The International Dimension of the Federal Constitution

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article surveys recent literature in both history and political science associated with an international and diplomatic approach to the American founding. It assesses Drew McCoy's claim that this approach, as represented by David Hendrickson's Peace Pact (2003), “may well mark an important paradigm shift in early American history.” An international approach to the Constitution may mean interpreting the document either as primarily a diplomatic treaty in its own right, or as primarily influenced in its design and adoption by diplomatic and international concerns. Several significant new studies have been published since McCoy's review, both building on and revising Hendrickson's work, but his “unionist paradigm” has had less impact on historians of the Constitution and of founding than on historians of the later early republic. David Golove and Daniel Hulsebosch in 2011 reprised an internationalist approach to the Constitution by arguing that fealty to international treaties and desire for recognition structured Federalists' approach to domestic politics. This article suggests a synthesis that would reintegrate the internationalist approach with recent domestically focussed historiography. Building on the insights of internationalist scholarship, it posits the Constitution as fundamentally oriented around sanctity of contract as a scalable principle, spanning individual, state, and international spheres.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-515
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number2
Early online date17 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2014