Happy Sunday! Let’s get right to the links.
Yesterday I learned that some Republican state legislators in North Carolina have sponsored a bill to declare an established religion—or at least, to declare that the federal Constitution wouldn’t prohibit such a declaration. In doing so, of course, they disregard a mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence on the issue that goes back into the ninteenth century but was really firmly established in the middle of the twentieth century. I’m not here to talk about that question, but I found it particularly interesting in light of the conversation I’ve been having by email over the last few weeks with Dr. Sean Wilson, an assistant professor of law at Wright State University, about his new book The Flexible Constitution. Continue reading
As a Brit teaching early American history in the US, I’m often asked how I came to be fascinated by the American Revolution. My answer is generally some version of the following: I’m fascinated by the American Revolution because there are so many reasons why it shouldn’t have ended with the creation of an American republic. Not only was the notion of independence from Britain a daring and risky move, but there were many reasons why the North American colonies could not cohere once they had broken with the mother country. Investigating the ways in which Americans tried to bridge the many gaps between themselves to create powerful and lasting governmental structures is one of the key themes of my research.
A large part of the answer to that conundrum, at least once historical focus shifts to the early republic, is the Constitution. Though, as I have written elsewhere, the mechanics of writing and ratifying the Constitution were scarcely the pristine and perfect process of popular imagination, the longevity of the Constitution must rank as one of the most significant achievements of the revolutionary era. Yet a close look at pretty much any period of American history sees the Constitution wielded as a partisan weapon as often as it is venerated as a ligature holding the separate states together. That is a curious paradox, for there is an implicit and serious criticism in describing a governmental act as “unconstitutional.” It suggests a lack of patriotism and a lack of common feeling; it implies mistrust, rather than emphasizing shared responsibility. Continue reading
It seems to have become a tradition to open this post with a weather report for New England. This morning we’re looking at a slushy Sunday, which while annoying is quite an improvement over the snowpocalypse of a few weeks ago. In any case, a little sleet/snow won’t stand any longer between you and your weekly supply of links. On we go!
It’s been a century since Charles Beard published An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. That book has a central role in more or less every overview of the historiography of the constitution and the founding. Just what that role is, though, is still open to debate. That Pauline Maier’s Ratification (2010) has no listing for Charles Beard in the index might have been taken as a sign that scholars no longer have to deal directly with his towering legacy. But that Seth Cotlar called her out on it in a recent William & Mary Quarterly forum, and took her to task for the “absence of any direct engagement” with Beardian, “conflict-oriented” interpretations of the period, reminds us just the opposite. As Saul Cornell put it, in light of powerful and varied strands of contemporary neo-Beardian scholarship, from Robert McGuire to Woody Holton and Terry Bouton, “one wonders if we have fully laid the ghost of Charles Beard to rest.” Well, if you have to wonder… Continue reading
Good morning and Happy Inauguration Day! Since in early America the inaugural was a March event, no links to that event today, but plenty to keep you occupied until noon based on the collective wisdom of the Junto.
Welcome back for week two! Things will be going quiet around the Junto for the next few days over Christmas, and on behalf of the entire Junto, we want to wish you a happy holiday. In the meantime we have a few links to tide you over when you need a few minutes to browse the internet.