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The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now. George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. Th The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now. George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggles within the Philadelphia Convention as the delegates hammered out the charter for the world's first constitutional democracy. Relying on the words of the delegates themselves to explore the Convention's sharp conflicts and hard bargaining, David O. Stewart lays out the passions and contradictions of the often painful process of writing the Constitution. It was a desperate balancing act. Revolutionary principles required that the people have power, but could the people be trusted? Would a stronger central government leave room for the states? Would the small states accept a Congress in which seats were alloted according to population rather than to each sovereign state? And what of slavery? The supercharged debates over America's original sin led to the most creative and most disappointing political deals of the Convention. The room was crowded with colorful and passionate characters, some known -- Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph -- and others largely forgotten. At different points during that sultry summer, more than half of the delegates threatened to walk out, and some actually did, but Washington's quiet leadership and the delegates' inspired compromises held the Convention together. In a country continually arguing over the document's original intent, it is fascinating to watch these powerful characters struggle toward consensus -- often reluctantly -- to write a flawed but living and breathing document that could evolve with the nation.


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The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now. George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. Th The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now. George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggles within the Philadelphia Convention as the delegates hammered out the charter for the world's first constitutional democracy. Relying on the words of the delegates themselves to explore the Convention's sharp conflicts and hard bargaining, David O. Stewart lays out the passions and contradictions of the often painful process of writing the Constitution. It was a desperate balancing act. Revolutionary principles required that the people have power, but could the people be trusted? Would a stronger central government leave room for the states? Would the small states accept a Congress in which seats were alloted according to population rather than to each sovereign state? And what of slavery? The supercharged debates over America's original sin led to the most creative and most disappointing political deals of the Convention. The room was crowded with colorful and passionate characters, some known -- Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph -- and others largely forgotten. At different points during that sultry summer, more than half of the delegates threatened to walk out, and some actually did, but Washington's quiet leadership and the delegates' inspired compromises held the Convention together. In a country continually arguing over the document's original intent, it is fascinating to watch these powerful characters struggle toward consensus -- often reluctantly -- to write a flawed but living and breathing document that could evolve with the nation.

30 review for The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    You may have been taught to respect the characters of the members of the late [Constitutional] Convention. You may have supposed that they were an assemblage of great men. There is nothing less true. From the Eastern states there were knaves and fools and from the states southward of Virginia they were a parcel of coxcombs and from the middle states office hunters not a few. - George Mason, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as quoted in a letter by Hugh Williamson to John Gray B You may have been taught to respect the characters of the members of the late [Constitutional] Convention. You may have supposed that they were an assemblage of great men. There is nothing less true. From the Eastern states there were knaves and fools and from the states southward of Virginia they were a parcel of coxcombs and from the middle states office hunters not a few. - George Mason, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as quoted in a letter by Hugh Williamson to John Gray Blount, June 3, 1788 The United States Constitution is a remarkable document for many reasons, not the least of which is the certainty with which so many people interpret its provisions. And when I say certainty, I mean certainty. I wish I was half as certain as anything, as some people are of the meaning of the Constitution. Turn on a cable news show right now and you’ll find two people who know the Constitution’s exact object, even though their views are directly opposed to each other. The Constitution has gained an aura almost sacred. Which is fine, but not really. I’m not a Constitutional scholar (as my 1L Con Law grades will attest), but I do know this: the Constitution was the work of human hands. It began, at one point, as a blank piece of paper. Like any human project, it has flaws, some obvious, some hidden. As a lawyer, I’ve dealt with the Constitution in bits and pieces, with heavy focus on certain clauses, and near-ignorance of others. Despite the importance given to its birth, I’ll admit that before now, I’ve never actually read a book devoted solely to the Constitution’s creation in a sweltering room in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Typically, when I dive into a subject for the first time, I do so from the deep end. I like to find a big fat tome that will expedite the process of turning me into a barroom expert. (You know, the smartest person in a bar. That’s the intellectual heights to which I always aspire). This time, I took a different route. David O. Stewart’s The Summer of 1787 is lean and mean, coming in at svelte 264 pages of text (284 pages if you read his 3 page critique of the Electoral College and the original Constitution, sans amendments, both of which are presented as appendices). Stewart’s writing style accentuates this book’s slimness. This is popular history at its most digestible. In less than 30 pages, Stewart takes us through the shambles of the Articles of Confederation, the flurry caused by Daniel Shays and his rebellion, the decision to call a Constitutional Convention, and the assembling of the delegates. Stewart doesn’t dwell on any one moment, but keeps the narrative moving swiftly along. That is not to say The Summer of 1787 is superficial. Rather, it is focused on high points and end results, rather than detailing every step of an arduous process of drafting and debate. The two major issues that run through the book – as they ran through the Convention itself – is the divide between slave states and free states, and between large states and small states. There were many moments when the whole project trembled and almost collapsed upon these fault lines. Stewart does an excellent job in clearly explaining the debate over slavery, representation, and how slavery affected representation, leading to one of the Constitution’s more infamous compromises. Stewart started his career as a Yale-educated lawyer who has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. This experience shines through in this book’s easy facility with the material. He writes with an understated confidence and assuredness. Perhaps surprisingly, given the legal profession’s (oft deserved) reputation for tangled, incomprehensible writing, The Summer of 1787 is a pleasure to read. The story is well-paced, he does a very good job with thumbnail bios on all the principle delegates, and he enlivens the proceedings with well-placed details, such as poor Gouverneur Morris dying in an attempt to relieve a blocked urinary tracts with a piece of whalebone from his wife’s underwear. In these hyper-partisan times, it is worth noting that Stewart – with the exception of the Electoral College, which he finds outmoded and antidemocratic – has not written a polemic. (This was first published in 2007, meaning his Electoral College stance predates the latest election). He is not arguing for the Constitution to be interpreted one way or another. One benefit of reading The Summer of 1787 is that it inspired me to read the full text of the Constitution for the first time in ages. Having just seen how the various articles and sections were created, I found the actual text to be far more interesting than before. You can actually see the competing desires and frictions of the Convention written into the hallowed passages, which allow you to see them in a new light. When the Constitution is changed, it is done by amendments that are added to the original script, rather than by interlineations. Thus, the original words are all there, plain to see, the good and bad and embarrassing alike. Take, for instance, article I, section 2, clause 3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifth of all other Persons. This infamous provision has been rightly condemned for its casual racism. It is also a vivid demonstration of the conflict between smaller states and larger states worried about the number of representatives they’d get to send to Congress. Or look at article IV, section 2, clause 3: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour but shall be delivered up on Claim of the party to whom such Service or Labour may be due. This is the Fugitive Slave Clause, written indelibly on our founding document, the words still there, painfully so, despite the 13th amendment. The tortuously euphemistic language speaks to the uneasiness of so many delegates, who saw the contradictions between their notions of liberty, and the reality of their human chattels (nearly half the delegates were slave owners). My point is not to emphasize the obvious hypocrisies imbedded in the Constitution, or to underscore the importance of slavery to the Constitutional debates. Rather, it is a reminder that this document did not come to us in some mystical fashion. It was not given to James Madison by God as Moses received the Commandments on the mount. It was instead created by imperfect human beings, with many faults and errors. Some of these “founders” owned human beings. One of them died while shoving a piece of whalebone in his urethra. In defense of the newly-written Constitution, Ben Franklin wrote of his astonishment “to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does.” When I read the Three-Fifths Clause or the Fugitive Slave Clause, it becomes clear that my definition of “perfection” is miles from Franklin’s definition. At the same time, it is hard to argue with him when he concluded: “I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.” In attempting to sway dissident delegates to sign the finished product, Franklin asked the Convention members to “doubt a little of his own infallibility.” And maybe that should be the ultimate takeaway, from both the Constitution and our respective interpretations: to doubt the infallibility of both the Constitution, and ourselves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    The Colonial

    Building upon a shelf of books tailored towards the early U.S. Republic, historian David O. Stewart adds to his collection with a breakdown of the months and conversations that led to the creation of the Constitution. There were constant setbacks and diatribes on all sides of the debate for ratification, some fearing an all-too-powerful centralized government, while others were wary of a populace in control and selfishly pushing their own state’s agenda along to no avail. With a well-depicted se Building upon a shelf of books tailored towards the early U.S. Republic, historian David O. Stewart adds to his collection with a breakdown of the months and conversations that led to the creation of the Constitution. There were constant setbacks and diatribes on all sides of the debate for ratification, some fearing an all-too-powerful centralized government, while others were wary of a populace in control and selfishly pushing their own state’s agenda along to no avail. With a well-depicted setting of Mount Vernon and the Potomac flowing in the background of a friendly conversation, Stewart opens with George Mason and Washington discussing that very river and its connection to the debates that would commence. The opening chapters highlight the growing unrest and unforeseen changes taking place in the newly established U.S. shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, with Stewart reflecting upon the consequences of anarchy following Shays’ Rebellion. The fallacies of paper currency are scrutinized, with each state rivaling the other in terms of their given rate of value and exchange with the British Pound and specie (gold, silver, etc.), as well as the sizeable variances in amounts of the dollar being printed and issued to each city’s local populace. Stewart brings these and other problems forward to address the reasoning behind the lack of revenue being brought into Congress by the states, with a few outright refusing to pay taxes—showing the loopholes and overall failures of the Articles of Confederation ratified in 1781. As Stewart progresses into the days leading up to the Convention, he gives well-researched and concise backgrounds to each of the main contributors of the inevitable debate, including: James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, and the Pinckney cousins to name but a few. He sifts through the ratios of delegates who managed plantations and were in favor of slavery, those deep in debt, and even the dissenters who refused to show on the basis of principles (or due to Philadelphia’s unsanitary and crime-ridden conditions). Similarly, Stewart discusses the Virginia Plan in its entirety, covering the debates that ensued over this compromise—Madison’s exceptional rebuttal—to the Articles of Confederation. This involves the slavery contradiction, in which South Carolina delegates full-heartedly backed the institution, while the liberty-minded Virginians cautiously hesitated due to its economic (albeit political) consequences. Stewart brings to attention the principles, traits, and significance of each of the delegates: noting Elbridge Gerry’s stammer, Gouverneur Morris’s peg leg and notorious romantic escapades, and the Scottish-born James Wilson’s proposal of both the Electoral College and the controversial Three-Fifths Compromise. Captivatingly, he entertains the reader with their various outings and experiences at dinners, taverns, inns, and strolls in Philadelphia—always commenting on their interactions with society, as well as the dreaded heatwave that these men constantly complained about. New delegates are brought into focus and given the same attention as those in prior chapters, and Stewart proves his ability in characterizing each when he unknowingly predicts the future success and aggrandizing of Hamilton in the modern musical on his life: The balloting, however, never started. With a sure sense of the moment, Alexander Hamilton seized the Convention floor for the entire day. Unfortunately for him, he made poor use of it. Though Hamilton was only thirty-two years old, his brilliance was widely granted. Slim and handsome, always dressed with meticulous style, he was an admired (if lengthy) speaker, spouting perfectly formed paragraphs, and exuding a vital charisma. Hamilton’s oratory was the stuff of opera—as was his life story. Stewart’s attention to each state’s debate on slavery is carefully constructed, showing that there were most likely backroom conversations between neighboring and like-minded delegates, as well as the likelihood that Madison left some of the heated arguments for and against the compromise out of his diligent notes. As the topic and debate turns to Westward Expansion, even Gouverneur Morris (one of the more liberal-minded friends to abolitionism and centralized government) shows his prejudiced ignorance towards that of Westerners as a whole—scrutinizing their overall intellect and ability to govern, should more states be introduced into the Union. George Washington’s presence at the Convention does not go unnoticed, as the as the delegates rightfully recognized his fitness for presidential office—in which they debated term lengths and limits, monarchical or democratic rule, impeachment protocols, and the election and overall voting process. Stewart suggests that John Rutledge’s “Committee of Detail” had a profound effect on the final drafting of the Constitution, basically revising and editing out much of the early debate and work that went on with the opportune absence of key members. Some of these included the question of whether foreigners or immigrants should be involved or elected with the new government (residency requirements), if the voting process should pertain to landholders and gentry only, and to what extent the federal government could hold power over the individual states. Slavery is a recurring and controversial subject that never seems to leave the floor, as several delegates are conflicted with their own personal enterprise in this diabolical institution, as well as that of their state government and fellow countrymen’s interest. As the process of ratifying and signing eventually come to fruition, Stewart invokes the everlasting words of the elderly Benjamin Franklin and other framers who gave their approval—altogether hesitantly and with many misgivings—which seems fitting and gives a sense of closure to this rather trying yet pivotal ordeal. Collectively, this is a highly informative and engaging look at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, from the thoughts and collaborations of the framers themselves, to the very actions of their quills on page after page of parchment. Stewart aptly concludes with a concise follow-up on the later lives and reputations of each of the delegates, while illustrations are featured throughout the narrative as well as appendices. Read the Full Review and More

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    I have a great fondness for the history of our Revolution and the subsequent creation of our nation and its national government. I especially enjoy those histories which strip away the demigod veneers of our founders and reveal their true humanity with all its virtues and vices. Of several books about the writing of our Constitution that I have read this is the first that is truly a revelation. It identifies the prime movers at Philadelphia, what they contributed; what motivations they had; what I have a great fondness for the history of our Revolution and the subsequent creation of our nation and its national government. I especially enjoy those histories which strip away the demigod veneers of our founders and reveal their true humanity with all its virtues and vices. Of several books about the writing of our Constitution that I have read this is the first that is truly a revelation. It identifies the prime movers at Philadelphia, what they contributed; what motivations they had; what deals they made and with whom; as well as the personalities of these founders. The book also explores the contributions and personalities of many minor delegates when appropriate. It also gives a real sense of what it had to be like to labor for a minimum of 5 hours a day 6 days a week during the Summer of 1787. Bear in mind that all the windows and doors were closed, there was nothing to relieve the heat and all of these men worked in full dress wool suits. Clearly, the experience had to be maddening for many reasons. That only a few delegates left never to return is astounding. It is also clear that anybody that has ever participated in any public gathering of any size will be able to identify universally annoying personalities as they appeared in Philadelphia as in all such public meetings. Philadelphia had more than its fair share of delegates in love with the sound of their own voices; nitpickers, the obtuse, the indecisive, etc. That a constitution was able to be achieved under such circumstances with such a diverse delegation and in such a brief period of time is indeed a miracle. An excellent history. flagcomment · see review

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    This book is an excellent resource for viewing and understanding the Constitution through the lens of its creation. The beginning of the book, the descriptions and characterizations of the founding fathers, the politicking and argument that went on between them, and then at the end of the book what became of them in the years after the Constitutional Convention...these, along with evocative writing describing the ambiance of 1787 Philadelphia, are very interesting parts of the book that make for This book is an excellent resource for viewing and understanding the Constitution through the lens of its creation. The beginning of the book, the descriptions and characterizations of the founding fathers, the politicking and argument that went on between them, and then at the end of the book what became of them in the years after the Constitutional Convention...these, along with evocative writing describing the ambiance of 1787 Philadelphia, are very interesting parts of the book that make for engaged reading. The middle of the book, however, contains an excess of detail bordering on a litany of minutiae detailing every single instance of all the back and forth arguing that went on and on and on. Yes, I know that made the convention very tedious and frustrating for the founders, but relating in detail every hour of every day of it also makes it very tedious for us, the readers. I believe a greatly shortened description of the nature of the disagreements would have sufficed and been a real improvement. Anyway, Stewart is a great scholar and historian, and I think the book was worth reading, but I am glad to be done with it too. Overall, I'd say it was around 50% enjoyable, interesting, engaging, and edifying reading, and around 50% slogging and trudging...thus, 3 of 5 stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    The Constitutional Convention is a subject I know something about, and have been drawn to for years. It really started while I was an undergraduate student. We had something called "interim" which was a mini-semester between fall and spring. You took one intense month long course. My senior year, I took a course on the US Constitutional Convention. We went day-by-day through Madison's notes (and all the other notes that exist). It was one of the best and most memorable educational experiences of The Constitutional Convention is a subject I know something about, and have been drawn to for years. It really started while I was an undergraduate student. We had something called "interim" which was a mini-semester between fall and spring. You took one intense month long course. My senior year, I took a course on the US Constitutional Convention. We went day-by-day through Madison's notes (and all the other notes that exist). It was one of the best and most memorable educational experiences of my life. It is a subject that I occasionally revisit in my reading. I have read the classic "Miracle at Philadelphia" of course. But I was in the airport library and came across a signed copy of this narrative history. The author, David Stewart, is a local and must have been making the rounds at the Olsson's book stores. The book is a nice read, and has a very definite point of view. Stewart is pretty convinced that there were only two major issues at the Convention -- slavery and state representation. He revisits these topics as often as the framers themselves did. Stewart also seems pretty convinced that Rutledge was the domineering figure of the convention. Of course, if you view the event as an elaborate dance to preserve slavery, that is the natural conclusion. He has some interesting anecdotes that he weaves in from outside sources. He plays a bit with the activity in the Continental Congress and its successful effort to ban slavery from the territories covered by the Northwest Ordinace. This, of course, stands in contrast to the Convention's failure to event exclude the slave trade, which was already banned in an overwhelming number of states. He also notes little interesting details about how states voted starting with New Hampshire -- when their delegation arrived -- and going South. He also talks about the hotels they were staying in, and dinners and outside events where the details are available. I particularly enjoyed the "post script" on several of the delegates post convention. The reasons why Wilson of PA, and Rutlege of NC are not among the pantheon of founders are pretty amazing. The general thrust of the narrative stands in stark contrast to Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia. Bowen, of course, focuses more on Madison. He is, after all, the "Father of the Constitution". Madison is an important figure in this book too, However, given his ambivalence on slavery, and his failure to prevail on the composition of the Senate, he has a supporting role in Stewart's telling. The further reading section was a little disappointing to me. While the most obvious original sources are mentioned, Stewart points his readers to a lot of contemporary histories like Walter Issacson's Franklin and Gordon Ellis many books on the era. Its not that these are bad books. I have read several of them myself. Its that it makes me worry a little bit about the scholarship that went into this work. The other gripe I have is that I miss some of the amusing "might have beens" of Bowens work. That book has a broader focus and covers many more elements of the discussion with detail. As I said, Stewart's book has a definite point of view. Its not myopic, but it does not tarry too long on any subject that does not fit the thrust of Stewart's story. So, if you are interested in the subject broadly, read Miracle at Philadelphia. But, if you have a particular interest in the role slavery played in shaping the Constitution, this book will probably serve your purpose better.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    I gave this book five stars. It is a concise, well researched, and extremely well written account of the days during the summer of 1787 when the convention at Philadelphia met to form a new government. Others have written this story and have done an exceptional job but no one, in my opinion, has done it in such a readable and clear way. I recommend this book to all Americans. It spells out the debates and compromises made in order to make a new government a reality. A certain section of our Cong I gave this book five stars. It is a concise, well researched, and extremely well written account of the days during the summer of 1787 when the convention at Philadelphia met to form a new government. Others have written this story and have done an exceptional job but no one, in my opinion, has done it in such a readable and clear way. I recommend this book to all Americans. It spells out the debates and compromises made in order to make a new government a reality. A certain section of our Congress would be well served to learn that politics is the art of compromise which many have either forgotten or decided is no longer necessary. The author does not treat the Framers as demigods that many historians have done in the past. He presents them, flaws and all, and recognizes, as the framers did, that it was a flawed document filled with compromises but they recognized that with the amendment process those things could be fixed. They did not view it, as the Antonin Scalias of the world do, as written in stone. The most obvious flaw is of course the institutionalization of slavery. Rutledge seized the opportunity to strengthen and deeply imbed slavery into our countries founding documents and the convention went along with it. Whether the country could have survived if those with more honorable beliefs about the institution had prevailed we will never know but by agreeing to accept the provisions, the delegates not kindly disposed to the "peculiar" institution may have set the country up for the catastrophe that was the Civil War in 1861.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    David Stewart, a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court and become an expert on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, has written a marvelously detailed account of the constitutional Convention of 1787. We really only have Madison's notes for what went on and he edited those, some suspect for political considerations, after the fact, but it appears to be a fairly accurate account of what happened in that stuffy and stifling room in Philadelphia in 1787. Benjamin Franklin remarked that he was David Stewart, a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court and become an expert on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, has written a marvelously detailed account of the constitutional Convention of 1787. We really only have Madison's notes for what went on and he edited those, some suspect for political considerations, after the fact, but it appears to be a fairly accurate account of what happened in that stuffy and stifling room in Philadelphia in 1787. Benjamin Franklin remarked that he wasn't sure if the carving of the sun on the back of Washington's chair was rising or setting, and indeed, there was a lot of antagonism to a system that gave more power to a central government. However, it was necessary as states were constantly squabbling among each other about tariffs on each other's goods, militias, paying debts, honoring each other's money, and a myriad of other issues. George Washington was particularly concerned after Shay's Rebellion that pitted one colony (they weren't really states yet) against another: “I am mortified beyond expression,” Washington wrote in October 1786, “when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any country.” Without “some alteration in our political creed,” he declared, “the superstructure we have been seven years raising at the expense of so much blood and treasure, must fall. We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion!” Slave states worried about their slave trade and feared that a central power would create a centralized army that could shut it down. Indeed, Patrick Henry in his tirade against the ratification of the new Constitution in Virginia's House of Delegates was heard to exclaim, "They're coming to get your niggers." Slavery was the elephant in the room throughout the discussions. It was intertwined with what to do with the "West." No one was quite sure how to parcel it out and westerners were considered treacherous, fickle, and not to be trusted. It was even feared they might form their own government and secede. Land titles were unclear and several of the delegates, including Washington, were speculating on land values beyond the Appalachians, which formed the boundary between east and west.* Native American "ownership" was never considered, but there were many squatters and it took years to resolve the claims. ** I was humbled to realize how much I had forgotten from high school and surprised to learn (relearn?) of the role of John Rutledge and the Committee of five who were tasked with the job of summarizing and codifying the work of the larger Committee of the Whole that had slugged its way to some unanimity during the summer. Rutledge and the committee rewrote and even changed much of what had been agreed upon. Most importantly, Rutledge was intent on weakening the central government and providing protections for slavery. He was, after all, from South Carolina, and owned as many as 60 slaves, a number that had decreased to only one by the time of his death in 1800. The Committee, which had excluded Madison -- perhaps the members tiring of his pedantic allocutions -- made clear that the Supreme Court was to decide issues and not just offer advisory opinions. As a judge who went on to become the second chief justice, after John Jay, a position of great importance to him. He didn't last long in that position. He had begged for the job and Washington gave it to him as a recess appointment, but then he turned around and gnawed on the hand that tried to help him by vitriolically attacking the treaty that John Jay had concluded for Washington with Great Britain. Rutledge reportedly said in the speech "that he had rather the President should die than sign that puerile instrument"– and that he "preferred war to an adoption of it." His appointment was rejected by the Senate, a first. Rutledge remains the only Supreme Court justice unseated involuntarily by the Senate, serving the shortest term of any justice, 138 days. In a fit of depression he walked into a river, but as the level reached his neck he was spotted by some slaves who managed to save him from drowning in spite of his kicking and screaming. The great defender of slavery was prevented from taking his life by those whom he wanted to keep enslaved. Several other delegates did not fare well after the convention: two duels and several bankruptcies among their downfalls. Stewart has told a great story. *Aaron Burr was heavily involved in speculation. He was accused of conspiring to foment a war with Spain (Andrew Jackson and General Wilkenson were in on it) in order to increase the value of his property in the west. Ultimately, having seriously irritated the Jefferson administration, he was tried for treason, Justice Marshall presiding, but was acquitted. **Native American rights were nicely eliminated by the Discovery Doctrine, a colonial technique to void aboriginal ownership of lands conquered. It said that any land "discovered" by a European power was owned by that power. This doctrine was a major factor in the Lewis & Clark expedition. It gave the Jefferson administration rights to all the lands they explored. Justice Marshall, in one of his more notorious decisions, validated the doctrine writing, "As a corollary, the "discovering" power gains the exclusive right to extinguish the "right of occupancy" of the Indigenous occupants, which otherwise survived the assumption of sovereignty. " See Miller, Robert J. Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discove...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul Haspel

    The summer of 1787 was truly a crucial time in American history – for the Articles of Confederation, the original framing document for the federal government of the United States, had proven altogether unequal to the task of providing a strong and unified government for the young country. A few dozen delegates gathered that summer in Philadelphia, with the official task of amending the Articles. But they exceeded their brief in a bold and decisive way; and – seemingly against all odds – they eme The summer of 1787 was truly a crucial time in American history – for the Articles of Confederation, the original framing document for the federal government of the United States, had proven altogether unequal to the task of providing a strong and unified government for the young country. A few dozen delegates gathered that summer in Philadelphia, with the official task of amending the Articles. But they exceeded their brief in a bold and decisive way; and – seemingly against all odds – they emerged from their deliberations in Pennsylvania’s State House with a new United States Constitution that was just what the nation needed, as David O. Stewart chronicles in his 2007 book The Summer of 1787. Stewart, a Washington, D.C., attorney, considers the serious questions that the Framers faced as he sets forth this history of The Men Who Invented the Constitution (the book’s subtitle): “Was the Convention merely amending the Articles? Or was it creating a new, stronger government? The answer was tangled up with the delegates’ puzzlement over how to blend the states with the strong central government….Would the states be abolished? How best to reconcile two sovereigns exercising power over the same territory at the same time?” (p. 55) As Stewart makes clear, one of the biggest problems facing the Framers as they worked on building a stronger central government for the U.S.A. was the divide between large and small states. This divide went back to the colonial era, when various English kings, over a 125-year period, founded various colonies for reasons that had nothing to do with logical geographical boundaries in North America – and that usually reflected a king’s own need to placate a powerful supporter. Hence, in 1632, an eavesdropper at Whitehall might have heard royal rumblings along these lines: "What’s that? Lord Baltimore needs a colony for English Catholics? Well, take part of northern Virginia and give that to him. Call it – I don’t know – Maryland." Or, fifty years later, in 1682: "Hmmm? What’s that you say? William Penn wants a coastline for Pennsylvania? Then take three counties from Maryland and let him have those. Call it – let me see, let me see – call it Delaware!" That was about as scientific as it got; and the upshot of it was that the large and populous states of that time – meaning, in those days, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – wanted a strong central government, and believed that their interests would be well served by such a government. By contrast, small, thinly populated states like Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island feared that a strongly centralized American government would permit larger states to gobble up their smaller neighbors, like a big fish swallowing up little fish. That divide between large and small states threatened to derail the entire Convention – especially when the large states formed an alliance with the three Deep South states of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, all of which were interested in protecting the institution of slavery within their states. Gunning Bedford of Delaware denounced the alliance between the large states and the slave states, asking if they would crush the small states, and then really turned up the rhetorical heat: Not content with denouncing his colleagues personally, Bedford turned treasonous. “[S]ooner than be ruined” by the large-state/slave-state allies, the small states could turn to “some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” His words electrified the room of men who had hazarded their all to fight the British Empire, who lost comrades and loved ones in that cause. Four years after that war, were the states going to turn on each other, allied with competing European powers? The prospect was outrageous. (p. 106) Stewart emphasizes Benjamin Franklin’s role in brokering the “Great Compromise” through which the House of Representatives would have representatives enumerated by state population, while the Senate would have two senators each for every state. This arrangement enabled the Constitutional deliberations to go forward – and ensured that, centuries hence, many residents of California (population 39.5 million) would wonder aloud why they have the same number of senators as Wyoming (population 600,000). Another feature of the U.S. Constitution that occasions much comment nowadays is the institution of the Electoral College – the means by which the President of the United States is elected not by the American people themselves, but rather by electors chosen by the 50 states. Stewart recounts how James Wilson of Pennsylvania – who, like many of the Framers, was distrustful of direct democracy – originated the idea of the Electoral College: The people could vote for “electors,” whose sole duty would be to choose the president. The electors would be wise, or so the argument proceeded, where the masses were ignorant and easily misled. Madison applauded the approach as providing more insurance for Southern states. Those states would suffer under popular elections “on the score of the Negroes” – since their slaves could not vote – but slaves could be counted when allocating electors. (p. 155) Here, one sees only too clearly how undemocratic and indeed anti-democratic the Electoral College is as an institution: the way in which it was crafted to please Southern slaveholders – who would gain more electoral power the more people were held in slavery in their states – and the way the ordinary people of the United States were regarded as “ignorant masses.” Have things not changed some since 1787 – in the realm of public education, for example? Are the American people not to be trusted to choose their own president, with each American’s vote truly equal to every other’s? Is there not something wrong with a system where a presidential candidate can lose an election by 500,000 votes (as in 2000), or by 2.9 million votes (as in 2016), and still be declared the “winner” through the actions of 538 electors? This discussion of the Electoral College calls to mind the rhetorical gymnastics in which the Framers were forced to engage in order to placate leading slaveholder framers like John Rutledge of South Carolina. There was the infamous “three-fifths compromise” through which enslaved people were counted as three-fifths of a person each for purposes of both representation and taxation. There is the contortion of language through which an enslaved person is referred to in Article IV, Section 2, as a “Person held to Service or Labour”, in the “Fugitive Slave Clause” that was meant to ensure that slaveholders in one state could claim the return of enslaved people who escaped to another state. The extension of the slave trade until 1808 was another sop to the slaveholders – one that ensured that thousands more innocent men, women, and children, for twenty more years, would be kidnapped from their homes, consigned to the unspeakable horrors of the Middle Passage, and condemned to a lifetime of bondage when they arrived in the United States. Stewart describes well the contradictions involved here: Slavery was the original sin in which the nation was conceived. Gouverneur Morris and Rufus King knew it, and said so. John Dickinson and William Livingston knew it; they had freed their slaves. The delegates who belonged to abolition societies – Franklin, [Alexander] Hamilton, and Livingston – certainly knew it. Oliver Ellsworth, who steadfastly stood by his Southern allies, reminded the delegates that if the matter were viewed “in a moral light,” then every slave should be freed; he knew it. Roger Sherman called the slave trade iniquitous; he knew it. Each of those ambivalent Virginians – [George] Mason and [James] Madison and [Edmund] Randolph and the General himself [George Washington] – all knew it. The men from South Carolina surely knew it. Charles Pinckney said he would vote against the slave trade within his own state; John Rutledge would not discuss the morality of slavery, an argument he knew he could only lose. (p. 204) And a grim precedent had been set – that slavery, and the white South’s attempts to protect slavery, could be made the basis for threatening the Union itself. The Framers’ failure to face squarely the cruelty and injustice of slavery, as Stewart suggests, led inevitably toward the horrors of civil war 80 years later. While reading The Summer of 1787, I found Stewart’s portrayal of one delegate, George Mason of Virginia, to be of particular interest – and not just because I teach at the Northern Virginia university that bears his name. Mason worked hard on the Constitution, but ultimately decided that he could not sign it, because it did not have a Bill of Rights. Mason’s principled stance cost him the friendship of fellow Virginia luminaries George Washington and James Madison, but his stand in favor of a Bill of Rights was ultimately vindicated. As Stewart points out, The story of the Constitution did not end on September 17, 1787 [the day the final draft of the Constitution was signed]….Among George Mason’s incisive remarks, none was more telling than his insistence that amending the Constitution should be easy because “the plan now to be formed will certainly be defective.” The first generation had no illusions as to the Constitution’s perfection; they adopted twelve amendments during the first fifteen years, starting with the Bill of Rights. (p. 259) Stewart describes well the difficulties, inconsistencies, and contradictions involved in the framing of the United States Constitution – and, at the same time, emphasizes what an impressive achievement it is. In other countries that I have visited, the ultimate guarantor of a nation’s identity and territorial integrity is the king, or the army, or “the Party.” Here, it is the Constitution. Other countries, including fellow democracies, have had a number of constitutions (France has had 15 since the year 1789); the United States of America has had one. The U.S. Constitution, responding to the demands of history and of human rights through the amendment process, has survived civil war, world wars, a “cold war,” various forms of economic collapse, and the constitutional crisis of Watergate. And, as of this writing, the United States Constitution seems likely to survive the presidency of Donald Trump. With regard to the document that he swore to “preserve, protect, and defend” on January 20, 2017, President Trump once said that he would support “Article XII” of the U.S. Constitution – even though the Constitution only has seven articles. President Trump also said in July of 2019 that “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as President” (not true). In an April 2020 news briefing, the president went even further, telling reporters in a news briefing that “I have the ultimate authority” and later adding that “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total” (not true). He even claimed that local leaders “can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States” (not true). I make these points not to call President Trump’s credibility or competence into question – the president currently seems to be doing a fine job of that on his own – but rather to point out that there have been many times when a president, or a member of Congress, or a justice of the Supreme Court – from either major party – has sought power beyond the constraints, the checks and balances, set forth by the United States Constitution. Each time, sooner or later, constitutional restraints have contained the official who, hungry for power, attempted to exceed his or her Constitutional authority. The center has held – sometimes, seemingly against all odds – for 233 years now, in the form of the U.S. Constitution. And that, as Stewart suggests in this fine work of history, is something to celebrate.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Enzo

    So after recent criticism thrown to the Founding Fathers made me think about what they were thinking when they left Slavery and the traffic of slaves in the Constitution. That I decided I needed to either read the Constitution and figure it out myself or get a one of the best historical writers to give me a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Give me the gossip and the possible thoughts behind the framers of the Constitution. The reasons why some things were placed in and the feeling at t So after recent criticism thrown to the Founding Fathers made me think about what they were thinking when they left Slavery and the traffic of slaves in the Constitution. That I decided I needed to either read the Constitution and figure it out myself or get a one of the best historical writers to give me a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Give me the gossip and the possible thoughts behind the framers of the Constitution. The reasons why some things were placed in and the feeling at the time that pressed all the members of the Philadelphia Convention to agree on things that each felt should or should not be in the Constitution. David O. Stewart frames his book starting with Madison's blueprint of the Constitution. Leading into the start of the Convention, the election of Washington as the President of the Convention, the secrecy rule, and the thoughts of many of the members. Let me tell you I thought I knew a lot of the Founding Fathers, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and everyones late favorite Hamilton. But through this book I have come to know most of the real people who by force of speech, by eloquence and by threats wrote the Constitution. The Delegates arrived with orders, Yes, orders from their States to walk straight out if a particular item was even mentioned in the debates. The small States would not allow themselves to lose power to the big States. The South would not give up Slaves, the Eastern States would not allow taxation on their primary business. That and more was the backdrop that pushed the Delegates during the talks that made this almost sacred text. How Washington by his undeniable force of presence kept the debates from becoming altercations. The friendships that got strained and the acquaintances that became alliances that powered ideas and positions into the job. It is fascinating to read words left in diaries that describe for example Madison or Hamilton. Those that wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym Publius were not exactly the most forceful within the Convention. To find out John Rutledge and James Wilson worked backdoor deals and formed an alliance that almost carried the Convention on its back. How the economy forced the hand of this giants among men. How a document that while flawed still guides this land to greatness. Why George Mason one of the most esteemed patriots of the time refused to sign the Constitution. How Gouverneur Morris not only wrote the Preamble to the Constitution but is the "Penman of the Constitution". His words universally praised and his changes to the final draft of the Constitution have made it one of the most admired texts in the world. Is is easy to say I really enjoyed the book. While I won't read my next historical book of this times immediately I am filed with great expectation for when I return to the period and read on Madison.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    i didn't realize slavery was so front and center in the constitutional discussions. politics (unity was more important than morality, it seems) won the day, and not only was slavery not abolished, but slave states were allowed to count their slaves for representation purposes, though only as 3/5ths of a person. yes, really. david o. stewart seems to have a bit of a slant towards the virginians, whom he sees as the movers/shakers, and whose "virginia plan" he identifies as the blueprint for the c i didn't realize slavery was so front and center in the constitutional discussions. politics (unity was more important than morality, it seems) won the day, and not only was slavery not abolished, but slave states were allowed to count their slaves for representation purposes, though only as 3/5ths of a person. yes, really. david o. stewart seems to have a bit of a slant towards the virginians, whom he sees as the movers/shakers, and whose "virginia plan" he identifies as the blueprint for the constitution. the other big state, pennsylvania, has its own heavyweights, such as franklin and wilson, and colorful characters from the south and new england round out the roster of these important dead white men. the book is at its best when describing the concurrent events and the context -- sunday trips out to bartram's garden, entertainments at the morris house, intrigues at the rooming house where delegates stayed, the humid philadelphia summer weather. more of this would have made it more interesting. as it is, it gets dry/slow in parts. the other revelation was the battle between big states and small states, which the small states seem to have won, with equal representation in the senate, and with the byzantine electoral college that baffles the world to this day.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I am so glad I listened to Stewart's Virginia Historical Society's talk which convinced me to start reading his books. They are awesome books about US history. This one is about the writing of Constitution. Stewart details the major movers and shakers, and gives drafting the drama of an adventure story. It's a really good look at the major document. I am so glad I listened to Stewart's Virginia Historical Society's talk which convinced me to start reading his books. They are awesome books about US history. This one is about the writing of Constitution. Stewart details the major movers and shakers, and gives drafting the drama of an adventure story. It's a really good look at the major document.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    Like the summer of 1787 itself, this book took a while to get warmed up. At first it was hard to tell whether it would proceed chronologically, topically, or as a series of mini-biographies. Eventually it became clear that it was mostly chronological with a focus on the topics and personalities that dominated the Convention during particular days and weeks of that summer. The most striking thing about this book is how disproportionate the amount of discussion at the Convention was to the actual p Like the summer of 1787 itself, this book took a while to get warmed up. At first it was hard to tell whether it would proceed chronologically, topically, or as a series of mini-biographies. Eventually it became clear that it was mostly chronological with a focus on the topics and personalities that dominated the Convention during particular days and weeks of that summer. The most striking thing about this book is how disproportionate the amount of discussion at the Convention was to the actual provisions of the U.S. Constitution. A great deal of time was spent debating the Virginia Plan, the basis of Congressional representation, the powers of the Senate, and the method of selecting presidents. Strikingly little time was spent defining the overall powers of the central government, the powers of the president, and the nature of the judiciary, or the protections of the rights of the people. On the issue of representation, the Convention quickly became bogged down: how would states and/or people be represented in the new Congress? The large states were adamant about basing representation on population. However, there were only three really big states, which wasn't enough to carry approval from a majority of states at the Convention, each of whom had one vote per delegation. James Wilson of Pennsylvania came up with an idea to persuade a few of the small states to join with the large states. He buddied up with John Rutledge of South Carolina. In exchange for certain guarantees, the slave states would join with the large states in supporting population-based representation. But the small states pressed at it and kept debating until eventually persuading the Convention (in particular a Georgia delegate originally from Connecticut) to reconsider. Benjamin Franklin played a key role in inspiring the compromise of a House of Representatives based on population (with exclusive authority to originate money bills) and a Senate based on equal representation of states. Turning their focus to the presidency, some wanted the person to be selected by Congress. Some wanted election by the people but that was seen as too democratic and the concept of electors was invented. That of course dragged them back to the issue of representation. All kinds of exotic formulae were proposed, but eventually the electoral college was pieced together, and it was the only protocol that could garner enough support from the Convention for passage. In other words, they did the best they could. Less time was spent debating what the president would actually do. Many other topics were debated and settled by the convention, which were put into words by Rutledge in a Committee of Detail. Gouverneur Morris (who'd lost many of the Convention's floor debates) took the lengthy, disparate provisions of that committee's draft, rearranging and condensing them elegantly into the document we know today. James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," was more like the secretary of the Convention, taking meticulous notes, failing to win support for his own specific proposals, but winning at his broader objective of creating a stronger central government than existed under the Articles of Confederation. This book had a tendency to focus on issues which are more important to contemporary audiences and downplayed issues that were important to the framers. For example, the book treated the issuance of paper money as an insignificant matter. This deserved more attention because it was very important to the leaders of the time, and because it went straight to the powers of the states and central government. The book also seemed to take for granted that "everybody" wanted a new government. That there were men who wanted to preserve the Articles of Confederation was given little attention. I wouldn't say that this book "put me there" in the Convention. I didn't feel like a fly on the wall. Sometimes I got confused about which delegates held which beliefs. Nevertheless, it was very illuminating about the key issues debated at the Convention and it provided a much needed play-by-play about how we settled on the framework of government that exists to this day. The Constitution probably shouldn't be read alone without reading a book like this.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alan Johnson

    This book is very well researched and very well written. The author neither glorifies the framers nor disparages them. Rather, he mostly lets the facts speak for themselves. Among those facts were the compromises over slavery, including the three-fifths compromise in which a slave (who could not vote) was to be counted as three-fifths of a white person for purposes of apportioning the numbers of Representatives allotted to each state in the House of Representatives. The effects of the three-fift This book is very well researched and very well written. The author neither glorifies the framers nor disparages them. Rather, he mostly lets the facts speak for themselves. Among those facts were the compromises over slavery, including the three-fifths compromise in which a slave (who could not vote) was to be counted as three-fifths of a white person for purposes of apportioning the numbers of Representatives allotted to each state in the House of Representatives. The effects of the three-fifths clause also carried over into the election of the President, since the number of electors for each state in the electoral college was based on the total number of that state's Representatives and Senators. Indeed, one of the reasons for the electoral college was that it would incorporate the three-fifths ratio. A direct popular vote for president, which was supported by James Wilson, James Madison, and a few other delegates, would not have given the South that extra boost in selecting the president. David O. Stewart observes that some sort of compromise over slavery was necessary if a union of all the states was to be formed. However, in the last chapter of his book (pages 261-62), Stewart delineates some of the historical consequences of the compromises embedded in the original Constitution: "Most obviously, preservation of the slave trade meant the continued importation of many thousands of Africans in chains. The Fugitive Slave Clause gave slave owners a critical tool for enforcing their dominion over the people they held in bondage. "Though less obvious in its impact, the three-fifths ratio rankled for decades. By granting additional representation based on slaves, that clause enhanced southern power, as reflected in many measures: "• Ten of the first fifteen presidents were slave owners. "• John Adams would have won a second term as president but for twelve electoral votes cast for Jefferson (and Burr) that represented southern slaves (counted at three-fifths of their real number). "• For twenty-seven of the nation’s first thirty-five years, southerners sat as Speaker of the House of Representatives. "• Nineteen of the first thirty-four Supreme Court justices were slaveholders. "Because of the three-fifths ratio, Virginia in the 1790s had six more congressmen than did Pennsylvania even though both states had roughly the same number of free inhabitants. The three-fifths ratio gave slave states fourteen extra seats in the House in 1793, twenty-seven additional seats in 1812, and twenty-five added seats in 1833. "Those extra votes meant that when crises erupted over slavery in 1820, in 1850, and in 1856, slave owners in positions of power ensured that the political system did not challenge human bondage. House seats created by the three-fifths rule allowed Missouri to be admitted as a slave state in 1820, and ensured enactment of the 1840 gag rule that choked off antislavery petitions to Congress." Stewart explains that "[h]istorians disagree over the terrible bargains that the Convention struck over slavery. Some insist that the delegates did the best they could under the circumstances." However, "[o]thers counter that the northern delegates caved in too easily to implausible southern threats to abandon the Union." Specifically, Georgia and South Carolina, the states that most demanded concessions to slavery, probably could not have survived outside the union as result of their respective dire circumstances. The author concludes that "[f]or all they have been celebrated, the delegates bear responsibility for having entrenched slavery ever deeper, for not even beginning to express disapproval of it." Ibid., 262-63. But Stewart is careful in his examination of the history of the Constitutional Convention. He observes, in more than one place, that the New England states, which benefited economically from the slave trade due to their shipping interests, were more than willing to accommodate Georgia and South Carolina on slavery. Strangely, it was James Madison and George Mason, both slaveholding Virginians, who had the most compunctions about slavery. Although Thomas Jefferson, another slaveholding Virginian, was also on record against this practice, he did not attend the Convention because he was representing the United States in Paris at the time. But although Madison, Mason, and Jefferson were conflicted about slavery, they never (with a few exceptions) actually freed their own slaves. That was the legacy of another Virginian, George Washington, whose Will contained provisions that led to the emancipation of his slaves within two years after his death. Washington was the presiding officer of the Convention. Although he spoke little, he was respected by virtually all of the other delegates. I strongly recommend this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andy Ober

    This is a well-written, well-organized and very human account of one of the most remarkable political events in American history. The book does not take a political angle in examining the creation of the Constitution, nor does it try to take on the impossible task of revealing what the founding fathers might think of today's United States. What it does do is turn the framers from paintings and historic sketches into human beings... some more likable than others, some more relevant than others. T This is a well-written, well-organized and very human account of one of the most remarkable political events in American history. The book does not take a political angle in examining the creation of the Constitution, nor does it try to take on the impossible task of revealing what the founding fathers might think of today's United States. What it does do is turn the framers from paintings and historic sketches into human beings... some more likable than others, some more relevant than others. They were not just affected by the debates over representation and slavery... they were also dealing with very human issues, including the heat, extended time away from their families and professions and the cost of staying in Philadelphia for several months. One of the more jarring sections of the book comes toward the very end, when we learn of the ultimate fate of many of the delegates. Several, as would be expected, go onto successful political careers. Others drown in debt and depression. The stories serve as another reminder that the remarkable document was put together by normal, flawed human beings. I'm not sure that this book will spark interest among those who aren't particularly fascinated by American history to begin with. But, most anyone with a general interest in the subject will likely enjoy this account that is remarkably well-researched, but not overwhelming, and detailed and informational, but not without humor.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Why did the US Revolution succeed when so many others have failed? Some credit must go to the strong central government designed in the summer of 1787. David Stewart brings this Constitutional Convention to life through the stories of its participants. The Articles of Confederation were designed to give states power at the expense of a federal government. As a result, states printed their own money, negotiated with foreign governments, tried to push their boundaries into not just new territories, Why did the US Revolution succeed when so many others have failed? Some credit must go to the strong central government designed in the summer of 1787. David Stewart brings this Constitutional Convention to life through the stories of its participants. The Articles of Confederation were designed to give states power at the expense of a federal government. As a result, states printed their own money, negotiated with foreign governments, tried to push their boundaries into not just new territories, but other states and set their own trade policies. States, often controlled by financial interests, forced high taxes on many unable to pay. Stewart sees Shay’s Rebellion as a turning point - a warning that without a strong central government, chaos could reign. Delegates for 12 states (Rhode Island would not participate because it wanted to continue minting its own money) met in Philadelphia. The meetings were closed to the press, so what we know comes from James Madison’s log of the proceedings and letters and later reports of the participants. The general reader will not recognize many of the names of those who wrote this document. There is James Wilson from Scotland who took a major role in blending the small state-large state, slave state-free state debates. There is James Brearley of New Jersey who thought the country should be divided into states of equal size. South Carolina’s delegates John Rutledge and Charles Pinckney were loathe to compromise and obtained a Senate with equal representatives from each state (favoring small/slave states) and a House with proportional representation inclusive of a 3/5 slave count which, again, inflated slave state representation. The country’s (perhaps) first lobbyist, Rev. Manaseh Cutler, lobbied the delegates to open the Northwest Territories (as promised) to veterans and keep them free of slavery. Other wins for the anti-slavery delegates were navigation (trade) policies and a ban on slave importation after 20 years. The well-known founders take a back seat. Washington led the conference but said little. Octogenarian Ben Franklin also spoke little and would sometimes have James Wilson speak for him. Alexander Hamilton attended the opening sessions, spoke of distrusting the vote of the common man, went back to New York and returned in the last weeks of the meeting. Steward sketches the how these men served on committees as well as how they traveled, where they stayed, the nature of their social life and recreation while in Philadelphia. Not many stayed for the duration. When the work was complete, no delegate was happy but they sold it to the country and got the required ratification of 10 states. There is a great description of the celebration that followed: a parade, speeches and a full festival with 10 and 13 being themes. The character portraits are not only well written, almost all have a sketch. Since you get to know them, you are particularly appreciative that Stewart tells of their post-convention lives. He also gives a synopsis of the issues surrounding the compromises and the later amendments. This is a well laid out and designed book. The Index worked for me. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in Post-Revolutionary America or specifically the drafting of the Constitution.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    Interesting book about a fascinating topic, including many details I didn’t know much about. The attendance issues are amusing - Rhode Island never attended, New York and New Hampshire were unrepresented for large chunks of the Convention, and many individual delegates with strong opinions were absent for many of the debates. Washington wrote the final document was signed by “11 states and Colonel Hamilton,” as Hamilton signed even though Ny’s delegation wasn’t present. The focus on people who h Interesting book about a fascinating topic, including many details I didn’t know much about. The attendance issues are amusing - Rhode Island never attended, New York and New Hampshire were unrepresented for large chunks of the Convention, and many individual delegates with strong opinions were absent for many of the debates. Washington wrote the final document was signed by “11 states and Colonel Hamilton,” as Hamilton signed even though Ny’s delegation wasn’t present. The focus on people who have been largely forgotten by history but played outsized roles at the Convention was interesting, as was the descriptions of the alliances between the big states and the slave states. The ability of small states (and later slave states) to overcome a lack of votes with explicit and implicit threats of leaving the convention was illuminating.. The book focused a lot on slavery, which seems justified, but the author’s moral judgments of slavery (and of those who defended it or caved to those who defended it) seemed unnecessary. Of course we all know what a human rights catastrophe slavery was - I prefer when a story is reported more factually, and let the readers make their own judgments. I do understand the desire to show how the decisions made at the Convention had a real life impact, but there were probably subtler ways to accomplish that. The book is relatively short but there is a fair amount of filler (like - thing going on elsewhere in Philly at the time) that I found kind of boring and mostly skimmed through, but might be of interest to others.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Piker7977

    An interesting and human tale of the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America. Stewart writes his narrative for everyone rather than the scholar or lawyer. This approach creates an insider's view of what the dynamics were in Philadelphia in 1787. And guess what? God did not pen the founding document. It's too flawed for that type of argument. An eclectic group of characters sat down for months to create a government that incorporated slavery into its founding, did not democ An interesting and human tale of the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America. Stewart writes his narrative for everyone rather than the scholar or lawyer. This approach creates an insider's view of what the dynamics were in Philadelphia in 1787. And guess what? God did not pen the founding document. It's too flawed for that type of argument. An eclectic group of characters sat down for months to create a government that incorporated slavery into its founding, did not democratically empower all its citizens, and rushed some of the agreements due to fatigue and weariness after a long period of debate. What we are left with is non-perfect foundation for a government that leaves us marveling and wondering about its meaning. Perhaps its the Constitution's riddles and unanswered questions that inspire its genius. Try to define federalism for instance. The legacy of allowing us to interpret, improve, and amend the document is one of its many gifts.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Grant

    Excellent overview of the gritty process and painful compromises involved in fashioning our Constitution. It follows a straight forward chronology and highlights both the well-known and not so well-known delegates who had an impact on our foundational document. Some of the compromises were dreadful (slavery), some were unusual (relative representation for small vs large states--that resulted in 2 branches of Congress), but all made more understandable by Stewart. The bottom line is that we would Excellent overview of the gritty process and painful compromises involved in fashioning our Constitution. It follows a straight forward chronology and highlights both the well-known and not so well-known delegates who had an impact on our foundational document. Some of the compromises were dreadful (slavery), some were unusual (relative representation for small vs large states--that resulted in 2 branches of Congress), but all made more understandable by Stewart. The bottom line is that we would not have had a Union in 1788 had we not kicked the slavery can down the road and if the Southern states had not joined the Union at that point, where might that have led? Lots of food for thought.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Extremely thorough and well-researched without being too dense. He does a great job giving voice to the accomplishments and the substantial roles played by names not known to history. Good, good stuff.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Behrens

    Who would have thought a book about something that happened 230 years ago -- to the day! -- could be so relevant? Ah... but it is, when you're talking about putting a bunch of high-powered men, most of whom with self-serving agendas and all of whom with strong egos into a room together with the purpose of deciding critical issues facing our country. Think of it. An exceedingly hot summer, a small, closed room (for privacy -- no air conditioning back then), hot clothing... And yet these men were Who would have thought a book about something that happened 230 years ago -- to the day! -- could be so relevant? Ah... but it is, when you're talking about putting a bunch of high-powered men, most of whom with self-serving agendas and all of whom with strong egos into a room together with the purpose of deciding critical issues facing our country. Think of it. An exceedingly hot summer, a small, closed room (for privacy -- no air conditioning back then), hot clothing... And yet these men were able to hammer out the most important document our country has ever produced -- the Constitution of the United States. In a few months. Without a model (remember, this was the time of kings and queens, of dictators and rulers.... no country anywhere had a legislature), these brilliant and stubborn men kept at it until they had something they knew would work, something that was far from perfect, something hypocritical (government by the people... unless you weren't ruling class or were a slave or a woman or a Native American....) but something that could be thoughtfully amended and adjusted and fixed and perfected as time went on. Two hundred and thirty years later, we still refer to that document, still live by it, rule by it, and are grateful for it. Makes me wonder why government, with all our technological advances -- messages and documents can be made and sent in seconds, all while sitting in comfortable clothes, in air-conditioned spaces -- we can't seem to get the most basic decisions made. Every politician should read this book. Then decide if they really want to walk in our founding fathers' shoes, which means to forge compromise, to sometimes agree to an unpleasant option in order to get the job done, to move the country forward. If they aren't, they need to find another job. I came away from this book with a renewed appreciation for the men who gave up that summer, who argued and reasoned and cajoled with each other, and I learned that the politicking we hear so much about today started way back then. Back when the country was even more fragmented than it is today and the risk of failure was even greater. But the desire to put something in place that would stabilize a rocky nation was stronger than those regional wishes. These men personified what politics is all about, and how it can work to the good.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ron Davis

    Well-reaseached, well-written and a pleasure to read. The constitutional convention was the response to the many failings of the articles of confederation, itself the earliest effort at a unified political system. Stewart walks us effortlessly through the dynamics of diverse interests and the efforts to strike a bargain that would allow the creation of a constitution and a federal government, or at least of a system of governance more systematized than the articles of confederaion. Generally, the Well-reaseached, well-written and a pleasure to read. The constitutional convention was the response to the many failings of the articles of confederation, itself the earliest effort at a unified political system. Stewart walks us effortlessly through the dynamics of diverse interests and the efforts to strike a bargain that would allow the creation of a constitution and a federal government, or at least of a system of governance more systematized than the articles of confederaion. Generally, there were big states vs. small states, slave states vs. free states and centralized control and taxation (if any) of what we know call interstate & international trade. Big vs small states was simply an issue of political power. Under the articles of confederation, each state had one vote; if America were to be democratic (which it wasn't because no one trusted the 'common man')then the more populous states should have more votes in the common government than less populous states. The slavery issue was straight-forward economics for the South, and a moral issue for the North. Control of waterways was control of the ability to tax. The phrase that usually springs to mind when speaking of the constitution is the unsurpassed, "We, the People of the United States of America,in order to form a more perfect Union..." The final draft of the document, the draft in which were first uttered those words that cascade upon the ear like rolling thunder, was not written by any of the usual suspects. How the group of men representing their individual states and interests managed to put aside enough of what is in their individual interest in order to allow for a more effective common interest that reached fruition with the writing of those famous words is fascinatingly written subject of the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dru

    Incredibly useful for people who want to THINK about politics and reality and not spew sound bytes and unresearched rhetoric. With over 200 years since the Constitution was written, it has come to be treated as a pseudo-perfect document because we have the world's longest-running experiment in self-rule ever, under its guidance. But it is flawed. Not only is it flawed, it is sausage. As in "nobody ever really wants to see how the sausage is made". This book is about making sausage. It is about t Incredibly useful for people who want to THINK about politics and reality and not spew sound bytes and unresearched rhetoric. With over 200 years since the Constitution was written, it has come to be treated as a pseudo-perfect document because we have the world's longest-running experiment in self-rule ever, under its guidance. But it is flawed. Not only is it flawed, it is sausage. As in "nobody ever really wants to see how the sausage is made". This book is about making sausage. It is about the negotiations, the compromises and, quite honestly, the sheer exasperation that, at times, drove the convention to vote for some change JUST to move things along. It is about the people and the friendships that were gained and lost by the process of attempting to invent a new form of government from the scraps of state-rule that were left behind when we shuffled off the tyranny of King George III. I urge my friends and family to read this, and remind yourself that human beings, with flaws, biases and private agendas wrote the Constitution. It was not a bad attempt, but if you want to know why the Senate is effectively a body of rich aristocrats and only the rich and powerful can be President, you need look no further than the feelings of those who made the Constitution itself.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Simon

    This account of the imperfect yet miraculous struggle to create a new nation for the people and by the people was riveting. Personalities, the scene, sweat, long speeches, and tavern discussions, backroom committees, compromises, human fallibilities and greatness came together as splendid recollection. The feeling of being in the room with the congress lead to an infuriating need to warn them that every decision they were making was influenced by the non settled issue of slavery. The desire to k This account of the imperfect yet miraculous struggle to create a new nation for the people and by the people was riveting. Personalities, the scene, sweat, long speeches, and tavern discussions, backroom committees, compromises, human fallibilities and greatness came together as splendid recollection. The feeling of being in the room with the congress lead to an infuriating need to warn them that every decision they were making was influenced by the non settled issue of slavery. The desire to keep union from fracturing in their minds meant compromise of principles of freedom of humans in which the whole document was trying to invent as a equity and equality for all. They knew it was an imperfect document that would need amending as put into practice would test its ideas. They knew that the document could only be a reflection of the imperfect human minds and experience that put it together. The constitution is an experiment in democracy that we are all still apart of. It is a reflection that our nation is only as great as the minds who choose to participate. It encourages knowledge of those who represent our ideas and requires our doggedness to make sure that representation is followed through. It requires the courage to fight back about ideas that may not be supported and the ability to listen and compromise where appropriate and to not budge on other topics of value. The all men congress sat in that hot enclosed space in wool during the heat of summer to debate painfully difficult choices that would not be pleasing to all, but which would stand the whole of our nation. They are an example of what must be done to overcome the challenges of the day that include healthcare, education, money in politics, inequity in income and class, racism, immigration, voting rights, the electoral process, and global climate change. Many of these issues are as much an issue today as they were then. The difference being that we seem to have less ability now to sit down and problem solve for the good of our nation rather than stonewall for the good of a party and to the benefit in total to none.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    A lively rendering of the Constitutional Convention, focused on the personalities of the participants, and the major arguments: how to constitute the Congress, how to balance the needs of the large states against the smaller states, how much to trust the wisdom of the American people in electing representatives and the President, how much power to give to the Congress vs. the President, and above all, how to deal with the fact that slavery was the basis of the economic engine of both the South a A lively rendering of the Constitutional Convention, focused on the personalities of the participants, and the major arguments: how to constitute the Congress, how to balance the needs of the large states against the smaller states, how much to trust the wisdom of the American people in electing representatives and the President, how much power to give to the Congress vs. the President, and above all, how to deal with the fact that slavery was the basis of the economic engine of both the South and the North, even as half the delegates hated the institution and wanted it stopped. Read as a recorded book, very nicely read by Geroge K. Wilson. An excellent detailed account of heated debates during a hot summer in Philly, and how the various personalities clashed, compromised and ended up as they worked out how to run the country. Washington contributed little aside from his presence and stature, and that was plenty. hamilton made a long speech at the beginning; it was not well received, and he absented himself until the end, when he returned to sign. Franklin was the other eminent grise, who did not say much, but who had a large influence nonetheless. Representatives from the South were adamant about slavery, and managed to sandbag the North to give up more than they really should have. A number of the delegates ended up afterward senile, bankrupt, killed in duels or otherwise lost to history.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Stewart's book is a window into the many aspects affecting the writing of the Constitution. He sets the physical stage quite well - you feel yourself sweltering in the stifling summer heat of Philadelphia in a room with all windows closed. (Windows were closed and the building closely guarded to keep the meetings secret.) The personalities and characters of the more active delegates and the impact they had on the negotiations throughout the long ordeal. What they thought they could hammer out wi Stewart's book is a window into the many aspects affecting the writing of the Constitution. He sets the physical stage quite well - you feel yourself sweltering in the stifling summer heat of Philadelphia in a room with all windows closed. (Windows were closed and the building closely guarded to keep the meetings secret.) The personalities and characters of the more active delegates and the impact they had on the negotiations throughout the long ordeal. What they thought they could hammer out within the space of the summer lasted far longer than expected. That took a toll and created an air of impatience that made the back and forth wrangling that much more difficult. The tremendous divide between the northern (commercial/mercantile) and southern states' needs (slavery) and focus was one (if not the main) of the most important factors affecting the compromises that had to be made to create the final, agreed upon version. It is a fascinating book that reads quite easily and Stewart's occasional wry comments add to the enjoyment. The incredibly immense task of creating a government from scratch is carefully laid out - and you will come away with great respect for the men who did it. PS: The Simon & Schuster "America Collection" edition I read has a copy of the Constitution in it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike Rogers

    Unlike "Decision in Philadelphia," which works through the Constitutional Convention by dealing thematically with conflict, "The Summer of 1787" tells the story of the convention chronologically. I'm glad I read the former book first, as it helped set the stage for the latter. Understanding the broad themes going into "Summer of 1787" was helpful. In that sense "Decision" has a more cohesive thesis. But that's not to say that "Summer" is not a worthwhile read. On the contrary, "Summer" is a bett Unlike "Decision in Philadelphia," which works through the Constitutional Convention by dealing thematically with conflict, "The Summer of 1787" tells the story of the convention chronologically. I'm glad I read the former book first, as it helped set the stage for the latter. Understanding the broad themes going into "Summer of 1787" was helpful. In that sense "Decision" has a more cohesive thesis. But that's not to say that "Summer" is not a worthwhile read. On the contrary, "Summer" is a better story and provides richer detail of the issues and the people who worked through that hot 1787 summer in Philadelphia. The retelling of the Washington and Madison meeting at Mount Vernon about navigation rights is well-told, as is the description of the Philadelphia celebration once the Constitution went into effect. These and other similar portions of the book help provide additional context that "Decision" lacks. "Summer" also places more stock in the delegates' physical (sweaty) and emotional (homesick) states as a way of explaining why the convention unfolded as it did. In short, "Decision" can be seen as a well-written, enjoyable political science book. "Summer" is an engaging narrative that also informs. I highly recommend reading both.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Len Knighton

    The most detailed account of the Constitutional Convention I've read. While history has focused on James Madison as the Father of the Constitution, Stewart gives appropriate attention to the delegates who had an impact, for good or ill, on the issues and deliberations that played a major role in the creation of a flawed but brilliant "law of the land". It can be truly said that the Founding Fathers were not of one mind. They may not have been of one heart, either. Nevertheless, in the end, the s The most detailed account of the Constitutional Convention I've read. While history has focused on James Madison as the Father of the Constitution, Stewart gives appropriate attention to the delegates who had an impact, for good or ill, on the issues and deliberations that played a major role in the creation of a flawed but brilliant "law of the land". It can be truly said that the Founding Fathers were not of one mind. They may not have been of one heart, either. Nevertheless, in the end, the signers were committed to the formation of a "more perfect union" and by hook or crook they got it. The amendments are not covered here as there were none in the original document. Indeed, Madison's star rose with his authorship of the Bill of Rights. The document signed on September 17, 1787 was not penned by Madison but by Gouveneur Morris from Pennsylvania. Regardless, like the country it was, and still is, a melting pot of ideas blended into a living document. Stewart's summary of the fates of the delegates is fascinating. A wealth of information is contained within these pages, often quite illuminating. Five stars

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

    This book should be required reading for all American's to understand how the Constitution was developed, the men who influenced the specific wording of the articles and all the compromises that were made along the way. They knew it wasn't perfect, but perhaps it was still the best thing they could do at the time. The slavery protections and the 3/5's rule were the core of its imperfections and we paid dearly for those later in the Civil War. How strange it was to read this book at the same time This book should be required reading for all American's to understand how the Constitution was developed, the men who influenced the specific wording of the articles and all the compromises that were made along the way. They knew it wasn't perfect, but perhaps it was still the best thing they could do at the time. The slavery protections and the 3/5's rule were the core of its imperfections and we paid dearly for those later in the Civil War. How strange it was to read this book at the same time I was reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad . Still the crafting of the checks and balances of the President, Congress and the Court and the Bill of Rights were ingenious. We are still tinkering with our government to bring about equality for all and the strict constitutional arguments make little sense when you think that logic would require us to still have the 3/5 rules for slave representation. The electoral college discussion towards the end of the book was fascinating... don't think we are done with that issue either!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    David O. Stewart does a great job of taking the reader through the entire process of the creation of the Constitution of the United States. You discover that Madison, Washington, Franklin who are household names were not the primary figures that developed the Constitution. Names that loomed large over the Constitutional Convention at various points were James Wilson upstaging his Pennsylvania colleagues including Dr. Franklin. Wilson did read Franklin's speeches but also shone in his own right. J David O. Stewart does a great job of taking the reader through the entire process of the creation of the Constitution of the United States. You discover that Madison, Washington, Franklin who are household names were not the primary figures that developed the Constitution. Names that loomed large over the Constitutional Convention at various points were James Wilson upstaging his Pennsylvania colleagues including Dr. Franklin. Wilson did read Franklin's speeches but also shone in his own right. John Rutledge of South Carolina molded the Constitution as the leader of the Committee of Detail. There were others as well. Luther Martin of Delaware, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, James Randolph of Virginia (who declined to sign the document, but did back its passage by Virginia), and many more came together to design the document. I highly recommend this book to those interested in learning more about the history of the United States of America.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex Abboud

    A detailed look at the events and personalities of the 1787 convention that drafted the United States constitution. While the most famous figures of the founding era, such as Washington, Franklin, and Madison, play key roles, Stewart's book highlights the contributions of other leading politicians and citizens of the time who have not been as (kindly) remembered by history. Stewart is detailed in his description of the disagreements and solutions that came out of the convention, and the shortcom A detailed look at the events and personalities of the 1787 convention that drafted the United States constitution. While the most famous figures of the founding era, such as Washington, Franklin, and Madison, play key roles, Stewart's book highlights the contributions of other leading politicians and citizens of the time who have not been as (kindly) remembered by history. Stewart is detailed in his description of the disagreements and solutions that came out of the convention, and the shortcomings of the constitution that led to conflicts all the way up to the Civil War. Overall, this book provides a strong background on how and why the constitution was developed, and how its impacted the US ever since.

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