Skip to comments.The Triumph of the Constitution, by Clinton Rossiter
Posted on 09/17/2019 1:08:55 AM PDT by Jacquerie
The triumph of the Convention of 1787 is that in raising a standard to which the wise and honest could repair, it also raised one that met the threefold test of legitimacy, popularity, and viability.
One reason the Convention was able to strike the right balance between the urge to lead the people and the need to obey them, and between the urge to be noble and the need to be practical, was the disposition of most delegates to be whole men on stern principles and halfway men on negotiable details. Another was the way in which it worked with familiar details the State Constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, the best of the colonial experiences and thus presented the people with a Constitution that surprised but did not shock.
Rejoicing in philosophy but despising ideology, putting a high value on reason but an even higher one on experience, interested in the institutions of other times and peoples but confident that their own were better, unafraid to contemplate the mysteries of the British Constitution but aware, in Wilsons words, that it cannot be our model, the Framers kept faith with the American past even as they prepared to make a break with it. Indeed, the excellence of their handiwork is as much a tribute to their sense of continuity as to their talent for creative statesmanship. The Constitution was an ingenious plan of government chiefly in the sense that its authors made a careful selection of familiar techniques and institutions, then fitted them together with an unerring eye for form. It had very little novelty in it, and that, we with the aid of hindsight, was one of its strongest points.
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I vividly recall reading his work in college in the early 1960s. This was a time when there was still authenticity in the University, this was a time when diversity meant the expression of various points of view, this was a time when actual serious academic debate was counted as part of a Renaissance man's education.
It is remarkable how in my adult lifetime we have "progressed" beyond these bourgeois constraints.
Well stated and I agree.
Along with Bernard Bailyn, Forrest McDonald, and Gordon S. Wood, Rossiter’s work help refute the progressive hit pieces of the early 20th Century, like those of Charles A. Beard.
Isn’t his the book called “Convention 1787” or something like that? I can’t recall the title now but it’s a great little book on the conventions and what happened.
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