Monday, November 29, 2010

Pauline Maier's "Ratification"

Pauline Maier is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at M.I.T. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1968. She is the author of several books and textbooks on American history, including From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776, The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams, and American Scripture, which was on the New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice" list of the best 11 books of 1997 and a finalist in General Nonfiction for the National Book Critics' Circle Award.

Maier applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, and reported the following:
Page 99 isn’t all that bad a test of Ratification: it happens to fall on the first page of the first chapter on a state ratifying convention--Pennsylvania, whose convention was the first to meet. Moreover, the chapter starts with Gouverneur Morris’s speculations in late October, 1787, on the Constitution’s chances of being ratified. “Failure,” it says, “was a strong possibility.”

The heart of the book is in the elected state ratifying conventions, which decided the Constitution’s fate. They were the events of the year that began on September 17, 1787, when the federal Convention adjourned, and September 13, 1788, when the Confederation Congress declared the Constitution ratified and made arrangements for the first federal elections. Once the conventions met, they had to find halls big enough to hold both the elected delegates and the large number of spectators who wanted to witness the debates and who could hardly be locked out of meetings called to make a major decision on behalf of “We the People.”

The book also includes a Prologue that looks at the background of the Constitution through the eyes of George Washington, who, as a retired general at Mount Vernon, pondered whether or not to attend the federal Convention in Philadelphia. (The federal Convention happens in the crack between the Prologue and Chapter One, where the delegates are packing their bags and leaving Philadelphia with printed copies of the Constitution in their bags.) It also has an Epilogue, which follows the emergence of the first amendments to the Constitution in the first federal Congress (surprise: nobody called them a bill of rights) and gets North Carolina and Rhode Island, which at first refused to ratify, back into the union. A Postscript tells what happened to some of the more obscure but remarkable members of the state conventions.
Browse inside Ratification, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue