Book Review

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Book Review

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Oft-neglected by political and legal historians, state constitutions -- and the conventions that created them -- reveal much about the eras in which they were formed. This is perhaps most true for the period between the ratification of the Constitution and the onset of the Civil War when every state replaced (or sought to replace or amend) its revolutionary-era constitution. But unlike the first state constitutions, which have attracted a few devoted historians and political scientists, the antebellum documents have generally lacked serious scholarly attention. The richness of these sources, however, has not escaped Laura J. Scalia, a political scientist trained at Yale under Rogers Smith. Her book -- a revision of her doctoral dissertation -- focuses on the debates that took place in ten constitutional conventions in seven states during the period 1820 to 1851 (Iowa [2], Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York [2], Ohio, and Virginia [2]). The debates in these conventions covered a wide range of subjects, but Scalia has focused on one category: "those proposals aimed at altering the people's direct political influence, particularly those that would affect their electoral influence in and over the three branches of government" (6). By doing so, she hopes to follow the ways in which Americans balanced their allegiance to private rights (the Madisionian view in her categorization) and popular sovereignty (the Jeffersonian preference) during the first half of the nineteenth century.


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