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A Revolution in Favor of GovernmentOrigins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State$
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Max. M Edling

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195148701

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195148703.001.0001

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The Elusive Meaning of the Debate over Ratification

The Elusive Meaning of the Debate over Ratification

(p.31) 2 The Elusive Meaning of the Debate over Ratification
A Revolution in Favor of Government

Max. M Edling

Oxford University Press

The first two sections of this chapter discuss the two main approaches to the analysis of the ratification debate over the US Constitution. Until the late 1960s, the predominant interpretation described the debate over ratification as a conflict between “aristocratic” and “democratic” ideals and interests, but at about that time, scholars began to shift to a second approach that used the terms “liberalism” and “classical republicanism” to account for ideological differences during the revolutionary era; this shift was also accompanied by a change in the interpreters’ concerns away from social struggle toward the study of the development of political ideas. The argument presented here is that the terminology so far favored by historians and political scientists has obscured important aspects of the ideological differences between the Federalists and their opponents because it has drawn attention away from the actual issues debated during the ratification struggle. This claim can be supported in different ways, but the approach used here is to look closely at what prominent interpreters say about the limits of their own interpretation, even though this it risks being unfair to the perspectives reviewed. The last two sections of the chapter present an approach that promises better to capture the essence of the ideological disagreement between the Federalists and the Antifederalists as presented in the debate over ratification, and suggest that the debate is best seen as neither about democracy nor about liberalism, but about state formation.

Keywords:   Antifederalism, aristocracy, classical republicanism, debate, democracy, development of political ideas, Federalism, ideological differences, interpretation, liberalism, public debate, ratification, social struggle, state formation, US Constitution, USA

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