Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
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Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution
Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.
If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution is a 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
of the Constitution of the United States (New York, 1913), 144–45. 21 A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin (orig. pub. 1830; New York, 2001), 207—8. 22 “Centinel,” Salem Gazette, July 26, 1785 (reprinted from an unnamed Boston newspaper); “A Looker On,” Independent Gazetteer, Jan. 8, 1785 (reprinted from Chronicle of Freedom); anonymous essay, Independent Chronicle, Nov. 3, 1785; Jean Toscan to Marechal de Castrier,
Gazetteer, July 1, 1786; “Extract of a letter from New-York, June 26,” New Hampshire Gazette, Aug. 12, 1785; “A True Friend,” Virginia Independent Chronicle, Nov. 14, 1787, DHRC, 8:162. 3 Madison to Jefferson, Mar. 18, 1786, in William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (17 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962–), 8:503; “Monitor,” II, New Jersey Journal and Political Intelligencer, May 10, 1786. 4 Madison, “Agst. Paper Money, Novr. 1786 Virg: Assy.,” in Hutchinson et al., eds.,
creditors, their mounting cries for fiat currency were one more indication of their growing frustration with the bondholders. Some petitioners and essayists suggested a more radical use of paper money. They urged assemblymen to force bondholders to exchange their war bonds, which paid interest, for paper money, which did not. The freemen of Swanzey, New Hampshire, spoke for thousands of Americans when they asked for an “Emission of paper Currency” and then urged that it “be applied Solely for
Devaluing the money a certain amount every year would essentially be a self-collecting tax—no different from taxing any other form of property at the same rate.41 Husband noted in 1782 that “in the New Testament … Publicans, and Tax-gatherers, are always ranked with Sinners.” He was determined to “lessen those Swarms of Tax-gatherers, Excise-men, and Custom-house Officers, so much complained of by the Spirit and Feelings of a free People.” Toward that end, he would hasten the redemption of the
thirteen states. Less than a month after leaving Philadelphia, James Madison was pleased to learn that his own most pressing concern was resonating throughout the country. Recall that on June 6, 1787, Madison had told his colleagues in Philadelphia that state-level “Interferences” with “the security of private rights, and the steady dispensation of Justice” were “evils which had more perhaps than any thing else, produced this convention.”4 What, precisely, were the “angry, oppressive, and