Plain, Honest Men

Published 3:14 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

These are the words American finance minister Richard Beeman chose to describe the delegates who drafted the American Constitution in the fall of 1787. In this superb and engrossing account, Beeman delves deeply into the tumultuous world of 18th-century politics, constructing a work of first-rate scholarship.

Not since Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia (1966) has there been such a comprehensive account of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Beeman’s lucid prose takes readers beyond the modern mythical perceptions of the founders and into a turbulent world of fierce backroom debates and deal making.

Through excellent use of available primary and secondary sources, Beeman skillfully traces the debates over representation in Congress, the powers of the executive, and the lamentable compromises over slavery.

While avoiding the usually controversial issues such as economic motives, as examined in Woody Holton’s Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution and original intent, as in Jack Rakove’s Original Meanings, Beeman provides readers with an understanding of just how fragile the consensus emerging from Philadelphia really was.

Brian Odom is a reference librarian at Pelham Public Library.