Novus Ordo Seclorum (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
It is common to refer to the Framers of the Constitution of the United States as if they constituted a single, cohesive group of men. Some people venerate them as men of great wisdom; others denigrate the Framers as a group of self-interested men whose primary concern was to augment their financial portfolios; and still others fall somewhere in between. Toward the former end of the continuum is Attorney General Edwin Meese, who calls for a return to the “jurisprudence of original intention.” Toward the other end is Justice William J. Brennan. He argues that upholding “constitutional claims only if they were within the specific contemplation of the Framers” would entail hanging horse thieves, burglars, and counterfeiters, supporting churches with tax dollars, and prosecuting seditious libel, since all of this was the common practice of the time.
Forrest McDonald, in Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, calls for a pox on both houses.It is meaningless to say that the Framers intended this or that the Framers intended that: their positions were diverse and, in many particulars, incompatible. Some had firm, well-rounded plans, some had strong convictions on only a few points, some had self-contradictory ideas, some were guided only by vague ideals.
When the Constitutional Convention began, there was consensus only over generalities, and often even the generalities were in conflict. It was agreed that...
(The entire section is 2884 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Choice. XXIII, May, 1986, p. 1450.
Christian Science Monitor. LXXVIII, November 27, 1985, p. 33.
History: Reviews of New Books. XIV, May, 1986, p. 132.
Journal of American History. LXXIII, September, 1986, p. 455.
National Review. XXXVIII, April 11, 1986, p. 46.
The New York Times Book Review. XCI, November 16, 1986, p. 42.
Reflections. V, Summer, 1986, p. 14.
(The entire section is 43 words.)