Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830

Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830

Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830

Constituting Empire: New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830

Synopsis

According to the traditional understanding of American constitutional law, the Revolution produced a new conception of the constitution as a set of restrictions on the power of the state rather than a mere description of governmental roles. Daniel J. Hulsebosch complicates this viewpoint by arguing that American ideas of constitutions were based on British ones and that, in New York, those ideas evolved over the long eighteenth century as New York moved from the periphery of the British Atlantic empire to the center of a new continental empire.

Hulsebosch explains how colonists and administrators reconfigured British legal sources to suit their needs in an expanding empire. In this story, familiar characters such as Alexander Hamilton and James Kent appear in a new light as among the nation's most important framers, and forgotten loyalists such as Superintendent of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson and lawyer William Smith Jr. are rightly returned to places of prominence.

In his paradigm-shifting analysis, Hulsebosch captures the essential paradox at the heart of American constitutional history: the Revolution, which brought political independence and substituted the people for the British crown as the source of legitimate authority, also led to the establishment of a newly powerful constitution and a new postcolonial genre of constitutional law that would have been the envy of the British imperial agents who had struggled to govern the colonies before the Revolution.

Excerpt

This book explores the formation of the United States' distinctive constitutional culture in early New York, from the British takeover of the province to its emergence as the Empire State in the early nineteenth century. During that time, New York was transformed from a modest Dutch trading outpost on the edge of the Atlantic world into a bustling entrepôt and exporter of goods, people, and culture. Its most important cultural export may well have been its constitutional culture. Decades of political and legal turmoil generated a new understanding of constitutionalism that New Yorkers published in books that circulated across the new United States and beyond. the institutional matrix for this creativity was empire, and the catalyst was an intraimperial struggle that culminated in a civil war known as the American Revolution. Afterward, New Yorkers played leading roles in reconfiguring Anglo-American constitutional resources into a new genre of law, constitutional law, as the province moved from the periphery of Britain's Atlantic empire to the center of a new continental one.

New York was a geographic, military, and commercial linchpin of the British Empire, the center of loyalism during the Revolution, and a fount of legal ideas in the early Republic. a seventeenth-century royal governor reported home that “this Province by its scituation (being much in the center of the other Colonies)… ought to be looked upon as the capital Province or the Cittadel to all the others; for secure this, and you secure all the English Colonies.” Its port lay where the Hudson River fed into the harbor and where the Atlantic pushed into the river, an estuary that the Mahican Indians called Mahicannittuck, or “great waters constantly in motion.” European explorers referred to it as the “great River of the Mountains” because it cut . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.