Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summer Workshop on the Constitutional Legacy of the American Revolution

The Institute for Constitutional Studies announces an Interdisciplinary Summer Workshop for College Instructors, "The Constitutional Legacy of the American Revolution," sponsored by the Institute with the University of California, Santa Barbara, August 3-7, 2009. Leading the workshop will be Christian Fritz, Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law and the author of American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War (2008) and Federal Justice in California: The Court of Ogden Hoffman, 1851-1891 (1991). The announcement commences:
Anyone who teaches the American Revolution, the formation of the federal Constitution (or early state constitution-making), or any of the many political controversies arising before the Civil War may find this workshop helpful. It will examine the life of an idea from the Revolution that continued to have an impact on America's history. In considering the people as the sovereign in America, a focus on issues of constitutionalism, rather than the usual focus on constitutional questions, can enrich our historical understanding. The old chestnuts of American history, such as the Shays, Whiskey and Dorr "rebellions" or difficult-to-understand moments, such as the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, the Hartford Convention, or the Nullification Crisis, can take on a new vitality. Our workshop hopes to draw upon the perspectives and insights of its participants to flesh out different iterations of the authority attributed to "the people."

The workshop explores America?s constitutionalism from its birth during the Revolution through its development into the 20th Century. Many constitutional studies assert that the federal Constitution's adoption should be the exclusive focus of any study of America's constitutionalism. They present the federal Constitution as the culmination of constitutional thought from which a straight line can be traced to the constitutionalism of today. Gordon Wood's The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969) is invoked to justify this approach even though Wood's analysis ends with the Constitution's ratification. Others have extrapolated Wood's findings far beyond the scope of his study, assuming that today's constitutional ideas were the same ones that "swept the field" in 1787.

In challenging this assumption, our workshop traces American views about constitutionalism both before and after the federal Constitution. It will explore how constitutional ideas that supposedly died in 1787 were not buried. In fact, those ideas retained their utility to Americans well into the 1840s and beyond. In addition, the state constitutions of the 1770s "under which Americans fought and defeated the powerful British Empire" were not mere "experiments." Americans continued to act on the ideas in those constitutions despite the different approach taken by the federal Constitution. In this light, the 1787 constitution was not a natural culmination, but a competing view of constitutionalism.
More (and H-Law hat tip).