In 1866, the second Philadelphia Convention opened on this day under the Chairmanship of Walter Bagehot.
Second Philadelphia ConventionLess than a century before, another English journalist, Thomas Paine had stood at the apex of American political thought. But unlike Paine, Bagehot had never crossed the Atlantic, and perhaps this remoteness provided the broad perspective that enabled him to discern the constitutional issues that lay behind the outbreak of the American Civil War. "It is impossible", he wrote in 1861, "not to observe that the whole mischief has been, not caused but painfully exacerbated by the unfortunate mixture of flexibility and inflexibility in the United States Constitution".
America's stability had depended upon a voluntary union of the states. This was no longer true by the time Andrew Jackson left office. The result was a string of ineffectual Presidencies, because in the absence of broad agreement on issues of which the Constitution was largely silent, notably secession, the Chief Magistrate was simply unable to wield the kind of extra-legal authority envisaged by James Madison et al at the Philadelphia Convention. Quite simply, a sacred document and an unhereditary substitute for an uncrowned king was not a strong enough framework for the US Government.
That was the theory at least, a luxury Bagehot enjoyed whilst he wrote "The English Constitution" in 1865. And then he received the historic invitation from President Abraham Lincoln.