Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Book review - Witnesses at the Creation.

Witnesses at the Creation by Richard B. Morris is subtitled Hamilton, Madision, Jay, and the Constitution. As might be surmised by the subtitle, the 261 page book is an account of the Constitutional Convention and the three men's role in bringing it about, drafting the Constitution, and pushing for its ratification. The subjects of the book were chosen due to their roles in writing The Federalist Papers.

Mr. Morris begins with a brief background of each man. That helps explain the development of their political thought and their relationship with each other at the time. Following that, each man is followed through the crises leading to the Constitutional Convention. James Madison was especially key in bringing about the convention although Alexander Hamilton also played a large role.

Using Madison's notes and those of other participants, Mr. Morris recreates the convention with emphasis on the parts played by the three men. Madison is often called the father of the Constitution but he could not have claimed the title without the assistance of others, in particular John Jay.

During the ratification fight Jay and Hamilton worked together in New York with the advantage that the Union was pretty much an accomplished fact by the time the were debating the matter. On the other hand Madison led the fight in Virgina and had to do so against formidable odds. In addition to the fact that ratification was not certain, none other than Patrick Henry led the opposition. After a grueling debate, the ratification party carried the day.

After the ratification all three men moved on to immediate well-known success. Madison to a leadership post in the first House of Representatives, Jay to the Chief Justice position on the United States Supreme Court, and Hamilton to an appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. The three would part ways before their public lives were finished but what they had accomplished still stands.

All in all I found Mr. Morris' book to be an interesting one. He obviously has a very nationalistic tilt to his political thought and gives it free reign for most of the book. Alexander Hamilton in particular benefits from this as his many authoritarian views are explained away. In contrast Patrick Henry and others of his school of thought are not allowed the same luxury. In spite of this, Witnesses at the Creation is worth the read for those interested in the political sausage-making that went into the document that our nation still lives by today.

No comments: