The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now.
George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggles within the Philadelphia Convention as the delegates hammered out the charter for the world's first constitutional democracy. Relying on the words of the delegates themselves to explore the Convention's sharp conflicts and hard bargaining, David O. Stewart lays out the passions and contradictions of the often painful process of writing the Constitution.
It was a desperate balancing act. Revolutionary principles required that the people have power, but could the people be trusted? Would a stronger central government leave room for the states? Would the small states accept a Congress in which seats were alloted according to population rather than to each sovereign state? And what of slavery? The supercharged debates over America's original sin led to the most creative and most disappointing political deals of the Convention.
The room was crowded with colorful and passionate characters, some known -- Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph -- and others largely forgotten. At different points during that sultry summer, more than half of the delegates threatened to walk out, and some actually did, but Washington's quiet leadership and the delegates' inspired compromises held the Convention together.
In a country continually arguing over the document's original intent, it is fascinating to watch these powerful characters struggle toward consensus -- often reluctantly -- to write a flawed but living and breathing document that could evolve with the nation.
Demigods and Coxcombs Assemble
James Madison reached Philadelphia on May 3, ten whole days before any other delegate (except for the ones who lived there), and eleven days before the Convention was scheduled to begin. His early arrival reflected both his eagerness and his lifelong habit of exacting preparation. Always gentle with his health when he could be, the Virginian gave himself ample time to recover from the grinding stagecoach ride from New York, where he had been representing Virginia in the Confederation Congress.
Although Philadelphia was the nation's largest city, home to about 40,000 people, lodging was at a premium. In addition to the Federal Convention (as it was called), the city was hosting a gathering of Presbyterian ministers from around the country. Also in town was the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Continental Army officers that some feared as a political force. The Pennsylvania Herald took pride in the ...
Like James L Swanson's Manhunt, Stewart's emphasis is on the day to day narrative, not on analysis. He covers the Constitutional Convention in chronological order, grouping particular events and stages into individual chapters. What clearly comes across is the enormity of the task faced by 55 men of diverse opinion and ability to find common ground for 13 states, each with their own vested interests, already established in the flawed Articles of Confederation. We see the tensions and difficult compromises, such as slavery and the three-fifths rule; the acute minds offering clarity, but also the more obtuse or just plain belligerent countering with confusion.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (695 words).
David O'Stewart has been a trial lawyer for twenty-five years. He began writing before law school as a reporter for the Staten Island Advance. He also wrote a monthly column on the Supreme Court for the American Bar Association Journal for almost ten years. In recent years he has turned to fiction, publishing a short story, When They Did It, in New Millennium Writings that was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has recently completed a novel, as yet unpublished, and is working on a follow-up to ...
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