“There isn’t an optimal distribution of federal versus state power,” says constitutional scholar Alison LaCroix, the Robert Newton Reid Professor of Law and associate member of the Department of History. “I mean, there might be an optimal one, but you can’t find it in the Constitution.”
LaCroix is among those who view constitutional law as an ongoing negotiation between the text and evolving historical circumstances. The meaning of the Constitution, in this view, was not settled with the document’s ratification in 1788, nor with any subsequent amendment. The Constitution is a conversation.
LaCroix’s new book The Interbellum Constitution: Union, Commerce, and Slavery from the Long Founding Moment to the Civil War (Yale University Press, forthcoming), supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will examine the interbellum—“between the wars”—period from 1812 to 1861. According to LaCroix, these years, written off by many as a lull between the founding and Reconstruction, were in fact a time of great constitutional meaning making.
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