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  • New historical material about the US constitution!

    This book provides a fascinating new look at the foundations of the U.S. constitution, filling in a lot of gaps that are not well known to most Americans, even a lot of history buffs. Most of us don't get much beyond the Magna Carta and the standard "canon" of enlightenment thinkers. Apparently Madison and Jefferson were looking at a lot more - real life examples of nation-states that had already instituted representative democracies (well, at least for adult males) and rights of citizenship. Many of us had been aware of the "bill of rights" in Great Britain, enacted during their own "glorious revolution." But where did THOSE ideas come from? As it turns out, very little of it was new. VanDuren draws attention to the concerns of the U.S. "founding fathers" as they grappled with the shortcomings of the "articles of confederation" that governed the original 13 states. They were suffering from fatal fractiousness, and centrifugal forces were tearing the nascent country apart. Madison holed up in his library and dug more deeply in the details of the history and institutions of the Dutch Republic - on which the original U.S. was based. The Dutch Republic was also sinking into internecine conflict. What could we learn from their plight? What had they got right (that we could still build upon) and what had gone wrong (that we could hopefully improve upon)? His insights informed his draft of our constitution. As it turns out, some of the best ideas enshrined in the Dutch Republic had roots even deeper in history, reaching back to the medieval "water boards" of the "low countries" and concepts of the "public good" that had been painstakingly reconstructed, as Paris emerged from the dark ages, from the ancient Roman and Greek democratic institutions on the one hand and Germanic/Saxon traditions of participatory governance on the other. Most interesting in this compilation of lost nuggets of history are a series of historical-fiction vignettes VanDuren weaves into the book to help the reader appreciate what life was like - in 7th century Paris, 15th century Bruges and 16th century Leiden. Leiden turns out to be a critical venue - not only the host of one of the most vibrant universities in Europe (hosting Descartes, Erasmus, and publishing the books of Newton) but also the most welcoming refuge for persecuted religious minorities all over Europe and the British Isles. This is where the Pilgrims spent 12 critical years before embarking on their famous journey to Plymouth. Those experiences helped distinguish the tolerant separatist Pilgrims from the intolerant Puritans. We learn about a number of interesting characters that have been virtually ignored in American history, but may have been more influential than they have been given credit for. I had never heard of Edwin Sandys or Francis Doughty before - two colorful characters whose shenanigans helped shape American governance traditions during the earliest colonial days. And I think the "Flushing Remonstrance" has become my favorite episode in early colonial history! This book offers truly fresh and interesting new insights into the rich sources of inspiration for the great American experiment in democracy that still nourish us today.

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