By Garrett Epps

In 1987, E.L. Doctorow celebrated the Constitution's bicentennial by means of studying it. "It is 5 thousand phrases lengthy yet reads like fifty thousand," he stated. exclusive criminal student Garrett Epps--himself an award-winning novelist--disagrees. it is approximately 7,500 phrases. And Doctorow "missed a great deal of excessive rhetoric, many literary tropes, or even a hint of, if now not wit, at the very least irony," he writes. americans may possibly venerate the structure, "but all too seldom is it read."

In American Epic, Epps takes us via an entire analyzing of the Constitution--even the "boring" parts--to in attaining an appreciation of its strength and a holistic realizing of what it says. during this booklet he seeks to not supply a definitive interpretation, yet to hear the language and consider its which means. He attracts on 4 modes of examining: scriptural, criminal, lyric, and epic. The Constitution's first 3 phrases, for instance, sound spiritual--but Epps reveals them to be extra aspirational than prayer-like. "Prayers are addressed to somebody . . . both a mundane king or a divine lord, and nice care is taken to call the addressee. . . . This does the opposite. The speaker is 'the people,' the phrases addressed to the area at large." He turns the second one modification right into a poem to light up its ambiguity. He notices oddities and omissions. The structure lays out ideas for presidential appointment of officials, for instance, yet now not removing. may still the Senate approve each one firing? Can it withdraw its "advice and consent" and strength a resignation? And he demanding situations himself, as visible in his magnificent dialogue of the security of Marriage Act (DOMA) in mild of Article four, which orders states to provide "full religion and credits" to the acts of different states.

Wry, unique, and miraculous, American Epic is a scholarly and literary travel de strength.

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Extra info for American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution

Sample text

It begins Article I, and we could read it to mean all legislative powers granted in Article I, leaving legislative powers granted elsewhere in the Constitution up for grabs. This may seem like a very pernickety question. But consider that much of the constant warfare between Congress and the president in our system concerns whether certain presidential programs involve “legislation” by the executive—for example, in writing regulations to implement new government programs. Perhaps there are “legislative” powers granted in the president’s article, Article II?

1 Even Mycenaean kings were constrained to ask consent from their warrior-subjects and listen to their counsel, whether they were as wise as Nestor or as volatile as Achilles. Before the Revolution, the colonies had been under the authority of the British Parliament. ” Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no president and no federal courts. Little wonder, then, that the legislative branch may have seemed to the Framers the most important to define. Article I sets up the structure and powers of the Congress, and in so doing offers not only a picture of America’s assembly but of the nation it is assembled from.

Whatever impulse led the drafters to make the change has led to profound consequences, certainly in rhetoric and probably in politics. It was an inspired act of ventriloquism. But it was more than pretense. It was aspirational. The Constitution is not a prayer—prayers are addressed to someone, a superior, either an earthly king or a divine lord, and great care is taken to name the addressee and less to characterize the speaker. The Preamble does the reverse. The speaker is “the people,” the words are addressed to the world at large.

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American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution by Garrett Epps
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