Woody Holton upends what we think we know of the Constitution’s origins by telling the history of the average Americans who challenged the framers of the Constitution and forced on them the revisions that produced the document we now venerate. The framers who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 were determined to reverse America’s post–Revolutionary War slide into democracy. They believed too many middling Americans exercised too much influence over state and national policies. That the framers were only partially successful in curtailing citizen rights is due to the reaction, sometimes violent, of unruly average Americans.
If not to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the people, what motivated the framers? In Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, Holton provides the startling discovery that the primary purpose of the Constitution was, simply put, to make America more attractive to investment. And the linchpin to that endeavor was taking power away from the states and ultimately away from the people. In an eye-opening interpretation of the Constitution, Holton captures how the same class of Americans that produced Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts (and rebellions in damn near every other state) produced the Constitution we now revere.
Professor Holton served as an adviser for one of my independent research projects which examined the concept of friendship during the ratification debates and he was one of the committee members for my orals defense. I am about half-way through the book and learning a great deal. Luckily the book was released just as my U.S. History classes were preparing to study the Constitution so I decided to have one of my classes read the introduction to the book. This provided a nice contrast with the textbook’s interpretation. Professor Holton is a dynamite teacher and a great guy. Good luck!