The Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775-1787

University of Pennsylvania Press
Free sample

Historians have emphasized the founding fathers' statesmanship and vision in the development of a more powerful union under the federal constitution. In The Origins of the Federal Republic, Peter S. Onuf clarifies the founders' achievement by demonstrating with case studies of New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia that territorial confrontations among the former colonies played a crucial role in shaping early concepts of statehood and union and provided the true basis of the American federalist system.
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About the author

Peter S. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History, University of Virginia. He is the author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood and coeditor of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
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Published on
Aug 3, 2010
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780812200386
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies)
History / United States / 19th Century
History / United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Since the American Revolution, there has been broad cultural consensus that “the people” are the only legitimate ground of public authority in the United States. For just as long, there has been disagreement over who the people are and how they should be represented or institutionally embodied. In Constituent Moments, Jason Frank explores this dilemma of authorization: the grounding of democratic legitimacy in an elusive notion of the people. Frank argues that the people are not a coherent or sanctioned collective. Instead, the people exist as an effect of successful claims to speak on their behalf; the power to speak in their name can be vindicated only retrospectively. The people, and democratic politics more broadly, emerge from the dynamic tension between popular politics and representation. They spring from what Frank calls “constituent moments,” moments when claims to speak in the people’s name are politically felicitous, even though those making such claims break from established rules and procedures for representing popular voice.

Elaborating his theory of constituent moments, Frank focuses on specific historical instances when under-authorized individuals or associations seized the mantle of authority, and, by doing so, changed the inherited rules of authorization and produced new spaces and conditions for political representation. He looks at crowd actions such as parades, riots, and protests; the Democratic-Republican Societies of the 1790s; and the writings of Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass. Frank demonstrates that the revolutionary establishment of the people is not a solitary event, but rather a series of micropolitical enactments, small dramas of self-authorization that take place in the informal contexts of crowd actions, political oratory, and literature as well as in the more formal settings of constitutional conventions and political associations.

This “fascinating” (Chicago Tribune), “lively” (The New York Times) history tells how the First Congress and the Washington administration created one of the most productive and far-reaching governments in American history—“gracefully written…and well worth reading” (The Wall Street Journal).

The First Congress may have been the most important in American history because it established how our government would work. The Constitution was a broad set of principles that left undefined the machinery of government. Fortunately, far-sighted, brilliant, and determined men such as Washington, Madison, Adams, Hamilton, and Jefferson (and others less well known today) labored to create a functioning government.

In The First Congress, award-winning author Fergus Bordewich brings to life the achievements of the First Congress: it debated and passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which we know as the Bill of Rights; admitted North Carolina and Rhode Island to the union when they belatedly ratified the Constitution, then admitted two new states, Kentucky and Vermont, establishing the procedure for admitting new states on equal terms with the original thirteen; chose the site of the national capital, a new city to be built on the Potomac; created a national bank to handle the infant republic’s finances; created the first cabinet positions and the federal court system; and many other achievements. But it avoided the subject of slavery, which was too contentious to resolve.

The First Congress takes us back to the days when the future of our country was by no means assured and makes “an intricate story clear and fascinating” (The Washington Post).
Thomas Jefferson believed that the American revolution was atransformative moment in the history of political civilization. He hoped that hisown efforts as a founding statesman and theorist would help construct a progressiveand enlightened order for the new American nation that would be a model andinspiration for the world. Peter S. Onuf's new book traces Jefferson's vision of theAmerican future to its roots in his idealized notions of nationhood and empire.Onuf's unsettling recognition that Jefferson's famed egalitarianism was elaboratedin an imperial context yields strikingly original interpretations of our nationalidentity and our ideas of race, of westward expansion and the Civil War, and ofAmerican global dominance in the twentiethcentury.

Jefferson's vision of an American "empirefor liberty" was modeled on a British prototype. But as a consensual union ofself-governing republics without a metropolis, Jefferson's American empire would befree of exploitation by a corrupt imperial ruling class. It would avoid the cycle ofwar and destruction that had characterized the European balance ofpower.

The Civil War cast in high relief thetragic limitations of Jefferson's political vision. After the Union victory, as thereconstructed nation-state developed into a world power, dreams of the United Statesas an ever-expanding empire of peacefully coexisting states quickly faded frommemory. Yet even as the antebellum federal union disintegrated, a Jeffersoniannationalism, proudly conscious of America's historic revolution against imperialdomination, grew up in its place.

In Onuf's view, Jefferson's quest to define a new American identity also shaped his ambivalentconceptions of slavery and Native American rights. His revolutionary fervor led himto see Indians as "merciless savages" who ravaged the frontiers at the Britishking's direction, but when those frontiers were pacified, a more benevolentJefferson encouraged these same Indians to embrace republican values. AfricanAmerican slaves, by contrast, constituted an unassimilable captive nation, unjustlywrenched from its African homeland. His great panacea: colonization.

Jefferson's ideas about race revealthe limitations of his conception of American nationhood. Yet, as Onuf strikinglydocuments, Jefferson's vision of a republican empire--a regime of peace, prosperity, and union without coercion--continues to define and expand the boundaries ofAmerican national identity.

A New York Times Bestseller, and the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton!

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.

Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

“Nobody has captured Hamilton better than Chernow” —The New York Times Book Review 

Ron Chernow's other biographies include: Grant, Washington, and Titan.
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