Among the best-researched facets of the book, Maharrey tackles the contentious subject of what was meant by the Constitution’s requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen.” While most contemporary works on the Constitution cover the subject in a style that is strictly partisan, this one goes directly to pre-ratification legal texts and precedents to shed light on a subject that has almost never been tackled in an earnest way. Even though his general conclusion differs slightly from my own view, Maharrey’s book portrays the subject more objectively than I have ever seen in print.
Another of the book’s most impressive features is its coverage of war power. In particular, the work describes how the Constitution’s intended to subdue the war power of the American president, and make his execution of the war contingent upon Congressional discretion. Far from replicating the 18th-century British monarch, the founders deliberately lodged all war-making power with Congress, giving the executive the power to carry out war only after it had been first declared.
Nullification – the now-forbidden principle that Thomas Jefferson characterized as the “rightful remedy” against federal usurpation – is given its share in Maharrey’s narrative. In his most lengthy chapter, the author illustrates the maxim as a natural extension of the founders’ legacy. To counter the mainstream suggestion that nullification was never anticipated or envisioned by the Constitution’s advocates, Maharrey goes back to the ratification debates to prove otherwise. In a manner that has rarely been utilized, he reveals several of the Constitution’s biggest supporters wrote and stated explicitly that the states could act to obstruct unconstitutional laws. Beyond this, as Madison insisted in The Federalist #46, the state governments could refuse to cooperate with the federal enforcement apparatus even when the laws they intended to carry out were merely unpopular (but still constitutional).
Maharrey’s new work is destined to stand the test of time, serving to remind us all that the Constitution was once promoted as an instrument to reign in the power over government rather than to justify its expansionary – and often treacherous – tendencies. It is both concise enough to equip layman with a broad understanding of the Constitution and thorough enough to intrigue academics that have studied the document and its history.