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The Failure of the Founding Fathers: Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of…

av Bruce Ackerman

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1802111,027 (3.82)4
The ink was barely dry on the Constitution when it was almost destroyed by the rise of political parties in the United States. As Bruce Ackerman shows, the Framers had not anticipated the two-party system, and when Republicans battled Federalists for the presidency in 1800, the rules laid down by the Constitution exacerbated the crisis. With Republican militias preparing to march on Washington, the House of Representatives deadlocked between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Based on seven years of archival research, the book describes previously unknown aspects of the electoral college crisis. Ackerman shows how Thomas Jefferson counted his Federalist rivals out of the House runoff, and how the Federalists threatened to place John Marshall in the presidential chair. Nevertheless, the Constitution managed to survive through acts of statesmanship and luck. Despite the intentions of the Framers, the presidency had become a plebiscitarian office. Thomas Jefferson gained office as the People's choice and acted vigorously to fulfill his popular mandate. This transformation of the presidency serves as the basis for a new look at Marbury v. Madison, the case that first asserted the Supreme Court's power of judicial review. Ackerman shows that Marbury is best seen in combination with another case, Stuart v. Laird, as part of a retreat by the Court in the face of the plebiscitarian presidency. This "switch in time" proved crucial to the Court's survival, allowing it to integrate Federalist and Republican themes into the living Constitution of the early republic. Ackerman presents a revised understanding of the early days of two great institutions that continue to have a major impact on American history: the plebiscitarian presidency and a Supreme Court that struggles to put the presidency's claims of a popular mandate into constitutional perspective.… (mer)

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Ackerman theorizes that the U.S. actually had two constitutions: one written in 1787, and the other in 1800. The first constitution placed emphasis on the Congress, assuming that the country could always come up with an above-it-all statesman of Washington’s ilk to sit at the helm. The constitution that began its formation in 1800 inaugurated a model of a “plebiscitarian presidency” that would define the country’s shape instead of leaving it up to Congress. The Supreme Court has played a push me-pull you role with the presidency ever since.

Most of the book focuses on the hotly contested election of 1800, and the behavior of the main protagonists Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Burr, and Marshall. A major premise of the analyses promulgated by Ackerman is that “the Republicans’ election victory made Jefferson the choice of the People….” But on one page only of the book does Ackerman admit (or even address!) the fact that Jefferson would never have won the election had he not gotten the electoral college bonus of three-fifths of the slave population. On page 34, the author quotes a New England newspaper charging that the so-called “men of the people, and the guardians of liberty…(rode) into the Temple of Liberty upon the shoulders of slaves.” Yet, after this, the matter is forgotten. From that early point in the book forward, Jefferson is thenceforth referred to as the first plebiscitary president. Moreover, Ackerman then vilifies the Federalists for not acceding to "the will of the People"!

The behaviors of Adams, Hamilton and Marshall are slandered with impugnity; Jeffersons’ machinations, on the other hand, are characterized as “statesmanship.” Adams is especially condemned for his lame duck appointments to the courts, but Jefferson’s role, as Vice-President, in the pay-off for the services of Freneau to slander the Adams Administration in the press, is totally omitted! Marshall’s appointments of (qualified) relatives to other court positions are condemned. Not so Jefferson’s appointments of unqualified friends and relatives of Burr in order to sway Burr’s vote on the Chase impeachment. When Ackerman calls Chief Justice Marshall “that blinkered partisan” methinks he doth protest too much.

The prejudicial presentation was extremely alienating. But the book evinces meticulous scholarship, and the analyses of Marbury v. Madison and Stuart v. Laird make the effort of reading worthwhile. I would recommend other books on Jefferson and Marshall to balance out this one, however, especially Garry Wills’ "Negro President" and James Simon’s "What Kind of Nation." ( )
  nbmars | Feb 13, 2008 |
Great book - But maybe a bit overstated

I very much enjoyed "The Failure of the Founding Fathers" by Bruce Ackerman. His research into the contemporary controversies and arguments made during the contentious 1800 election was refreshing. Too many writers rely on later day, secondary sources which leaves unsaid too much of what they then said about their own conflagrations and machinations. Nuance is lost using secondary sources, all too often.

Ackerman's discussion of the authorship of the Horatius letter, is a prime example of his harkening back to primary sources. Was the letter written by Marshall? Later researchers say no, but Ackerman puts forth a convincing case that Marshall might have been the author, a case filled with thoughts that secondary sources never seem to have even considered.

I have but one problem with Mr. Ackerman's work. It appears he has let his zeal to be a "controversialist" get the better of him a bit too often. He repeats his mantra of the "Founder's failures" over and over and, while his points are convincing enough that the Constitution had some problematic aspects where it concerns a strict description of procedure which came into stark light during the raucous 1800 election, his constant use of verbiage like "blunders" and "failures" belabors the point.

Ackerman seems all to often to have drawn a bold separation between the "Founders" who created the Constitution and those common everyday politicians who fought the Party battles of the 1800 election. But, my problem arises when one realizes that the "Founders" of 1780s Constitutional creation era and those politicians involved in the 1800 election fight were nearly to a man ONE and the SAME!

The "Founders " had not simply returned to their perch upon Mount Olympus like some coterie of ancient Gods after handing a grateful nation the Constitution fully formed. No, those same Founders were still around to further delineate and rectify the errors made in the creation when they were faced with the procedural problems that the 1800 election revealed. And faced with the nearly insurmountable problems the Founders faced, we should be amazed that they got as grand a document as they did when finished.

In other words, the 1800 election was just a continuation, a sequal if you will, for the "Founder's" creation of the Constitution. They created the Document in the 1780s, got it passed, and by the 1790s they began to try and live with it, thereby seeing where they missed a thing or two and then attempting to set it aright.

Lastly, I always think it a bit of an overstatement to say that the Founders never "saw" the idea of Party as possible. The Federalist Papers even discusses it. Sure they were against the idea of Parties on principle of public virtue, but they were aware it was probable even, perhaps, unavoidable. And last but not least, it was those very Founders who became INSTANLTY involved in that same creation of Parties less than a decade after the Constitution was ratified.

Still, a great book that everyone interested in the early days of the republic should read. Also one that makes the lie to the lament that "Politics today is worse than it's ever been". Even cursory study of the knock-down and drag-out fights in 1800 puts the lie to that one! ( )
1 rösta WarnerToddHuston | Apr 7, 2007 |
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The ink was barely dry on the Constitution when it was almost destroyed by the rise of political parties in the United States. As Bruce Ackerman shows, the Framers had not anticipated the two-party system, and when Republicans battled Federalists for the presidency in 1800, the rules laid down by the Constitution exacerbated the crisis. With Republican militias preparing to march on Washington, the House of Representatives deadlocked between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Based on seven years of archival research, the book describes previously unknown aspects of the electoral college crisis. Ackerman shows how Thomas Jefferson counted his Federalist rivals out of the House runoff, and how the Federalists threatened to place John Marshall in the presidential chair. Nevertheless, the Constitution managed to survive through acts of statesmanship and luck. Despite the intentions of the Framers, the presidency had become a plebiscitarian office. Thomas Jefferson gained office as the People's choice and acted vigorously to fulfill his popular mandate. This transformation of the presidency serves as the basis for a new look at Marbury v. Madison, the case that first asserted the Supreme Court's power of judicial review. Ackerman shows that Marbury is best seen in combination with another case, Stuart v. Laird, as part of a retreat by the Court in the face of the plebiscitarian presidency. This "switch in time" proved crucial to the Court's survival, allowing it to integrate Federalist and Republican themes into the living Constitution of the early republic. Ackerman presents a revised understanding of the early days of two great institutions that continue to have a major impact on American history: the plebiscitarian presidency and a Supreme Court that struggles to put the presidency's claims of a popular mandate into constitutional perspective.

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