These essays offer new interpretations of the origins of American federalism and the meaning of liberty in American political culture. Peter S. Onuf's introduction examines the historiography of the Constitution--the ways in which distinct schools of historians have interpreted the formation of the federal system. He explains how the essays contribute to this scholarly debate and notes that the present-day concern with "original intent" is a misleading approach to the Constitution. Rather than trying to achieve miraculous solutions to deep-seated social and political problems, the founding fathers instead agreed to compromises that sanctioned future conflict within the bounds of law.
Writing on the origins of American federalism, John M. Murrin argues that the founding fathers' greatest achievement was balancing federal authority with states' rights, a "conceptual breakthrough" that allowed the founders to resolve issues that had previously led to the American revolt against Great Britain and the collapse of the Articles of Confederation.
David E. Narrett analyzes Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution in New York State, telling why Anti-Federalist efforts to restrict the government's taxing power and to alter the system of representation in Congress failed.
Thomas Jefferson was in Paris when the Constitution was being drafted. Ronald L. Hatzenbuehler writes in his revisionist essay that Jefferson's attitude toward the Constitution was not dictated by his response to events in prerevolutionary France but rather by American political developments, such as Shay's Rebellion.
Michael Kammen concludes the book by probing the character and history of liberty as a constitutional concept. American society today faces complex issues unimagined two centuries ago. An understanding of the origins and development of the Constitution is necessary if we wish to preserve liberty for future generations. This volume is a contribution toward that goal.