Writing America’s Constitutions

Publication Date


Streaming Media


"It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice" (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist).

How well-understood were American constitutional conventions and legislative processes by the public? How did the tradition of formal debate come to be embedded in American political life and in the operation of broader society? For what reasons and with what consequence has this tradition of constitution-writing and legislative debate decayed and fallen into disuse and technical obscurity? Returning our attention to the processes underlying the creation of America’s state and Federal constitutional texts, this lecture re-examined the mechanics of the constitutional conventions placing them back within a broader tradition and social history of formal debate—something that is today foundational to many aspects of American life.

Lecture Date

January 1, 2023