William Jackson, the original secretary for the convention, took only perfunctory notes and completely failed to organize them in any sort of useful fashion, so without the official record history is left to rely on the delegates own documents--and on Madison's own extensive notes. Beeman points out how important it was that the delegates agreed that votes taken during the course of the debating would not be binding, and you can see how important that was pretty quickly. And then there were the times the debates got really acrimonious, like over the fate of slavery or the balance between whether the United States would be a government of the states or of the people. I will say this--the description of the debates over slavery makes the founding fathers look completely horrible. They may have thought slavery was injurious to freedom and corrupting to any society that practised it, but they didn't think black people were equal to white people and would have been baffled at the idea of social and legal equality in American society for former slaves. The biggest takeaway I had, though, was that for most of the debate the only important part for the delegates was their states' economic interests. Yeah, yeah, different times, but the result was decades of acrimony, a war that killed more people than existed in any single state at the time of the Constitution's adoption, and remaining racism that still plagues American society today.
I have many reasons to believe that it is the work of plain, honest men. In "Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution", Richard Beeman tells what took place during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Some compromises helped create some amazing developments, like the separation of powers among the three branches.
Beeman goes into detail about the background of many of the men involved in this arduous process.
Some things that struck me as interesting in my reading: I am not a huge fan of Ben Franklin, but his final speech, urging the delegates to put the need for a harmonious union above their own interests and ideologies, to check their egos at the door, in essence, marked a decisive moment in the process of the making of the Constitution. He was the only member of the Convention who envisioned an American government and a president, much like we have today. Wilson also believed that the people should elect the president. This was a huge issue in relation to the development of the constitution and the author has alluded to the fact that the Civil War came about because of some of the decisions made during this convention. The one area where I don't completely agree with Wilson is in his development of the "three-fifths compromise" in regards to slaves (p.153+). The three-fifths compromise was not proposed (supposedly) because the delegates believed that African slaves were only 60 percent human. According to the book, few delegates felt as passionate about the character of the judicial branch of the government as they did about the need to protect their state interests in the contest for representation or about the prospects and perils of a strong chief executive (p. John Rutledge of South Carolina believed that any member of Congress should reside at least 7 years in the state from which he was elected. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania tried to get the citizenship requirement raised to 14 years, but compromised by raising the requirement to 7 years for the House and 9 years for the Senate, provisions that remain in the Constitution to this day. Appendix #1 is a full list of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Beeman provides a look at the years under the Articles of Confederation leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, followed by an in-depth portrayal of every day of the Convention's debates, complete with details about all of the key figures' backgrounds, views, and contributions to the debates.
The next time Michael I-Couldnt-Deceive-You Moore or Al Frankensenseless tells you the Founding Fathers were a bunch of Racist White Guys, you can throw this book at them. Then hell say something thats not funny.) I read this book about a year ago and now I roll my eyes every time I hear People of Prominence say that the Constitution is an old, tired, decrepit, worn-out piece of parchment that should be euthanized along with the Tea Party and Strom Thurmond and all the jokes they used to tell in Vaudeville. The entire Virginia contingency, you knowVirginiawhere there were plantations and such, were not as physically active as Morris or Franklin, but their delegation was comprised of cerebral philosophers and country lawyers and NARY A ONE OF THEM CONSIDERED SLAVERY A VIABLE OR DECENT INSTITUTION. I think George Stephanuppagus owes me and about every US History Teacher in the Land an apology for such dopey and naïve assumptions about our Founding Fathers.
He writes of Beeman's hesitancy to include too much of his own interpretation in the book: "S:ince he is in a far better position to make an assessment than we are, it would be nice to know what he believes." This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.
Although the topic is good, the text seems somewhat longer than truly necessary.