Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States
by William W. Crosskey
University of Chicago Press, 1980
Cloth: 978-0-226-12134-5

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
When the first two volumes of William Crosskey's monumental study of the Constitution appeared in 1953, Arthur M. Schlesinger called it "perhaps the most fertile commentary on that document since The Federalist papers." It was highly controversial as well. The work was a comprehensive reassessment of the meaning of the Constitution, based on examination of eighteenth-century usages of key political and legal concepts and terms. Crosskey's basic thesis was that the Founding Fathers truly intended a government with plenary, nationwide powers, and not, as in the received views, a limited federalism.

This third volume of Politics and the Constitution, which Crosskey began and William Jeffrey has finished, treats political activity in the period 1776-87, and is in many ways the heart of the work as Crosskey conceived it. In support of the lexicographic analysis of volumes 1 and 2, volume 3 shows that nationalist ideas and sentiments were a powerful force in American public opinion from the Revolution to the eve of the Constitutional Convention. The creation of a generally empowered national government in Philadelphia, it is argued, was the fruition of a long-active political movement, not the unintended or accidental result of a temporary conservative coalition.

This view of the political background of the Constitutional Convention directly challenges the Madisonian-Jeffersonian orthodoxy on the subject. In support of his interpretation, Crosskey amassed a wealth of primary source materials, including heretofore unexplored pamphlets and newspapers. This exhaustive research makes this unique work invaluable for scholars of the period, both for the primary sources collected as well as for the provocative interpretation offered.

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