From distinguished historian Richard Beeman comes a dramatic and engrossing account of the men who met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to design a radically new form of government. Plain, Honest Men takes readers behind the scenes and beyond the debate to show how the world's most enduring constitution was forged through conflict, compromise, and, eventually, fragile consensus.
The delegates met in an atmosphere of crisis, many Americans at that time fearing that a combination of financial distress and civil unrest would doom the young nation's experiment in liberty. When the delegates began their deliberations in May 1787, they discovered that a small cohort of men, led by James Madison, had prepared an audacious plan-revolutionary in its view of the nature of American government. The success of this bold and brilliant strategy was far from assured, and the ultimate outcome of the delegates' labors-the creation of a frame of government that would enable America to flourish-was very different from what Madison had envisioned when he launched his grand scheme.
A day-by-day account of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia can't yield up much drama or fireworks, or even much sparkling talk, at least as recorded by a few participants, especially James Madison. But in this masterful account, Beeman (Patrick Henry), a noted historian of the late 18th century, does his best to dramatize the writing of the American Constitution. As the convention's hot summer weeks rolled on, tensions built, agreements were reached and compromises (especially, alas, about slavery) were made. Beeman gives each decision, each vote, the weight it deserves and, in brief sketches, brings the delegates alive. The result may not be an exciting story, but, after all, it concerns the writing of the world's longest-lived written national constitution. It's also a story freighted with world-historical significance-and one as well told here as can be imagined. This account is now the most authoritative, up-to-date treatment of the Constitutional Convention since Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia over 40 years ago. It's unlikely to be surpassed. Illus., map. (Mar. 17)
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March 15, 2009
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