America's Constitution: A Biography
Author: Akhil Reed Amar
In America’s Constitution, one of this era’s most accomplished constitutional law scholars, Akhil Reed Amar, gives the first comprehensive account of one of the world’s great political texts. Incisive, entertaining, and occasionally controversial, this “biography” of America’s framing document explains not only what the Constitution says but also why the Constitution says it.
We all know this much: the Constitution is neither immutable nor perfect. Amar shows us how the story of this one relatively compact document reflects the story of America more generally. (For example, much of the Constitution, including the glorious-sounding “We the People,” was lifted from existing American legal texts, including early state constitutions.) In short, the Constitution was as much a product of its environment as it was a product of its individual creators’ inspired genius.
Despite the Constitution’s flaws, its role in guiding our republic has been nothing short of amazing. Skillfully placing the document in the context of late-eighteenth-century American politics, America’s Constitution explains, for instance, whether there is anything in the Constitution that is unamendable; the reason America adopted an electoral college; why a president must be at least thirty-five years old; and why–for now, at least–only those citizens who were born under the American flag can become president.
From his unique perspective, Amar also gives us unconventional wisdom about the Constitution and its significance throughout the nation’s history. For one thing, we see that the Constitution has been farmore democratic than is conventionally understood. Even though the document was drafted by white landholders, a remarkably large number of citizens (by the standards of 1787) were allowed to vote up or down on it, and the document’s later amendments eventually extended the vote to virtually all Americans.
We also learn that the Founders’ Constitution was far more slavocratic than many would acknowledge: the “three fifths” clause gave the South extra political clout for every slave it owned or acquired. As a result, slaveholding Virginians held the presidency all but four of the Republic’s first thirty-six years, and proslavery forces eventually came to dominate much of the federal government prior to Lincoln’s election.
Ambitious, even-handed, eminently accessible, and often surprising, America’s Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.
The New York Times - James Ryerson
Amar does not present a single, unifying argument; his project is too wide-ranging for that. But he does convey a distinctive attitude toward the Constitution, one that manages to be reverential and celebratory without succumbing to the triumphalism that the often breathless tenor of his prose might lead you to expect. ("America's Constitution beckons," reads the book's sonorous opening sentence, "a New World Acropolis open to all.")
You can read the U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, in about a half-hour, but it takes decades of study to understand how this blueprint for our nation's government came into existence. Amar, a 20-year veteran of the Yale Law School faculty, has that understanding, steeped in the political history of the 1780s, when dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation led to a constitutional convention in Philadelphia, which produced a document of wonderful compression and balance creating an indissoluble union. Amar examines in turn each article of the Constitution, explaining how the framers drew on English models, existing state constitutions and other sources in structuring the three branches of the federal government and defining the relationship of the that government to the states. Amar takes on each of the amendments, from the original Bill of Rights to changes in the rules for presidential succession. The book squarely confronts America's involvement with slavery, which the original Constitution facilitated in ways the author carefully explains. Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas, this book is miles removed from an arid, academic exercise in textual analysis. Amar evokes the passions and tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book. Agent, Glen Hartley. (On sale Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
With so much attention surrounding recent Supreme Court decisions and the nominations of the next Supreme Court justice and federal judges, citizens interested in learning more about the intellectual and political origins of the Constitution are fortunate to have this new book as a resource. Amar (Yale Law Sch.; The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction) has written a lucid and truly engaging history of the Constitution and its amendments. The opening chapter reviews the history of the constitutional convention and ratification process with all the drama of Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia or Richard B. Morris's Witness at the Creation. The remaining chapters review each article or amendment, section by section and occasionally word by word, and explain the ideas behind the words, that is, the historical, intellectual, and political knowledge that the framers drew upon and incorporated in the document. In many ways, the work is like an annotated version of the Constitution itself but in essay form. It may also be seen as a lay reader's edition of Philip B. Kurland's five-volume The Founders' Constitution. An excellent book that provides a real service and deserves a wide audience; highly recommended.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A needed explication of a document that all Americans should know-but that few have ever read. Many professors don't assign the Constitution itself in courses in constitutional law. "The running joke," writes Amar (Law/Yale Univ.; The Bill of Rights, 1998), "is that reading the thing would only confuse students." There is reason to think so, for the Constitution has its confusions and contradictions. Yet, as Amar fluently demonstrates, its flaws are its virtues, for the Constitution does work like no other document of its time: It encodes the self-government of a "continental" nation and people and provides an elaborate system of checks and balances not only of the three branches of federal government, but also of the federal government as against the governments of the various states. In the second matter, Amar notes that the states entered the constitutional convention as sovereign entities but ceased to be so after ratification, for the idea that they comprised "a more perfect union" eliminated the possibilities of the unilateralism contained in the Articles of Confederation. The author charts the arguments advanced by federalists and antifederalists on such philisophical issues as the nature of the presidency and the presumed ability of the federal government to end slavery. The ultimate genius of the document, he suggests, has been its ability to embrace both the will of the state and the will of the people-the "we the people" who demanded more jury safeguards, for instance, than the original Article III offered, and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, and progressive taxation. Among amendments to consider now, he remarks, is a recasting of the rules of succession: "Much asAmericans responded to the tragedy of November 22, 1963 by revising the Constitution's succession system, so Americans in the wake of September 11, 2001 have good reason to rethink our statutory succession system before tragedy strikes again." Data-rich, but seldom ponderous.
Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire
Author: Andrew J Bacevich
Bacevich has drawn together a stimulating collection of arguments on a subject of compelling current importance.
New York Review of Books
The essays collected...are a curious amalgam of military hubris and cultural anxiety: they dutifully document both America's truly awesome military reach and the widespread national uncertainty about what to do with it.
Virginia Quarterly Review
He has done the ongoing debate about America's role in the world a great service by bringing these pieces together in a convenient package.
There's a host of issues surrounding the U.S. and what many see as its empire as it pushes to confront terrorism-and this balanced collection of mostly scholarly articles addresses many of them. For the most part, the pieces are nuanced, examining subtleties in a world where the U.S. is the sole global power. There are no epiphanies, but pieces discuss such topics as how the U.S. can both confront authoritarian regimes and promote human rights, how American policy should change in order to prevent a further international backlash and whether the U.S. is doomed to fall, like previous empires. Some of the articles gathered by Bacevich (American Empire) hew to familiar arguments-a few, like journalist Charles Krauthammer, argue unabashedly for American power; others seem stuck in a pompous, crude anti-Americanism, as when John Millbank calls on the West "to abandon our global idolatrous worship of sacralized absolute sovereignty, and the formally neutral market." But these pieces are the exceptions. To the editor's credit, the essays appear to be carefully chosen, with an equal number critical and accepting of America's increasing global power. At their best, they display a measure of wit, as when one essayist writes: "Whatever its fate, America, too, will live on-for its Constitution, its movies, and for having placed the first man on the moon." (Sept. 26) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
What People Are Saying
Bacevich has performed a valuable service.
First-rate...a most valuable collection.
Richard H. Kohn
This captivating collection addresses the most important issue facing the United States in the coming century. (Richard H. Kohn, University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill, Former Chief Of Air Force History For The U.S.A.F. (1981-1991))
Table of Contents:
|I||Back to an Imperial Future?|
|America's Responsibility, America's Mission||5|
|In Defense of Empires||29|
|The Unipolar Era||47|
|America's Driver for World Domination||66|
|II||The Nature of American Empire|
|The New Rome||81|
|New Rome, New Jerusalem||93|
|In Search of Absolute Security||119|
|An Empire Unlike Any Other||134|
|Sovereignty, Empire, Capital, and Terror||159|
|Sheriff and Missionary||172|
|A Citizen's Response||229|
|The Empire's Coming Crisis||238|
|Who Will Do the Dirty Work?||245|