Book Review: The Constitution of the United States by James Mussatti


With Study Guide by Thomas J. Shelly, New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. 173 pp. $3.50. Available through the Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y., which also offers a special paperbacked edition, $2.00.

Our Supreme Court recently ruled that the Constitution of the United States forbids the separation of the races in our schools. Actually, it doesn’t.

Maybe it should; maybe it shouldn’t. Certainly it’s a legitimate question. And the people of the United States have a right to decide whether or not they wish to make it constitutional. But the Supreme Court itself has no such right.

Sociological ideas held by the Justices—whether good or bad—should not determine their decisions on constitutional questions. Nor should the Supreme Court usurp the functions of the legislature. Yet these “modern innovations” and emotional arguments will continue largely unopposed unless we ordinary citizens study and understand the origins, principles, and problems of the document that brought our nation into existence. We can defend it only if we understand it.

An excellent book for such a study has just been published by D. Van Nostrand Company—The Constitution of the United States. It is divided into two distinct parts.

James Mussatti, former instructor in history at the University of California, is author of the first and major part. In simple and vivid language, he begins with the Magna Carta and traces the development of our Constitution through the English Petition of Right and Bill of Rights, the ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, and Blackstone, the House of Burgesses, the Mayflower Compact, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, the New England Confederation, the Penn Plan, the Albany Plan of Union, the two Continental Congresses, the Virginia Bill of Rights, the early constitutions of the independent colonies, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitutional Convention.

Mr. Mussatti offers brief and clear explanations of the various provisions of our Constitution. He points out that most of them were compromises of many conflicting opinions and ideas. He explains why compromise was necessary.

The second and unique part of the book is a Study Guide by Thomas J. Shelly, former teacher of history and economics at Yonkers High School in Yonkers, N. Y.

Mr. Shelly follows and complements Mr. Mussatti’s text—asking provocative questions, making explanatory comparisons, and suggesting additional sources of information.

This combined text and Study Guide is unquestionably the best available book for teachers and discussion leaders who deplore the trend away from the principles on which our nation was founded.


March 1956

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