Richard Leffler is editor emeritus of the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. He recently wrote,“Someone today searching for the original understanding of the Constitution can hardly do better than to consult the opinions—usually unanimous opinions—written by Marshall.”
My friend Kevin Gutzman replies:
[Leffler] then drew readers’ attention to two of the most famous judicial opinions in American history: Marshall’s majority opinions in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden(1824).
An attentive reader will realize instantly that Leffler’s focus on these opinions, published 31 and 36 years after Marshall served as a second-line Federalist in the Virginia Ratification Convention, raises a question: is that all there is? After all, since Leffler edited the bulk of the primary materials of the ratification contest, and since Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other originalists have held that the meaning of the Constitution was to be found in the ratification conventions, one would expect him to highlight arguments made in 1787-90 in support of his position—if he could.
Having devoted considerable attention—many months’ attention—to the Virginia volumes of Leffler’s series, I feel confident that he cannot.
Read all of “Originalism vs. Obamacare” by Kevin Gutzman.