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December 31st, 2021

Background

Last month, my wife became very involved in ConstitutionDAO, a DAO that tried to buy a first edition of the United States Constitution (good write-ups of the whole affair here and here). As a result, I got to watch both the public side of that process as well as some of the behind-the-scenes, internal deliberations. I was struck by how interesting the internal deliberations were on a political level: in particular, how much of the challenge of running a successful DAO was the same kind of human, political challenge anyone faces when trying to rally any group of people to a specific end.

After the DAO wound down, I realized I was largely unfamiliar with how the Constitution actually came together. So I picked up a copy of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman. It’s a well-regarded and comprehensive history of the Constitutional Convention itself, spanning May-September of 1787. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the topic: it gets a little dry at times, but is generally very readable.

Most of the Convention’s major players doubted at one point or another that a workable compromise even existed. Many of the delegates felt their states had little to nothing in common, and there were constant threats by various states to pull out of a union entirely. Other delegates thought the whole Convention project was likely illegal. In those circumstances, it’s a small miracle that any decision on a document was reached, let alone one that for all its flaws has sustained the oldest democratic regime around.