Americans of all political points of view often discuss the U.S. Constitution, but how well do they really know the document and its history? The Constitution the United States: Its Sources and Its Application gives the reader a crash course in the text of the Constitution and its sources. Thomas James Norton was a lawyer who argued before several high courts of appeals, and in this book his goal is to provide an annotated copy of the U.S Constitution so that readers could better understand the reason for each section.
As Norton's annotations make clear, one cannot understand the Constitution without understanding the basics of the earlier 'Articles of Confederation', its strengths and weaknesses and why it ultimately failed. The Articles created a weak central government, which The Constitution sought to rectify without tipping the balance too strongly in favour of a mighty centralised government. The footnotes reveal the debate and compromise which led to the passage of each individual clause.
Key historical moments, such as the reign of King Charles I of England and the Short Parliament, are added to the text to explain how they shaped the attitudes of the men who wrote the Constitution. Norton also discuses the governments of Australia, France, Canada and Brazil for comparative purposes, which really enriches the experience for readers who are not well versed in comparative government. These explanations are brief, which keeps the book moving at a brisk pace.
Norton occasionally expresses strong opinions about historical events which may not be in line with how American constitutional history actually unfolded in the future, but his opinions do not interfere with the usefulness of the book. The Constitution the United States: Its Sources and Its Application is not overly technical and does not rely strictly on legal language. This makes the book digestible by everyone, from lawyers to historians to people interested in politics.