Here, dear readers, are four books to prepare you for the political season that lies ahead of us in 2017….constitutional morality and the rise of quasi-law

1) Constitutional Morality and the Rise of Quasi-Law (Harvard University Press, 2016)

The final work by my friend and mentor, the late and great George Carey, and also by one of the best scholars of traditionalist conservatism, Bruce Frohnen, who has many more books to compose in the years ahead. The Kendall/Carey scholarly nexus has become the Carey/Frohnen nexus! The debates over the nature and purpose of the American Constitution have raged in recent years, and any thoughtful student of the American political tradition will want to read this book as soon as possible.

Madison's Hand2) Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard University Press, October 2015)

In this groundbreaking and highly insightful work, Mary Sarah Bilder (Boston College Law School) advances the existing understanding of both the Constitutional Convention and the creation and evolution of James Madison’s Notes. While obviously the Notes were an attempt to create a record of the Convention, the revisions of the Notes suggest that Madison’s understanding of what took place changed over time. For Bilder, Madison is not the “intellectual father” of the Constitution (7). Instead, Madison used the work of others (Robert Yates) and the Convention debates and discussions in “taking and revising the Notes” (7). The tome proves that Madison was a copious note-taker before the Convention. He wrote the Notes for future use, and with Jefferson as his audience. Madison was less detailed initially, but he nevertheless had his prejudices against some participants (Charles Pinckney, for example) and was not concerned about confidentiality (54). Bilder argues Madison engaged in “selective recording,” and reduced the emotional nature of the speakers. During the main period of the Convention (mid-June to mid-August 1787), Madison did not initially record major speeches and minimized criticism of himself (75). In general, Madison bypassed a critique of many issues, preferring to concentrate on ratification matters. As the author demonstrates, the revisions to the Notes continued until Madison’s death (223).

Democratic Beginnings3) Democratic Beginnings: Founding the Western States (University Press of Kansas, 2015)

In this innovative and highly engaging study, Amy Bridges (University of California, San Diego) analyzes the development of the founding state constitutional conventions and constitutions in the American West from 1850-1910. The creation of the constitutions of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming serve as the centerpiece of the study, which includes an emphasis on each state’s constitutional convention. The author posits that western constitutions “tried to assemble the best provisions and the modern understanding of equity and progress, for the constitutions they wrote” (156). Unlike the federal constitutional convention, the delegates to the founding western state conventions were forced to respond to changing political environments, and new, previously unanticipated challenges (for example, irrigation and mining rights). Such deliberations often took place without the advantage of any legal or political precedent. The salutary role of state constitutional conventions in the development of western state constitutions is defended, and this constitutes a serious challenge to earlier scholarship. The explication of the state constitutional convention delegates’ diligence and statesmanship is of great importance to future studies of federalism and American political development.

The American Revolution, State4) The American Revolution, State Sovereignty, and the Constitutional Settlement, 1765-1800 (Lexington Books, 2016)

In what is my favorite book of the last year, Aaron N. (Nathan) Coleman, a young, yet brilliant historian at the University of the Cumberlands, has composed a seminal work that allows readers to understand the Founders’ vision for the American Republic with greater accuracy and scrupulousness than previously available, and while the scholarship of myriad historians and political theorists are critiqued with great care, this study recovers the authentic basis for the political compact and the perpetuation of the regime. The book constitutes a significant accomplishment.  His forthcoming The Founding of the American Republic (with your servant and Sean R. Busick) Manchester University Press, 2018) should build upon this excellent and transformative understanding of our political tradition.


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