The Gun, The Ship and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World

Linda Colley. Liveright, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-87140-316-2
Constitutions were not just records of political change and consolidation but historical objects and agents in their own right, according to this probing study. Princeton historian Colley (The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh) surveys dozens of constitutions from the 18th through the 20th centuries, including the 1755 constitution written by Corsican independence leader Pasquale Paoli, the 1889 Japanese constitution, and the 1838 constitution of Pitcairn Island (settled in 1790 by nine HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions), one of the first charters to grant women the vote. Colley attributes the spread of constitutions to the rising scale and cost of trans-oceanic warfare, which led to crises that required governments to concede rights and political participation to their subjects. Print culture then spread the “new constitutional technology” around the world to inspire reformers—the 1790s, the author notes, saw a craze for amateur constitution-writing—and serve as sacred texts dissidents could rally around in their battles against oppressive states. Copiously researched and elegantly written, Colley’s treatise goes beyond the usual Anglo-American focus of constitutional history to show the global impact of the constitutionalist movement. The result is a fresh and illuminating take on these still-living documents. Photos. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/21/2021
Release date: 03/30/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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