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  • Five Founders on Slavery

     |  Roots of the Slavery Crisis

    Five Founders on Slavery George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on Slavery None of the leading Founders ever declared slavery to be a just or beneficial institution. In fact, they hoped to see the slave trade eradicated, and eventually the entire institution of slavery made illegal. George Washington Letter to Robert Morris 1 April 12, 1786 "...[T]here is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it...." John Adams Letter to Robert J. Evans 2 June 8, 1819 "...Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States.... I have, through my whole life ...
  • Nicomachean Ethics

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    Nicomachean Ethics Nicomachean Ethics 1 Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Written in the tradition of Aristotle's teacher, Plato—and of Plato's teacher, Socrates—the Nicomachean Ethics addresses the question, "What is the best life for man?" An extended reflection on virtue, happiness, and friendship, it helped to inform the moral and political thought of America's Founders. There are echoes of it, for instance, in President George Washington's First Inaugural Address, when he states "that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." C. 350 B.C. Book 1 Chapter 1. Every art and every inquiry, and likewise every action and choice, seems to aim at some good, and hence it has been beautifully ...
  • The Politics

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    The Politics The Politics 1 Aristotle Thomas Jefferson began studying Greek at the age of nine, and later in life employed so many Greek phrases in his letters that John Adams, his frequent correspondent, complained of them. The Founders' interest in classical languages was not academic, but political and philosophical. Among the ancient books that they drew upon was Aristotle's Politics, a catalog of constitutions and a guide to understanding regimes. C. 335-322 B.C. Book 1 Chapter 1. (1) Since we see that every city is some sort of partnership, and that every partnership is constituted for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what is held to be good), it is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and ...
  • Brutus I

     |  Rethinking Union and Government

    Essay I Essay I 1 Brutus Supporters of the Constitution dubbed their opponents "Anti-Federalists." Opponents resented the label, but it stuck. The Anti-Federalist author Brutus—most likely New York lawyer Robert Yates—penned this essay, the first of sixteen, a month after the Constitution was completed. Having attended the first month of the Constitutional Convention, Yates had left, disgusted with what he perceived as a plan that would give far too much power to the central government. October 18, 1787 To the Citizens of the State of New-York: When the public is called to investigate and decide upon a question in which not only the present members of the community are deeply interested, but upon which the happiness and misery of generations ...
  • Brutus XI

     |  Three Branches of Government

    Essay XI Essay XI 1 Brutus Here Brutus criticizes the power granted by the Constitution to an independent judiciary. January 31, 1788 The nature and extent of the judicial power of the United States, proposed to be granted by this constitution, claims our particular attention. Much has been said and written upon the subject of this new system on both sides, but I have not met with any writer, who has discussed the judicial powers with any degree of accuracy. And yet it is obvious, that we can form but very imperfect ideas of the manner in which this government will work, or the effect it will have in changing the internal police and mode of distributing justice at present subsisting in the respective states, without a thorough investigation ...
  • Speech on Reception of Abolition Petitions

     |  Roots of the Slavery Crisis

    Speech on Reception of Abolition Petitions Speech on Reception of Abolition Petitions 1 John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) The number of slaves in America had grown from 700,000 in 1790 to over two million in 1830. Northern opposition to slavery was growing in the 1820s and 1830s, as it became clear that hopes for a withering away of slavery were unrealistic. This elicited a similarly strong response from slavery's foremost advocates. In 1836, the House of Representatives passed a "gag rule" that tabled abolition discussions. Here, Senator John C. Calhoun champions a similar resolution in the Senate. His argument became the linchpin of what came to be called the "positive good" school of thought regarding slavery, one all but absent from the debates of the two previous ...
  • Speech on the Oregon Bill

     |  Roots of the Slavery Crisis

    Speech on the Oregon Bill Speech on the Oregon Bill 1 John C. Calhoun Even worse than political errors such as the Northwest Ordinance, Calhoun argues here, are theoretical errors, chief of which is the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence. June 27, 1848 ...I turn now to my friends of the South, and ask: What are you prepared to do? If neither the barriers of the constitution nor the high sense of right and justice should prove sufficient to protect you, are you prepared to sink down into a state of acknowledged inferiority; to be stripped of your dignity of equals among equals, and be deprived of your equality of rights in this federal partnership of States? If so, you are woefully degenerated from your sires, and will well ...
  • What Good's a Constitution?

     |  New Deal and Great Society

    What Good's a Constitution What Good's a Constitution? 1 Winston Churchill (1874-1965) Written soon after Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic Convention Address of 1936, this article by British statesman Winston Churchill points to the wide gulf between Churchill's and Roosevelt's economic views, even if five years later they would forge a close wartime alliance. Beyond their differences on economics, Churchill sees the American Constitution as an enduring source of strength for the American republic, not an obstacle to be overcome. August 22, 1936 No one can think clearly or sensibly about this vast and burning topic without in the first instance making up his mind upon the fundamental issue. Does he value the State above the citizen, or the citizen above the State ...
  • On the Commonwealth

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    On the Commonwealth On the Commonwealth 1 Marcus Tullius Cicero (c. 106-43 B.C.) Cicero was the great defender of the Roman republic and a master of oratory. The author of several books on politics, philosophy, and rhetoric, he was the first to speak of natural law as a moral or political law, and was an important influence on the Founders. C. 54-51 B.C. ...[33] True law is right reason, consonant with nature, spread through all people. It is constant and eternal; it summons to duty by its orders, it deters from crime by its prohibitions. Its orders and prohibitions to good people are never given in vain; but it does not move the wicked by these orders or prohibitions. It is wrong to pass laws obviating this law; it is not permitted to abrogate ...
  • The Inspiration of the Declaration

     |  Progressive Rejection of the Founding

    The Inspiration of the Declaration The Inspiration of the Declaration 1 Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) President Coolidge delivered this speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Rejecting Progressivism root and branch, he defends America's founding principles. July 5, 1926 We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event ...
  • Progressive Democracy

     |  Progressive Rejection of the Founding

    Progressive Democracy Progressive Democracy 1 Herbert Croly (1869-1930) In this book, Croly, a leading Progressive theorist and founder of The New Republic magazine, criticizes the Founders' fear of tyranny of the majority and rejects their idea that government exists to protect individual rights. 1915 Chapter XII: The Advent of Direct Government ...If economic, social, political and technical conditions had remained very much as they were at the end of the eighteenth century, the purely democratic political aspirations might never have obtained the chance of expression. Some form of essentially representative government was at that time apparently the only dependable kind of liberal political organization. It was imposed by the physical ...
  • Reply in the Senate to William Seward

     |  Secession and Civil War

    Reply in the Senate to William Seward Reply in the Senate to William Seward 1 Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) The Senate of 1860 looked little like the Senate of 1790, its proceedings having degenerated into unbridled partisanship. Several years before this debate, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner following anti-slavery remarks on the Senate floor. The South had few defenders more tenacious than Mississippi's Senator Jefferson Davis. He had opposed the Compromise of 1850 and hoped for the annexation of much of northern Mexico, which he believed a natural place to expand Southern interests. Here, in response to New York Senator William Seward, Davis makes clear that, like John C. Calhoun, he rejects the ...
  • Reply in the Senate to Stephen Douglas

     |  Secession and Civil War

    Reply in the Senate to Stephen Douglas Reply in the Senate to Stephen Douglas 1 Jefferson Davis A month before this speech, the Democratic National Convention had convened in Charleston, South Carolina. When the delegates failed to adopt an explicitly pro-slavery platform, the Convention dissolved. Rival Southern and Northern Conventions reconvened in June 1860, each nominating their own presidential candidate: Stephen Douglas for the North and John Breckinridge for the South. With the Democratic vote thus divided, the Republican candidate was widely expected to win the 1860 election. Here Davis laments the Kansas-Nebraska solution, explaining how Douglas, once a Southern hero, had become a villain. May 17, 1860 ...It is this confusion of ideas ...
  • Farewell Address to the Senate

     |  Secession and Civil War

    Farewell Address to the Senate Farewell Address to the Senate 1 Jefferson Davis Most Southern members of Congress followed their states into secession. In this farewell speech, Senator Davis expresses admiration for the late Senator John C. Calhoun, author of the nullification doctrine, and surprisingly invokes the Declaration of Independence in his cause. January 21, 1861 I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by a solemn ordinance of her people in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course my functions are terminated here. It has seemed to me proper, however, that I should appear in ...
  • Liberalism and Social Action

     |  Progressive Rejection of the Founding

    Liberalism and Social Action Liberalism and Social Action 1 John Dewey (1859-1952) As a leading Progressive scholar from the 1880s onward, Dewey, who taught mainly at Columbia University, devoted much of his life to redefining the idea of education. His thought was influenced by German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, and central to it was a denial of objective truth and an embrace of historicism and moral relativism. As such he was critical of the American founding. 1935 1. The History of Liberalism ...The natural beginning of the inquiry in which we are engaged is consideration of the origin and past development of liberalism. It is to this topic that the present chapter is devoted. The conclusion reached from a brief survey of history, namely ...
  • Speech at Chicago

     |  Crisis of Constitutionalism

    Speech at Chicago Speech at Chicago 1 Stephen Douglas (1813-1861) As the primary author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the most vocal defender of the Dred Scott decision, Douglas traveled extensively promoting the concept of popular sovereignty, which he equated with republican self-government. The national reputation he garnered in the process would, he hoped, serve him well in a future presidential bid. July 9, 1858 ...Fellow-citizens, while I devoted my best energies—all my energies, mental and physical—to the vindication of the great principle, and whilst the result has been such as will enable the people of Kansas to come into the Union with such a constitution as they desire, yet the credit of this great moral victory is to be divided ...
  • Seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate

     |  Crisis of Constitutionalism

    Seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate Seventh Lincoln-Douglas Debate 1 Lincoln and Douglas agreed to debate in all nine of the state's congressional districts, with their recent speeches in Chicago and Springfield counting as the opening salvos. Seven debates ensued, each lasting three hours. This seventh and last debate, held in Alton, drew more than 5,000 spectators. Local and national papers—most in the service of one of the two main parties—reprinted each speech, leading to widespread circulation. After the debates concluded, Lincoln published an edited version. The book's popularity throughout the North paved the way for his eventual presidential campaign. October 15, 1858 Senator Douglas's Speech ...The issue thus being made up between Mr. Lincoln ...
  • The Dividing Line

     |  Crisis of Constitutionalism

    The Dividing Line The Dividing Line between Federal and Local Authority: Popular Sovereignty in the Territories 1 Stephen Douglas In September 1857, pro-slavery forces in Kansas drafted the Lecompton Constitution. Their anti-slavery opponents declared the document invalid, as they had not participated in its creation. Adhering to the principle of popular sovereignty, Douglas rejected the Lecompton Constitution and called for Kansans to draft a new document. Northern Democrats, dismayed by the armed conflict in Kansas, supported his position; Southern Democrats looked on it as an act of betrayal. Douglas took every opportunity to explain his position in hopes of re-unifying his party. This speech was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. September ...
  • Federal Farmer I and II

     |  Rethinking Union and Government

    Letters I and II Letters I and II 1 Federal Farmer Alexander Hamilton acknowledged the Federal Farmer—believed to be either New Yorker Melancton Smith or Virginian Richard Henry Lee—as "the most plausible" Anti-Federalist. Here, the Federal Farmer argues that the federalism of the Constitution is a mirage, for it sets up a structure in which all power will flow to the center. October 8, 1787 Letter I Dear Sir: ...The present moment discovers a new face in our affairs. Our object has been all along, to reform our federal system, and to strengthen our governments—to establish peace, order and justice in the community—but a new object now presents. The plan of government now proposed is evidently calculated totally to change, in time, our ...
  • The American Conception of Liberty

     |  Progressive Rejection of the Founding

    The American Conception of Liberty The American Conception of Liberty 1 Frank Goodnow (1859-1939) Progressive political science was based on the assumption that society could be organized in such a way that social ills would disappear. Goodnow, president of Johns Hopkins University and the first president of the American Political Science Association, helped pioneer the idea that separating politics from administration was the key to progress. In this speech, given at Brown University, he addresses the need to move beyond the ideas of the Founders. 1916 The end of the eighteenth century was marked by the formulation and general acceptance by thinking men in Europe of a political philosophy which laid great emphasis on individual private rights ...
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