"Originalism, Federalism, and the American Constitutional Enterprise" by Edward A. Purcell

Originalism, Federalism, and the American Constitutional Enterprise A Historical Inquiry Edward A. Purcell

Publication date:
15 Jul 2014
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
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In this lively historical examination of American federalism, a leading scholar in the field refutes the widely accepted notion that the founding fathers carefully crafted a constitutional balance of power between the states and the federal government. Edward A. Purcell Jr. bases his argument on close analysis of the Constitution’s original structure and the ways that structure both induced and accommodated changes over the centuries.


There was no clear agreement among the founding fathers regarding the “true” nature of American federalism, Purcell contends, nor was there a consensus on “correct” lines dividing state and national authority. Furthermore, even had there been some true “original” understanding, the elastic and dynamic nature of the constitutional structure would have made it impossible for subsequent generations to maintain any “original” or permanent balance. The author traces the evolution of federalism through the centuries, focusing particularly on shifting interpretations founded on political interests. He concludes with insights into current issues of federal power and a discussion of the grounds on which legitimate decisions about federal and state power should rest.


Edward A. Purcell, Jr., is Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor, New York Law School. He is author of many books and scholarly articles, including Brandeis and the Progressive Constitution: Erie, the Judicial Power, and the Politics of Federal Courts in Twentieth-Century America (2000), published by Yale University Press, for which he received the Coif Triennial Book Award and the Triennial Griswold Prize. He lives in New York City.

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title from 2008.

“Edward A. Purcell, Jr. has written a vigorous critique, grounded in the Age of Madison, of the Rehnquist Court's revival of constitutional federalism. It's a learned, thoughtful book that's great fun to read.”—Charles W. McCurdy, University of Virginia

“Purcell’s book is an extraordinarily learned historical performance, bringing together an enormous array of secondary literature in a new way to address very topical questions concerning 'originalism' and the vagaries of American federalism.”—Clyde S. Spillenger, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law