Dean William Treanor's masterful article, The Case of the Dishonest Scrivener: Gouverneur Morris and the Creation of the Federalist Constitution, makes a major contribution to scholarship on the founding. He uncovers a body of constitutional interpretations favored by advocates of a strong national government and emphasized by the Federalist party in the early decades of politics and policy under the Constitution, raising significant questions about present-day originalism in the process. Treanor particularly emphasizes how Constitutional Convention delegate Gouverneur Morris, acting as primary draftsman on the 'Committee of Style' which put the finishing touches on the draft 'Constitution' crafted language favorable to Federalist interpretations. But Treanor disserves his otherwise compelling argument with a narrative that portrays Morris as a 'dishonest scrivener' who 'smuggled in' substantive revisions to impose his own views, presumably against the will of an inattentive Convention majority. This narrative framing 'not sustained by the available evidence' digresses from Treanor's core argument, and works against it. A better interpretation of the historical evidence is that the Committee of Style draft had broad support and made no substantive revisions that escaped the notice of the Convention. The fifteen revisions by the Committee of Style cited by Treanor do not support the charge of 'dishonest scrivening'. Ultimately, we can dismiss the 'dishonest scrivener' narrative, while recognizing Treanor's valuable, core insights that Morris was a key player at the Convention and that the Committee of Style reinforced Federalist understandings of the original Constitution.Download the article from SSRN at the link.
May 15, 2022
Schwartz on Gouverneur Morris, The Committee of Style, and the Federalist Constitution: A Commentary on Treanor's "Dishonest Scrivener" @WisconsinLaw
David S. Schwartz, University of Wisconsin Law School, is publishing Gouverneur Morris, The Committee of Style, and the Federalist Constitution: A Commentary on Treanor's 'Dishonest Scrivener' in volume 120 of the Michigan Law Review Online (2022). Here is the abstract.