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Book Review : Constitution Is Celebrated With a Storyteller's Gift

December 09, 1986|LEE DEMBART

The solution was to give all states equal representation in the Senate but to have proportional representation in the House. Bowen describes how this compromise was suggested several times during the convention before it was actually agreed to. Novel ideas are rarely accepted they first time around. They take time to sink in.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were out of the country during the convention, but the other big names of the Revolutionary period were there. George Washington presided silently over the meetings, which were addressed by Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.

But when the convention completed its work, it was not at all clear that the country would accept this new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, and the debates of Philadelphia were repeated in all 13 states. There were Federalists and there were anti-Federalists, and they each gave as good as they got.

The Constitution was adopted, but by the barest of margins, and only after the states demanded that a Bill of Rights be attached to the basic document. The convention had discussed putting a Bill of Rights into their version of the Constitution but had decided that it was not necessary.

"Miracle at Philadelphia" is a book for anyone interested in history, democracy, political science or law. Nowadays it is fashionable in some quarters to speak of the "original intent" of the framers and to argue that contemporary constitutional issues should be decided in concert with what the Founding Fathers envisioned.

But Bowen's book clearly demonstrates that the founders were of many minds. One might ask, "The original intent of which founders?" All we can say is that they all wanted a government that would serve the best interests of 3 1/2 million people who lived along the Atlantic Coast.

The wonder is that they created one, and the miracle is that it still serves more than 241 million people from the Atlantic to the Pacific and is the envy of millions more around the world.

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