as existed in many (but not all) state constitutions.

Maier tells the story, state by state, of the struggle for ratification and it is fascinating. No two state conventions and ratification processes were like. They ran the gamut from Pennsylvania, were ratification was ramrodded through the state convention and there was violence against opponents in Philadelphia after ratification, to Rhode Island and North Carolina who abstained from ratification and joined the new Union later. But in all 13 states, the debate was on real issues, with real concerns and with true patriots on both sides. Clearly much has been lost in the intervening years.

While absorbing, Ratification is not a fast read. But it is definitely a worthwhile one. Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

06/13/2011 page 27
5.0%
06/15/2011 page 56
10.0% "I'm reading this now in watching the DVDs of the series John Adams. It's a treat, seeing "Elbridge Gerry", who was a prominent member of the massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress and reading about him in this book as well."
06/30/2011 page 125
23.0% 1 comment
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