History Professor Robert Allison coedited a book, The Essential Debate on the Constitution, with Bernard Bailyn.
The book, published by the Library of America, includes about 60 of the more than 1,700 articles, letters, and speeches for and against ratifying the Constitution, giving insight into how early Americans debated topics, such as the extent of presidential power, the dangers of corruption and foreign influence, slavery, individual liberty, and the power of the courts.
“This was the first national political debate,” said Allison. “Even if ratification failed—and that seemed likely—this debate created political alliances and networks and allowed ordinary men and women to discuss issues of fundamental importance. The documents in this collection capture this national attention.”
Allison’s role included selecting the critical documents—newspaper articles, speeches, letters—to be highlighted in the book.
“Much of the information I collected consisted of the pro and con views of people arguing, with the future of the country at stake,” said Allison.
Allison also wrote the chronology, a general introduction, and introductions to each section of the book.
The ratification debate lasted from September 1787, when the Constitutional Convention presented the Constitution to the public, until the summer of 1788 when New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York ratified. The vote was close in the latter two states, and North Carolina and Rhode Island both rejected the Constitution, insisting that a Bill of Rights be added, said Allison.
Once nine states had agreed, the Constitution took effect, and the people who had opposed it now joined its supporters to make it work.