Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1787
First sentence: Anxiety woke me before dawn.
This novel is a fictional retelling of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. The first attempt at a national government for the United States, the Articles of Confederation, was a failure. Congress called the convention so that the political leaders of the thirteen states could improve the Articles. These leaders were savvy enough to realize that a new system of government was required.
The leaders of the convention understood that the delegates needed to be free to debate without the pressure of public opinion. They had the windows of Independence hall nailed shut, and were sworn to secrecy.
Thus, there are no verbatim records of the debates. Best used the existing records and some creative license to craft a novel that recreates the creation of the constitution.
In this novel, Best follows two main characters: James Madison and Roger Sherman. Madison was the author of the Virginia plan. Before the convention, he had spent a year researching the history of republican governments. He believed in proportional representation based on the populations of the states. Roger Sherman was the leader of the small states. The small states wanted each state to have equal representation in congress.
All of the delegates came to the convention ready to defend the interests of their states. Many came with set ideas and beliefs. Best's novel shows us how the delegates used their political skills. Best shows us the debates in the convention hall. We also see the discussions, deal making and arm twisting that took place in hotel rooms, taverns and public parks around Philadelphia.
I especially enjoyed how Best portrayed the influence that George Washington and Ben Franklin had on the progress of the convention. Washington, as president of the convention, did not take part in the debates. Yet, his leadership and back room deal making, brought the convention to a unanimous conclusion. Franklin was the paternal leader of the convention. His well-timed observations helped to move the debate forward.
In my opinion, this novel can teach us some valuable lessons. Although we believe in transparent government, politicians sometimes do their best work when they are away from the media and the glare of public opinion.
In recent years the concept of compromise seems to have fallen out of favor. Yet, it must be recognized that, without compromise, the constitution would never have been written.
Many of the delegates recognized that the Constitution was not perfect. It was the best they could do at the time. After it was written, they all firmly defended it.
This is an unusual novel. There is very little action, and there is a great deal of dialog. Most of the dialog consists of characters debating political points. However, I found this novel to be an interesting read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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