May 28, 2015


A More Perfect Union : The Framers far exceeded the convention's mandate; they devised an entirely new system of government. (JACK SCHWARTZ, May 22, 2015, WSJ)

The Congress was not only poorly attended; it had no power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, conduct a coherent foreign policy, oversee westward expansion, pay down the war debt or do virtually anything that required unified action. This dysfunction made the new republic vulnerable to foreign predators. It also called into question the viability of the American experiment in democracy.

It is under these circumstances that some patriots became alarmed at the confederation's drift toward dissolution, if not civil war and anarchy. They were led and inspired by four souls who sought to save the Revolution from an ideology that saw any form of centralized power as a return to monarchy. The dissenters--George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison--faced no less a task than redefining the meaning of the War for Independence in what amounted to a Second American Revolution. How they did so is the burden of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis's "The Quartet," an engaging reconsideration of the arduous path to the Constitution.

In maneuvering the nation from the chaos of the Articles in 1783 to the constitutional convention in 1787 that supplanted them, Mr. Ellis writes, the Quartet carried off "the most creative and consequential act of political leadership in American history." In so doing they faced formidable resistance. Their opponents felt that they themselves were the guardians of the Revolution's values, that the weakness of Congress was a virtue and that political power should be vested in the states. The tribunes of emerging Federalism contended, to the contrary, that the full potential of the American Revolution would be realized only through a single nation that brought the states under federal control.

It was Hamilton who first sounded the tocsin in 1783 as a delegate to the Confederation Congress, when he sought to amend the Articles to establish a stronger executive, taxation mandates, federal treaty authority and more flexibility in enacting legislation--in Mr. Ellis's words, "a blueprint for what would eventually . . . become the Constitution." 

Posted by at May 28, 2015 8:54 PM

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