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America's Forgotten Constitutions

America's Forgotten Constitutions

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    America's Forgotten Constitutions
    Book Description:

    Robert Tsai's history invites readers into the circle of defiant groups who refused to accept the Constitution's definition of who "We the People" are and how their authority should be exercised. It is the story of America as told by dissenters: squatters, Native Americans, abolitionists, socialists, internationalists, and racial nationalists.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36942-9
    Subjects: Law, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-17)

    At the close of the constitutional convention in September 1787, the men who framed the U.S. Constitution returned home believing they had designed the best possible government under trying circumstances. They were not foolish enough to think that all of a young nation’s problems could be solved with the stroke of a pen, yet they pronounced themselves “satisfied that any thing nearer to perfection could not have been accomplished.” First among the statesmen’s objectives was the fusion of “free and in dependent” states into a federal republic. Unhappy with the inefficient Articles of Confederation, delegates proposed an energetic government capable...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Republic of Indian Stream, 1832–1835
    (pp. 18-48)

    The revolutionary fervor that culminated in the U.S. Constitution did not dissipate after the document’s ratification. Instead, as Gordon Wood describes, an impulse to challenge authority infected “every institution, every organization, every individual. It was as if the American Revolution had set in motion a disintegrative force that could not be stopped.” Far from arresting this dynamic, the founding generation’s ingenuity ushered in an age of political development and commercial enterprise in which higher law played increasingly elaborate functions. Americans authored state, local, and civic constitutions to liberate themselves from the past. When conventional political forms were not feasible or...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Icarian Nation, 1848–1895
    (pp. 49-82)

    Pioneer dreams inspired Americans to try their hand at creating ever more perfect societies, though not all such experiments were cut from the same cloth. After decades of rapid economic development, the first half of the nineteenth century emerged as a high point of socialist utopianism. It was the age of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, and countless others who founded small-scale cooperatives around the world. These visionaries idolized labor and the shared ownership of property, sang the virtues of loving one’s neighbor, and railed against constitutional orders that degraded humanity for the sake of economic advancement. As they interacted...

  7. CHAPTER THREE John Brown’s America, 1856–1859
    (pp. 83-117)

    If Americans’ original sin was slavery, the precarious compromise crafted by the men of 1787 merely delayed the Day of Judgment. The federal Constitution never used the term “slavery” much less enshrined it as a practice. Rather, speaking obliquely on the subject, the document treated slaves as less than full persons for representation purposes and required states to “deliver up” any “Person held to Service or Labour in one State” who had escaped. It allowed Congress to tax but not prohibit the importation or migration of slaves until 1808. Though satisfactory to no one, this effort to manage the problem...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Confederate Anxieties, 1860–1865
    (pp. 118-151)

    As the midway point of the nineteenth century approached, Americans’ hopes dimmed for a satisfactory solution to the dispute over slavery. Conventional sovereignty, as it developed, seemed to yield polarization and gridlock rather than principled answers; the ideal of one national people frayed under this duress. For their part, Southerners felt vindicated byDred Scott, which celebrated racial power and the rights of slaveholders, even if the ruling did not eliminate their sense of siege. To the dismay of slave owners, abolitionists refused to abide by the decision. Instead, galvanized by what they believed to be an erroneous and unjust...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Sequoyah Convention, 1905
    (pp. 152-184)

    As important as the slavery controversy had been for the advancement of legal ideas, the fractious relationship between Indian nations and agents of the political order, too, left an indelible mark on the political tradition. The presence of Indian nations scattered across the continent complicated the project of economic and political development licensed by conventional law and executed by pioneers in unruly ways. European settlers learned firsthand that the indigenous population had their own worldviews and ancient forms of self-governance; land would not be ceded without a fight. Friction between different peoples and po liti cal systems became a fact...

  10. CHAPTER SIX A Charter for the World, 1947
    (pp. 185-217)

    The dawn of the twentieth century brought the closing of the American frontier, and along with it, dwindling public tolerance of disruptive, territorial versions of popular sovereignty. Major legal transformations now occurred primarily through ordinary processes—partisan politics, the courts, and on rare occasions, constitutional amendment. Defenders of conventional sovereignty welcomed the use of these orderly pathways for change. But crisis after crisis served to accelerate legal creativity, leading to the birth of what New Deal economist Rexford Tugwell called an “emergent constitution.” This happened through generations of judicial interpretations and other “accumulative processes of law,” treated as faithful to...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Republic of New Afrika, 1968
    (pp. 218-253)

    Despite constitutional amendments guaranteeing equality and the right to vote, legal and economic progress for racial minorities and women had occurred slowly within the conventional political system. Explosive moments of legal creativity were followed by periods of retrenchment, as the law settled into more predictable rhythms of regular politics. The second half of the twentieth century brought new opportunities to challenge the legal order through agitation and litigation. Encouraged by the combustible optimism of decolonization and the spread of international human rights on the heels of two world wars, social movements pressed their agendas more urgently than ever. Yet as...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Pacific Northwest Homeland, 2006
    (pp. 254-291)

    With the twentieth century in the rearview mirror, it became possible to consider the project of legal and economic development nearly finished. The political community had been enlarged and diversified by gradually bringing marginalized populations into the fold. Little now escaped the rule of law, which could be exercised over every controversy in which the nation had a plausible interest. High officials and ordinary citizens alike could be counted on to protect the integrity of the legal order through persuasion and cunning.

    America had transformed itself from a fledgling republic into a modern liberal democratic nation, where individual rights were...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 292-302)

    For over two centuries, the American political tradition demonstrated an astonishing suppleness and vigor. The U.S. Constitution, a fragile dream at its inception, grew into an enduring system of institutions and laws. One American people, a mere figment of select imaginations in the late eighteenth century, became impressively constituted through law, politics, education, and the arts. The rule of law’s reach now extended from sea to sea. Above all, pluralism, equality, and individualism had seemingly prevailed over the forces of tribalism, hierarchy, and authoritarianism.

    Triumphalistic explanations of the Constitution’s longevity, which hold that intrinsically superior ideas inevitably won out, have...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 303-340)
  15. Index
    (pp. 341-352)