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These are sumptuously produced, oversized volumes: one pictures them, as I suspect some shrewd accountant at the press did, decorating the shelves of lawyers' offices. Their pages are crammed full of primary texts, two columns on each page, in an alarmingly small but somehow readable typeface. Some texts are bare snippets; others wind on luxuriantly for many pages. The editors have set a cutoff point: no text from after 1835 appears. Like much else about these volumes, that decision reflects a set of theoretical commitments about the Constitution that I want to question. Not that these volumes are explicitly cast as a tract or even an argument of any sort. Quite the contrary: they are cast, unassumingly, as a reference work. After an opening volume canvassing some "major themes," the selections are organized around the text of the Constitution itself. Pretty much one clause at a time, the editors march through the text and present an array of documents designed to shed light on its meaning. So one can look up, say, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1 ("The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows") and read twenty-three accompanying selections. But even reference works have their theoretical commitments. Included are some all too familiar texts. The great bulk of the Federalist Papers are reprinted somewhere or other. So are lots of the Antifederalist Papers made familiar by Storing's collection: all sixteen of Brutus's papers show up. One can count on finding the relevant discussions from the Records of the Constitutional Convention, and Joseph Story's 1833 Commentaries. Jefferson and Madison rehearse once again their celebrated exchange on rewriting constitutions in light of the liberal maxim that the earth belongs to the living ( 1 :68- 71 ). Abigail Adams once again implores husband John to "Remember the Ladies" and extend them the franchise; John once again produces the routine but incongruous comeback that "in Practice you know We are the subjects" (1:518-19). Indeed some selections appear more than once. This policy is an inexplicable waste of space, and I wish the editors had stuck consistently to their more sensible alternative policy of listing only the title of repeat entries and identifying where the actual text might be found.


Copyright 1988 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. DOI: