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  • Federalist 10

     |  Rethinking Union and Government

    Federalist 10 Federalist 10 1 James Madison Whereas democracy entails direct rule of the people, in a republic the people rule indirectly, through their representatives. A republic can therefore encompass a greater population and geographical area. This difference is decisive in the American experiment, Publius argues, for an expansive republic is able to control the inherent danger of majority faction. November 22, 1787 The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their ...
  • Virginia Declaration of Rights

     |  Religion, Morality, and Property

    Virginia Declaration of Rights Virginia Declaration of Rights 1 George Mason (1725-1792) The Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason as a preamble to the Virginia Constitution, is—along with the Declaration of Independence that followed a month later—the clearest statement of the social contract theory of government found in major early American documents. June 12, 1776 A declaration of rights made by the Representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free Convention; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of Government. Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state ...
  • The Declaration of Independence

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    The Declaration of Independence The Declaration of Independence With the War for Independence over a year old and hope for a peaceful resolution nonexistent, the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five—including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin— to draft a document "declar[ing] the causes which impel [the American colonies] to the separation." Thirty-three-year-old Jefferson composed the initial draft, completing it in seventeen days. The committee submitted its draft to Congress on June 28, 1776, and on July 2, Congress voted for independence. Two days later, after numerous edits, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence by unanimous vote. July 4, 1776 The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States ...
  • The Constitution of the United States of America

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    The Constitution of the United States of America The Constitution of the United States of America Fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island declined to participate) traveled to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention, which began in May 1787. They quickly scrapped the existing Articles of Confederation, and after four months they concluded their business by adopting a new frame of government. On September 17, thirty-nine delegates signed the Constitution. It was nine months before the requisite nine states ratified the Constitution, putting it into effect. The thirteenth state, Rhode Island, did not ratify it until 1790. Subsequently, it has been amended twenty-seven times. September 17, 1787 Preamble We the People of ...
  • The Northwest Ordinance

     |  Religion, Morality, and Property

    The Northwest Ordinance The Northwest Ordinance Adopted by the Congress of the Confederation in 1787, the Northwest Ordinance set forth a model for the expansion of the American republic. Providing a governing structure for the territory that would later become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, it prohibited slavery, protected religious liberty, and encouraged education. Following the adoption of the Constitution, the new Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance again in 1789. July 13, 1787 An Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio Section 1. Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, That the said territory, for the purpose of temporary government, be one ...
  • Republican Party Platform of 1856

     |  Crisis of Constitutionalism

    Republican Party Platform of 1856 Republican Party Platform of 1856 1 Northern anger toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act reached its zenith in the late spring of 1854, when various anti-slavery forces coalesced in Jackson, Michigan. Organized around the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the Republican Party was born out of this meeting. It would adopt a platform two years later that called for repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and restoration of the Missouri Compromise. June 17, 1856 This convention of delegates, assembled in pursuance of a call addressed to the people of the United States, without regard to past political differences or divisions, who are opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, to the policy of the present Administration ...
  • Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved

     |  Natural Rights/American Revolution

    Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved 1 James Otis (1725-1783) Otis rose to prominence in 1761, after he gave a courtroom speech opposing the Writs of Assistance—blanket warrants issued by the British for searching suspect property. He edited that speech into this essay three years later, after the passage of the Sugar Act. Its arguments contain the seed of the American Revolution—an appeal to natural rights applied against particular abuses of political power. Struck by lightning in 1783, Otis did not live beyond the Revolution. But John Adams remarked that he had never known a man "whose service for any ten years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those ...
  • Common Sense

     |  Natural Rights/American Revolution

    Common Sense Common Sense 1 Thomas Paine (1737-1809) Published anonymously in January 1776 by an Englishman who had come to Philadelphia two years before, Common Sense became the most published work of the founding era. Printed over half a million times in a nation of three million people, it made a passionate case for liberty and against monarchy. Unpopular in later life for his attacks on Christianity, Paine will always be remembered for this pamphlet—a pamphlet often said to have launched the American Revolution. January 10, 1776 On the Origin and Design of Government in General, With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them ...
  • Discourses Concerning Government

     |  The Apple of Gold/Frame of Silver

    Discourses Concerning Government Discourses Concerning Government 1 Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) Involved in some of the same anti-monarchical causes as John Locke, Sidney was caught up in the conspiracy to oust King Charles II. He was beheaded on December 7, 1683, a martyr to the English Whig cause. Fifteen years after his death, his Discourses Concerning Government was published. A hero to John Adams and widely read in the American colonies, Sidney famously inscribed the following in the Visitor's Book at the University of Copenhagen: "This hand, enemy to tyrants, by the sword seeks peace under liberty." This inscription later inspired the state motto of Massachusetts. 1698 Chapter One Section 17. God having given the Government of the ...
  • Cornerstone Speech

     |  Secession and Civil War

    Cornerstone Speech Cornerstone Speech 1 Alexander Stephens (1812-1883) Former Senator Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederate government, while former Georgia Congressman Alexander Stephens became vice president. Three weeks after Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, Stephens delivered this speech in Savannah, identifying the cornerstone of the Confederacy as an idea opposite to the equality principle of the American founding. March 21, 1861 At half past seven o'clock on Thursday evening, the largest audience ever assembled at the Athenaeum was in the house, waiting most impatiently for the appearance of the orator of the evening, Honorable A. H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. The committee, with invited ...
  • Circular Letter to the States

     |  Articles of Confederation

    Circular Letter to the States Circular Letter to the States 1 George Washington As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, overseen by a national legislature that struggled to fund the War for Independence, General Washington was as familiar as anyone with the defects of the Articles of Confederation. In this, his last circular letter to the states, which he sent to the thirteen governors, Washington emphasizes the need for unity in the maintenance of the nation's independence. June 8, 1783 Sir: The great object for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the Service of my Country, being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known ...
  • What is Progress?

     |  Progressive Rejection of the Founding

    What is Progress What is Progress? 1 Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) After earning a Ph.D. in both history and political science at Johns Hopkins University, Wilson held various academic positions, culminating in the presidency of Princeton University. Throughout this period, he came to see the Constitution as a cumbersome instrument unfit for the government of a large and vibrant nation. This speech, delivered during his successful campaign for president in 1912 and included in a collection of speeches called The New Freedom, puts forward the idea of an evolving, or "living," constitution. 1913 In that sage and veracious chronicle, "Alice Through the Looking-Glass," it is recounted how, on a noteworthy occasion, the little heroine is seized by the Red Chess Queen ...
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