The Summer of 1787
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Politics and Prose, Apple
The Summer of 1787 traces the struggle at the Philadelphia Convention to create the world's first constitutional democracy. Using the delegates' fiery rhetoric, the book explores the conflicts and hard bargaining that invented a government to meet the crises of the not-quite-united states - huge debts, hostile neighbors, armed rebellion, and the very real prospect of dissolving into three nations or more.
It was a desperate balancing act. The people should have power, but could they be trusted? Would a strong central government leave room for the states? Why did they contrive the convoluted electoral college for electing the president? And what of the grinding compromises over slavery, America's original sin? The heroes include the familiar and the unlikely:
• Gouverneur Morris, the one-legged aristocrat who roared out America's first abolitionist speech, then wrote the final draft of the Constitution.
• Ben Franklin, whose gentle wit salved many wounds, and whose compromise resolved the Convention's toughest problem.
• George Mason, the slave-owner whose refusal to sign the Constitution led to the Bill of Rights.
• Scottish immigrant James Wilson, who with haughty John Rutledge of South Carolina remade the Constitution in ways the delegates never expected.
• The incomparable George Washington, whose steadfast leadership was the summer's indispensable glue.
Closeted together in a single room through a sultry Philadelphia summer, the delegates hammered out a government charter that embodied the best of America's dreams, and the worst of America's realities. The making of the Constitution will come alive for you in the pages of this book, and your feelings about how the nation started will never be the same.
[Question to General Colin Powell]: What book is on your night stand now?
“The Summer of 1787, by David O. Stewart. As I grow older, I am increasingly fascinated by our founding fathers. The challenges they faced and the compromises they made, good and bad, to create a nation have inspired us and people around the world. I wish today’s political leaders, especially in Washington, would show the courage and willingness to fight for what they believe in, but possess an understanding of the need to compromise to solve the nation’s problems. They all need to go off and read [The Summer of] 1787.
—New York Times Book Review, July 1, 2012
"Ten pages into this book, I could not put it down. . . The Summer of 1787 should be required reading for anyone who cares about the foundation of our democracy. Beyond that, it is a fascinating study of personalities, personal efficacy, and the give-and-take of the political process, with considerable relevance to present-day America. . . . Stewart . . . has clearly joined the ranks of McCullough and Ambrose as a first-rate popular historian."
—William S. Bailey, Trial Magazine, January 2008
"[T]his is one of the most entertaining narratives of American history I have ever read. It is a page-turner. It is so well written that even if you have no idea what the U.S. Constitution says, you are likely to want to read this book end-to-end in one sitting. . . . If you read only one book about the Constitution, let it be "The Summer of 1787."
—Michael L. Ramsey, Roanoke Times, July 1, 2007
"[Stewart] has produced a most readable and remarkable history of the convention. . . . To say that The Summer of 1787 reads like a novel is inadequate. It reads better than most novels and is a major contribution to the literature about the Constitution. "
—Charles S. Doskow, The Federal Lawyer, September 2008
"Since Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia appeared in 1966, no work has challenged its classic status. Now, Stewart's work does. Briskly written, full of deft characterizations and drama, grounded firmly in the records of the Convention and its members' letters, this is a splendid rendering of the document's creation. All the debates are here, as are all the the convention's personalities. . . a fast-paced narrative of a long, hot summer's work. . . . Stewart's excellent book will appeal to those looking for descriptive history at its best."
—Publishers Weekly, January 8, 2007
"Mr. Stewart has done a nimble job of retelling a familiar story, showing how the Constitution evolved during those hot summer months in Philadelphia, while conjuring the atmosphere of the convention and creating vivid portraits of its chief delegates."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, April 20, 2007
"[T]he perfect gift . . . a book for those who like their history written with easy elegance and a sharp sense of humor. . . [an] engrossing tale."
—James Srodes, Washington Lawyer (March 2007)
"David O. Stewart made clearer to me than ever the tensions and bargains that produced our Constitution at the Convention of 1787. Especially the bargain over slavery, with all its terrible, lasting consequences. It is an irresistible drama."
—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon's Trumpet, New York Times columnist
"In this engaging story of the momentous but little-understood summer that gave us the Constitution, David Stewart deftly reminds us what a close-run thing America was--and still is. Stewart's is an important work, written with insight and verve."
—Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation
"If Stewart deliberately had set out to write a timely account of the 55 men from 12 states who produced our national framework document, he’s scored a 10-strike. A second printing beyond the first 20,000 volumes surely is warranted. So is wide readership."
—Dick Herman, Lincoln (NE) Journal Star, June 30, 2007
"Thanks to David Stewart, we have fresh understandings of our Constitution's strong points and the reasons for the flaws built into it. We also have renewed insights into the character and determination of the men who wrote it."
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 17, 2007
"At a time when many Americans feel beleaguered by internal antagonisms and uncertainty about the world, David Stewart's The Summer of 1787 is a welcome blast of fresh air. This succinct and fascinating book inspires us anew with the brilliance and fortitude of the leaders who went to Philadelphia -- and shows, step by step, how they created our system of government."
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage
"[Stewart]’s written a profound, and yet utterly readable account of the infighting that brought about this most praiseworthy of law collections which are our heritage today. . . . Stewart places us there, in that long ago hot summer. He is a master storyteller as well as evidence-building historian."
—Decatur Daily, May 20, 2007
"The Summer of 1787 may be more than two centuries in our past, but David O. Stewart makes it wonderfully vivid in this fresh and gripping account of America's constitutional birth pangs. Instead of periwigged demigods, Stewart introduces us to 55 white males, whose talent for compromise planted the seeds of representative democracy in their garden of privilege. This tale offers the perfect antidote to our own sound bite and focus group politics."
—Richard Norton Smith, PBS commentator and author of Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation
"Crafting the constitution was one of the most amazing collaborations in human history. David O. Stewart's book is both a gripping narrative on how it was done and a useful guide to how we should regard that wonderful document today."
—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
"[L]ike most great stories, [this one] is worth retelling, especially when told exceedingly well. Stewart, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, is a fine writer whose narrative unfolds like a well-structured novel "
—Jay Freeman, Booklist (March 1, 2007)
"David O. Stewart's spirited The Summer of 1787 explores a time when brilliant men-along with colleagues less acute but often louder-hammered out the template for the United States of America. With indelible vignettes and anecdotes, Stewart reminds us why those four months in Philadelphia can still shake the world."
—A.J. Langguth, author of Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence
"At a time that feels to many like the twilight of the Republic, it is heartening to go back to the dawn and watch the authors of the Constitution struggle to create a democracy that would endure. In The Summer of 1787, David O. Stewart recreates this moment with fidelity, great feeling, and insight. His book renews our appreciation of one of the masterpieces of Western civilization and reminds us, as Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention, that it was one thing to found a republic - and quite another to keep it."
—Patricia O'Toole, author of When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House and The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends
Videos and Podcasts
View the interview about The Summer of 1787 on C-SPAN's Q &A, April 22, 2007:
Listen to the Think/KERA Podcast where Krys Boyd interviews David:
Listen to an American Constitution Society (ACS) program where Paul M. Smith interviews David:
James Madison reached Philadelphia on May 3, ten whole days before any other delegate (except for the ones who lived there), and eleven days before the Convention was scheduled to begin. His early arrival reflected both his eagerness and his lifelong habit of exacting preparation. Always gentle with his health when he could be, the Virginian gave himself ample time to recover from the grinding stagecoach ride from New York, where he had been representing Virginia in the Confederation Congress.