Conventional accounts of American constitutional history, theory, and jurisprudence
cast today’s constitutionalism—the idea that “the People” are the sovereign whose written
constitution grants and guides the legitimate exercise of government power—as an unbroken
chain linking the present to the 1787 federal constitutional convention. 

This interpretation came to prominence in the 20th century despite its inability to
account for many prominent features of the growth and development of America’s experience
with constitutional government. Examining the broader historical context of American
constitutionalism can make sense of many things that existing studies fail to explain or
dismiss as aberrational or illegitimate. 

Professor Christian Fritz’s on-going study of American constitutionalism expands the
understanding of federal and state constitutions before 1900 and their differing impacts
on the nation’s development. A central theme in this work involves the foundation for
American constitutionalism laid during the American Revolution. This foundation
legitimized government and law as an expression of the will of the People acting as the
sovereign. Fritz tests today’s understanding that the constitutional vision of the
Federal Framers epitomized American thinking on government after the Revolution. The
first stages of his research suggest that much this contemporary perspective is
incomplete: the views of the federal Framers became the constitutional norm only after a
protracted struggle that ended not in 1787 and was still in contention as the nation went
to civil war. 

This interpretation was most recently explored in Professor Fritz’s American Sovereigns:
The People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War(Cambridge
University Press, 2008). The book offers a portrait of constitutionalism during the
decades following Independence and that it significantly differed from today’s
constitutionalism. He explores ideas that today seem like “constitutional dinosaurs.”
However, their eventual demise does not detract from the fact that they were seriously
discussed, considered and acted upon. How, when and why these ideas that competed with
the Founder’s vision became extinct is the focus of Fritz’s study. He is continuing to
trace the fate of these ideas in the years following the period explored in American
Sovereigns. 

His earlier studies of the conventional accounts of American constitutionalism by
historians, lawyers and political scientists are presented in “Fallacies of American
Constitutionalism,” published by the Rutgers Law Journal, and in “Recovering the Lost
Worlds of America’s Written Constitutions,” which appeared in the Albany Law Review. Both
articles are offered as PDF files on this site. 

Christian G. Fritz is a professor of law at the University of New Mexico School of Law,
where he has held both the Dickason and Weihofen professorships. Fritz has a Ph.D. in
history from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from the University of
California, Hastings College of the Law. 

Professor Fritz also serves on the editorial board of The Federal Evidence Review,a
monthly electronic publication (link available at side column). The Review focuses on
current developments in the law of evidence in the federal courts and on the application
of the Federal Rules of Evidence. 

American Constitutionalism

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Foreword: Out from Under the Shadow of the Federal Constitution: An Overlooked American Constitutionalism, Rutgers Law Journal (2010)

Most scholars of constitutional law and history equate American constitutionalism with the Federal constitution. This...

 

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Recovering the Lost Worlds of America’s Written Constitutions, Albany Law Review (2005)

“Recovering the Lost Worlds of America’s Written Constitutions,” originating as the sixth Brennan Lecture delivered...

 

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Fallacies of American Constitutionalism, Rutgers Law Journal (2004)

“Fallacies of American Constitutionalism” examines the pervasive assumptions in the scholarship of historians, lawyers, and...

 

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American Constitution-Making: The Neglected State Constitutional Sources (with Marsha L. Baum), Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (2000)

“American Constitution-Making: The Neglected State Constitutional Sources” looks at a frequently overlooked genre of literature...

 

Reviews of American Sovereigns

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Review Essay: “Antebellum American Thought and Politics”, The Journal of American Culture (2010)

Review Essay of the following works: American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before...

 

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Review of Christian G. Fritz, American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition before the Civil War, Newsletter of the Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (2008)
 

Prizes for American Sovereigns