People's History, Founding Myths, and the American Revolution
Ray Raphael - People's Historian

 

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Revolutionary Founders

Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right

New Press, 2013

Americans of late have taken to waving the Constitution in the air and proclaiming, “The founders were on MY side! See, it’s all right here!” But these phantom constitutions bear little relation to the historical one. Before we can consider what the framers would do if they were alive today, we need to see what they did in their own time, not in our terms, but theirs. Only then can we begin to resolve the sweeping question: what does the Constitution, written in a different era, mean for us today? Constitutional Myths, meticulously researched, sets the historical record straight – and sounds the call for reasoned, evidence-driven discussions and interpretations of our founding document.

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Reviews:

"As bitter partisanship continues to engulf American politics and society, it is with some relief that one opens Raphael's study of the historical Constitution to find a text more concerned with contextualizing the Founder Fathers than in interpreting them. One by one, Raphael  addresses some of the more pervasive interpretations of the Constitution and the men who crafted it ...  Raphael demonstrates that nothing about the Constitution is as simple as contemporary discourse makes it seem." – Publishers Weekly
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“Raphael has a lively writing style, but he doesn’t skimp on historical details. This fascinating account should appeal equally to armchair historians and professionals in the field.” – Booklist
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“In his latest populist reality check, Raphael demonstrates how objectively studying the original broken political system lends insight into ours. Take off your rose-colored glasses, people: The Founding Fathers embraced a strong federal government, at the risk of falling into anarchy and disintegration. Therein lies the kernel of the author’s readable demystification of some of the ongoing crusades by conservatives touting the supremacy of “originalism.” … With documents amply provided at the close of the text, Raphael provides a truly accessible teaching tool.” – Kirkus Reviews
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“Raphael writes with a deft touch and a lifetime of learning that he wears lightly. His immersion in the primary sources is evident. ... A series of eight chapters systematically dismantles notions that the framers of the Constitution were anti-government, anti-taxes, or even anti-politics. In each case, he begins by conceding the "kernel of truth" to such views, before a "but" section outlining the alternate view and a longer "full story" that suggests the complexities and ambiguities involved. … What keeps it grounded is Raphael's evident authority. Constitutional Myths is buttressed with a substantial collection of primary source documents that form a counterpoint to the standard issue sources students typically encounter. Indeed, the book makes for an ideal text for a high school or college civics course, one that revitalizes an old-fashioned but necessary subject. Raphael's youthful vitality makes him a welcome traveling companion for beginner and seasoned veteran alike.” – History News Networ, Jim Cullen
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Comments from historians and constitutional law scholars

“Tired of the nonsense that we're being asked to believe about the Constitution and the founders?  The universal antidote is this marvelous book.  Ray Raphael's Constitutional Myths blends formidable historical research with rigorous argument and clear, direct prose.  Raphael blasts to smithereens a whole constellation of tall tales about the Constitution, its origins, and its interpretation.  Not only is it a blessed relief – it's fun to watch Raphael's iconoclasm at work. Essential reading, now more than ever.” – R. B. Bernstein, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law, New York Law School, and author of The Founding Father Reconsidered and Thomas Jefferson

“An extraordinarily important and nuanced work of history that places the Constitution, and the men who created it, in their proper eighteenth century context… A timely expose about the ways in which Americans, and American politicians in particular, have frequently been misled by myths about the origins and history of the U.S. Constitution.” – Richard R. Beeman, author of Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, and professor of history, University of Pennsylvania

Constitutional Myths is a wonderfully readable book based firmly on the historical record.  It sets the record straight on a number of issues including the founders’ attitude toward federal taxes and power, the relative unimportance of The Federalist in getting the Constitution ratified, and the original purpose of the first amendments to the Constitution (which we, unlike anyone in the eighteenth century, call  ‘The Bill of Rights’). For many readers, it will be a real eye-opener.” – Pauline Maier, William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Ratification: the People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

“We all love myths but Ray gets it right. His narrative sticks to the historical record, and his arguments are tightly reasoned. Constitutional Myths is wonderfully lucid and highly informative.” – Edward J. Larson, Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law and University Professor of History, Pepperdine University, and Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800

“In this brash assessment of popular misunderstandings of the Constitution, Ray Raphael challenges the hoary myths and urban legends that distort our notion of what its authors were really attempting to do. Rather than invoke the text of the Constitution or the wisdom of its authors as simple, self-evident sources, Raphael reminds us that the Constitution was the product of sharp, sometimes divisive debates. Perhaps most important, he reminds us that the Constitution was written to empower an effective national government, not limit it in the ways that Tea Party enthusiasts currently fantasize. Constitutional Myths is concise, provocative, and a sure way to get Americans to come to grips with our historical Constitution in all its complexity.” – Jack Rakove, author of Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and W. R. Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science Professor, by courtesy, of Law, Stanford University

 

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