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The Second Creation

Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era

Jonathan Gienapp



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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
09 October 2018
Americans widely believe that the United States Constitution was almost wholly created when it was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788. But in a shrewd rereading of the founding era, Jonathan Gienapp upends this long-held assumption, recovering the unknown story of American constitutional creation in the decade after its adoption-a story with explosive implications for current debates over constitutional originalism and interpretation.

When the Constitution first appeared, it was shrouded in uncertainty. Not only was its meaning unclear, but so too was its essential nature. Was the American Constitution a written text, or something else? Was it a legal text? Was it finished or unfinished? What rules would guide its interpretation? Who would adjudicate competing readings? As political leaders put the Constitution to work, none of these questions had answers. Through vigorous debates they confronted the document's uncertainty, and-over time-how these leaders imagined the Constitution radically changed. They had begun trying to fix, or resolve, an imperfect document, but they ended up fixing, or cementing, a very particular notion of the Constitution as a distinctively textual and historical artifact circumscribed in space and time. This means that some of the Constitution's most definitive characteristics, ones which are often treated as innate, were only added later and were thus contingent and optional.

By offering a stunning revision of the founding document's evolving history, The Second Creation forces us to confront anew the question that animated the founders so long ago: What is our Constitution?
By:   Jonathan Gienapp
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780674185043
ISBN 10:   0674185048
Pages:   464
Publication Date:   09 October 2018
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jonathan Gienapp is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University. A scholar of early American political culture, he has written several articles on early constitutional history and modern constitutional theory and interpretation that speak to current political concerns.

Reviews for The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era

Gienapp focuses our attention on the first decade of controversy over the remarkable new invention, a national constitution. His fascinating and provocative story--how these debates created and imagined the Constitution--is told with great mastery and drama.--Mary Sarah Bilder, author of Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention The greatest innovation of the American Revolution was the idea of a written constitution as supreme fundamental law. But another truly significant development immediately followed the ratification of the Constitution: the equally innovative but deeply controversial invention of modes of constitutional interpretation. Jonathan Gienapp explores how this process unfolded, brilliantly explaining the search for the original meaning of the Constitution.--Jack N. Rakove, author of A Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison Gienapp's elegant reconstruction of the contested terrain of early American constitutional interpretation has wide-ranging implications for how we understand the earliest debates over the Constitution's meaning. Gienapp offers fresh and thoughtful reinterpretations of several of the most important debates of this formative period of American constitutional development.--Saul Cornell, author of A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America The Second Creation is a brilliant and timely intervention in American constitutional history. By showing how 'original intentions' originated in congressional debates about what the framers and ratifiers originally intended, Jonathan Gienapp forces us to take another long look at what we understand the Constitution to be. His innovative and persuasive study will revolutionize the way lawyers as well as scholars interpret the Founding era.--Peter S. Onuf, coauthor of Most Blessed of the Patriarchs Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination

  • Short-listed for OAH Frederick Jackson Turner Award 2019

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