Monday, August 13, 2007
Susan Dunn tells a fascinating story about the decline of the state of Virginia, the most powerful and influential State in the early American republic. Initially, the subject matter of her book--the building of canals, roads, and the incorporation of banks--is somewhat tedious. Who would have thought that discussions of the infra-structure and elementary economics of early America would be even remotely interesting? Yet Professor Dunn weaves a narrative showing how roads, canals, and banks were directly tied to the questions of slavery and states' rights. She also juxtaposes the early Jefferson and the early Madison with their later selves after they had abandoned, if not betrayed, utopian thinking in Jefferson's case and savvy, high minded, political and constitutional realism in Madison's for the much less attractive goal of loyalty to Virginia at all costs. I recommend this book for constitutional scholars, historians, and ordinary folks alike, that is, for anyone interested in the role Virginia played in the constitutional development of the United States. The story line of tying concrete social operations with political and constitutional philosophy is intriguing and Ms. Dunn's execution is virtually flawless. A more comprehnsive essay on Professor Dunn's book appeared 13 August 2007 here.