The Framers' Coup
Michael J. Klarman
Americans revere their Constitution. However, most of us are unaware how tumultuous and improbable the drafting and ratification processes were. As Benjamin Franklin keenly observed, any assembly of men bring with them "all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views." One need not deny that the Framers had good intentions in order to believe that they also had interests.
Ultimately, both the Constitution's content and its ratification process raise troubling questions about democratic legitimacy. The Federalists were eager to avoid full-fledged democratic deliberation over the Constitution, and the document that was ratified was stacked in favor of their preferences. And in terms of substance, the Constitution was a significant departure from the more democratic state constitutions of the 1770s. Definitive and authoritative, The Framers' Coup explains why the Framers preferred such a constitution and how they managed to persuade the country to adopt it. We have lived with the consequences, both positive and negative, ever since.
Professor Michael J. Klarman is the Kirkland & Ellis Professor at Harvard Law School. He received his B.A. and M.A. political theory from the University of Pennsylvania in 1980, his J.D. from Stanford Law School, and his D. Phil. in legal history from the University of Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He served as the James Monroe Distinguished Professor of Law and Professor of History University of Virginia School of Law until 2008. Klarman has also served as a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary, Stanford Law School, and Yale Law School. In 2009 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
In 1787, George Washington was elected to preside over the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution before becoming the country’s first president. Following his death in 1799, Washington left his books to his nephew who subsequently sold the impressive collection to a handful of Bostonians. The George Washington Library was donated to the Athenæum and is available to view on the fourth floor.