A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution

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We know--and love--the story of the American Revolution, from the Declaration of Independence to Cornwallis's defeat. But our first government was a disaster and the country was in a terrible crisis. So when a group of men traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to save a nation in danger of collapse, they had no great expectations for the meeting that would make history. But all the ideas, arguments, and compromises led to a great thing: a constitution and a government were born that have surpassed the founders'
greatest hopes.
Revisiting all the original documents and using her deep knowledge of eighteenth-century history and politics, Carol Berkin takes a fresh look at the men who framed the Constitution, the issues they faced, and the times they lived in. Berkin transports the reader into the hearts and minds of the founders, exposing their fears and their limited expectations
of success.
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About the author

Carol Berkin is a professor of American History at Baruch College and the Ph.D. Program in History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She has written five scholarly books and contributed to several collections of articles and textbooks. Berkin was a commentator for the A&E series Founding Fathers and Founding Brothers, as well as a commentator for the PBS documentary, Benjamin Franklin. She lives in New York City.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Published on
Oct 20, 2003
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History / North America
History / United States / General
History / United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Political Science / Constitutions
Political Science / History & Theory
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Eligible for Family Library

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“Narrative, celebratory history at its purest” (Publishers Weekly)—the real story of how the Bill of Rights came to be: a vivid account of political strategy, big egos, and the partisan interests that set the terms of the ongoing contest between the federal government and the states.

Those who argue that the Bill of Rights reflects the founding fathers’ “original intent” are wrong. The Bill of Rights was actually a brilliant political act executed by James Madison to preserve the Constitution, the federal government, and the latter’s authority over the states. In the skilled hands of award-winning historian Carol Berkin, the story of the founders’ fight over the Bill of Rights comes alive in a drama full of partisanship, clashing egos, and cunning manipulation.

In 1789, the nation faced a great divide around a question still unanswered today: should broad power and authority reside in the federal government or should it reside in state governments? The Bill of Rights, from protecting religious freedom to the people’s right to bear arms, was a political ploy first and a matter of principle second. The truth of how and why Madison came to devise this plan, the debates it caused in the Congress, and its ultimate success is more engrossing than any of the myths that shroud our national beginnings.

The debate over the Bill of Rights still continues through many Supreme Court decisions. By pulling back the curtain on the short-sighted and self-interested intentions of the founding fathers, Berkin reveals the anxiety many felt that the new federal government might not survive—and shows that the true “original intent” of the Bill of Rights was simply to oppose the Antifederalists who hoped to diminish the government’s powers. This book is “a highly readable American history lesson that provides a deeper understanding of the Bill of Rights, the fears that generated it, and the miracle of the amendments” (Kirkus Reviews).
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