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Contested Conventions

, 312 pages
July 2016



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Contested Conventions

The Struggle to Establish the Constitution and Save the Union, 1787–1789


There is perhaps no more critical juncture in American history than the years in which Americans drafted the federal Constitution, fiercely debated its merits and failings, and adopted it, albeit with reservations. In Contested Conventions, senior historian Melvin Yazawa examines the political and ideological clashes that accompanied the transformation of the country from a loose confederation of states to a more perfect union.

Treating the 1787–1789 period as a whole, the book highlights the contingent nature of the struggle to establish the Constitution and brings into focus the overriding concern of the framers and ratifiers, who struggled to counter what Alexander Hamilton identified as the "centrifugal" forces driving Americans toward a disastrous disunion. This concern inspired the delegates in Philadelphia to resolve through compromise the two most divisive confrontations of the Constitutional Convention—representation in the new Congress and slavery—and was instrumental in gaining ratification even in states where Antifederalist delegates comprised a substantial majority.

Arguing that the debates over ratification reflected competing ideas about the meaning of American nationhood, Yazawa illuminates the nature of the crisis that necessitated the meeting at Philadelphia in the first place. Contested Conventions is a cohesive and compelling account of the defining issues that led to the establishment of the Constitution; it should appeal to history students and scholars alike.

Melvin Yazawa is professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of From Colonies to Commonwealth: Familial Ideology and the Beginnings of the American Republic and the editor of The Diary and Life of Samuel Sewall.

"A useful, readable, and accessible treatment of the critical founding moments in early American history. This book will fill a noteworthy gap in studies of this period."

"An accurate and very well-written narrative of the federal convention that wrote the US Constitution. Melvin Yazawa employs his formidable skills in the service of telling readers about the creation of the Constitution and its ratification by four different states, offering many interesting insights along the way."

"A compelling look at constitution-making in real time by a first-rate historian. Focusing on key developments at critical moments, Yazawa captures and clarifies the unfolding narratives in Philadelphia and at the most important state conventions, bringing his subjects (and the subjects of their debates) to life. Lucidly written, this book should engage its readers' unflagging attention."

"This informative study will fit in collections dealing with the birth of the nation at the graduate and undergraduate levels. The writing style is such that it should also appeal to a general readership. This work deserves to be in the libraries of all four-year institutions. Highly recomended."

"By homing in on fears of disunion, Yazawa has written one of the best introductions to the struggle over the Constitution, to what people at the time believed was at stake, and to how exactly Federalists achieved their victory. This relatively concise, well-written, and narration-filled book should accordingly be of interest to many historians and would work well in their classrooms."

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