America’s Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amor (c 2005)
This is a very long book, 477 pages including the postscript, plus back matter that includes the text of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, plus extensive notes, and an index that brings it up to 655 pages. When approaching such a vast book, I rarely read straight through, or even all of it since some of it is redundant to what I already know. Unfortunately, the chapter titles in the book are next to useless in describing the content one might expect to see in the book and it is clearly not organized by any logical organization. As a “biography” the author obviously declares that he must start at the beginning. Back in the day when I was a book development editor, I would have strongly recommended some alternative structure than starting at the beginning. Since no dates are included in the headers or chapter pages.
In the preface, the author describes how the Constitution, once revered as a uniting force, has now become divisive along ideological lines. “People see in our governing document only what they wish to see. It is not a unifying force, as its authors had intended, but a wedge that widens the partisan divide.” A little bit later he makes the point that history cannot “be understood by treating the past as if it were the present. Much has happened since the founders’ time: national expansion on a shrinking planet, nuclear and biological warfare, Internet and broadcast technologies, and so on — more than two centuries of subsequent history. He gives a rather amusing anecdote to illustrate the changes.
Compare then and now. On October 15, 1789, President Washington set out from New York with only two aides and six servants to tour New England. In his diary, he chronicled the first day of the journey:
‘The road for the greater part, indeed the whole way, was very rough and stoney [sic], but the land strong, well covered with grass and a luxuriant crop of Indian corn intermixed with popions [pumpkins] which were ungathered in the fields. We met four droves of beef cattle for the New York market (about 30 in a drove) some of which were very fine — also a flock of sheep for the same place. We scarcely passes a farm house that did not abd. in geese.’
Washington was traveling through what is now THE BRONX, traversed by interstate highways and expressways, not stony roads, and home to some 1.4 million people packed tightly within apartments. If the country Washington observed was very different back then, so too was the manner in which he observed it, close up and literally on the ground, experiencing every stone in the road. He could meet his constituency directly, without intervention from an advance team, a press corps , or a small army of secret service agents. (p. xi, emphasis mine as anyone who has ever been to the Bronx will agree)