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Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution Study Guide & Plot Summary

Jack N. Rakove
This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Original Meanings.
This section contains 506 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution Study Guide

Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution Summary & Study Guide Description

Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack N. Rakove.

Plot Summary

Original Meanings is concerned with the meaning and content of the United States Constitution, how did it came into being as a result of numerous discussions and debates at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia and the following period of ratification. Rakove looks at how certain phrases or content become a part of the Constitution. The delegates to the Convention come to Philadelphia charged with “fixing” the deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation. The deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation are so serious that the national government has no authority to compel the states to comply with national treaties or policies. The Congress has no way of raising the revenues it needs to function as a government. The United States’ ten-year experiment with republicanism is floundering because the power of the states basically exceeds that of the Congress. A Convention is called for to overhaul the deficient Articles of Confederation.

When the Convention opens on May 14, only two states have delegates present. Most of the delegates are approximately two weeks late in arriving. This gives the Virginia delegation the opportunity to draft a plan for government based on Madison’s study of governments as he prepared for the Convention. This plan, known as the Virginia Plan, serves as a framework for the Convention’s work. The major elements of this plan become the basis for the Constitution they end up writing. Interestingly enough, if the delegates had arrived on time, the Virginia delegation would not have had the time to draft the Virginia Plan and we might not have the Constitution that we have today.

The book examines the discussions and debates, as well as the concessions and compromises that resulted in the formulation of the United States Constitution. Once the Convention delegates decide that the Confederation is defective, they then have to decide what is required to make a functional government? They need a document explaining the breadth and scope of that government, or they need to define the government in terms of the issues of federalism, representation and the presidency. This is what they accomplished in a little over four months in Philadelphia.

The Constitution comes into being as a result of concessions and compromises. There are two obstacles that block any progress at the Convention: the big state-little state conflict and the North-South slavery issue. Without the resolution of these issues the Convention will be able to do nothing and there is a strong probability that the Union will splinter. Both obstacles are tied to the method of representation and solved with the adoption of equal representation in the Senate and representation based on population in the House, with three-fifths of the slave population counting as the state’s population. The North-South compromise called for no restrictions on slavery for twenty years and no taxes on exports.

With these two hurdles overcome, the Convention then moves on to defining the ratification process and the presidency. Throughout the book the background information allows us to examine the formation of the thinking taking place during the Convention and the period of ratification.

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This section contains 506 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution Study Guide
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Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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