24 February 2007


This is something of an indication of the "radical" nature (for its time) of the process which lead to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Akihil Reed Amar notes - in his masterful work America's Constitution - that some states, when voting for ratification convention delegates, did away with one of the most common restrictions on voting:

"For instance, New York temporarily set aside its usual property qualifications and, for the time its history, invited all free adult males to vote." - pg. 7

My first question is, does this mean that free blacks were voting? Well, as I sift through my mind I do seem to recall reading that some states in the early republic did allow for such. I can't recall a specific citation however.

Anyway, the notion of the radical nature of this development should be tempered with the knowledge that traditional notions regarding the role of the gentry, etc. remained alive and well into the 19th century. In other words, many people continued to think that the role of the citizen was at best to speak on officially designated days (e.g., election day) or through official channels, and to do so respectfully, while the role of their betters was to paternalistically fulfill these desires if they were appropriate and otherwise regulate society for its own good. One can see some of the clash between the gentry worldview and a worldview based on more "popular" notions in William Alan Taylor's Cooper's Town.


MP said...

I'm not sure I understand your post. Are you saying that we shouldn't view some of the circumstances around the development of the Constitution as necessarily being "radical"? I tend to agree with that perspective...insomuch as it seems like more of an evolutionary political progression than some completely off the wall occurrance.

And America's Constitution is on my shelf...desparately waiting for me to get a better handle on time management skills in my not so new (over a year now) role as a parent.

Grotius said...


Mine was a simple point really - that there was a lack of uniformity in vision by the "founding generation." Or at least it looks that way from our perspective. From their perspective, perhaps not so much (though obviously at least some people were aware of the sort of contradictions we find through the life of the early republic).