Historical Foundations of American Constitutionalism
David Hopp

Contents The Chains of the Constitution


The Lessons of History

Athens and the Origin of Political Rights

Marsiglio of Padua and the Defensor Pacis

Links to Texts and Maps

Winter of 1989-90 was carnival time in eastern Europe. One people after another declared themselves for self-government, demanded their totalitarian states become open to political diversity, tore down barriers and "threw out the rascals." All but a few of these countries have found it easier to revolt than to organize and govern. They are bedeviled by economic hardship, ethnic conflict and the weight of decades of repressive government; in some cases they had never known political self-determination. They were embarking on a difficult journey of trial and discovery.

The experiences of these peoples, featured daily in our newspapers, show what we Americans sometimes forget, that building a government from scratch is no easy task. Our country undertook such a task two hundred years ago, wrested its independence from a governing power -- one much less intrusive than the totalitarian states of modern times -- and confronted the opportunity to shape its political future. For the first time, a nation reflected upon the purposes of government and with deliberation attempted to build its political institutions to suit its character. For the first time, there was an opportunity for a nation to ask the question, "What are the aims of government when the people have decided to govern themselves?"

The Chains of the Constitution explores ideas that underlie the founding of our country, ideas which provided a rich framework for eighteenth century political theory.  You will find the words of Madison, Jefferson, Aristotle, Marsiglio of Padua and many other political theorists and practitioners arranged in dialogues or resonances to show their similarities and differences and to provoke you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions about their relatedness.

Far from finished, but perhaps you may enjoy what is here ...

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updated 24jun2011