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368 pages. Hardcover with dustjacket. Brand new book. LAW. The U.S. Constitution opens by proclaiming the sovereignty of all citizens: "We the People." Robert Tsai's gripping history of alternative constitutions invites readers into the circle of those who have rejected this ringing assertion&emdash; the defiant groups that refused to accept the Constitution's definition of who "the people" are and how their authority should be exercised. America's Forgotten Constitutions is the story of America as told by dissenters: squatters, Native Americans, abolitionists, socialists, internationalists, and racial nationalists. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Tsai chronicles eight episodes in which discontented citizens took the extraordinary step of drafting a new constitution. He examines the alternative Americas envisioned by John Brown (who dreamed of a republic purged of slavery), Robert Barnwell Rhett (the Confederate "father of secession"), and Etienne Cabet (a French socialist who founded a utopian society in Illinois). Other dreamers include the University of Chicago academics who created a world constitution for the nuclear age; the Republic of New Afrika, which demanded a separate country carved from the Deep South; and the contemporary Aryan movement, which plans to liberate America from multiculturalism and feminism. Countering those who treat constitutional law as a single tradition, Tsai argues that the ratification of the Constitution did not quell debate but kindled further conflicts over basic questions of power and community. He explains how the tradition mutated over time, inspiring generations and disrupting the best-laid plans for simplicity and order. Idealists on both the left and right will benefit from reading these cautionary tales. Robert L. Tsai is Professor of Law at American University. Related Links "Engaging to read… [Tsai's] picture is far richer than the grim founder worship usually found in American political orthodoxy… For Tsai's constitution writers, the U.S. Constitution stands as an obligatory model, something they necessarily define themselves in relation to. All designed some sort of republic. All detailed mechanisms for 'popular decision making, divided powers, and enumerated rights. ' And all, in the end, underline just how largely the Constitution figures in the American political imagination: less a charter of freedom than a document of power."&emdash; Tom Arnold-Foster, The Daily Beast "Offers a refreshing and innovative take on a centuries-old topic… These stories of 'forgotten constitutions' offer a tantalizing glimpse into the power of the written word in shaping American political discourse and ideas, both popular and philosophical, about American society. This is not merely a collection of assorted oddities or constitutional anecdotes from America's political margins, however. Taken together, they comprise a chronological narrative of some of the key issues galvanizing political activism throughout the past 200 years of American history… By exploring the efforts of those who went beyond mere intellectual debate, and who actually tried to build alternative nations or states within the U.S., Tsai offers a unique vantage into the ideological struggles underpinning American history and politics… These constitutional efforts all represent efforts by everyday Americans to take charge of the society immediately surrounding them, express their grievances with the status quo and literally re-write the conditions of their lives."&emdash; Hans Rollman, PopMatters "Tsai has selected eight transformative legal texts to show how legality and social process interact in dissident communities and diverse settings. The documents represent an astonishing array of ideologies from utopian socialism and internationalism to Confederate and black power movements. Using an analytical framework based on categories of sovereignty and self-rule,...
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