The Structure of Liberty
The following readings set for an eighteen-hour course on how constitutions may be designed to protect liberty and ban corruption, with a close reading of the debates of the Framers at their Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. The course is divided into eight classes of two hours each, with supplemental readings suggested.
The Framers’ debates are the greatest and least read set of deliberations upon liberty and democracy, and to understand just what how the Constitution was drafted requires an understanding of what the delegates feared from the new government. The delegates were amongst the most astute of practical political thinkers of theirs or of any day. They agreed for the most part about ends, but strongly disagreed about the means to get there, and their debates have the excitement of a fine detective novel.
A book about the Convention aimed at the Grade XII student is Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention (Boston: Back Bay, 1986).
Max Farrand, Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention, volumes 1 and 2. These come to between $20 and $50 each, and you should buy them. I note, however, that the materials are also available online for free. In the reading list below, I refer to Farrand’s Notes as “Records,” by their date.
Buckley, The Once and Future King (Encounter Books, paperback, 2015, about $15)
Class One: The Background
- The Articles of Confederation
- The Annapolis Conference
- The Constitution of Virginia, 1776
- Records, May 25-28.
Class Two: The Virginia Plan
- Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws VIII.16
- David Hume, Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth
- James Madison, Vices of the Political system of the United States
- Records, May 29 to June 4
Class Three: The Delegates Deliberate
- Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws XI.6
- Records, June 4 to June 11
Class Four: The New Jersey Plan
- Records, June 12 to June 18
Class Five: The Great Compromise
- Records, June 19-July 1, July 5-6, 16
Class Six: Gouverneur Morris Intervenes
- Records, July 17-21
Class Seven: What Kind of Presidency?
- Records, July 24-26, August 6, 17, 22-24
Class Eight: What Did They Decide?
- Records, Sept. 4, 6-8, 15, 17
- Buckley chapter 2
- Constitution Art. II
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., The Deacon’s Masterpiece