To build a financial system meant building institutions (foremost, the Bank), and that in turn meant constitutional construction. Everyone on all sides eagerly mobilized the “original public meaning” of the Constitution, only to discover that it would carry only so far. Those arguments, moreover, were part of a vituperative, sharply polarized and, over long stretches, closely divided debate. (McCraw records the often razor-thin margins on votes on the Bank, the debt, and internal improvements.) The stuff that we now take for granted and cite, reverently and/or precedentially, as constitutional wisdom easily could have come out the other way. In our current confused debate, it’s good to hold on to all of that at the same time: the Constitution as a lode star; the limits of mere interpretation and the impossibility of a Constitution beyond all politics; and the recognition that the Constitution can survive and, in a real sense, rests on political strife.
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