Constitution Day: Reflections by Respected Scholars. Edited by Patrick T. Conley. (Providence: Rhode Island Publications Society, 2010. Pp. [xx], 233, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-930483-05-7.)

Constitution DayThe subtitle of this small volume delivers even more than it implies. The book is a compilation of twelve Consti­tution Day addresses by noted legal and constitu­tional scholars given in Rhode Island. Constitution Day, September 17, is the anniversary of the signing of the federal Constitution in 1787 by thirty-nine delegates at the Phila­delphia conven­tion’s conclusion. These Consti­tution Day observances, beginning in 2000 and concluding in 2009, were hosted by noted historian, lawyer, editor, and real estate developer Patrick T. Conley and his wife, Gail Cahalan Conley, at Gale Winds, the Conleys’ Bristol, Rhode Island, estate, and at Conley’s Wharf, another of the hosts’ properties, in Providence. The high regard and long and friendly acquain­tances the Conleys have earned in the academic world undoubtedly precipitated the participation of so many celebrated authorities.

In the first essay in the collection, from the first Constitution Day gathering, Bancroft Prize- and Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood revisits Marbury v. Madison (1803). Wood’s address precedes a brief explication of British and American colonial notiions of judicial independence by the renowned and prolific Jack P. Greene. The 2001 lecture, which took place just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, is the longest of the twelve essays. John P. Kaminski examines how events preceding, during, and following the American Revolution influenced the Constitution, its ratification, and subsequent controversies. Bancroft Prize winner James T. Patterson assesses the legacies of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Jack N. Rakove, also a Pulitzer Prize holder, regaled Gale Winds attendees in 2003 with his own original interpretation of the background and creation of the Constitution. Carol Berkin’s 2004 address focused on the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson, then in France as a diplomat, concerning the Philadelphia convention of 1787.

In the 2005 Constitution Day address, Pauline Maier brilliantly analyzed the Anti-Federalists during the ratification struggles after the Constitutional Convention. The next year William M. Wiecek offered Rhode Island’s Distinctive Contribution to American Constitutional Development.” In 2007 Joseph R. Weisberger, whose fifty-four years in the Rhode Island judiciary culminated in service as chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, produced an erudite disquisition on whether U.S. Supreme Court decisions between 1925 and 1969 that used the Fourteenth Amendment to incorporate selective portions of the first ten amendments actually constituted “amendment by judicial fiat” (p. 140). The 2008 oration by Christopher Collier detailed the decision in Van Horne’s Lessee v. Dorrance (1795) by Associate Justice William Paterson, which affirmed, on circuit in Connecticut, the rights protecting property from arbitrary confiscation in an application of judicial review that anticipated Marbury. Finally, two splendid offerings from 2009 conclude the collection: Rhode Island native Ronald P. Formisano’s interpretation of the 1840s Dorr War in the Ocean State and Conley’s exemplary slant of Rhode Island’s role in the making of the Fifteenth Amendment.

As contributor and editor, Conley deserves the thanks of everyone interested in the constitutional development of the United States and of Rhode Island, about which Conley is the leading authority. Constitution Day: Reflections by Respected Scholars deserves to be on the shelf of every public library, as well as in college, university, and law school libraries across the United States.

University of the Cumberlands   ·   OLINE CARMICAL JR.

The Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXVIII, No. 3, August 2012