American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War. By Christian G. Fritz. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. 2008. Pp. xi, 413. Hardcover, $80; paper, $29.99.
In his book American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War, Professor Christian Fritz argues that two very different conceptions of the American people's sovereignty-one broad and one narrow-battled for the nation's allegiance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Under the broad conception, ordinary citizens could take control of the nation's day-to-day governmental affairs whenever they were unhappy with their elected leaders' performance, and could alter their constitutional arrangements by any means they deemed appropriate. Under the narrow conception, citizens could influence day-to-day governmental affairs only through elections and other government-approved mechanisms, and could alter their constitutional arrangements only by those methods that were authorized by the ratified constitutional texts themselves. In Professor Fritz's view, the broad conception faded from view in the years after the Civil War and the narrow conception now firmly prevails.