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My high school history classes covered the American Revolution and American History from 1789 to the events which were current at the time. While the Articles of Confederation was discussed, and the reasons for the failure of the central government mentioned, little time was actually given to the process through which the US moved from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution or through the ratifying process. The most time that was spent on this period, and it was precious little, was a discussion of the importance of the Federalist Papers and Alexander Hamilton, probably because this school was in New York State. This book remedies that lack in a short and complete fashion.
Mr Ellis is a noted historian and he has turned his considerable talents to a complete description of why the Articles failed, the state that failure left the central government in and the process through which the four main proponents of a more powerful and centralized government, Washington, Hamilton, Jay and Madison, moved the process to its ultimate success. He also describes the difficulties involved in gaining ratification and the main opponents of the ratification effort as well as the motives of many of those strongly opposed to the new government system. Most central to this opposition were George Clinton and Patrick Henry and they figure prominently in the discussion of how the opponents first tried to stop the adoption of the Constitution and then tried to reverse the acceptance. While we know how things turned out, the description of the events themselves and the trials of those involved was both very interesting and informative.
I have read many books on this period of American History but most were concerned with why the American Revolution occurred, the events of the war, the struggle for a peace treaty with Great Britain and the events after the adoption of the Constitution with the remainder being biographies of many of those involved (Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and others). While all of those books covered either the period leading to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation or the events following the adoption of the Constitution, none of them were dedicated to the time period between the two and none were as clear as to the motives and actions of the participants as this book.
Mr Ellis has also provided us with an analysis of what he believes was intended by the text of the Constitution by those involved and compares that with what is currently referred to as Original Intent. This is a short section and seems more like a political discussion than is warranted in a normal book on historical events, but it is short and does not mar the rest of the book. He also provides 3 appendices with the complete text of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The book, at 8 hours, is not long, but it is 8 hours I found well spent. The narration by Robertson Dean is first class and I found this book to be well worth 5 stars.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
My second listen was more intense than the first.
My initial review was that anyone who quotes. the Constitution, Federalist Papers or writings by Jefferson or believes what they hear or see from the media, political organizations or politicians regarding these sources should listen to or read this book before they begin to throw them around. There are historians who do not agree with Ellis and again if you are going to live or die by these sources, again you should read those opposing views and make your own choice. Besides run on sentences these are strong facts.
In the last 20 or 30 years I have seen quotes regarding the Constitution, especially by Jefferson, who was in France before and long after the Constitution was written. Due to his position in the planter class, landed gentry , he had a vested interest in maintaining the Article's of Confederation. Therefore had no idea of the structure or negotiations and compromising that went into it.
I believe the book is well-written and well narrated and a must read.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful