U.S. History Corner: The Conspiracy America Needed

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George Washington Book Prize Medal.jpgI am embarrassed not to have previously known the work of MIT historian Pauline Maier, winner of the 2011 George Washington Book Prize for her gripping account of the state by state drama over ratifying the US Constitution.

I am a history junkie and just served two exciting years as one of a three member team on the Los Angeles Times History Book Prize Committee and would make my way through 80-90 volumes a year that were being considered, but while in the weeds, missed the emergence of Maier's excellent work, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788.

Most are familiar with the key roles played by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in taking on the propaganda responsibilities for seducing and/or pommeling those skeptical of or opposed to a new constitutional framework for the barely tethered together states under the Articles of Confederation. But there is so much more to the story.

pauline meier.jpgWhat Pauline Maier delivers are rich accounts of what the disparate state conventions themselves thought of the enterprise in Philadelphia. Her account gives a much richer, less cliched treatment of the tug and pull that surrounded Constitutional ratification.

Her account also hardens the reality that the Constitution project was a conspiracy of a few who hijacked the machinery of governance then, just as many of the state conventions and political heavyweights of the day feared. Fortunate for the nation, it was a conspiracy that worked.

From my vantage point, American political history is one long line of political machinery hijackings whose roots go back to what happened in Philadelphia -- capped off most recently by the emergence of the Tea Party movement. But there will be many more such political hijackings in the years ahead.

One of the great gems of the Eastern Shore of Maryland is the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, directed by Adam Goodheart and based at the 1782-founded, colonial era liberal arts school Washington College. Goodheart, whose recent book 1861: The Civil War Awakening has been captivating Civil War junkies and more, helped establish the $50,000 award named after America's first President and founding father as a joint project of Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Mount Vernon to highlight the best book each year focused on America's "founding era."

I sit on the Advisory Council of the Starr Center, which is one of the easiest responsibilities I've ever had because the Goodheart-run operation produces some of the best work of any US culture and history I have seen in the country.

For those nearby Washington College and Chestertown, Maryland this evening -- join at 5 pm for a talk by Pauline Maier on her George Washington Book Prize winning historical thriller titled "Making History: A Conversation with Pauline Meier and Adam Goodheart" in the Gibson Center for the Arts. Here's a link to get directions to the college.

As a special additional treat, folks will be able to see Maryland's original 1788 parchment copy of the United States Constitution, which will be on display in a one-night only appearance -- which sadly and oddly has not been publicly exhibited for nearly a quarter century.

And if that wasn't enough this evening in this not-as-sleepy-as-you-thought corner of the Eastern Shore, award-winning playwright Robert Earl Price is doing the world premier of his new Miles Davis-named All Blues before the production moves to Atlanta to be managed by the world renown 7 Stages Theatre Company. That starts at 8:30 pm.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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