“Plain, Honest Men” is Revealing


Beeman, Richard R. Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. United Kingdom: Random House Publishing Group, 2010.

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution,[1] written by University of Pennsylvania professor Dr Richard Beeman, is quintessentially the level of work one can expect from a historian when he has dedicated numerous years to the field. Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History, has provided his audience with a well-crafted account of the Constitutional Convention. Plain, Honest Men is arguably one of the finest accounts of the Constitutional Convention.

A Clearer Understanding…

The origin of the Constitution of these United States is clearly understood. With vibrant unadulterated character sketches and equal attention paid to events both inside and outside the convention, Beeman’s writing brings the narrative into full focus. Whilst Beeman takes great pains to provide his readers with an unabridged view of the Constitutional Convention, the lion’s share of the author’s focus revolves around crucial debates which took place “indoors.” Beeman cuts no corners in how he presents his discussion pertaining to the early-arriving Virginian and Pennsylvanian centralizers.

In the same light, Beeman presents his readers with details pertaining to the key turning points which made the Constitutional Convention so lively. It is arguably these turning points which ultimately allows for the crafting of the final constitution text.

Whilst Plain, Honest Men is unquestionably the finest work of its kind, there is no book which does not have at least a few issues. Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men is not exempt from this rule. There is at least a modicum of operatic melodrama which plays out within these pages. Whilst Beeman successfully addresses many of the important turning points in the Constitutional Convention, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History misses a few key points. One of the key points Beeman misses occurred on 19 June 1787. Namely, Hamilton’s defence of the Convention’s right to violate the representatives’ instructions in a great emergency.[2] [3] [4] Interestingly, Beeman also overlooked the creative writings of one Gouverneur Morris.

What Did Morris Reveal?

Morris ultimately revealed embedding some of his own ideas into Article III pertaining to judiciary. During the course of reading Plain, Honest Men, it is noticeable Beeman slides past conceptual traps such as divided sovereignty, only to acknowledge there exists somewhat problematic characteristics in the last several chapters.

Anyone, students and teachers, that has ever taken the time to review the history of these United States in any great detail understands how certain key aspects of American history unfolded. Giftedly zealous statesmen seeking to forward their vision of what these United States should look like struggled to fight off “provincial” ignorance, “power,” and self-interest.

Sceptics opposed to the establishment of a constitution, such as the one which the nationalists aspired towards, operated out of “fear” and a desire to maintain “old republicanism” ideals,” which is essentially the exact opposite of how the nationalists presented themselves.

The nationalists, Beeman presents in his work, were invariably well-balanced and operated out of reasonable concern for the socio-economic times in which they actually lived in. Whilst there is a touch of the melodramatic about the way in which Beeman presents some of his work, there is no denying the University of Pennsylvania history professor is unreservedly realistic in how he approaches the clauses counting three-fifths of slaves in figuring representation in the House and forbidding Congress to end imports of slaves before 1808.


The provision stipulating that Congress could do nothing to end the importation of slaves was a compromise allowing Congress to pass navigation acts by ordinary majorities. Whilst there are well-documented complaints, there was ultimately no avenue which the Convention could take which would have satisfactorily addressed slavery in a manner which would have appeased modern progressive thinkers.

Much of the material Beeman presents in his work is not knew historians. Scholars, regardless of whether they happen to have an interest in American history, will be familiar with many of the events detailed in Plain, Honest Men. Beeman focuses on issues of particular importance which extend far beyond the convention hall in Philadelphia. In this respect, Plain, Honest Men is possibly one of the better accounts of early American history. Whilst I would not exactly refer to Plain, Honest Men as being an achievement of a lifetime, Beeman provides his audience with a model for historians that believe we cannot speak simultaneously to each other and to non-historians.


[1] From this point of the paper, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution will be referenced as Plain, Honest Men.

[2] Charles C. Tansill, the editor of the two volume Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States, discussed Hamilton’s defence.

[3] Meyer, H H B. 2005. Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States – Part One. Edited by Charles C. Tansill. United States: Kessinger Publishing Co.

[4] –. 2005. Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States – Part Two. Edited by Charles C. Tansill. United States: Kessinger Publishing Co.