The Constitution itself was written by an assembly of delegates in Philadelphia who closed their deliberations to the public. There they worked out numerous compromises, some very unpopular. There was to be a Senate, an undemocratic body whose members would be chosen by state legislators rather than directly elected; would serve for six year terms which were considered very long; and would include two members from each state without regard for relative populations. There was the notorious (the adjective was applicable, even then) compromise that counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person for the purposes of electing Congressmen; moreover the Constitution allowed the continuation of slave importations for another 20 years. And the new government framework included no bill of rights, something some states already had in their founding documents. It was by no means a foregone conclusion that the Constitution would win favor with enough states.
Maier tells the story very much as it was lived; acrimonious state convention by successive state convention. Pennsylvania led off; its pro-Constitution leaders (the "Federalists") rammed an affirmative vote through over the objections of an angry minority who proceeded to carry their objections to successive state conventions. Massachusetts had one of the more democratic state conventions -- though Federalists had a clear majority, they determined not to create angry losers, listening to weeks of objections and accepting the idea the Constitution might need amendments after ratification. Virginia's convention was the most high-powered intellectually; neither side knew whether the other might have come in with a majority. Revolutionary War-era orator Patrick Henry spoke passionately (and lengthily) against the new system; James Madison honed his arguments in favor, arguments that came to be recognized as the most complete rationale for the structure. By the time New York elected its convention, Federalists and anti-Federalists had organized themselves into contending parties; the majority of the state's delegates were elected as opponents of ratification. Federalists were mainly located in New York City, representing large landowners, merchants and skilled tradesmen. The small-holder dominated, agricultural rest of the state wanted none of this novelty. But during their convention, they learned that nine states had already ratified. Moreover, New York's Federalists proved willing to listen to the need for amendments after ratification, finally carrying the day.
- Then as now, policy choices were often about whether proposed structures would lead to taxation. The people we revere as the Founders aimed to create a government with a wide power to tax; they couldn't imagine an effectual government without that power. Californians could take notice.
- George Washington had a nice turn of phrase for the push by some to hamstring the new federal government in favor of state governments; he called this effort attachment to their "darling sovereignties."
- Political action that properly deserves the label "grass tops" -- faux populism funded and inspired by elites -- is no novelty. Maier includes a fascinating account of New York City's "Federal Celebration" in which a huge procession pulled a scale model of a ship, the Hamilton. Fascinatingly, the parade's date was chosen in part so as not to clash with a Jewish holiday. I had no idea the Jewish population of New York so large that far back.