Average Americans Were the True Framers of the Constitution
Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution's origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America's post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.
If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.
Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution is a 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
Is the Constitution a democratic document? Yes, says University of Richmond historian Holton (Forced Founders), but not because the men who wrote it were especially democratically inclined. The framers, Holton says, distrusted the middling farmers who made up much of America's voting population, and believed governance should be left in large part to the elites. But the framers also knew that if the document they drafted did not address ordinary citizens' concerns, the states would not ratify it. Thus, the framers created a more radical document "an underdogs' Constitution," Holton calls it than they otherwise would have done. Holton's book, which may be the most suggestive study of the politics of the Constitution and the early republic since Drew McCoy's 1980 The Elusive Republic, is full of surprising insights; for example, his discussion of newspaper writers' defense of a woman's right to purchase the occasional luxury item flies in the face of much scholarship on virtue, gender and fashion in postrevolutionary America. Holton concludes with an inspiring rallying cry for democracy, saying that Americans today seem to have abandoned ordinary late-18th-century citizens' "intens... democratic aspiration," resigned, he says, to the power of global corporations and of wealth in American politics.