Michael I. Meyerson

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“A very fine examination of the role that religion, and religious conflict, has played in our American story. Artfully blending history and narrative, Meyerson breathes life into an often misunderstood story, examining the beliefs of our founders, and showing how those beliefs did not always determine their policy decisions... This is a wonderful book, a needed corrective to the heat that often defines the current debate.”

Publishers Weekly

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Liberty's Blueprint Reviews

Journal of American History, September 2008

This fine book is the fullest and most insightful account we have of the collaboration between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. In the first part, Michael I. Meyerson explains how Hamilton and Madison conceived and moved toward a new constitution in the 1780s, then took major roles in the drafting and ratification of the constitution of 1787, and finally became leaders in the establishment of the new government under President George Washington until political differences set them at odds with each other in the early 1790s. Meyerson shows how, in the critical last year of the Revolution, before Yorktown, Hamilton from the battlefield and Madison from the Continental Congress came to similar convictions about the need for a stronger national government. In the summer of 1783, Congress, Meyerson points out, was "homeless, penniless, and powerless" (p. 37). With the army in near mutiny, Congress unable to raise funds from delinquent states, foreign intrigue threatening to weaken or even dismember the new nation, and the states in bitter, unresolved quarrels among themselves, Hamilton and Madison were sure that only a central government with much increased powers could "cement the Union of the States" and provide "the unanimity and vigor" necessary "for promoting the common weal" Washington declared essential for survival (p. 76). Hamilton and Madison moved hand in hand to convene the Annapolis Convention of 1786, to call the Federal Convention of 1787, and to head off attempts to weaken the document there produced. Then, even though both men had serious reservations about that document, they began the process of explaining and defending it before the nation (in The Federalist Papers) as they led the close, strenuous, and finally victorious campaign for ratification. The explanation of how the two men worked with Washington to inaugurate the new government, and then why and how they split as the full range and implications of Hamilton's financial plans became evident, is equally masterful.

The explanations of how to read The Federalist Papers are learned and wise, as are the brilliant analyses of the Supreme Court's use of it in cases throughout American history. The Federalist Papers is, Meyerson asserts, "a superb source of constitutional insight, but the modern reader must always strive to understand the context in which it was written" (p. 211). Modern "originalists" especially, though not misguided in their intentions, must be much more mindful than they often are of the deeper and more subtle meaning of Publius's words. To understand how Publius guards against passion ("intellect ... dominated by prejudice and emotion") and interest (arising "from rational but selfish considerations") to make room for reason ("logical thought ... concerned for the needs of others") is the core of the contextual meaning (pp. 213–14).

I dissent only when Meyerson, following many others, asserts that Madison believed "there will always be a deep connection between a person's reasoning and 'his self-love'" (p. 168). If Meyerson means by this, as he seems to, that Madison in Federalist no. 10 was arguing that human reasoning is incapable of ever transcending self-love, I think Meyerson reads too many modern rational-choice and conflict-of-interest assumptions into Madison's thought. Madison uses the phrase "public good" or its equivalent nine times in no. 10. His intention is to so understand and neutralize the forces of passion and interest (very real and very dangerous, of course) that reason, a concern for the public good, also a human capacity, is allowed to surface and be influential in public life. But that is a minor flaw in an otherwise learned and insightful book.

Ralph Ketcham
Syracuse University
Syracuse, New York

Federal Lawyer [published by Federal Bar Association], Charles S. Doskow

[A]n extraordinarily well written and engrossing book. Any book that brings to life the final decades of the 18th century, when our republic was formed, merits the attention of all who are interested in the birth of our democracy.

Shelf Awareness, Harvey Freedenberg

From abortion rights to domestic spying to religious freedom, matters of constitutional interpretation intrude daily on our lives. Now law professor Michael Meyerson has given us a lively account of one of the key touchstones our courts rely upon to construe the Constitution—The Federalist Papers….

Meyerson never tries to hide his respect for the craftsmanship of Hamilton and Madison, yet he cautions that we should treat The Federalist as an "invaluable yet fallible book." Having read this engaging work, we're likely to view the debates over the intent of the Constitution's drafters in a fresh light and even more so to admire the product of these patriots' labors.

Legal Times, James H. Johnston

Michael Meyerson…combines the engaging story behind the writing of the Federalist Papers with a pointed analysis of their modern applicability….Liberty’s Blueprint is a timely reminder that although some believe the Constitution is sacred text, it was the
handiwork of men. They were talented, but they were also fallible and petty. The miracle is that while the original blueprint has needed a Bill of Rights, interpretation, and other amendments, the edifice itself still stands.

Howard County Times, Rebecca Oppenheimer
Posted 7/10/08

The first half of "Liberty's Blueprint" is about the alliance of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, their writing of "The Federalist," with a little help from John Jay, and their friendship's eventual deterioration into acrimony. In the book's second half, Meyerson argues for the continued political relevance of "The Federalist" and makes a persuasive case for applying it to several of today's problems in constitutional interpretation. Throughout the book, Meyerson keeps the proceedings lively with his sharp eye for historical detail and subtle use of humor.

H-Net Reviews, Mark D. McGarvie
(Department of History, University of Richmond),

As history, Meyerson's latest work offers considerable insight into the intellectual and political history of the constitutional era and provides a timely rebuttal to recent neo-Beardian works concerning the same period. In this context, it is a valuable work that offers historians a great deal despite its presentist orientation.

Liberty's Blueprint is an easily accessible text that provides interesting reading for academics while being of tremendous value for classroom use….
[T]his is good work in history that deserves a solid readership.

History Book Club
April 2008

First published in various newspapers between October 1787 and April 1788 as individual letters urging the public to support ratification of the new Constitution, the collection of essays we know as The Federalist Papers remains the most eloquent defense of American democracy ever penned. Anonymously authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers has influenced every generation of American students, scholars, and statesmen.

In Liberty’s Blueprint, distinguished legal scholar Michael I. Meyerson tells the fascinating and remarkable story of how the essays came to be, including the tumultuous and ultimately doomed friendship between Madison and Hamilton that fueled the endeavor.

Written under the byline of “Publius”—a reference to Publius Valerious, the man credited with helping to establish the Roman Republic after the dictatorship of Tarquin—Hamilton, Madison, and Jay undertook the daunting task of explaining and expounding the benefits and wisdom of the Constitution in the face of fierce anti-federalist objections, particularly in New York state. In the end, the men put forward the quintessential case for a strong national government, a representative democracy, and a divided system of checks and balances.

In Federalist #10, for example—perhaps the most celebrated of all the papers—Madison makes the provocative case that a republic, rather than a democracy, can best protect the rights of individuals against the tyranny of the majority. In a “pure democracy,” he notes, partisans of a popular yet dangerous faction can maintain power and easily sacrifice the interests of those in the minority. In a republic, however, the passions driving any particular cause must first pass through their elected representatives. Furthermore, the larger the republic, the greater the check placed on any one faction coming to power: “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States,” Madison writes, “but will be unable to spread a general conflagration.” Thus, he concludes, “we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”

“One of the extraordinary achievements of Madison and Hamilton,” Meyerson writes, “was their ability to explain, in detail, the logic and reasoning behind the choices made by those who drafted the Constitution in Philadelphia.” Moreover, as Meyerson persuasively argues, these essays remain as relevant today as during the Founding era. Indeed, on issues ranging from the debates over “judicial activism” and medical marijuana to the interrogation, trial, and punishment of prisoners in the War on Terror, The Federalist Papers still has much to say.

Illuminating and insightful, Liberty’s Blueprint belongs in the hands of anyone interested in the origins of our republic.

Publishers Weekly
Jan. 7, 2008

Thomas Jefferson called it “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.” High praise, indeed, for The Federalist, that compendium of brilliant essays on power written in 1787–1788 by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (with an assist from John Jay) to persuade waverers to ratify the proposed Constitution. Recent scholars have downplayed the work’s influence, claiming the essays circulated only among New Yorkers or convinced no one who wasn’t already convinced. Meyerson (Political Numeracy), a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, argues conversely that The Federalist remains of critical importance for understanding not only early America but today’s divisive debates on issues like clean-air regulation and medical marijuana. In the book’s first half, he succinctly narrates the astonishing story of how Hamilton and Madison — the first combustible and heedless, the other priggish and intellectual — subsumed their differences and forged a genuine friendship that lasted only as long as their writing partnership. In the second part, Meyerson analyzes the various meanings and conflicting interpretations of The Federalist over the following centuries. By combining the personal and the constitutional, law and history, Meyerson has produced a remarkably insightful volume on a crucial American document. (Mar)

Kirkus Reviews
January 1, 2008

Cogent, accessible survey of the drafting of The Federalist, spotlighting the lessons these early essays still hold for today’s interpreters of the Constitution.

Meyerson (Law/Univ. of Baltimore; Political Numeracy: Mathematical Perspectives on Our Chaotic Constitution, 2002) focuses on the unlikely partnership of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who under the pseudonym “Publius” published The Federalist over a feverish period of seven months, from October 1787 to May 1788, in several New York newspapers. (Fellow Founding Father John Jay wrote a few early essays before illness halted him.) The 85 essays laid out the entire range of issues involved in the debate over ratification. They aimed to sway New Yorkers to back the fledging Constitution, which was designed to rectify the defects in the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton and Madison later fell out, and Meyerson devotes a chapter to the disintegration of their relationship after Hamilton became the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. Two years earlier, however, eager for a share in history’s making, the two brainy writers were pleased to collaborate on The Federalist. Hamilton wrote the sections devoted to “the power of the sword and of the purse,” while Madison propounded on the dangers of factions, delineated the relationship between the state and national government, elucidated the separation of powers and offered a minute dissection of each part of the federal government, including the notorious three-fifths compromise, without ever mentioning the word slavery. Meyerson portrays the era’s roiling debates over ratification, including the ultimately successful clamor for a Bill of Rights, and examines the essays’ modern-day relevance, particularly in terms of current Supreme Court arguments between “originalists” and “non-originalists.”

A useful study of the Founders’s noble minds and fallible ideas.