Wednesday, July 2, 2008

American History

With the Fourth just ahead on the calendar, I've decided on my American history reading, and I've started it: Garry Wills' Explaining America: The Federalist (1981). This is, of course, a re-read, as I purchased my copy at the time of publication in 1981. But having just completed listening to Thomas Pangle's Teaching Company course on The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the Constitution, it seems a good choice. Also, of course, Wills' prose and insight are always a treat. The opening considers how No. 10 was ignored essentially until Charles Beard went after it as a part of his economic vision of the Constitution. Since then, Laski, Dahl, Burns, and others have criticized Madison's formulation. Will states that his aim is to consider whether history and historians have treated Madison's work here (and in No. 51) fairly. The opening chapter deals with the Annapolis convention, and wonderful physical descriptions of Madison and his partner in crime: Alexander Hamilton. As often the case with Wills, his analytic insight into a text is framed by a "you were there" description of the principles. Madison as an aging gnome and Hamilton as all activity inside his small frame; while Madison conserved energy, Hamilton radiated it. More fun to come.

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