Constitutional Myths

What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right

A challenge to the tall tales that have assailed our founding document, from the celebrated and hugely popular historian

“Wonderfully lucid and highly informative.” —Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Magnificent Catastrophe

Americans on both sides of the aisle love to reference the U.S. Constitution as the ultimate source of truth. But which truth? What did the framers really have in mind? In a book that author R.B. Bernstein calls “essential reading,” acclaimed historian Ray Raphael places the Constitution in its historical context, dispensing little-known facts and debunking popular preconceived notions.

For each myth, Raphael first notes the kernel of truth it represents, since most myths have some basis in fact. Then he presents a big “BUT”—the larger context that reveals what the myth distorts. What did the framers see as the true role of government? What did they think of taxes? At the Constitutional Convention, how did they mix principles with politics? Did James Madison really father the Constitution? Did the framers promote a Bill of Rights? Do the so-called Federalist Papers reveal the Constitution’s inner meaning?

An authoritative and entertaining book, which “should appeal equally to armchair historians and professionals in the field” (Booklist), Constitutional Myths reveals what our founding document really says and how we should apply it today.


“Public officials have often had the strange experience of being confronted by angry citizens who demand that they stop violating the Constitution, citing as proof of such violations the failure to abide by imagined provisions that aren’t actually in the Constitution at all. In Constitutional Myths, Raphael sets out to separate fact from fiction, the differences between the Constitution our Founders created and the one that exists only in our own desire for the political outcomes we prefer.”
—Former Congressman Mickey Edwards
“We all love myths but Ray gets it right. His narrative sticks to the historical record, and his arguments are tightly reasoned. Constitutional Myths is wonderfully lucid and highly informative.”
—Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 and professor of history, Pepperdine University
“Tired of the nonsense that we’re being asked to believe about the Constitution and the founders? The universal antidote is this marvelous book. Ray Raphael’s Constitutional Myths blends formidable historical research with rigorous argument and clear, direct prose. Raphael blasts to smithereens a whole constellation of tall tales about the Constitution, its origins, and its interpretation. Not only is it a blessed relief—it’s fun to watch Raphael’s iconoclasm at work. Essential reading, now more than ever.”
—R.B. Bernstein, author of The Founding Fathers Reconsidered and Thomas Jefferson
“Take off your rose-colored glasses, people: The Founding Fathers embraced a strong federal government, at the risk of falling into anarchy and disintegration. Therein lies the kernel of the author‘s readable demystification of some of the ongoing crusades by conservatives touting the supremacy of ‘originalism’. . . . With documents amply provided at the close of the text, Raphael provides a truly accessible teaching tool.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Ray Raphael’s Constitutional Myths is a timely exposé about the ways in which Americans, and American politicians in particular, have frequently been misled by myths about the origins and history of the U.S. Constitution. It is an extraordinarily important and nuanced work of history that places the Constitution, and the men who created it, in their proper eighteenth-century context.”
—Richard R. Beeman, author of Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, and professor of history, University of Pennsylvania

Books by Ray Raphael

Founding Myths
Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

Ray Raphael

The Spirit of 74
How the American Revolution Began

Ray Raphael, Marie Raphael

The First American Revolution
Before Lexington and Concord

Ray Raphael

A People’s History of the American Revolution
How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence

Ray Raphael

Goodreads Reviews