Saturday, April 25, 2009

Plain Honest Men

The Making of the American Constitution
Richard Beeman

The constitutional convention of 1787 was shrouded in secrecy. The delegates all agreed to talk to and write to no one about the proceedings. Notes taken during the convention were sparse, incomplete an unpublished. Somehow Richard Beenam has been able to piece together not just a book, but a thick tome, on the day by day proceedings at the Pennsylvania State House that resulted in the Constitution that the United States still operates under today.

America, under the articles of confederation, was a loose alliance of thirteen independent states that all agreed to be friends. The Congress, with an equal vote for each state, was responsible for paying off the debts incurred during the revolutionary war, but had no power to collect taxes and was dependent on the voluntary donation of funds from the states. The Congress was the only federal government there was. It comes as no surprise to us that this arrangement didn't work.

A convention was authorized by the Congress to discuss amendments to the Articles of Confederation that would make for a more workable federal government. That convention, astoundingly, devised a plan that dissolved the confederation government, created a three branch system, including a two branched legislature, a judiciary and an executive, none of which bore any resemblance to the confederation Congress.

Beeman's book follows the proceedings of the convention in detail. He talks about the individuals who had the most influence over it's progress, George Washington, returned from retirement at his estate at Mount Vernon after leading the continental army to an improbable victory over the British, was elected president, or chairman of the convention. Benjamin Franklin, internationally renowned as a "naturalist," which is what scientists were called and as a statesman, James Madison, who came prepared with a plan for a new government, the "Virginia Plan," which became the foundation of the new constitution, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Pinkney, Eldredge Gerry, to whom we owe the word Gerrymander, Gouverneur Morris, James McHenry, the person fort McHenry is named after . . .

Beeman does a pretty good job of explaining how the convention dealt with, and failed to deal with the most controversial issue addressed by the constitution - slavery. The delegates from South Carolina and Georgia were adamant that slavery be protected by the constitution. At the time it was just beginning to become an issue. Franklin was president of an abolitionist society in Pennsylvania. Slavery was practiced in most of the states, including Massachusetts and New York. Pennsylvania did not abolish slavery until 1847. But in South Carolina and Georgia, slavery was the only way to acquire to kind of labor needed to work the expanding rice and indigo which were making the landowners rich. There was almost no objection to slavery on moral grounds at the convention but much wrangling over the attempt to count slaves in determining representation in Congress. In the end slaves were counted as 2/3 of a person each for the purpose of assigning Congressional representation. It is difficult to understand this compromise, which led eventually to the Civil War, from a 21st century perspective. I take it as proof of the inevitability, like it or not, of moral relativism. You can not make moral choices outside of your cultural context, even if you think you can and think you are.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The fifteenth Book Review Blog Carnival was posted this morning at Mysteries in Paradise. Kerrie did a marvelous job, which included weeding out a large number of spam post submissions, Editing all of our submissions and posting them in a coherent fashion. She also saved and sent me a list of every email address of ever person who submitted a post.

Which leads to the procedural change. I have been trying, with limited success, to keep a list of all participants in the carnival and their email addresses, in order to send news, calls for submissions and carnival posting notices out to you. I have decided that I will instead post those only on the Book Review Blog Carnival blog. I simply don't have the time to keep a mailing list in order.

What this means: If you are a participant in the Book Review Blog Carnival and want to know what is happening, please subscribe to the RSS feed, or at least stop by once and a while and take a look-see.

Participating bloggers are encouraged to post a link to the carnival at Mysteries in Paradise in their own blogs. Please help to spread the word and share your readers.

The sixteenth Book Review Blog Carnival will be hosted by Literary Menagerie on April 26th. Please submit your book review posts at the usual place,