In America’s Constitution, one of this era’s most accomplished constitutional law scholars, Akhil Reed Amar, gives the first comprehensive account of one of the world’s great political texts. Incisive, entertaining, and occasionally controversial, this “biography” of America’s framing document explains not only what the Constitution says but also why the Constitution says it.
We all know this much: the Constitution is neither immutable nor perfect. Amar shows us how the story of this one relatively compact document reflects the story of America more generally. (For example, much of the Constitution, including the glorious-sounding “We the People,” was lifted from existing American legal texts, including early state constitutions.) In short, the Constitution was as much a product of its environment as it was a product of its individual creators’ inspired genius.
Despite the Constitution’s flaws, its role in guiding our republic has been nothing short of amazing. Skillfully placing the document in the context of late-eighteenth-century American politics, America’s Constitution explains, for instance, whether there is anything in the Constitution that is unamendable; the reason America adopted an electoral college; why a president must be at least thirty-five years old; and why—for now, at least—only those citizens who were born under the American flag can become president.
From his unique perspective, Amar also gives us unconventional wisdom about the Constitution and its significance throughout the nation’s history. For one thing, we see that the Constitution has been far more democratic than is conventionally understood. Even though the document was drafted by white landholders, a remarkably large number of citizens (by the standards of 1787) were allowed to vote up or down on it, and the document’s later amendments eventually extended the vote to virtually all Americans.
We also learn that the Founders’ Constitution was far more slavocratic than many would acknowledge: the “three fifths” clause gave the South extra political clout for every slave it owned or acquired. As a result, slaveholding Virginians held the presidency all but four of the Republic’s first thirty-six years, and proslavery forces eventually came to dominate much of the federal government prior to Lincoln’s election.
Ambitious, even-handed, eminently accessible, and often surprising, America’s Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.
Praise for America's Constitution...
“I was about to describe America's Constitution as the best biography ever written about the U.S. Constitution -- until it occurred to me that it's the only real biography of that remarkable document. As with the gaggle of myopic elephant attendants each of whom sees and strokes only one small part of the whole, many have written about some part of the Constitution or its history, or about the Constitution as seen from the perspective of one branch (usually, the judiciary), but only Yale Law School's justly legendary Akhil Amar has undertaken to tell the story of the Constitution as a whole. And what a story he tells! What David McCullough is to John Adams, what Walter Isaacson is to Benjamin Franklin, Akhil Amar is to the Constitution of the United States. Marvelously readable and breathtakingly informative, Amar's biography of our nation's founding document fills a huge void -- and fills it brilliantly.”
--Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor Harvard University
"Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas....Amar evokes the passions and the tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Few biographies are as important, or as gripping, as Akhil Amar's life story of our Constitution. A powerful narrative as well as an indispensable research tool, America's Constitution returns the document itself to its rightful place at the center of our legal and political history.”
“There is no more inspiring teacher of constitutional law in America than Akhil Amar, and now all Americans will have the benefits of his
scholarship, creativity, and infectious love for the Constitution. It’s hard to imagine a more exciting guide to the text and history of the
Constitution than this unique, surprising and illuminating book. A tour de force that should find a wide readership for years to come.”
--Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd
“[America’s Constitution] is an extraordinarily unique contribution to the scholarship of the Constitution."
WINNER 2006 - American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award
Akhil Reed Amar graduated from Yale College and Yale Law School, and has been a member of the Yale Law School faculty since 1985. He is the author of The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction and has written widely on constitutional issues for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut, with his wife and three children.