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The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

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In time for the upcoming election season, Penguin presents a series of six portable, accessible, and—above all—essential reads from American political history, selected by leading scholars. Series editor Richard Beeman, author of The Penguin Guide to the U.S. Constitution, draws together the great texts of American civic life, including the founding documents, pivotal hist In time for the upcoming election season, Penguin presents a series of six portable, accessible, and—above all—essential reads from American political history, selected by leading scholars. Series editor Richard Beeman, author of The Penguin Guide to the U.S. Constitution, draws together the great texts of American civic life, including the founding documents, pivotal historical speeches, and important Supreme Court decisions, to create a timely and informative mini-library of perennially vital issues. In one portable volume, with accessible annotations and modernizing commentary throughout, Richard Beeman presents The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution . Beeman has created a fascinating apparatus for understanding the most important document in American history—and why it’s as central in the America of today as it was in creation of the country.


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In time for the upcoming election season, Penguin presents a series of six portable, accessible, and—above all—essential reads from American political history, selected by leading scholars. Series editor Richard Beeman, author of The Penguin Guide to the U.S. Constitution, draws together the great texts of American civic life, including the founding documents, pivotal hist In time for the upcoming election season, Penguin presents a series of six portable, accessible, and—above all—essential reads from American political history, selected by leading scholars. Series editor Richard Beeman, author of The Penguin Guide to the U.S. Constitution, draws together the great texts of American civic life, including the founding documents, pivotal historical speeches, and important Supreme Court decisions, to create a timely and informative mini-library of perennially vital issues. In one portable volume, with accessible annotations and modernizing commentary throughout, Richard Beeman presents The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution . Beeman has created a fascinating apparatus for understanding the most important document in American history—and why it’s as central in the America of today as it was in creation of the country.

30 review for The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jon Mellberg

    The declaration is the exciting part; the amendments are the interesting parts, but the whole thing is important!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stefanie

    A must read for all Americans.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence sug You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad . The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?” “Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?” And that’s why I’m reading this. Filling in my gaps of ignorance. Practicing what I preach. Doing my best not to be just another one of the uneducated masses behind a computer screen. So, let’s just jump straight to what I learned, shall we? To get the big one out of the way, let’s start with how the Constitution addresses slavery. Spoiler alert: IT DOESN’T. Article I Section 2 speaks on taxes – a huge reason for the country’s split from England – stating that the representatives and direct taxes are to be “determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxes, three fifths of all other Persons.” Here is where we get our notorious three-fifths rule – right in the country’s founding document. Yet it’s done in such a way that it does not specifically mention who these persons are. Remember that George Washington was, theoretically, anti-slavery, though he continued to purchase slaves and failed to abolish the practice during his presidency. We see further evidence of this in Article I Section 9, which states, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight.” “Migration,” and “Importation,” of course, meaning the slave trade. So while the founders recognized that slavery would need to be abolished at some point, they firmly cast it as the future US’s problem, to be dealt with no sooner than 1808. Given the results of this most recent election, I was particularly interested to learn that the electoral college was formed right in the Constitution. Article II Section 1 states that each state is to appoint “a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” Although the manner in which our president is elected has slightly changed – previously the majority winner was named president and the second majority winner named vice president – the presence of the college has not. Says Beeman in his annotation, “the vast majority of delegates feared that the American people were simply too provincial – too ignorant of the merits of possible presidential candidates across a land as vast as that of the thirteen states of which America was then comprised – to make a wise choice.” Yeah, we’ll see how that works throughout the years. Beeman’s annotations make this edition of these historical documents a worthy purchase. The language used in the documents themselves is expectedly outdated, but Beeman explains each section in simple, modern terms, while also offering insights on how both have affected events and changed over time. He also offers some much needed commentary. For example, he says of the famous second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was in 1776 more an as-yet-unfulfilled promise than a statement of political fact.” The one area where I believe Beeman has misstepped is in his explanation of the Full Faith and Credit Act in Article IV Section 1, which states that the laws of one state must be fully recognized in another. He cites the (wonderfully outdated) example of gay marriage here, saying that if a couple got married in a state where gay marriage was legal, every other state had to recognize it, too. Except, I don’t think that was the case? I may be wrong – I’m not gay and likely did not pay as much attention to the specifics of the laws as those who were affected by it did – but I thought that was part of the problem? That if you got married in New York, Illinois didn’t have to recognize it? And that’s why the Supreme Court had to issue a ruling? Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but nonetheless I felt a little joy at knowing that example is no longer applicable. I could go on…there’s surprisingly so much that I learned by reading this. I’m not by any means the least knowledgeable about our government’s workings, but there’s a great difference between picking things up here and there in news articles and TV shows and actually reading the source material. Now more than ever we need to having a working knowledge of why our country separated from their oppressors, how our current government was formed, and how everything the forefathers promised was, in many ways, full of hypocrisy. I wholeheartedly recommend picking up this little volume and I look forward to reading the others in the set. https://thethousandproject.wordpress....

  4. 5 out of 5

    Terry Pearson

    This copy was won by me in a giveaway. Leaving a review is my choice. This portable book comes at a time where I felt it important I brush up on such subjects I haven't read in over forty years. *most Americans don't just happen to have a copy of The United States Constitution or The Federalist Papers lying around their home. The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution are not exactly easy documents to understand; the annotations by Richard Beeman simplify them so even a nov This copy was won by me in a giveaway. Leaving a review is my choice. This portable book comes at a time where I felt it important I brush up on such subjects I haven't read in over forty years. *most Americans don't just happen to have a copy of The United States Constitution or The Federalist Papers lying around their home. The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution are not exactly easy documents to understand; the annotations by Richard Beeman simplify them so even a novice can comprehend. This is a handy little book to have around. Use it ! Our country was structured around these important documents and it is our duty , as Americans, to continue to see that our forefathers

  5. 4 out of 5

    José

    Quick but important read. Not just the text of the Declaration and the Constitution in its current state, but notes from the author to give context and spirit to the letter. It is important for every American citizen (and every aspiring citizen) to read and understand these documents, so that they know the rules and values the United States was built on, and whether the current state of government is upholding them. As a “living document”, the Constitution shows us how far we’ve come, and where Quick but important read. Not just the text of the Declaration and the Constitution in its current state, but notes from the author to give context and spirit to the letter. It is important for every American citizen (and every aspiring citizen) to read and understand these documents, so that they know the rules and values the United States was built on, and whether the current state of government is upholding them. As a “living document”, the Constitution shows us how far we’ve come, and where we need to go next.

  6. 5 out of 5

    SReed

    Important documents (Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution) for every American citizen to reread in light of current history unfolding. I find it reassuring to know the our democratic process (based on a separation of powers - House, Senate and the Executive branches) is unfolding as designed. Reminded now of the ‘rules of engagement,’ I’m watching the impeachment trials with informed interest and hoping our elected public servants take their roles seriously and do their job in the Important documents (Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution) for every American citizen to reread in light of current history unfolding. I find it reassuring to know the our democratic process (based on a separation of powers - House, Senate and the Executive branches) is unfolding as designed. Reminded now of the ‘rules of engagement,’ I’m watching the impeachment trials with informed interest and hoping our elected public servants take their roles seriously and do their job in the best interest of all citizens of the USA.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    It feels odd to rate the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Consitution, so perhaps a qualifier is in order here. My rating reflections the quality of the explanatory notes that accompany both documents, which helps illuminate some of the more arcane aspects of each, but also provides some much-needed context for specific components of both documents. Simply put, this is an indispensable text for anyone looking to add to their civic understanding.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This seems a very appropriate time to reread the basic documents that created the fundamentals of our country. The explanatory notes were quite helpful in relating those documents to the issues facing us today. I think all citizens should reacquaint ourselves with where we began so we understand better where we are going. I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads for this honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Cavaco

    Great concise guide on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These guiding documents have indeed made the United States great and a beacon to liberty. The explanations provided really provide context and understanding of each article and section of the aforementioned historical records. Enjoyable and informative.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Foreman

    every person living in the usa should read the D of I and the constitution. im kinda mad at myself for not read then early.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Great resource for reading the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and actually learning what it means.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lissa Della

    Because it doesn't hurt to do a little refresher; especially during these strange times we are living... A must read for all Americans.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John

    What sort of sick mind comes up with such filth? Positively pornographic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Geri Degruy

    It seems like a good time (as is any other time) to re-read the Constitution. It is getting thrown around a lot of late and I hadn't re-read it for several years. This is a thin volume containing the documents and a limited helpful commentary. Definitely worth a read and re-read, often.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    As an American it's difficult to remain objective when reading the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. I must confess I feel quite patriotic about these documents. I will say that this edition with annotations by Richard Beeman is well done. Helpful for the layman to understand what prompted each element of the Constitution, without any partisan propaganda. I'm sure I will re-read this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Mcpike

    The author isn't exactly "nonpartisan." He repeatedly gets breathless over President Obama. And he's flat out wrong in stating that the Full Faith and Credit Clause requires all States to recognize the gay marriages that are legal in 17 States. They don't. They have to recognize only that they're legal in those 17 States.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nabilah Firdaus

    A brief explanation on what prompted each element of the Constitution.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    Everyone should read the Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. This is a great little volume with an interesting introduction and short explanations throughout.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lee Staman

    Well yeah everyone should read this, they're only the founding documents of our country!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emma Iz

    Been reading this little by little all summer and have finally finished it!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Helpful, clarifying, and interesting. Lovely cover design also!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jean-luc Plourde

    Excellent edition of the Declaration of Independence and of the constitution, including the amendments. The annotations included really facilitate the understanding of each articles.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    Probably need to give this five stars or I will lose my citizenship.

  24. 4 out of 5

    JRP

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elana Levy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Gilson

  27. 4 out of 5

    George Fisher

  28. 5 out of 5

    David

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Avice Du Buisson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Todd McCallister

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