Monday, March 22, 2021

Edling, "Perfecting the Union"

Oxford University Press has published Perfecting the Union: National and State Authority in the US Constitution (Dec. 2020), by Max M. Edling (King's College London). A description from the Press:

For most of the twentieth century, the American founding has been presented as a struggle between social classes over issues arising primarily within, rather than outside, the United States. But in recent years, new scholarship has instead turned to the international history of the American union to interpret both the causes and the consequences of the US Constitution.

In Perfecting the Union, Max M. Edling argues that the Constitution was created to defend US territorial integrity and the national interest from competitors in the western borderlands and on the Atlantic Ocean, and to defuse inter-state tension within the union. By replacing the defunct Articles of Confederation, the Constitution profoundly transformed the structure of the American union by making the national government more effective. But it did not transform the fundamental purpose of the union, which remained a political organization designed to manage inter-state and international relations. And in contrast to what many scholars claim, it was never meant to eclipse the state governments.

The Constitution created a national government but did not significantly extend its remit. The result was a dual structure of government, in which the federal government and the states were both essential to the people's welfare. Getting the story about the Constitution straight matters, Edling claims, because it makes possible a broader assessment of the American founding as both a transformative event, aiming at territorial and economic expansion, and as a conservative event, aiming at the preservation of key elements of the colonial socio-political order.
A sample of advance praise:

"A bold and bracing reinterpretation of America's founding. In examining anew the determination of the Framers to preserve the powers of the states, Max Edling alters the prism through which we view the forces of change and continuity, equality and subjugation, and strength and weakness that defined America's beginning. The illumination that Perfecting the Union generates is often startling." -- Gary Gerstle

"A fascinating, learned exploration of the conceptual significance of 'Union' in the framing period. Edling provocatively argues for the Constitution as a renewed compact of union, with a relatively effective fiscal-military federal government and reinvigorated state governments. This deeply rewarding book provides a refreshing new, synthetic account of the creation of the United States." -- Mary Sarah Bilder

More information is available here. You can find an interview with the author here, at New Books Network.

--Karen Tani