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Book Review: The Constitution


Reading Level

Ages 7-12

Also in This Series

• The Declaration of Independence
• The Bill of Rights
• The Emancipation Proclamation

Also on This Site

• The Making of the Constitution
• More on the Constitution

You know you're in for a good examination of details when you open a book on the American Constitution and the first thing you see is a portrait of James Madison. Madison was not the President of the Constitutional Convention; that was George Washington. Madison didn't make too many long-winded speeches during the proceedings, and he wasn't the first President under the new Constitution. (That, again, was George Washington.) But James Madison, it can be argued, did more to forward the adoption of the Constitution than most of the Founding Fathers: In addition to taking very detailed notes of the proceedings, he was the author of the Virginia Plan, which lent several crucial elements to the eventual Constituion, and he wrote a large selection of the famous Federalist Papers, helping Alexander Hamilton and John Jay convince the voters of New York adopt the new system of government. It is Madison's guiding hand, also, that can be see in the Bill of Rights. All detailed discussions of the Constitution, its passage, and its elements must begin with James Madison. And this book does just that.

It does an excellent job of summarizing the events that led up to the passage of the Constitution, including such familiar happenings as Shays's Rebellion. The book also does a superior job, in such a short number of pages, of pointing out several details that don't usually get discussed in books for this age group, namely the Three-Fifths Compromise (the idea that slaves were counted as only 60 percent of a person) and the opposition to the Constitution of none other than Patrick Henry, the fiery patriot who is best known for uttering the famous words "Give me Liberty or give me Death!"

The illustrations are top-notch, as is the case with every National Geographic publication, incorporating just the right mix of traditional and contemporary images, so as to illustrate the idea that the Constitution is a "living, breathing document." Perhaps the most entertaining illustration is a photo of a sculpture made up entirely of license states from all of the American states, which are arranged to spell out the words to the Preamble.

The one omission of this book is to concentrate on only on the first three Articles of the Constitution. Those are the most famous, of course, describing the powers of the Three Branches of the American Government. It is up to the reader, however, to discover Articles Four, Five, Six, Seven in the Appendix that contains the full text of the Constitution. Perhaps this is intended to direct students to study further; still, a mention of these three articles, especially the ones that were foreshadowed by the discussion of the Articles of the Confederation and the Constitutinal Convention.

Overall, however, this is a great book, providing student, teacher, or parent a brilliant introduction to the world's oldest government blueprint, its legacy, and its adaptability in today's global society.

 
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