By Bolton Charles Knowles 1867-1950
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Extra info for American Library History
The central problem thus involves tracing the relation between (or among) individual decisions that often seem to concern discrete issues but were in fact closely connected. Breathless accounts of the changing moods of the delegates or evocations of the heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer that was, in any case, reasonably mild15 will not explain why the decision to allow the state legislatures to elect the Senate undermined Madison’s proposal to give Congress an absolute veto over all state laws; or how the final tinkering over the mechanics of presidential election was designed to enlarge executive authority in foreign affairs.
The Constitution derives its supremacy, in other words, from a direct expression of popular sovereignty, superior in authority to all subsequent legal acts resting only on the weaker foundations of representation. If this becomes the premise of interpretation, it follows that the understanding of the ratifiers is the preeminent and arguably sole source for reconstructing original meaning. The prior editorial decisions and revisions of the Convention recede to the status of mere proposals, while actions taken by any branch of government after the Constitution took effect themselves become mere interpretations.
A historical account of a particular clause would certainly want to address why it became part of the Constitution and how its later interpretation evolved in response to events and the concerns of political leaders, jurists, particular interests, or the public at large. It would also have room to reflect on the ironic twists and turns that have often carried interpretation away from the apparent intentions and understandings of 1787–88. But historians have little stake in ascertaining the original meaning of a clause for its own sake, or in attempting to freeze or distill its true, unadulterated meaning at some pristine moment of constitutional understanding.
American Library History by Bolton Charles Knowles 1867-1950