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Constitutional Convention Books

Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913)

This book had a major impact on the historical profession and the reading public at large when it was published during the Progressive Era. Though many people have challenged its central contentions regarding the economic self-interest and motivations of the Founding Fathers, it remains a powerful argument that has retained at least a partial degree of veracity.

Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution (2003)

Berkin brilliantly debunks the romanticized notions circulated about the founders; she explains that they did not know whether their experiment would work, they were almost paralyzed by the daunting nature of the task before them, and they were terrified of possible conspiracies against the government when the Convention convened in 1787.

Don Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery (2001)

The famous historian's posthumously published work sought to weave the Constitution's legacy through the decades of politics and sectional tumult that followed in the nineteenth century.

James H. Kettner, The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 (1978)

A classic exposition of how citizenship was initially defined in North America and how that definition shifted and changed over time, from the Revolution to the Early Republic and through most of the nineteenth century.

Robert A. McGuire, To Form A More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution (2003)

This book does not seek to resurrect Beard entirely, but it certainly defends his economic interpretation as valid, even if Beard failed to appreciate the complexities between his overly simplified distinction of "personalty" and "realty" interests.

Gary Nash, Race and Revolution (1990)

A social history that charts slavery's survival beyond the Revolution and its protection by the newly strengthened national government after 1787. Nash argues that the framers made a critical mistake by compromising on the institution that so many of them knew to be inhumane and sinful. He focuses the blame on the northerners, not the southerners, for failing to capitalize on what he argues was an opportunity to end slavery by compensating the slaveowners, and for fearfully running away from the possibility of a biracial society.

Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (1996)

Rakove, a historian at Stanford, traces the social and political context in which the Constitution was framed. In so doing, he argues that the institutional framework that the Constitution created is far more important to contemporary or future society and jurisprudence than the question of the framers' "original meaning," which is difficult if not impossible to ascertain.

Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969)

Although Wood controversially side-stepped the topic of slavery in this otherwise large and comprehensive history, his work focuses upon the various social strata (from farmers to merchants to lawyers) and both men and women in its analysis of the Revolution and its effects on everyone; and the ways in which all of these groups actually helped to bring about a new nation themselves.

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