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Phd Ceremony J. Olthof: Patchwork republic. The rhetoric of “we the people” in the United States constitutional debates 1765-1865

When:Th 12-06-2014 10:00 - 11:00
Where:Doopsgezinde Kerk

The American Constitution enjoys a sacred position in the United States, but is also seen as a model by advocates of European unification. The Constitution for Europe that was voted down in 2005, was supposed to bring about an American-style Philadelphia moment for Europe.

In Patchwork Republic, Jelte Olthof traces the origins of the notion that the Constitution forged the United States together as one people—the famous “we the people of the United States” in the opening line of the Constitution. By means of a rhetorical analysis of a hundred years of constitutional debate, this study demonstrates that this notion was more a wish than a reality. The antebellum United States have to be seen as a patchwork Republic built on two rival ideas: whereas advocates of unification presented it as one people, their opponents increasingly viewed it as a union of separate peoples. The conflict between these two views formed the upbeat to the Civil War. At a time when the call for a “United States of Europe” is louder than ever, it is important to realize that the history of the U.S. illustrates that a people is not automatically called into being by a constitution.

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