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Publisher's Summary

Americans revere their Constitution. However, most of us are unaware how tumultuous and improbable the drafting and ratification processes were. As Benjamin Franklin keenly observed, any assembly of men bring with them "all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views." One need not deny that the Framers had good intentions in order to believe that they also had interests. Based on prodigious research and told largely through the voices of the participants, Michael Klarman's The Framers' Coup narrates how the Framers' clashing interests shaped the Constitution - and American history itself.

The Philadelphia convention could easily have been a failure, and the risk of collapse was always present. Had the convention dissolved, any number of adverse outcomes could have resulted, including civil war or a reversion to monarchy. Not only does Klarman capture the knife's-edge atmosphere of the convention, he populates his narrative with riveting and colorful stories: the rebellion of debtor farmers in Massachusetts; George Washington's uncertainty about whether to attend; Gunning Bedford's threat to turn to a European prince if the small states were denied equal representation in the Senate; slave staters' threats to take their marbles and go home if denied representation for their slaves; Hamilton's quasi-monarchist speech to the convention; and Patrick Henry's herculean efforts to defeat the Constitution in Virginia through demagoguery and conspiracy theories.

©2016 Oxford University Press (P)2017 Tantor

What listeners say about The Framers' Coup

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Best comprehensive history of creation and ratification of Constitution

This is a very important book for anybody who needs to know how and why the Constitution was written and our government was organized. By the way, that is everybody. Excellent scholarship, very well organized and told. Narrator was ok.

7 people found this helpful

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Context Matters

This is a timely piece of scholarship that provides much needed context to the drafting and ratification of the constitution. Challenging the deification of the founding fathers and uncritical visions of the constitution as an infallible text, Klarman shows that the document was shaped by self-interest and compromise rather than lofty democratic principals. Without didacticism (at least until the final remarks in the conclusion), Klarman uses historical detail and a summary of the dominant debates of the 1780s to indirectly echo Thurgood Marshall's belief in the constitution as a living document. Klarman, like Marshall, believes that context matters.

That said, the limiting fixation on self-interest amongst the states and the context of the 1780s undercuts the book. Rather than stepping back and reflecting on the decisions and compromises with hindsight to show the impact and unforeseen ramifications of the document, Klarman provides a very detailed, yet dry account of the arguments strictly from the perspective of the era. Again, context matters, and by not exploring the legacy of the document in each chapter the book relegates itself to being a useful companion for research rather than a standalone narrative.

This is a fine scholarly book, written by a renowned law professor for an academic press. It does not, however, work very well as an audiobook. The prose is stiff and plodding. The narration, while fine, cannot transform this into a pleasurable listening experience. Is it well researched and informative? Definitely. Is listening to it a joyless slog? Sadly, yes. Proceed with caution.

13 people found this helpful

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How to Ratify a Constitution in 200 Steps

'The Framer's Coup' is a dramatic title. But the book never lives up to this promise. Even in the conclusion the author doesn't even mention a 'coup', let alone provide an argument in it's defense. Klarman does make a supported argument that the US constitution was much less inspired by Enlightenment ideals than by the vested interests of states, and that it series of tactical compromises produced the final document.

I learned a lot about the roles of individual figures in the drafting of the constitutions. And the book sheds important light on the 3/5th of a person allocated to southern states in the electoral map for African American population.

The blow by blow is far less dramatic than the account of a coup. It get tedious in places, requires patience and is often repetitive. A major disappointment is the short shrift given to the Bill of Rights. In 31 hours you'd think the author could find time to review the history of the key amendments. Instead he focuses only on how amendments were bargaining chips in the ratification process, without explain who supported which amendments and why some made it into the Bill of Rights and others were dropped.

On the whole this is an informative book. But it will put you to sleep pretty often.

3 people found this helpful

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Good reference, but some conclusions are opinion.

I found this book to be extremely well researched. However I found the author's final hour of conclusions to be more of opinion than fact. Some I agree with, some I disagree with. While I found the majority of the book to be for the most part objective "reporting" for the reader to draw their own conclusions. I find some conclusions to be subjective to what the author wants and presents as fact. Overall I find this to be a good reference into the nitty gritty of the framers state of mind. But must be balanced with other reads that include framers statements and writings that were not included in this book.

5 people found this helpful

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The complete story of the Founding

An excellent, comprehensive history of the Founding. It manages to provide the complete picture while still keeping the story lively and interesting. Klarman does a great job of mixing in quotes and letting the Framers (and their opponents) speak in their own words.

2 people found this helpful

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Thorough, yet lacking history.

Extremely thorough, yet strangely lacking take on the formation of the Constitution.
Don't get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed listening to this. For many, it may be really dry. There are a lot of parochial issues, and it is really long. So perhaps it could have used a good editor, but I personally really liked this aspect.
But the main thesis of the book (and the author certainly isn't shy about his perspective) is that the Constitution was written and voted for by a bunch of elites that were trying to create a quasi-monarchy because they don't trust the people. Nobody wanted it but were somehow tricked into voting for it. And simultaneously It was filled with parochial concerns and was a messy compromise of a document. I think that this perspective is a necessary one. It brings the document and our government down to earth and reveals some of the flaws both of the Constitution and the men who created it. But I would have liked a bit more on the high-minded end of things.
And finally regarding the narrator. His presentation was a bit abrasive. I got used to it after a while, but it could have used a more nuanced touch. I guess a bit of a metaphor for the book itself.

1 person found this helpful

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you'll laugh , you'll cry

This is mandatory. There's a reason your not taught this in school.
Nothing new under the sun, the rich stay rich and the poor are locked out of power. it was their aim in the 18th century as well as the 21 st.
it is a shame that so many people are fooled by fealty to the Constitution.

1 person found this helpful

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A great book of history

This is how you relay history. Provide the facts, first hand accounts, sprinkle in some anecdotal information, and then give analysis.

This book does it well. You'll learn a lot. And while it can be a little dry at times, you'll never be bored to tears.

1 person found this helpful

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Don't waste your time.

Sorry that I could not rate it zero stars. The author's politics are laid bare in the conclusion.

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Deadbeats and Rhode Islanders

Deadbeats and Rhode Islanders, but I repeat myself.

Klarman's "The Framer's Coup" is an exhaustively detailed history on the development and ratification of the Constitution. Karman does three things that most histories of the ratification don't do: (1) he extensively covers the problems with the Articles of Confederation. Whereas most histories just kind of assume that the Articles were defective/deficient, Klarman really helps the reader understand the frustrations of those living with it. One of the major sources of problem was the requirement for unanimity for any significant action, and Rhode Islanders was a consistent holdout. This became increasingly problematic as the question of war debts started to increase. Those creditors that wanted their debts honored became largely Federalists while those debtor farmers largely became the anti-federalists and were mostly happy with an inefficient central government that wouldn't be able to require payment.

This really helps explain the Constitutional Convention as a collection of men who all basically agreed on the goal (ditching the articles) but were quibbling about the details. It also helps explain in part Hamilton's desire for the assumption of state debts and a funded national debt.

(2) The second thing Klarman does is take us to each of the states and covers in great, primary source, detail, their efforts at ratification. It's a great and systematic approach that is very enlightening especially as you see how certain states delays in voting (Rhode Island) inhibited their ability to affect changes to the Constitution since by then the momentum towards full ratification was already moving ahead.

Klarman does all this while relying nearly exclusively on primary sources which is a wonderful way to understand how the Feds and Anti-Feds really viewed things. Also of note is the way both sides argued for/against ratification. They each thought they were arguing from dispassionate reason and logic while the other side was being irrational or had ulterior motives. Also amusing is the insight that both sides would make whatever arguments they thought would persuade their readers to vote up or down, even if they personally didn't advance or believe those arguments themselves. It had a very kitchen sink vibe to the endeavor.

As it's still a history of a bunch of guys debating fine points of governmental structure, it can get a little dry and sometimes hard to track precisely what the difference at issue is or its relevance, but as a comprehensive single volume history with loads of primary sources, it's one of the best.