Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution

Jack Rakove, Author
Jack Rakove, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (0p) ISBN 978-0-394-57858-3
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
MP3 CD - 978-1-4417-7025-7
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-679-78121-9
Compact Disc - 978-1-4417-7024-0
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Legal conservatives periodically call for judicial decisions based on an interpretation of the Constitution that accords with the ""original intent"" of those who wrote and ratified it. That's a vexed matter, as Stanford University historian Rakove (The Beginnings of National Politics) shows in this nuanced reconstruction of constitutional debates. First, he explores the difficulty of even divining the understanding of the framers. He goes on to explore James Madison's vital theorizing about federalism, the compromises involved in granting states equal Senate seats and counting slaves in the population, the concept of the Presidency and the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Rakove suggests that the country's political future--whether oriented toward the statehouses or the national capital--depends less on the framers and their constitutional language than on the actions of the American people in the framework that has been created. Moreover, he warns that even Madison's contemporary appeal to originalism was hardly a posture of neutrality. This detailed book will appeal most to students and scholars. (Apr.)
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