Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Framers' Coup

Yesterday I visited the beautiful city of Oxford. I attended a meeting in Christ Church at which Michael J Klarman of Harvard University set out the story described in his forthcoming book "The Framers' Coup: The making of the United States constitution".  The story of the making of the Constitution is itself an interesting one - I've read quite a few books about it, and visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia (I would recommend à visit if you find yourself in that Historic City).

Klarman addresses the issue of why the members of the convention were able to successfully produce and have ratified a constitution which exceeded all expectations. In particular it shifted power from the states to a new, and as we have seen, ultimately very powerful federal Government.It also put a brake on some of the more democratic and revolutionary ideas that were current.

He began by setting out the expectations - which he argued were that the states would retain their supremacy and that democracy would be extended. Yet the federal government ended up with extensive powers over taxation, commerce and the military. Ideas intended to increase democracy - such as short terms of office; direct elections; and powers of instruction, recall & term limits were watered down or rejected.

The second issue is how these outcomes were achieved. If the analysis in the book is as clinical and extensive as in Professor  Klarman's presentation - then students of political behaviour and strategy (like myself) will find the book a valuable investment.

The third and final part of the talk addressed the question of how ratification was achieved.

The book is due to be published in November. Online orders are being taken now at www.oup.com/uk/politics - and I'll be ordering a copy today.