According to the traditional understanding of American
constitutional law, the Revolution produced a new conception of the
constitution as a set of restrictions on the power of the state
rather than a mere description of governmental roles. Daniel J.
Hulsebosch complicates this viewpoint by arguing that American
ideas of constitutions were based on British ones and that, in New
York, those ideas evolved over the long eighteenth century as New
York moved from the periphery of the British Atlantic empire to the
center of a new continental empire.
Hulsebosch explains how colonists and administrators reconfigured
British legal sources to suit their needs in an expanding empire.
In this story, familiar characters such as Alexander Hamilton and
James Kent appear in a new light as among the nation's most
important framers, and forgotten loyalists such as Superintendent
of Indian Affairs Sir William Johnson and lawyer William Smith Jr.
are rightly returned to places of prominence.
In his paradigm-shifting analysis, Hulsebosch captures the
essential paradox at the heart of American constitutional history:
the Revolution, which brought political independence and
substituted the people for the British crown as the source of
legitimate authority, also led to the establishment of a newly
powerful constitution and a new postcolonial genre of
constitutional law that would have been the envy of the British
imperial agents who had struggled to govern the colonies before the