Entries by Amanda Hughes

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Conclusion: American Republicanism as a Way of Life

The Constitution itself begins with the phrase “We the People,” and the reason constitutional law governs all statutory laws is that the sovereign people ratified that Constitution. A republic might be ‘unitary’—ruled by a single, centralized government. The American Founders saw that this would lead to an overbearing national government, one that would eventually undermine republican self-government itself. They gave the federal government enumerated powers, leaving the remaining governmental powers “to the States, or the People.” The Civil War was fought over this issue, as well as slavery, the question of whether the American Union could defend itself against its internal enemies.

The classical political philosophers classified the forms of political rule, giving names to the several ‘regimes’ they saw around them. They emphasized the importance of regimes because regimes, they knew, designate who rules us, the institutions by which the rulers rule, the purposes of that rule, and finally the way of life of citizens or subjects. In choosing a republican regime on a democratic foundation, governing a large territory for commercial purposes with a carefully calibrated set of governmental powers, all intended to secure the natural rights of citizens according to the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, the Founders set the course of human events on a new and better direction. Each generation of Americans has needed to understand the American way of life and to defend it.

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March 23, 2010: President Barack H. Obama Signs the Affordable Care Act

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), sometimes casually referred to as “Obamacare,” a sobriquet that Obama himself embraced in 2013. The ACA covered 900 pages and hundreds of provisions. The law was so opaque and convoluted that legislators, bureaucrats, and Obama himself at times were unclear about its scope. For example, the main goal of the law was presented as providing health insurance to all Americans who previously were unable to obtain it due to, among other factors, lack of money or pre-existing health conditions. The law did increase the number of individuals covered by insurance, but stopped well short of universal coverage. Several of its unworkable or unpopular provisions were delayed by executive order. Others were subject to litigation to straighten out conflicting requirements. The ACA represented a probably not-yet-final step in the massive bureaucratization of health insurance and care over the past several decades, as health care moved from a private arrangement to a government-subsidized “right.”

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September 11, 2001: Islamic Terrorists Attack New York City and Washington, D.C.

For those old enough to remember, September 11, 2001, 9:03 a.m. is burned into our collective memory. It was at that moment that United Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Everyone was watching. American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower seventeen minutes earlier. For those few moments there was uncertainty whether the first crash was a tragic accident. Then, on live television, the South Tower fire ball vividly announced to the world that America was under attack.

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Fall of the Berlin Wall and End of the Cold War

In October of 1989, hundreds of thousands of East German citizens demonstrated in Leipzig, following a pattern of demonstrations for freedom and human rights throughout Eastern Europe and following the first ever free election in a Communist country, Poland, in the Spring of 1989. Hungary had opened its southern border with Austria and East Germans seeking a better life were fleeing there. Czechoslovakia had done likewise on its western border and the result was the same. The East German government had been on edge and was seeking to reduce domestic tensions by granting limited passage of its citizens to West Germany. And that’s when the dam broke.

This surprising information about free passage was spread throughout East Berlin, East Germany and, indeed, around the word like a lightning bolt. Massive crowds gathered near-instantaneously and celebrated at the heavily guarded Wall gates which, in a party-like atmosphere amid total confusion, were opened by hard core communist yet totally outmanned Border Police, who normally had orders to shoot-to-kill anyone attempting to escape. A floodgate was opened and an unstoppable flood of freedom-seeking humanity passed through, unimpeded.

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August 2 1990 Persian Gulf War Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm Begins Guest Essayist Danny de Gracia

It’s hard to believe that this year marks thirty years since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. In history, some events can be said to be turning points for civilization that set the world on fire, and in many ways, our international system has not been the same since the invasion of Kuwait. Today, the Iraq that went to war against Kuwait is no more, and Saddam Hussein himself is long dead, but the battles that were fought, the policies that resulted, and the history that followed is one that will haunt the world for many more years to come.

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November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall is Torn Down, the Cold War is Ended and America Wins

Reagan had a long history of attacking communist states and the idea of communism itself that shaped his strategic outlook. In the decades after World War II, like many Americans, he was concerned about Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe spreading elsewhere. In 1952, Reagan compared communism to Nazism and other forms of totalitarianism characterized by a powerful state that limited individual freedoms.

Reagan and his team arrived in West Berlin on June 12. He spoke to reporters and nervous German officials, telling them, “This is the only wall that has ever been built to keep people in, not keep people out.” Meanwhile, in East Berlin, the German secret police and Russian KGB agents cordoned off an area a thousand yards wide opposite the spot where Reagan was to speak on the other side of the wall. They wanted to ensure that no one could hear the message of freedom.

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November 4, 1980: President Ronald Reagan Elected, Modern Conservatism Ascends to Preserve Individual Freedom

The election of Ronald Reagan on November 4, 1980 was one of the two most important elections of the 20th Century. It was a revolution in every way. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) decisively defeated one term incumbent Herbert Hoover by 472-59 Electoral votes. His election ushered in the era of aggressive liberalism, expanding the size of government, and establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Roosevelt’s inner circle, his “brain trust,” were dedicated leftists, several of whom conferred with Lenin and Stalin on policy issues prior to 1932.

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November 4, 1979: The Iranian Hostage Crisis Begins

Starting in September 1979, radical students began planning a more extensive assault on the Embassy. This included daily demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy to trigger an Embassy security response. This allowed organizers to assess the size and capabilities of the Embassy security forces. On November 4, 1979, one of the demonstrations erupted into an all-out conflict by the Embassy’s Visa processing public entrance. The assault leaders deployed approximately 500 students. Female students hid metal cutters under their robes, which were used to breach the Embassy gates.

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April 30, 1975: Fall of Saigon, America Losing Cold War Until Ronald Reagan Elected President

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 marked THE crucial turning point in winning the Cold War with Russia-dominated Communism, the USSR. Reagan’s rise to national prominence began with the surge in communist insurgencies and revolutions worldwide that began after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, and all South Vietnam to the communists. After 58,000 American lives and trillions in treasure lost over the tenures of five American Presidents, the United States left the Vietnam War and South Vietnam to the communists.

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August 9, 1974: Richard M. Nixon Resigns as President, Ending the Watergate Scandal

On Thursday, August 8, 1974, a somber Richard Nixon addressed the American people in a 16-minute speech via television to announce that he was planning to resign from the Presidency of the United States. He expressed regret over mistakes he made about the break-in at the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel and the aftermath of that event. He further expressed the hope that his resignation would begin to heal the political divisions the matter had exacerbated. The next day, having resigned, he boarded a helicopter and, with his family, left Washington, D.C.

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July 20, 1969: The United States Lands on the Moon and Wins the Space Race

The story of how men first set foot on the Moon one fateful day on July 20, 1969, will always be enshrined as one of America’s greatest contributions to history. When the first humans looked upwards to the night sky thousands of years ago, they must have marveled at the pale Moon looming in the heavens, set against the backdrop of countless stars. Inspired by the skies, and driven by a natural desire for exploration, humans must have wondered what was out there, and if it would be somehow possible to ever explore the distant heavens above.

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August 7, 1964: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Vietnam War

On March 12, 1947, President Harry Truman delivered a speech advocating assistance to Greece and Turkey to resist communism as part of the early Cold War against the Soviet Union. The speech enunciated the Truman Doctrine, which led to a departure from the country’s traditional foreign policy to a more expansive direction in global affairs. Truman said, “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Protecting the free world against communist expansion became the basis for the policy of Cold War containment.

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August 6, 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Congress made good on the President’s promises and fulfilled its oath. The Voting Rights Act, the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, was signed into law in August 1965, less than five (5) months after those bloody events in Selma. The VRA would allow individuals to sue in federal court when their voting rights were denied. It would allow the Department of Justice to do the same. And, recognizing that “voting discrimination … on a pervasive scale” justified an “uncommon exercise of congressional power[,]” despite the attendant “substantial federalism costs[,]” it required certain states and localities, for a limited time, to obtain the approval (or “pre-clearance”) of either DOJ or a federal court sitting in Washington, DC before making any alteration to their voting laws, from registration requirements to the location of polling places.

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July 2, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964

On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on national television. Finally, on the same day that John Adams had predicted 188 years earlier would be forever commemorated as a “Day of Deliverance” with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other[,]” the federal government had restored the law abandoned with Reconstruction in 1876.

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The True Casualties of the War on Poverty Are Its Purported Beneficiaries

When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the launch of a nationwide War on Poverty in 1964, momentary hope arose that it would uplift the lives of thousands of impoverished Americans and their inner-city neighborhoods. But the touted antipoverty campaign of the 60s is a classic example of injury with the helping hand. While impoverished Americans may not be rising up, what has become a virtual “poverty industry” and the bureaucracy of welfare system has prospered, expanding to 89 separate programs spread across 14 government programs and agencies. In sum, 70% of anti-poverty funding has not reached the poor but has been absorbed by those who serve the poor. As a consequence, the system has created a commodity out of the poor with perverse incentives to maintain people in poverty as dependents. The operative question became not which problems are solvable, but which ones are fundable.

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May 7, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Speech Launches Great Society of Government Expansion

Normally, when the executive branch engages in policymaking, those policies are governed by a series of rules aimed at ensuring public participation—both so that the public can offer their ideas at possible solutions, but also to ensure that the government isn’t abusing its powers. Here, the Johnson administration did no such thing—creating, essentially, a perfect storm of problematic policymaking: a massive upheaval of government policy, coupled with massive spending proposals, coupled with little public scrutiny.

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October 28, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis Ends, Affects United States Foreign Policy for Decades

Despite an elaborate scheme to disguise the missiles and the launch sites, American intelligence discovered the Soviet scheme by mid-October. President John F. Kennedy immediately convened a team of security advisors, who suggested a variety of options. These included ignoring the missiles, using diplomacy to pressure the Soviets to remove the missiles, invading Cuba, blockading the island, and strategic airstrikes on the missile sites. Kennedy’s military advisors strongly suggested a full-scale invasion of Cuba as the only way to defeat the threat. However, the president ultimately overrode them and decided any attack would only provoke greater conflict with the Russians. On October 22, Kennedy gave a speech to the American people in which he called for a “quarantine” of the island under which “all ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.”

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October 4, 1957: USSR Launches Sputnik, Shocks the United States Into the Space Age

The Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was a geopolitical struggle around the globe characterized by an ideological contest between capitalism and communism, and a nuclear arms race. An important part of the Cold War was the space race which became a competition between the two superpowers.

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July 30, 1956: President Dwight D. Eisenhower Signs Law Establishing “In God We Trust” as National Motto, Added to Paper Currency

While speaking on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower talked about the importance of reaffirming religious faith in America’s heritage and future, that doing so would “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.” In 1864 during the Civil War, the phrase “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins. On July 30, 1956, “In God We Trust” became the nation’s motto as President Eisenhower signed into law a bill declaring it, along with having the motto printed in capital letters, on every United States denomination of paper currency.

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June 29, 1956: President Dwight D. Eisenhower Signs National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, Establishing an Interstate System

In 1919, Dwight Eisenhower was part of a U.S. Army caravan of motor vehicles traveling across the country as a publicity stunt. The convoy encountered woeful and inadequate roads in terrible condition. The journey took two months by the time it was completed. When Eisenhower was in Germany after the end of World War II, he was deeply impressed by the Autobahn because of its civilian and military applications. The experiences were formative in shaping Eisenhower’s thinking about developing a national highway system in the United States. He later said, “We must build new roads,” and asked Congress for “forward looking action.”

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May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education, the Courts, Society, and Jim Crow

Between 1865 and 1876, Congress sought to make good the Union’s promises to the freedmen emancipated during the war. In the face of stiff, violent resistance by those who refused to accept the war’s verdict, America amended the Constitution three (3) times, with: (a) the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery; (b) the Fourteenth Amendment: (i) affirmatively acting to create and bestow American citizenship on all those born here, (ii) barring states from “abridg[ing] the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States[,]” and (iii) guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws; and (c) the Fifteenth Amendment barring states from denying American citizens the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Toward the same end, Congress passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, and the Ku Klux Klan Act. They created the Department of Justice to enforce these laws and supported President Grant in his usage of the military to prevent states from reconstituting slavery under another name.

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June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Spies for the Soviet Union, Executed

Little focused the public’s mind in the early 1950s like the atom bomb and the potential for vast death and destruction in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Who can forget the classroom drills where students dropped to the floor and hid under their desks ostensibly to reduce exposure to an exploding atomic bomb? It was a prevailing subject of discussion amongst average people as well as elites in government, media and the arts.

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June 25, 1950: North Korean Forces Invade South Korea, Korean War Begins

World War II ended in 1945 but the ideological imperative of Soviet communism’s expansion did not. By 1950, the Soviet Union (USSR) had solidified its empire by conquest and subversion in all Central and Eastern Europe. But to Stalin & Co., there were other big fish to fry. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, the USSR was asked to participate in ending the war in the Pacific against Japan. Even though Japan’s defeat was not in doubt, the atom bomb would not be tested until July and it was not yet known to our war planners if it would work.

An invasion of Japan, their home island, was thought to mean huge American and allied casualties, perhaps half a million, a conclusion reached given the tenacity which Japanese soldiers had defended islands like Iwo Jima and Okinawa. So much blood was yet to be spilled… they were fighting to the death. The Soviet Red Army, so often oblivious to casualties in their onslaught against Nazi Germany, would share in the burden of invasion of Japan.

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December 2, 1948: Whittaker Chambers Exposes Failure of Communism and Alger Hiss as a Spy With Pumpkin Papers

When Time Magazine was at its heyday and the dominant ‘last word’ in American media, over a ten-year period, Whittaker Chambers was its greatest writer and editor. He was a founding editor of National Review along with William F. Buckley. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously from President Ronald Reagan in 1984. His memoir, Witness, is an American classic. The Hiss case is seminal in the history of the Cold War and its impact on America because it led to the taking sides politically on the Left and on the Right, a surge in anti-communism on the Right and the reaction to anti-communism on the Left. At the epicenter of the saga is Whittaker Chambers.

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June 24, 1948: The Berlin Airlift, Cold War Begins

Stalin’s chess move was to starve the citizens of the city by cutting off their food supply, their electricity, and their coal to heat homes, power remaining factories and rebuild. His plan also was to make it difficult to resupply allied military forces. This was a bold move to grab West Berlin for the communists. Indeed, there were some Americans and others who felt that Germany, because of its crimes against humanity, should never again be allowed to be an industrial nation and that we shouldn’t stand up for Berlin. But that opinion did not hold sway with President Truman. What Stalin and the Soviet communists didn’t count on was the creativity, ingenuity, perseverance and capacity of America and its allies.

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August 6, 1945: America Drops Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Nuclear Age Begins

The fall of 1939 saw dramatic changes in world events that would alter the course of history. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland to trigger the start of World War II but imperial Japan had been ravaging Manchuria and China for nearly a decade. Even though the United States was officially neutral in the world war, President Franklin Roosevelt had an important meeting in mid-October.

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December 7, 1941: Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor, America Enters World War II

The morning of December 7, 1941 was another day in paradise for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces stationed at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base on Oahu, Hawaii. By 7:30 am, the air temperature was already a balmy 73 degrees. A sense of leisure was in the air as sailors enjoyed the time away from military duties that Sundays offered. Within the next half hour, the serenity of the island was shattered. Enemy aircraft streaked overhead, marked only by a large red circle. The pilots—who had been training for months for this mission—scanned their surroundings and set their eyes on their target: Battleship Row. The eight ships—the crown of the United States’ Pacific fleet—sat silently in harbor, much to the delight of the oncoming Japanese pilots, who began their attack.

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March 4, 1933: President Franklin D. Roosevelt is Inaugurated, Begins His “Hundred Days” of Government Expansion

In 1992, United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor enunciated an axiomatic principle of constitutional governance, that the Constitution “protects us from our own best intentions,” dividing power precisely so that we might resist the temptation to concentrate that power as “the expedient solution to the crisis of the day.” It is a sentiment that echoes through American history, as there has been a constant “push-pull” between the demands of the populace and the divisions and restrictions on power as laid out by the Constitution.

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October 29, 1929: Black Tuesday, Stock Market Crash

Wall Street, because it tries to discern future values, is usually a leading indicator. It began to recover, for instance, from the financial debacle of 2008 in March of the next year. But the economy didn’t begin to grow again until June of 2009. But sometimes Wall Street separates from the underlying economy and loses touch with economic reality. That is what happened in 1929 and brought about history’s most famous stock market crash.

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September 3, 1928: Philo Farnsworth Transmits the First Electronic Television Broadcast

An admirer of inventors Bell, Edison, and Einstein’s theories, scientist and inventor Philo T. Farnsworth designed the first electric television based on an idea he sketched in a high school chemistry class. He studied and learned some success was gained with transmitting and projecting images. While plowing fields, Farnsworth realized television could become a system of horizontal lines, breaking up images, but forming an electronic picture of solid images. Despite attempts by competitors to impede Farnsworth’s original inventions, in 1928, Farnsworth presented his idea for a television to reporters in Hollywood, launching him into more successful efforts that would revolutionize moving pictures.

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“Make the World Safe for Democracy”: President Woodrow Wilson and American Intervention in World War I

Americans have long held the belief that they are exceptional and have a providential destiny to be a “city upon a hill” as a beacon for democracy for the world. Unlike the French revolutionaries who believed that they were bound to destroy monarchy and feudalism everywhere, the American revolutionaries laid down the principle of being an example for the world instead of imposing the belief on other countries.

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August 18, 1920: Nineteenth Amendment is Ratified, Women Gain the Right to Vote

Before outbreak of the American Revolution, colonies were deeply embedded in the patriarchal traditions and customs of the entire world. All cultures and civilizations had placed women in a subordinate position in the political and social realm. However, the Declaration of Independence raised the consciousness of at least some women and men about the inequality that was embedded in the legal and cultural regimes. Women became serious contributors to the American Revolution war effort, and some, such as Abigail Adams (wife of Colossus of Independence and President John Adams) questioned why they should not be entitled to equality declared in the Declaration.

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March 3, 1917: Germany Admits to Authoring the Zimmermann Telegram, America Enters World War I

On March 3, 1917, 162 words changed the course of World War I and the history of the 20th Century. Germany officially admitted to sending the “Zimmermann Telegram,” which exposed a complex web of international intrigue, to keep America out of World War I. It was this, and not the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, that led to the U.S. entering the European war.

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August 15, 1914: Opening of the Panama Canal

Prior to World War I, oceanic travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had to route dangerous passages around southern South America. Considerations for a way to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific were present for centuries. More recent among these include survey expeditions Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, who wrote as an Army Captain in 1852 of disease and other tragedies during military travels while crossing the Isthmus of Panama, “The horrors of the road in the rainy season are beyond description.” A survey by Grant included Panama where it was found that the current route of the Panama Canal was nearly the same as what was proposed by Grant’s survey.

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Consequences of Ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment Providing for the Direct Election of Senators

In 1788, as the United States Constitution was adopted, senators would be elected by state legislatures to protect the states from the federal government increasing its own power. Problems related to the election of senators later resulted in lengthy senate vacancies. A popular vote movement began as a solution, but it failed to consider importance of separation of powers as designed by the Framers to protect liberty and maintain stability in government. The popular vote was an attempt to hamper the more deliberative body that is the United States Senate, and succumb to the more passionate, immediate will of the people, so on April 8, 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

Can a state, one of the United States, be guilty of “shooting itself in the foot?” How about multiple states? How about thirty-six states all at once? Not only can they be, I believe they have been guilty, particularly as it regards the Seventeenth Amendment. Let me explain.

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December 17, 1903: Wright Brothers Make the First Powered Aircraft Flight

During the summer of 1896, twenty-five-year-old Orville Wright was recovering from typhoid fever in his Dayton, Ohio home. His brother, Wilbur Wright, was reading to Orville accounts of a German glider enthusiast named Otto Lilienthal who was killed in a crash flying his glider. The brothers started reading several books about bird flight and even applying the mechanics of it to powered human flight.

Despite the dreams of several visionaries who were studying human flight, the Washington Post proclaimed, “It is a fact that man can’t fly.” The Wright Brothers were amateurs who might just be able to prove the newspaper wrong. They had tinkered with mechanical inventions since they were boys. They had owned a printing press and now a bicycle shop and were highly skilled mechanics. They did not have the advantages of great wealth or a college education, but they had excellent good work habits and perseverance. They were enthusiastically dedicated and disciplined to achieve their goal.

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February 15, 1898: Explosion of Battleship Maine, the Spanish-American War and American Foreign Policy

In late January 1898, President William McKinley dispatched the U.S.S. Maine to Cuban waters to protect American citizens and business investments during ongoing tensions between Spain and its colony, Cuba. The event eventually sparked a war that dramatically culminated a century of expansion and led Americans to debate the purposes of American foreign policy at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Events only ninety miles from American shores were increasingly involving the United States in Cuban affairs during the late 1890s.
Cuban revolutionaries had fought a guerrilla war against imperialist Spain starting in 1895, and Spain had responded by brutally suppressing the insurgency. General Valeriano Weyler, nicknamed “the butcher,” forced Cubans into relocation camps to deny the countryside to the rebels. Tens of thousands perished, and Cuba became a cause célèbre for many Americans.

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February 15, 1898: Battleship Maine Blows Up, Leads to the Spanish-American War and America Enters the World Stage

On February 15, 1898, an American warship, U.S.S. Maine, blew up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. A naval board of inquiry reported the following month that the explosion had been caused by a submerged mine. That conclusion was confirmed in 1911, after a more exhaustive investigation and careful examination of the wreck. What was unclear, and remains so, is who set the mine. During the decade, tensions with Spain had been rising over that country’s handling of a Cuban insurgency against Spanish rule. The newspaper chains of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had long competed for circulation by sensationalist reporting. The deteriorating political conditions in Cuba and the harshness of Spanish attempts to suppress the rebels provided fodder for the newspapers’ “yellow” journalism. Congress had pressured the American government to do something to resolve the crisis, but neither President Grover Cleveland nor President William McKinley had taken the bait thus far.

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December 29, 1890: The Wounded Knee Massacre, Also Known as the Battle of Wounded Knee

The Massacre at Wounded Knee, part of the Ghost Dance War, marked the last of the Indian Wars and the end of one of the bloodiest eras in American History, the systematic and deliberate slaughter of Native American peoples and their way of life. It was an American Holocaust. During a 500 year period, approximately 100,000,000 Native Americans were killed as citizens of the United States pushed West in the name of manifest destiny and destroyed the Native American territories that had been their home for thousands of years. These events will never take a place on the front of our history books, but they must never lose their place in our national memory.

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November 4, 1879: Thomas Edison Invents the Electric Light, Files Patent

By the time Thomas Edison began his effort to develop an incandescent electric light in September 1878, researchers had been working on the problem for forty years. While many of them developed lamps that worked in the laboratory and for short-term demonstrations, none had been able to devise a lamp that would last in long-term commercial use. Edison was able to succeed where others had failed because he understood that developing a successful commercial lamp also required him to develop an entire electrical system. With the resources of his laboratory, he and his staff were able to design not only a commercially successful lamp but the system that made it possible.

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August 12, 1877: Thomas Edison Invents the Phonograph

In mid-July 1877, while working to develop an improved telephone for the Western Union Telegraph Company, Thomas Edison conceived the idea of recording and reproducing telephone messages. Edison came up with this extraordinary idea because he thought about the telephone as a form of telegraph, even referring to it as a “speaking telegraph.” Thus, on July 18, he tried an experiment with a telephone “diaphragm having an embossing point & held against paraffin paper moving rapidly.” Finding that sound “vibrations are indented nicely” he concluded, “there’s no doubt that I shall be able to store up & reproduce automatically at any future time the human voice perfectly.”

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March 2, 1877: The President Rutherford B. Hayes Electoral Compromise and End of Southern Reconstruction

Usually, breaking down history into chapters requires imposing arbitrary separations. Every once in a while, though, the divisions are clear and real, providing a hard-stop in the action that only makes sense against the backdrop of what it concludes, even if it explains what follows. For reasons having next-to-nothing to do with the actual candidates,[1] […]

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June 25-26, 1876: Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn

In the mid-nineteenth century, the providential idea of Manifest Destiney drove Americans to move west. They traveled along various overland trails and railroads to Oregon, California, Colorado, and the Dakota Territory in search of land and gold. Native Americans who lived and hunted in the West were alarmed at white encroachment on their lands, which were usually protected by treaties. The conflict led to several violent clashes throughout the West.

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February 14, 1876: Alexander Graham Bell Files His Patent for a Telephone

An attorney representing Alexander Graham Bell and his business partner, Gardiner Hubbard, filed a patent application for an invention entitled an “Improvement in Telegraphy” on February 14, 1876. That same day, Elisha Gray, a prominent inventor from Highland Park, Illinois, had applied for a patent caveat for a similar invention from the same office. On March 7, Bell’s patent was approved by the patent office and the battle over the rights to the invention that we now know as the telephone began. The eventual outcome would shape the development of a major industry and the opportunities for communication and social interaction for the entire country.

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March 1, 1872: Yellowstone Becomes the First National Park and Begins America’s Park System

Our National Parks are the most visible manifestation of why America is exceptional. America’s Parks are the physical touchstones that affirm our national identity. These historical Parks preserve our collective memory of events that shaped our nation and the natural Parks preserve the environment that shaped us. National Parks are open for all to enjoy, learn, and contemplate. This concept of preserving a physical space for the sole purpose of public access is a uniquely American invention. It further affirms why America remains an inspiration to the world. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law creating Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park.

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May 10, 1869: A Golden Spike Completes the Transcontinental Railroad and Unites America

The stories of our history connect generations across time in remarkable ways. The same giddy fascination Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant held for the potential of the railroad in the nineteenth century is present in countless children today. They tear through books like Locomotive by Brian Floca until the pages are nearly torn from constant re-reading. It is a wonderful book that conveys both the magnitude and the majesty of the transcontinental railroad in an accessible way. A more thorough treatment of the railroad, Nothing in the World Like It: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, written by historian Stephen Ambrose perhaps summarized it best by noting that, “Next to winning the Civil War and abolishing slavery, building the first transcontinental railroad, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, was the greatest achievement of the American people in the 19th century.” Making this achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that it was hatched as the Civil War was raging: a project to connect a continent that was at war with itself.

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April 8, 1913: Seventeenth Amendment is Ratified Allowing for the Direct Election of Senators

The Seventeenth Amendment was passed by Congress May 13, 1912 and ratified on April 8, 1913. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan certified the ratification on May 31, 1913. Once the Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution, citizens had the right to directly cast ballots for their state’s two senators. The Amendment changed Article I, Section 3, clauses 1 and 3 of the Constitution that had previously stipulated senators were to be elected by state legislatures. By allowing for the direct election of senators, a barrier was removed between the people and the government that moved the U.S. closer to democracy and away from a republican form of government.

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October 18, 1867: Signing of the Alaska Treaty, The Alaska Purchase

Russia has not always been a mortal enemy in the American story. America’s Founders reached out to Russia in our earliest days. In December, 1780, the United States sent its first envoy to St. Petersburg, then Russia’s capital. The envoy, Francis Dana, brought a secretary with him. The secretary was fourteen-year-old John Quincy Adams. Dana could speak no word of French, the language of the Russian court, and so John Adams had lent Dana his son, who was fluent in French. Young John Quincy thus became a diplomatic interpreter.

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September 5, 1867: The First Texas Cattle Shipped From Abilene

On September 5, 1867, the first Texas cattle were shipped from the railhead in Abilene, Kansas, with most of the livestock ending their destination in a slaughterhouse in Chicago, Illinois. These cattle made a long, none too pleasant journey from south Texas to central Kansas. Their hardships were shared by cowboys and cattlemen who drove their herds hundreds of miles to find a better market for their livestock. For almost two decades, cattle drives from Texas were undertaken by beef producers who found that the northern markets were much more lucrative than those they had been dealing with back home. These drives ended after a combination of economic, legal, and technological changes made the long drives impractical or infeasible.

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December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is Ratified, Abolishing Slavery

Notwithstanding the controversy over the causes of the U.S. Civil War, we do know that one of the outcomes was ending slavery through the Thirteenth Amendment. Congress passed the proposed Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865 and it was subsequently ratified on December 6, 1865 by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Upon its ratification, the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery unconstitutional.

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April 15, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln Assassinated, Changes Postwar Politics

Only five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a theater in Washington, D.C. John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter, shot the president who succumbed to his wounds the next day. President Andrew Johnson took Lincoln’s place, and was less supportive of Lincoln’s anti-slavery policies, diluting the abolition of slavery Lincoln envisioned. Johnson was in favor of policies that further disenfranchised free blacks, setting political policies that would weaken the nation’s unity.

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April 9, 1865: Confederate General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox, Ending the Civil War, Beginning the Nation’s Healing

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address that was a model of reconciliation and moderation for restoring the national Union. He ended with the appeal:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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July 22, 1864: Fall of Atlanta and Assurance of President Abraham Lincoln’s Reelection

Abraham Lincoln is usually considered one of our nation’s greatest presidents. But, what many people may not know is that Lincoln was not a very popular president during his first term and he nearly was not reelected in 1864. For many months leading into the presidential election of that year, Lincoln resigned himself to a simple fact that he was not going to be reelected. He told a visitor to the White House in the fall of 1864, “I am going to be beaten…and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.”

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July 4, 1863: Vicksburg Surrenders, Completing the Anaconda Plan to Encircle the South

The Anaconda Plan of the Civil War, crafted by U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, was designed to split and defeat the Confederacy by closing in on the coasts east and south, control the Mississippi River, then attack from all sides. Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant pressed through to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, get the final Confederate strongholds and control the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln believed taking Vicksburg was the key to victory. The Battle at Vicksburg would be the longest military campaign of the Civil War. Vicksburg was surrendered on July 4, 1863.

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The Battle of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln faced an important decision point in the summer of 1862. Lincoln was opposed to slavery and sought a way to end the immoral institution that was at odds with republican principles. However, he had a reverence for the constitutional rule of law and an obligation to follow the Constitution. He discovered a means of ending slavery, saving the Union, and preserving the Constitution.

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July 2, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln Signs the Morrill Act Establishing Land Grant Colleges

On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act, widely known today as the Morrill Act. The act was the culmination of work over many years by many legislators, notably the legislation’s author and chief sponsor, Justin Morrill of Vermont, who was one of the long-serving members of Congress during the 19th century. Congress had passed an earlier version of Morrill’s bill in 1857, but the bill was vetoed by President James Buchanan. An earlier bill sponsored by Henry Clay that would have used federal land revenues to support education and internal improvement was also vetoed by President Andrew Jackson. In each veto case, an argument was made that the federal government had no business involving itself in educational matters or other issues that were properly the province of state governments.

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May 20, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln Signs the Homestead Act

The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged development of farming on land as homesteads for western expansion. Heads of households could receive up to 160 acres to farm for five years, or purchase the land after six months. If homesteaders were unable to farm successfully, the land would go back to the government to be offered again to another homesteader. Pro-slavery groups feared a homestead act would give more power to anti-slavery families moving to new territories of privatized land that could become free states, so they fought passage.

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Abraham Lincoln Delivers Cooper Union Address and Sits for Portrait Believed to Solidify the First Republican Presidency

Abraham Lincoln traveled East in February of 1860. He was asked to deliver an address at the Cooper Institute in New York City on the momentous topic of the era, slavery. Lincoln had been a popular orator and politician in Illinois, but had yet to solidify himself as a national politician. His sense of humor, frontier charm and folksy wit appealed to his political and debate audiences in the West, but if he was going to attract a national following and possibly earn the nomination from the fledgling Republican Party as their presidential candidate, he needed to appeal to voters in different areas of the country.

Before he gave his Cooper Institute speech, Lincoln made his way to the New York studio of photographer, Matthew Brady. He was going to sit for a portrait that was going to introduce him to the American people. Brady’s portrait of Lincoln shows a confident, 51 year old Lincoln staring into the camera with his left hand resting on two books. He pulled his collar up in the portrait to partially obscure his long neck. He looks distinguished, but his hair is a bit disheveled as he stands ready to make arguably the most important speech of his life in a few hours.

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April 12, 1861: Battle of Fort Sumter, the Civil War Begins

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Shortly after, South Carolina became the first state to secede, doing so on December 20, 1860. Mississippi and Florida followed, with Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas joining them. On April 12, 1861, the Civil War officially began at the Battle of Fort Sumter.

The South Carolina militia bombarded Fort Sumter, an island fortification near Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederate Army had not yet officially formed. The attack began in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, when Lieutenant Henry S. Farley fired a mortar round over Fort Sumter as a signal to the militia to begin firing on Fort Sumter. The militia, led by General P.G.T. Beauregard, had the upper hand. The Fort, led by Major Robert Anderson, had been designed and fortified to respond to, and defend against, naval attack, but over the ensuing battle proved to be no match for land bombardment.

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September 17, 1862: Battle of Antietam Prompts the Emancipation Proclamation and Ends Potential European Intervention in the Civil War

America’s bloodiest day was also the most geopolitically significant battle of the Civil War. On October 17, 1862, twelve hours of battle along the Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, resulted in 23,000 Union and Confederate dead or wounded. Its military outcome was General Robert E. Lee, and his Army of Northern Virginia, retreating back into Virginia. Its political outcome reshaped global politics and doomed the Southern cause.

The importance of Antietam begins with President Abraham Lincoln weighing how to characterize the Civil War to both domestic and international audiences. Lincoln chose to make “disunion” the issue instead of slavery. His priority was retaining the border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) within the Union.

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October 16-18, 1859: The John Brown Raid, Catalyst for Civil War

On the evening of Oct. 16, 1859, John Brown and his raiders unleashed 36 hours of terror on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Brown’s raid marked a cataclysmic moment of change for America and the world. It ranks up there with Sept. 11, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the shots fired on Lexington Common and Concord Bridge during the momentous day of April 19, 1775. Each of these days marked a point when there was no turning back. Contributing events may have been prologue, but once these fateful days took place, America was forever changed.

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Half-Slave and Half-Free? The Injustice of the Dred Scott Decision

On the morning of March 6, Taney read the shocking opinion to the Court for nearly two hours. Taney, speaking for seven members of the Court, declared that all African-Americans—slave or free—were not U.S. citizens at the time of the founding and could not become citizens. He asserted that the founders thought that blacks were an inferior class of humans and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” and no right to sue in federal court. This was not only a misreading of the history of the American founding but a gross act of injustice toward African Americans. Taney could have stopped there, but he believed this decision could end the sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery.

Taney’s understanding of American republican government was that only the white race enjoyed natural rights and consensual self-government. Abraham Lincoln continually attacked the decision in his speeches and debates. Lincoln stood for a Union rooted upon natural rights for all humans. He did not believe that the country could survive indefinitely “half slave, half free.” He argued that the Declaration of Independence “set up a standard maxim for free society” of self-governing individuals. Lincoln also opposed the Dred Scott decision because of its impact on democracy. If the Court’s majority gained the final say on political decisions, Lincoln thought “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”

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March 6, 1857: Landmark Supreme Court Decision of Dred Scott, Grounds of Race Whether Free or Slave

In 1834, Dr. Emerson, an Army surgeon, took his slave Dred Scott from Missouri, a slave state, to Illinois, a free state, and then, in 1836, to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin Territory. The latter was north of the geographic line at latitude 36°30′ established under the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as the division between free territory and that potentially open to slavery. In addition, the law that organized Wisconsin Territory in 1836 made the domain free. Emerson, his wife, and Scott and his family eventually returned to Missouri by 1840. Emerson died in Iowa in 1843. Ownership of Scott and his family ultimately passed to Emerson’s brother-in-law, John Sanford, of New York.

With financial assistance from the family of his former owner, the late Peter Blow, Scott sued for his freedom in Missouri state court, beginning in 1846. He argued that he was free due to having resided in both a free state and a free territory. After some procedural delays, the lower court jury eventually agreed with him in 1850, but the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852 overturned the verdict. The judges rejected Scott’s argument, on the basis that the laws of Illinois and Wisconsin Territory had no extraterritorial effect in Missouri once he returned there.

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March 6, 1857: Landmark Supreme Court Decision of Dred Scott, Grounds of Slave Status and Citizenship

Dred Scott lost his appeal for a second reason, his status as a slave. The Court’s original, since-abandoned, plan had been to decide the whole suit on the basis of the Strader precedent that Scott was a slave because the Missouri Supreme Court had so found. That approach still could have been used to deal summarily with this issue in the eventual opinion. But Taney struck a bolder theme. He analyzed the effect of Scott’s residence in Illinois and Wisconsin Territory on his status. This allowed Taney to challenge more broadly the prevailing idea that the federal government could interfere with the movement of slavery throughout the nation. In the eyes of many, the Court’s institutional legitimacy suffered from its attempt to solve undemocratically such a deep public controversy about a fundamental moral issue.

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May 30, 1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act is Signed, Disrupting Years of Sectional Compromise

The cascade of events leading to John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid, and 700,000 dead on countless Civil War battlefields, began with a cynical ploy by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas to help land speculators and political donors. America’s founding was an intricately crafted series of compromises and rules of engagement to balance regional interests. One of the fundamental points of conflict was slavery.

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February 27, 1860: Abraham Lincoln Delivers His Cooper Union Address

Mr. President and fellow citizens of New York: –

The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation.

In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in “The New-York Times,” Senator Douglas said:

“Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now.”

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry: “What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?”

What is the frame of government under which we live?

The answer must be: “The Constitution of the United States.” That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and under which the present government first went into operation,) and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.

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March 20, 1854: The Republican Party is Founded

Bovay was an active Whig, but was disappointed in the Party’s disarray over slavery. He felt Party leaders had lost their way. Only a new party, uniting anti-slavery factions across the political spectrum would resolve the divisiveness facing America. In 1852, Bovay visited his friend, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, to discuss a new party. They agreed a new party deserved a new name – Republican. Launching this new party would have to wait until the Nebraska bill ignited wide-spread calls for strategic political change.

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July 14, 1853: United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry Lands in Japan

Sent by President Millard Fillmore, Commodore Matthew C. Perry went on an expedition to Japan in 1853 to persuade, even pressure, Japan to end its policy of isolation and become open to trade and diplomacy with the United States. Japan signed a treaty with the U.S. in 1854, agreeing to trade and an American consulate. The Treaty of Kanagawa was the first by Japan with a Western nation. Among many accomplishments, Commodore Perry devised a naval apprentice system, assisted the Naval Academy, worked to develop naval officers to their fullest potentials, and helped found the New York Naval Lyceum.

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February 2, 1848: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Ends Mexican-American War, Annexes West

All this came to matter when James K. Polk won the Presidency in 1844. He had campaigned on a series of promises that, for our purposes, included: (a) annexing Texas; and (b) obtaining California (and parts of five (5) other modern states) from Mexico. , Part one came early and easily, as he negotiated Texas’s ascension to the Union in 1845. But when the Mexican government refused to meet with his emissary sent to negotiate the purchase of the whole northern part of their country, in pursuit of a fallback plan, President Polk sent an army south to resolve the remaining ambiguity of the Texas-Mexico border.

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January 24, 1848: The Gold Discovery in California, Gold Rush and Western Expansion

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall was overseeing some workers digging a millrace for a sawmill for his employer, John Sutter, along a tributary in the American River in the hills near Yerba Buena (modern San Francisco). While he was inspecting the project, the morning sun reflected off shiny pieces of yellow metal. Curious, he gathered a few pieces to examine them and showed the workers.

The group ran some tests on the metal to determine if it were gold. They hammered the malleable metal into thin sheets and then cooked it in boiling lye that cleaned it. Marshall was sure that he found gold but kept his composure as he rode his horse to share the news with Sutter. They tested it again with nitric acid and then its density. He smiled and told the group (which included a female cook), “Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine.”

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January 27, 1838: Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address on America’s Survival as a Nation

The tall, awkwardly boned, young Illinois legislator rose to speak. His thick hair, impervious to the comb, splayed over his head. The crowd at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield leaned forward. They did not know it, but they were about to hear a prophet.

The title of Lincoln’s address was “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” It could have been subtitled, “Will this nation survive?” From the moment his high-pitched voice began to address the audience, Lincoln’s passionate embrace of the Constitution set his life out on an arc that would carry him a quarter century later to Gettysburg when he asked whether a nation conceived in liberty “can long endure.” He was asking it even now.

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April 21, 1836: The Battle of San Jacinto, Mexico Surrenders and Texas is Freed

In December 1832, Sam Houston went to Texas. He had been a soldier, Indian fighter, state and national politician, and member of the Cherokee. Beset by several failures, he sought a better life in Texas. On the way, Houston traveled to the San Antonio settlement with frontiersman and land speculator, Jim Bowie, to San Antonio.

During the 1820s, thousands of Americans had moved to Texas in search of land and opportunity. The Mexican republic had recently won independence and welcomed the settlers to establish prosperous settlements under leaders such as Stephen F. Austin. These settlers were required to become Mexican citizens, convert to Catholicism, and free their slaves. The prosperous colony thrived, but Mexican authorities suspected the settlers maintained their American ideals and loyalties and banned further immigration and cracked down on the importation of slaves in 1830.

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August 21, 1831: The Nat Turner Slave Rebellion Begins

In early August 1831, Nat Turner, an African-American preacher and slave in Virginia, began planning and preparing a revolt against slavery. Beginning on August 21, Nat and others with him killed his master’s family, then mounted horses and continued the same on farms and elsewhere of slave owners and their families. After, the Virginia legislature received petitions urging the menace of slavery be dealt with as a cause of political and economic failure.

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May 28, 1830: President Andrew Jackson Signs the Indian Removal Act, Leads to Trail of Tears

The Indian Removal Act passed the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 102 to 97 and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 28 to 19. It was signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830. Jackson, a Tennessean, held slaves and belonged to the Democratic Party. He first attracted national attention during the War of 1812, when his forces decimated the Creek Indians and later successfully defended New Orleans against the onslaught of an experienced and well-trained British army. Jackson’s reputation as the hero of New Orleans assisted him in his rise to the presidency. He signed the Indian Removal Act fourteen months after assuming office.

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March 4, 1829: Andrew Jackson is Inaugurated U.S. President and the Democratic Party is Formalized

Andrew Jackson started out as a lawyer and grew in politics. By the end of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, Jackson was a military hero of great influence. Former governor of Tennessee, he defeated John Quincy Adams in 1828, became the seventh president and first Democratic Party president, and helped found the Democratic Party.

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October 26, 1825: The Erie Canal is Completed

In 1817, construction on the Erie Canal began, opening in October of 1825. Initially a 363-mile waterway, 40 feet wide and four feet deep, it connected the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean flowing from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, New York. The canal increased transportation of bulk commercial goods at a much lower cost, widely expanded agricultural development, and brought settlers into surrounding states as the free flow of goods to the stretches of Northwest Territory were availed through the Appalachian Mountains.

On Friday, July 13, 1787, “James Madison’s Gang,” otherwise known as the Constitutional Convention, approved a motion stating that until completion of the first census, showing exactly how many residents each state contained, direct taxes to the states would be proportioned according to the number of representatives the state had been assigned in Congress. A short time later, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania and Pierce Butler of South Carolina had a rather heated exchange over the issue of slavery and how to account for slaves in determining the state’s representation.

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May 24, 1844: Samuel Morse Sends the First Telegraph Message

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Finley Breese Morse demonstrated his electro-magnetic telegraph in the capitol building in Washington, DC, by transmitting a message sent to a railway station in Baltimore, Maryland, approximately thirty-eight miles away. The message transmitted over the telegraph line was “What has God wrought?” a biblical passage from Numbers 23:23. This demonstration convinced many in both government and industry of the viability and usefulness of the new technology.

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February 22, 1819: The Adams-Onis Treaty Cedes Florida to the United States

February 22, 1819, was, John Quincy Adams recorded in his diary, “perhaps the most important day of my life.” On that day, the United States finalized a momentous treaty with Spain that acquired Florida for the United States and settled a border with Spain’s North American provinces that reached across the continent to give the United States a piece of Oregon on the Pacific Ocean.

The agreement was known officially as the Treaty of Amity, Settlement, and Limits Between the United States of America and His Catholic Majesty. Today, it’s more commonly called the Transcontinental Treaty, to emphasize its geographic scope, or it’s known as the Adams–Onís Treaty, after its two architects, Secretary of State Adams and Spanish minister plenipotentiary Luis de Onís.

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September 13-14, 1814: During the Siege of Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key Writes America’s National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner

During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, the British Royal Navy stopped American ships and forcibly impressed their sailors into naval service after attempts by the Jefferson and Madison administrations to use embargoes and trade sanctions to compel British respect for freedom of the seas. In June 1812, Congress declared war to defend American national sovereignty from repeated British violations. Most of the battles were fought at sea and around the Great Lakes.

However, in August 1814, the British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay and landed 4,000 troops who humiliated U.S. forces at Bladensburg, Maryland. The British marched into Washington, D.C. and burned the capital in revenge for the burning of York (Toronto). A few weeks later, British Admiral Alexander Cochrane and his officers decided to invade the nearby port-city of Baltimore because he thought the “town ought to be laid in ashes.”

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May 14, 1804: Lewis and Clark Begin Exploration of the Missouri River

On May 14, 1804, President Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and an army captain, William Clark, began an expedition exploring the territory stretching from the Mississippi River, along the Missouri River, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But the origins of the expedition began long before this, even before Jefferson became president of the United States and well before the Louisiana Purchase took place. Only a few years after the Revolutionary War, shortly after sea captain Robert Gray had discovered the estuary of the Columbia River in present-day Oregon, Jefferson instructed Andre Michaux to “explore the country a[long] the Missouri, & thence Westwardly to the Pacific ocean.”

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April 30, 1803: The Louisiana Purchase Treaty Was Signed in Paris, Growing the United States

The 1803 treaty signed in Paris brought a purchase by the United States for 828,000 square miles, doubling the nation’s size. Constitutional questions stirred disputes over how to best divide territory and keep the nation’s peace. Concurrently, the Louisiana Purchase helped sustain America’s growing need for agriculture, free flow of commerce along the Mississippi, and secure westward regions.

On June 12, 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to William Johnson: “On every question of construction, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

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July 11, 1798: United States Officially Establishes U.S. Marine Corps, a Necessary Force for Freedom

They are not only frightful and lethal when they need to be, but also serve humanitarian missions in natural disasters and disease outbreaks. They adapt to the calls of their country in any clime or place. Marines build vital global relationships with partners and allies who look to them for training. Because of their generous nature, they have helped other nations build their armies and security forces to be able to be ready, like them, for future conflicts. Marines have been one of the most enduring elements of the 20th and 21st centuries, shaping the world by winning its conflicts, securing stability, and building relationships among allies.

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March 14, 1794: Eli Whitney Receives a Patent for His Invention of the Cotton Gin

When one considers the great inventors of nineteenth-century America, few surpass Eli Whitney in both personal tenacity and the broader impact their works had on industrialization. Born on December 8, 1765 in Massachusetts, Whitney came of age during the American Revolution. As a boy, he enjoyed tinkering in his family’s workshop. One story tells that he stayed home on a Sunday to take apart his father’s watch while the rest of his family went to church. At the age of 12, Whitney created a violin—an incredible feat at such a young age. However, his tinkering was no mere hobby. The American Revolution was taking a toll on the colonial economy as men left their jobs to fight in the war or dedicated their trades to creating military equipment. Whitney heard that farmers around his home needed nails, and he soon created a forge to meet the demand.

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May 17, 1792: The Buttonwood Agreement and the New York Stock Exchange

Trading in the stock began on a when-issued basis in 1791. When it was issued in July of that year, it sold out almost immediately and began to rise, setting off the country’s first bull market. Short sales (the sale of borrowed stock in hopes of a decline in price), and puts and calls (the right to sell or buy a security at a certain price before a certain date) began at this time, greatly increasing the speculative possibilities.

Early trading took place in coffee houses and taverns (as well as on the street in good weather), but brokers also began holding auctions in their offices. In early 1792, John Sutton and his partner Benjamin Jay and several others decided to form a central auction at 22 Wall Street. Sellers would deposit the securities they wanted to sell and buyers would attend the auction and the auctioneers would take a commission on the sale price.

But the system soon collapsed as brokers would attend the auctions just to learn what the prices were and then offer the securities at a lower commission.

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Ratifying a Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution and the Safeguarding of America’s Freedoms

In 1789, James Madison spoke on the House Floor introducing amendments to the U.S. Constitution, an attempt to persuade Congress a Bill of Rights would protect liberty and produce unity in the new government. Opposed to a Bill of Rights at first, Madison stated that the rights of mankind were built into the fabric of human nature by God, and government had no powers to alienate an individual’s rights. Having witnessed the states violating them, Madison realized in order to safeguard America’s freedoms, Congress needed to remain mindful of their role never to take a position of power by force over the people they serve.

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December 15, 1791: Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution Are Ratified

Because the Founders feared that a Bill of Rights might impede liberty due to sins of omission, the 9th Amendment provided that, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.” The 10th Amendment further stated that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

These simple fifty words encapsulated the political philosophy of the Founders. Rights are not bestowed by the government, they are “endowed by their Creator” and reside with the people, and liberty depends on government operating within the restriction of enumerated powers delegated by a sovereign people.

Through the years, this sound philosophy has been diminished. The Supreme Court has succeeded in setting itself up as the arbiter of rights. So much so, many people have come to view government—specifically the Supreme Court—as the grantor and guarantor of rights. As the 9th Amendment states, rights exist that are not included in the first eight amendments, but the proper way to secure these rights from government interference is through laws at the state or national level or through the amendment process.

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August 4, 1790: Debt Plan of Alexander Hamilton, America’s First Chief Operations Officer, Becomes Law

Alexander Hamilton was America’s first Chief Operations Officer (COO).

Along with James Madison, Hamilton crafted the best operating system ever devised in human history. The U.S. Constitution provided a framework for sharing power and resolving differences. Madison and Hamilton provided details for operationalizing the Constitution with their Federal Papers essays. These Papers remain integral to interpreting the original intent for court cases to this day.

America was blessed with George Washington, the most indispensable person in our nation’s history. However, Washington needed to augment his phenomenal leadership skills with Hamilton’s management acumen. During the American Revolution, Hamilton translated Washington’s military strategy into clear and concise orders to his commanders. Now as President, Washington needed Hamilton to translate the Founders’ vision, and his policies, into reality.

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August 4, 1790: Alexander Hamilton’s Debt Plan and the Foundation for American Capitalism

On September 11, 1789, the Senate confirmed President George Washington’s appointment of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton wasted no time and worked all weekend to address immediate financial concerns and spent the next few years formulating the financial policies to engage in nation-building for the new republic.

As one of the primary authors of the Federalist and as a key delegate to the New York Ratifying Convention, Hamilton had been instrumental in winning ratification of the new Constitution strengthening the national government. During the 1790s, he would use the constitutional authority of that new government to build a lasting republic.

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Birth of the United States Army

From the United States capitol of New York City’s Federal Hall, Congress passed one of the earliest acts of the seven-months-old federal government: a pivotal piece of legislation for the defense of the new nation and its people.

Passed on September 29, 1789 and approved by President George Washington, the act legally formalized a national army. In so doing, the some hundred congressmen and senators formally rejected the deep Anglo-American fear of a standing army assuming dictatorial control.

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April 30, 1789: Inauguration of George Washington as First President of the United States of America

Two weeks after the death of George Washington on December 14, 1799, his long-time friend General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee delivered a funeral oration to Congress that lauded the deceased as, “First in war- first in peace- and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere; uniform, dignified and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting.”

By his prestige as head of state and his influence upon public opinion, he exerts a leverage upon those who are supposed to check and balance his power which often cancels their effectiveness.” Washington was keenly aware of his groundbreaking role and used events during his time in office to define the constitutional boundaries of Article II and to shape the office of the President from this “sketch.”

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September 17, 1787: Approval of the U.S. Constitution, Sent to the States for Ratification

The Founding of this great nation was unique. Until 1776, with a few brief exceptions, world history was about rulers and empires. The American experiment shook the world. Not only did we break away from the biggest and most powerful empire in history, we took the musings of the brightest thinkers of the Enlightenment and implemented them. Our Founding was simultaneously an armed rebellion against tyranny, and a revolution of ideas—ideas that changed the world.

While the last members were signing, Franklin raised his voice. “Gentlemen, have you observed the half sun painted on the back of the President’s chair? Artists find it difficult to distinguish a rising from a setting sun. In these many months, I have been unable to tell which it was. Now, I’m happy to exclaim that it is a rising, not a setting sun.”

As the sentries threw open the doors, the delegates were assaulted by bright sunlight and a deafening roar. Hundreds of people cheered, clapped, and whistled at the sight of General George Washington framed by the great double doors of the State House. The sentries had skipped down the three steps and joined arms to hold back the surge of people. A rambunctious session on Saturday had informed Philadelphians that the convention had concluded its business.

As Franklin followed in Washington footsteps, the people continued to cheer and applaud. A woman leaned in to yell, “Dr. Franklin, what is it to be? A republic or a monarchy?”

His answer came in a firm, loud voice. “A republic—if you can keep it.”

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July 13, 1787: Northwest Ordinance Provides a Process for Forming New States

In perhaps its most significant legislative action, the Congress of the Articles of Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance on July 13, 1787. This landmark law was an act of institutional strength during a period of marked institutional weakness, a reminder of a national will that had been battered by fears of disunion, and a source of constitutional principles that defined parts of the fundamental charter that would replace the Articles a year later.

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The Northwest Ordinance and American Ideals

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Ordinance of 1784, which was considered and adopted by the Congress. The land ordinance established the principles of making new territories entering into the Union equal to the original thirteen states and guaranteeing the new states a republican form of government.

Jefferson included a clause that would have forever banned slavery in the western territories, but it narrowly lost by a single vote. Reflecting on its failure, Jefferson wrote a few years later: “The voice of a single individual would have prevented this abominable crime; heaven will not always be silent; the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.”

The following year, Congress adopted the Land Ordinance of 1785 which specified how the land in the Northwest Territory would be disposed of and divided as a model of orderly western settlement. The ordinance stated that the land was to be surveyed and then divided into townships and farms to shape civil society and individual land ownership. Land purchases were to be paid to the national government to provide revenue, especially to help retire the national debt. Communities would establish public schools to educate the citizens in knowledge and the virtues of republican citizenship.

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Humble Statesman: How George Washington’s Selfless Resignation Ensured Power Remained With the American People

General Washington was given great powers by the 2nd Continental Congress. The civil and military control he received were similar to a military dictator. He could have simply grabbed power and served over the United States as an absolute ruler or an “American King.” There were also some who felt that this should be what Washington should do to maintain stability for the new government and nation. But, like the story of the Roman general, Cincinnatus, Washington gave his power back to the people, where he felt it belonged.

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December 23, 1783: George Washington Resigns His Military Commission

In an example of unrivaled statesmanship, General George Washington resigned his military commission at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783 to return to his Mount Vernon, Virginia home as a private citizen. Washington’s resignation was pivotal for American history because he willingly gave up power. He later participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, and was unanimously elected president of the United States in 1789. He reluctantly accepted the presidency and rejected any form of kingship. In 1797, Washington again surrendered his position, allowing a fellow American to serve as president. The example Washington set for America’s republican form of government was that of a peaceful transfer of power, a requirement the nation would need to serve by leadership and freedom rather than dictatorship.

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October 19, 1781: British Surrender at Yorktown, Effectively Ending the Revolutionary War

The surrender of General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, was the final battle of the American Revolution. Then, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed after an appeal from the British for peace, and the American Revolutionary War was over.

In 1778, a full three years before his victory at Yorktown, General George Washington wrote: “The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

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July 9, 1778: States Begin Signing the Articles of Confederation

The Articles were doomed by their perceived structural weakness. Numerous attempts to reform them had foundered on the shoals of the required unanimity of the states for amendments. Another factor that likely caused the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 to abandon its quest merely to amend the Articles were their complexity and prolixity, with grants of power followed by exceptions, restrictions, and reservations set out in excruciating detail. The Articles’ weak form of federalism was replaced by the stronger form of the Constitution of 1787, stronger in the sense that the latter represented a more clearly distinct entity of the United States, with its republican legitimacy derived from the same source as the component states, that is, the people.

Defenders of the Articles at the time correctly pointed out that this early constitution, drafted under intense pressure at a critical time in the country’s history and intended to deal foremost with the exigencies of war, had been remarkably successful. It was, after all, under this maligned plan that the Congress had formed commercial and military alliances, raised and disciplined a military force, and administered a huge territory, all while defeating a preeminent military and naval power to gain independence.

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October 17, 1777 British Surrender at Saratoga: Turning Point of the American Revolutionary War

Most students of U.S. history know about the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that heralded the beginning of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. The battles of Lexington and Concord, spurred on when British soldiers tried to confiscate the arms of the American colonists, were the first shots in the Revolutionary War. These battles which caused the British soldiers to retreat to Boston with heavy losses were the result of unrest by the colonialists from the harsh treatment from the British Crown. The battles showed the growing resistance to British rule and tyranny.

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Apple of Gold: The Declaration of Independence and American Principles

The natural rights republicanism continued to shape the American thinking and debate about independence. For example, a young Alexander Hamilton wrote in Farmer Refuted, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

In 1774, Jefferson had written the influential Summary View of the Rights of British North America. In that pamphlet, he described the natural rights basis of consensual republican government. The American colonists were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” The colonists argued for the “rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all.” He concluded with a reflection on rights embedded in human nature: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

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July 4, 1776: Congress Adopts the Declaration of Independence

The adoption of the Declaration of Independence of “the thirteen united States of America” on July 4, 1776, formally ended a process that had been set in motion almost as soon as colonies were established in what became British North America. The early settlers, once separated physically from the British Isles by an immense ocean, in due course began to separate themselves politically, as well. Barely a decade after Jamestown was founded, the Virginia Company in 1619 acceded to the demands of the residents to form a local assembly, the House of Burgesses, which, together with a governor and council, would oversee local affairs. This arrangement eventually was recognized by the crown after the colony passed from the insolvent Virginia Company to become part of the royal domain. This structure then became the model of colonial government followed in all other colonies.

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October 13, 1775: Birth of the United States Navy

The game changing event of the American Revolution was the defeat of the English forces at Yorktown in 1781. This forced surrender occurred because the French fleet defeated the English fleet at Chesapeake and were thereby poised to annihilate the English columns with their powerful cannon. Command of the littoral waters enabled land-based forces to prevail, a pattern repeated often throughout history.

Quality Navy ships are expensive and by 1785, the Continental Navy had been completely disbanded. After a decade without a Navy, State-sponsored pirate regimes in North Africa prevented U.S. merchant vessels from engaging in free commerce in the Mediterranean. The Naval Act of 1794 created a standing Navy, featuring the commissioning of six technologically sophisticated vessels that could engage or outrun any ship it encountered.

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April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord: The American Revolution Begins

During the first six decades of the eighteenth century, the American colonies were mostly allowed to govern themselves. In exchange, they loyally fought for Great Britain in imperial wars against the French and Spanish. But in 1763, after the British and Americans won the French and Indian War, King George III began working to eliminate American self-government. The succeeding years saw a series of political crises provoked by the king and parliament. What turned the political dispute into a war was arms confiscation at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775.

In 1774, the British government had realized that because armed Americans were so numerous, they could not be frightened into compliance with British demands. So in the latter months of 1774, the King and his Royal Governors in America instituted a gun control program. All firearms and ammunition imports to the American colonies were forbidden. At the governors’ command, British soldiers began raiding American armories, which stored firearms for militiamen who could not afford their own, and also held large quantities of gunpowder. Because the raids were accomplished peacefully in surprise pre-dawn maneuvers, they caused outrage, but nothing more. Both sides knew that if the British attempted to seize arms by force, the Americans would fight.

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May 28, 1754: Battle of Jumonville Glen Starts the French and Indian War

In a wooded clearing overlooking an imposing rock formation, roughly sixty-five miles outside modern day Pittsburgh, the face of North America would be irreparably altered. On May 28, 1754 this spot witnessed the first shot of the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War around the world). The shot was fired under the order, or possibly even by the hand, of a twenty-two-year-old Virginian militia officer named George Washington. At the break of dawn and under the cover of the forest, British, French, and Native forces engaged in this brief (but globally impactful) battle that escalated the long-simmering tension over the contested lands of the Ohio Valley into a world war felt on five continents.

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Signing of the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620

“In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under written … [h]aving undertaken for the Glory of God, and advancement of the christian [sic] faith, and the honour of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: And by virtue hereof, do enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony ….”

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July 30, 1619: Virginia House of Burgesses Convenes

In the first Federalist essay, Alexander Hamilton famously observes: It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. Reflection and choice or accident and force, which will it be? Fortunate indeed are those who get to choose.

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The Enterprising Colony, and Settling of Jamestown, Virginia on May 14, 1607

The settlement of Virginia had entrepreneurial origins that developed only in fits and starts and after almost a decade of failure. The introduction of private property, freedom, self-government, and a capitalist ethos laid the foundations of a successful colony and shaped the colonists’ thinking. Those ideals rested uneasily with the development of slavery, and this contradiction of slavery and freedom would continue for more than two centuries. However, the founding ideals of America were established along the James in Virginia.

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Introduction – Recovering Our Legacy: The Many Uses of the American Past

We Americans need to know our history. And we need to know it far better than we have in the past. We are not a people bound together primarily by blood and soil. Instead we are people with our origins in many bloods and many soils, linked by shared principles embodied in shared institutions, and embedded in a shared history, with its shared triumphs and shared sufferings. There is a growing danger that we have been failing to pass along that flame to our posterity, with untold consequences. We have neglected an essential element in the formation of good citizens when we fail to provide the young with an accurate, responsible, and inspiring account of their own country – an account that will inform and deepen their sense of identification with the land they inhabit and equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.

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Public Lands and the Federal Government’s “Duty to Dispose”

Incidentally, the reason for this trade-off was a product of good public policy: these states wanted to be settled in the easiest and least chaotic manner possible. An essential element of that was ensuring that unappropriated public lands had “clear title”—a situation discussed at length in Peruvian economist and political scientist Hernando DeSoto’s seminal work, “The Mystery of Capital.”

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Conclusion: The States and the Union

Throughout this study, essayists have shown how the American federal republic has empowered its own constituent states to retain substantial self-government without sacrificing the general powers needed for national defense against enemies foreign and domestic, retaining the freedom of interstate commerce, communication, and travel that affords the American people one of the highest living standards in the world.

In the past century, the centralization and bureaucratization of both the federal and state governments have weakened citizen self-government, but the words of the original Constitution as amended in the years immediately succeeding the Civil War, and the intentions of the Framers and those citizens who have remained loyal to their intentions, guided by their principles of equal, natural (and therefore unalienable rights remain as a standard for those who continue to hold certain truths to be self-evident.

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Crafting Constitutions in the Commonwealth of Kentucky

Constitutions can be thought of as institutional arrangements that shape the way that individual preferences will be expressed and collective decisions made within a government. The provisions of a constitution also reflect preferences, but the provisions of a constitution may have long-run impacts upon the way that individual preferences are translated into legally binding collective decisions well into the future. Some of these decisions will have implications that are unforeseen and unintended, even if the specific provisions of a constitution were intended by its framers to have different results. In particular, the constitutional framework of a state or nation shapes the path dependent development of that political community. Once the highest law of a polity has been designed, political, legal, and economic decisions are made with that framework in mind. Decisions involving sunk costs are made premised on a particular legal order. Once those decisions are made, it may be difficult to reverse them. The political and economic trajectory of a polity may be set in place, and the momentum built up over history may be hard to swerve in a different direction. Such can be seen in Kentucky’s experience with its state constitutions.

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How State Legislatures Work in American Government (Part 2)

State legislatures normally have had only very few, basic constitutional procedural requirements regarding the passage of legislation. Most state constitutions stipulate that laws can be enacted only after bicameral passage of identical measures, followed by presentment to the chief executive. There may also be requirements that bills receive “readings” on three or more legislative days before passage. Practically speaking, most legislative procedure is determined by internal rules of each chamber. These rules refer to bill referral to committees, methods of bringing bills to the chamber floor, procedures for disciplining members, etc.

Many of the early state constitutions did not provide a means by which the governor could block legislation through a veto. This reflected an anti-executive power bias that carried over from the opposition to the king in colonial times. Gradually, however, the powers of governors increased, and among the most important powers of the governor was the power to veto. In the 1990s, North Carolina’s governor was the last to gain the veto power. The veto power varies dramatically among the states, particularly regarding which measures are subject to veto and the ease with which the legislatures can override the veto. Many states now permit an item veto for appropriation bills, but not for other legislation. Proposed constitutional amendments approved as joint resolutions by the legislature cannot be vetoed by the governor, but instead in most states today go to the electorate for approval. In several states vetoes can be overridden by margins much smaller than the two-thirds requirement necessary for overriding presidential vetoes. In some states, only a simple majority of those elected to serve in each chamber is needed to override the governor’s veto.

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How State Legislatures Work in American Government (Part 1)

The legislatures in American state governments developed alongside and even prior to the more famous and well-studied Congress of the federal government. Their origins can be found in the colonial assemblies that existed before the American Revolution. Those institutions developed structures, procedures, and qualifications for office-holding that influenced the development of the national legislature. This essay will briefly describe the development of the state legislatures and their relationship to the federal government.

Legislatures in the American colonies developed very quickly, largely at the request of local interests, not at the behest of the British government. These assemblies varied greatly from one another, although most, but not all, were bicameral, with different qualifications for office-holding and for voting for different chambers. These assemblies were not modeled after the British parliament, which in its modern form did not exist. In fact, the first legislatures in the American colonies were created long before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established the principle of parliamentary supremacy over the monarch.

Essay Schedule 90-Day Study 2020

In the Course of Human Events: A 90 Day Study of Important Dates in American History That Shaped the United States and Changed the World Introduction Recovering Our Legacy: The Many Uses of the American Past by Wilfred M. McClay, G.T. & Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty; Director of the Center for […]

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Utah: Unique Among States

Utah has a fascinating history from the days before it was a United States territory to today. The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1765. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and claimed Utah for itself. In 1832, Antoine Robidoux built the first trading post in Utah, and in 1841, John Bartleson led the first wagon train across Utah to California. During the 1800s, Utah bore the indicia of western expansion. Many regard the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869 as not only one of the most important historical events in Utah, but also one of the most momentous in U.S. history.

Utah stands unique in its history and traditions, and it cannot be understood apart from the influence of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “LDS church”) and its adherents, the Mormons. Utah’s path to statehood began principally because of precipitous settlement by Mormons, who moved west after failed settlement attempts in New York, Illinois, and, most notably, in Jackson County, Missouri, where they had intended to establish an everlasting temple. In 1847, Brigham Young, by then the leader of the main branch of the LDS church, entered the Salt Lake Valley with 148 comrades and founded Salt Lake City. At the time, the area was part of Mexico, but early in 1848 through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded 525,000 square miles, including present-day Utah, to the United States.

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Not Double Vision, Double Constitutions: Michigan History and Statehood (Part 2)

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan Constitution addresses in detail the administrative state over which the governor presides. For example, there are no more than “20 principal departments. They shall be grouped as far as practicable according to major purposes.”65 In addition, unless legislatively vetoed, the governor has plenary authority to reorganize the executive branch via executive order.66

The Michigan Constitution also establishes a statewide elected state board of education;67 elected statewide boards for the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Michigan State University;68 an appointed civil rights commission;69 an appointed state transportation commission;70 a Michigan nongame fish and wildlife trust fund;71 a Michigan game and fish protection fund;72 a Michigan conservation and recreation legacy fund;73 a Michigan veterans trust fund;74 and a Michigan natural resources trust fund.75

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Not Double Vision, Double Constitutions: Michigan History and Statehood (Part 1)

When one is tasked to write about “the constitution,” my guess is not many ponder a threshold question: “Which constitution?” With the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution occurring on September 17 (dubbed “Constitution Day” – and also an anchor date for Patriot Week), one might naturally think the U.S. Constitution must be the topic. Not necessarily so. Because each state also has a constitution, each person lives under two constitutions.

Few people understand the U.S. Constitution well, and only a minute number understand their state constitution. As a former debater, I appreciate that one should understand both sides of an issue to become deeply informed. Likewise, to best understand our constitutions, the best course may be to compare and contrast them. Accordingly, this article will review the basic contours of the constitutions of the State of Michigan and the United States to discern their commonalities and yawning differences. By necessity of space and time, this article will only address a few high-level topics such as age, origins, amendment process and the branches of government, and will not delve into the wonderful commentary that this comparison might yield.

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Big Sky Country of Montana: History and Statehood

Native American peoples lived in the area of present-day Montana for an unknown period of time before the arrival of the first Europeans in the 18th century. Most of present-day Montana was included in the Louisiana Purchase, which President Jefferson completed in 1803. The next year, President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Soon after, Catholic missionaries entered Montana. Beaver trappers followed shortly thereafter. Through the first twenty years of the 19th Century, the Salish people learned about Christianity because of their contact with the Iroquois people and with Jesuit priests. In the 1830s, the Salish people began sending emissaries to Jesuits in St. Louis, Missouri to request that a “blackrobe” (Jesuit priest) be sent to them in present-day Montana. The blackrobes were finally able to send a priest to minister to the Salish people in 1841.

Between 1848 and 1864, parts of present-day Montana were included in several U.S. territories, including the Oregon, Washington, Dakota, and the Idaho Territories. Montana was the site of the battle between the Sioux people and the U.S. Army, which we often refer to as “Custer’s Last Stand,” and it carries a lively history typical of the Old West.

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Capital Cities and Capitol Buildings: Seats of State Government Across America (Part 2)

State capitol buildings in the United States embody the constitutional commitments found within the text of each state constitution, buildings that some have called the very temples of democracy. Each state capitol building in the United States presents the basic, fundamental attentiveness of the state government to the people it serves. Some of the capitols are small, domed buildings with expansive wings, while others are tall, executive-style towers reaching upward toward the heavens. Some are cloistered in urban areas. Most are set in rural settings. Some harken back to classical Rome, while others celebrate the preeminence of modern man. One thing they all have in common: each embodies the values of their respective constitutions while continuously serving as the seats of governance for the states and their citizens.

In general, the shape and design of state capitol buildings can be understood in three common categories: the statehouse, the domed capitol, and the executive tower. The statehouse form generally has a flat or slightly pitched roof with some type of spire or lantern capping off the building. Some statehouses are built with flat fronts and square windows in a federal style while others incorporated columns and wide porticos. Many early American capitols have slightly pitched or flat roofs and small areas for assembly and the conduct of business. The first capitol was a flat, adobe structure in Santa Fe, while later colonial capitol buildings in the northeast generally had pitched roofs to allow snow and precipitation to roll off.

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Capital Cities and Capitol Buildings: Seats of State Government Across America (Part 1)

American state capital cities are an organic part of the American landscape. Capital cities sprung up along the natural waterways and pathways of American travel and commerce. Some grew next to the mighty rivers and others at the junction of major trade routes. Some are in the foothills while others are on the plains, some on the coastal bays and others far inland. Some emerged from the bareness of the great plains while others emerged from the small neighborhoods, burgs and towns that dotted the landscape. Some are located in major urban centers while others snuggle into smaller, rural communities. The fifty American state capital cities provide a unique study in the diversity and richness of the American experience.

The oldest American capital cities grew on opposite sides of the continent. Santa Fe was founded in 1610 as the first colonial American capital city followed by Boston in 1630. Santa Fe was designated as capital of the new Spanish colony of Santa Fe de Nuevo México and was situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Thirty years later the British Massachusetts Bay Colony established its capital on what was then known as Trimountaine, or Three Mountains, later to be renamed Boston after Lincolnshire, England previous home of some of the prominent colonists.

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Role of State Representatives and Their House Speakers, and State Senators

State government is designed almost exactly like the Federal government. In every state except Nebraska, state governments govern with a two-chamber legislature. The smaller, upper chamber, is called the State Senate and the larger, lower chamber, is called the House of Representatives, Assembly or House of Delegates.

There are three branches of government in every state: legislative, executive, and judicial. The balance of powers spread among three branches ensures a just and fair system. Most states have a governor, lieutenant governor, senators and representatives, most of whom serve in what is called a State Legislature. Other names used are General Assembly, General Court, or Legislative Assembly.

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A Fire Bell in the Night: The Story of Maine Statehood (Part 2)

Along came Maine, where separation sentiment was growing. Many previous efforts to permit Maine to break away died in the Massachusetts General Court (legislature). But the times were catching up. Seeking to eliminate its Revolutionary War debt to the U.S. government, Massachusetts found easy money by selling off vast swaths of public land in Maine and by granting generous acreages to war veterans. Thousands of pioneer families left the crowded Bay State and trekked to the Maine wilderness seeking elbow room and new opportunities. In less than 30 years, the population more than tripled, from 91,000 in 1791 to 300,000 by 1820.

As Maine grew, so did discontent with its political and economic dependence on Massachusetts. Prosperous coastal merchants, eager to govern themselves, were the first to complain. But with continued population growth outside the old coastal towns, frustration spread to fishermen and inland farmers and woodsmen, who had little in common with the governing gentry. By 1800, they were spearheading the quest for statehood, citing a long list of economic and political grievances. The War of 1812 was the final nail in the coffin, even for the merchant class.

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A Fire Bell in the Night: The Story of Maine Statehood (Part 1)

Barely 30 years after the contentious adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, the experiment in self-government and democratic republicanism that enraptured de Tocqueville and other noted admirers of the new United States of America was at grave risk of collapse. Maine’s aspirations for statehood were at the heart of the hullabaloo. It was in a wrestling match with Missouri for admission to the Union. In fact, Members of Congress representing the District of Maine, as it was known—then belonging to Massachusetts—voted against legislation that would have admitted their home as a state even after longstanding agitation in Maine for statehood.

So why, when at long last statehood was within reach, did these officials and many of those they represented object to legislation that would unlock the door to statehood? Their reasons are at the heart of why we are “one nation, indivisible” and how small, remote Maine helped preserve the U. S. of A. at a grave hour in its early history.

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Oregon: Alis Volat Propriis “She Flies With Her Own Wings”

Lewis and Clark famously made their way to the Oregon coast in 1805 while searching for a northwest passage. In 1818, the U.S. and Great Britain agreed to jointly occupy the region, which included portions of present-day Idaho, California, Montana, British Columbia, and all of Washington state. In 1840, the U.S. gained the territory through the Oregon Treaty, and settlers began to arrive via the Oregon Trail. The state’s establishment as the 33rd state in 1859 realized many, but not all, of the founding principles of the United States.

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Funding States and Cities: The Arguments (Part 2)

States, therefore, compete with one another for residents, for business, and ultimately, for tax dollars. And those competitive pressures incentivize state and local governing officials to provide the best government for the lowest cost.

Yet, sometimes that competition has negative effects — what political economists might label a “negative externality.” When the savings created by one state’s actions impose costs on other political communities, competition produces inefficiencies. This is best illustrated by state variation in how much is spent on environmental regulation and clean-up. States that are literally “up-river” can exact exorbitant costs on other states through their inaction. Likewise, in trying to attract business to their state, one state might dismantle regulations placed on corporations; neighboring states might follow suit in order to keep business from leaving. State-level variation and competition might, in other words, work against certain national goals, creating a “race to the bottom” where states undercut one another to create advantages in the short-term, but impose long-term costs on the national political community.

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Funding States and Cities: The Arguments (Part 1) – Guest Essayist: Nicholas Jacobs

As he writes in Federalist 36, if the general government begins to tax a revenue source already occupied by the states, “the United States [federal government] will either wholly abstain from the projects preoccupied for local purposes, or will make use of the State officers and State regulations for collecting the additional imposition. This will best answer the views of revenue, because it will save expense in the collection and will best avoid any occasion of disgust to the State governments and to the people.”

Therefore, concurrent taxation encourages intergovernmental cooperation. It is a cooperation defined first and foremost by efficient tax collection — the reduction of government expense by the sharing of administrative processes — as well as transparency. In the above passage, the guardians of the public revenues are the state legislatures, who have an interest in maintaining their own fiscal authority and independence, and, most importantly, the people themselves, who have little desire to give away their hard-earned dollars to a wasteful government.

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Funding States and Cities: How Dollars Work (Part 2)

Every nickel spent by a state or local government ultimately comes from the pockets of some private entity, but often public monies are exchanged between governments. Intergovernmental transfer payments account for 23 percent of all money spent by state and local governments. Most intergovernmental transfer payments point “downwards” in the federal system, moving from larger governments to ones of smaller size. The federal government delivered $621-billion to the various states in 2016, and state governments sent $524-billion to various localities in that same year. Overtime, intergovernmental payments have grown as a share of state and local government revenues — a trend we will evaluate in the next essay — and the federal government has even come to make direct payments to localities in some specific instances.

Most forms of intergovernmental revenue take the form of grants — direct payments to a state or local government agency, with a specific purpose outlined by the grantee. The federal government, for example, sends billions of dollars it collects to the states for the purpose of constructing and maintaining highways. Likewise, state governments send some tax revenue it collects to localities for funding public health programs. The federal government even sends money to the states that the states then divide up and send to the localities.

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Funding States and Cities: How Dollars Work (Part 1)

If, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” in the United States, taxes are a little more certain than death. Americans, after all, pay taxes to not just one national government, but to at least two additional ones as well: their state and locality. Paradoxically though, the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that by establishing a system of multiple governments with independent taxing authority, the total tax burden placed on citizens would be less than it would be if one gargantuan government existed.

For anyone that has ever filed your own taxes, you know that it is highly technical and subject to precise calculations, lengthy procedure, and numerous exemptions. Yet, at its most basic level, the methods by which governments acquire money are political determinations — reflective of each community’s unique history, size, political culture, and available resources. The variation across different levels of government and between governments of similar scale reflects the political diversity American federalism nourishes. Understanding that variation in all of its complexity is the first step towards evaluating how federalism, despite creating many governments, can actually reduce the total tax burden placed on the American taxpayer.

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The Path to Iowa Statehood

Early in its history the U.S. Congress set up an orderly way for western lands to become states with status equal to the Original Thirteen. Senators and representatives in Congress remembered how unhappy the American colonists were under Great Britain’s rule, so unhappy in fact that they fought the American Revolution to become free of Great Britain. One of the most important acts that Congress passed was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that set up a system of government for the territory north of the Ohio River that became the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. It was a model for other U.S. territories to follow when they wanted to become states.

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New Mexico Constitutional History

New Mexico became the 47th state to join the union on January 6, 1912. This was shortly before Arizona was admitted on February 14, 1912. The New Mexico Constitution became effective on the day Congress admitted New Mexico to the union. The original document was ratified by the New Mexico Constitutional Convention on November 21, 1910. The voters of the State ratified the constitution on November 5, 1911.

The ratified constitution and eventual boundaries varied widely from what was originally proposed in the mid 1800’s. The New Mexico territory was formed following the end of the Spanish American War in 1848 through the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The territory initially consisted of parts of west Texas (which claimed the territory east of the Rio Grande river), most of present-day Arizona, and part of southern Colorado.

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Oklahoma, November 16, 1907: Forty-Sixth Admitted to the United States

Even so, as the forty-sixth state in the Union, Oklahoma possesses a name that is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning “red people,” and that name fittingly signifies the uniquely enduring importance of the Native population to the state’s identity. In no other state of the Union is the Native presence more important, more indelible, more enduring—and arguably, more honored in the state’s politics and culture. Yet the achievement of that relatively harmonious state of affairs was bitter and difficult, particularly for the Native population, which had to accept betrayals and abrogation of agreements at every step of the way.

Once a state, though, Oklahoma quickly took its place as an important center of the burgeoning petroleum industry, with the city of Tulsa being labeled “The Oil Capital of the World,” and the oil industry serving as a primary driver of the entire state’s booming economy. From the moment that Oklahoma had become part of the United States in 1803, growth had become its byword. It had gone in just a few years from being a raw and forbidding frontier to being a leading force in the growth of the world’s economy, a force now moving into higher and higher gear.

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Alabama Statehood and Its State Constitution History

Just as Alabama’s boundary lines changed numerous times over the years, so too did its capital. The first was the territorial capital in St. Stephens in 1817, near present-day Jackson, Alabama. Then in 1819, Huntsville served as the temporary capital while a convention assembled to prepare a State Constitution. The first “permanent” capital was established in 1820 near the convergence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers but a flood resulted in damage to the statehouse. The capital was soon moved to Tuscaloosa in 1826 to a new three-story building designed by the same architect, William Nichols, who designed the old capitols in North Carolina and Mississippi. The capital made one final move in 1846 to its current location of Montgomery, but a disastrous fire shortly after required its rebuilding.

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Clearing Title: How Simple Legal Acts Have Great Societal Consequences

Clearing title, the action of ensuring that someone owns a particular parcel of land “free and clear” is one of these actions. From the standpoint of real estate law, the importance is obvious: you cannot buy or sell or invest in a parcel of land unless the thread of ownership is crystal clear. But clearing title goes far beyond that—and is an essential element of a free and prosperous society.

DeSoto is emphatic that ensuring the clarity of title is one of the most-important, if not the most, single element that separates a rich and stable nation from a poor and unstable one. Without that clear title, people are hesitant to buy or sell a piece of property. Worse, without that clear title, people cannot use that piece of property to invest in their own future. They cannot better themselves, and without that prospect they lose hope. And it is that loss of hope, combined with economic stagnation, that leads to the collapse of a society.

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A Brief History of Florida and Its Constitutions

Florida is the southernmost state in the contiguous United States, situated at the bottom of the Atlantic seaboard. It is a peninsula, bordered by the Atlantic to the east, Gulf to the west, Caribbean Sea to the south and the U.S. states of Georgia and Alabama form its northern border. Archaeologists believe the peninsula was first occupied by a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers around 14,000 years ago. These indigenous groups slowly adapted to a changing climate and grew crops, established large chiefdoms, and eventually numbered over 350,000 people by the end of the 15th century.

Florida was first sighted by Europeans in 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon traveled north from Puerto Rico in search of natural resources, slaves, and potentially a new landmass for the Spanish colonial dominion. Although probably not the first European to set eyes on Florida, his expedition was the first officially sanctioned and recorded by the Spanish. He landed somewhere on Florida’s eastern Atlantic coast, but did not attempt to settle the region.

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The History of Hawaii: From Fire, Tears and Blood, A Tree of Liberty Blooms

Born of ancient volcanoes in Earth’s prehistory and baptized by fire into the modern era by the bombs of the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the history of the Fiftieth State is nothing short of legendary.

First discovered and populated by seafaring Polynesian peoples perhaps around the 12th century or even earlier, Hawaii would be thrust into global destiny by European contact when British Captain James Cook discovered and sailed past the island of Oahu on January 18, 1778. As a midpoint in the Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands would soon become a key strategic shipping hub that attracted merchants, missionaries, and militaries alike from around the world.

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History of Washington State and Its Constitution

Washington State’s famous explorers are George Vancouver, Robert Gray and the American explorers Lewis and Clark. George Vancouver came to the Pacific Northwest with two ships, the Discovery and the Chatham. Vancouver named everything in sight, which included islands, mountains and waters. Puget Sound is named after Peter Puget, a lieutenant accompanying him on the expedition. To this day, we still have the names Whidbey Island, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Hood Canal are all key geographical features in the state of Washington named by Vancouver.

The Washington State Constitution describes the fundamental structure and function of the state’s government. It consists of a preamble and 32 articles. This constitution is the second in Washington’s history. The first one was ratified in 1878, and the current version on October 1, 1889.

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South Dakota: Admission as a New State and Its 1889 Constitution

On March 2, 1861, President Buchanan signed the bill that created the Dakota Territory. Within this territory were included the present states of North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. After creating the Dakota Territory, the federal government paid relatively little attention to it, given the preoccupation with the war. But as soon as there was sufficient population in the territory, the settlers in the Dakota Territory began taking steps to achieve statehood. Starting in 1868, efforts intensified toward the admission of Dakota, either as a single state or two different states.

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North Dakota: Constitution to Statehood

Beyond the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the first major move towards statehood and the need for a constitution in North Dakota came with one of President James Buchanan’s last acts as president of the United States. On March 2, 1861, just two days before Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office, Buchanan signed a bill creating Dakota Territory. This territory would later be divided into the states of North and South Dakota, as well as portions of Wyoming and Montana. At the same time, the Nebraska Territory was modified to appear much like the state it would become.

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Words Have Consequences: Amending the United States Constitution and State Constitutions

For many Americans, when the term “amendment” is mentioned, our United States Constitution often comes to mind. Among the document’s twenty-seven, most are aware of the First Amendment, especially the part about free speech. Another popular amendment is the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms. These Amendments to our United States Constitution have even gained nicknames such as “1A” and “2A.”

Unfortunately, beyond the popular terms of our national Constitution, too little understanding exists about it, including reasons for limiting changes to the document. This is true as well for our state constitutions, though amended more often. Unless a major news story runs where a constitutional topic goes viral, little more is studied to gain a complete context especially for the true meaning and history behind the Framers’ intentions.

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Civil Society and Local Government (Part 2)

Each element should have liberty, which “in no way consists in doing what one wants” but rather in “having the power to do what one should want to do and in no way being constrained to do what one should not want to do.” What one should want to do is to observe “the law of nature, which makes everything tend toward the preservation of species,” the “law of natural enlightenment, which wants us to do to others what we would want to have done to us,” and “the law that forms political societies,” which aims at the perpetuation of those societies. Certain moral virtues inhere in liberty itself. Republicanism consists of citizens who rule one another reciprocally, doing to one another as they would have done to themselves; federation enables republics to follow the political law of self-perpetuation.

For more than a century, the constitutional republicanism established by the Founders increasingly has given way to administrative government at the national, state, county, and even the local levels. As a result, Americans have needed to deliberate together less. The decline of civility in what remains of American political conversation may well originate in the decline of genuine civic life, genuine self-government, as part of the American way of life.

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Civil Society and Local Government (Part 1)

If the distinctive human characteristic is the ability to speak and to reason, then what is good for such a being must not only allow but encourage it to exercise that ability, just as it must be good for a horse to have room to run. To live in societies ruled by tyrants terrorizing their subjects with brute force must be bad for human beings, somehow beneath their real nature—hence the adjective ‘brute.’ By nature, human beings belong in civil societies, societies in which they may speak and reason together, deliberate with one another on what they should do, how they should act. Old-fashioned mothers would tell unruly children to ‘be civil,’ to ‘keep a civil tongue in your head.’ A civil tongue is one indirectly but closely attached to a reasoning brain, a brain more fully developed in accordance with its nature than the brain of a madman or a dolt, to say nothing of a barking pit bull or a chorusing frog.

Civil society begins in the home. Parents command children, ‘for their own good.’ But father and mother themselves properly form a civil relationship, ruling one another by mutual consent, by shared responsibilities, authority, and obligations. Outside the home, what we call civil society works the same way, as fellow citizens form businesses, churches, clubs, and schools. Families and civil associations alike govern themselves deliberately, reasonably—insofar as they are genuinely civil, institutions fitted for mature human beings. Children learn to do the same thing, choosing up sides for games, ‘ganging up’ (for better or for worse), imitating the adults (also for better or for worse).

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Right of the States to Oppose Tyranny

State and local officials have a duty to resist injustice and tyranny imposed upon their people by our central government. American citizens need to remind not only candidates for federal office, but also candidates for state office, of this fundamental constitutional reality, right, and duty. That is the only way (humanly speaking) we will reclaim and preserve our freedom.

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The Essential Nature of Borders in Ensuring Sovereignty

Sovereignty is the very essence of what makes a “nation” a “nation”—a free and independent state in which the people of that nation exercise total control over the governance of that nation. Clear and enforceable borders are an essential element of that sovereignty. Without them, the nation itself cannot be defined, and the sovereignty of that nation falls as a matter of course.

These truisms have been bedrock concepts of both political science and international law for centuries, essentially tracing their roots to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. A nation’s sovereignty is, in fact, enshrined in the central body of international law, the United Nations Charter, which says that, “nothing should authorise intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” But without enforceable borders, what determines the “domestic jurisdiction” for a state? And just how can a state govern itself if its borders are not secure?

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Renewal of American Federalism

When federalism fails in a large republic, the success of the government itself comes into question. The Founders knew the enemies of our republic were national factions demanding more and more from other citizens, e.g. farmers, seniors, auto companies, solar panel makers, homeowners, doctors, patients… students. Once factions are nationalized, their combined negative effects on the economic and political health of a Nation can be catastrophic.

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Greatest Power: Each State’s Obligation to Keep Its Creation of National Government in Check (Part 2)

What ought to add to the State’s obligation to keep its creation, the federal government, under control, exists in the fact that the Declaration of Independence identifies the sole purpose of the creation of the States is to “secure the Rights” of the people. A federal government unlimited in its power, or limited only by its own will or whim is a totalitarian government, putting the rights of the people at risk. When the States are not keeping their creation within its limited and defined bounds, they are failing to secure the rights of the people. Thomas Jefferson articulates this danger in 1812:

“when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another…If the States look with apathy on this silent descent of their government into the gulf which is to swallow all, we have only to weep over the human character formed uncontrollable but by a rod of iron…”

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Greatest Power: Each State’s Obligation to Keep Its Creation of National Government in Check (Part 1)

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

By RIGHT our governments are no longer colonies, but by declaration of that Right are recognized to be “free and independent States.” Simply put, we are not property of the king, but we know that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Since we are not owned by the king, we need not ask his permission to be free, we must simply declare it. Through the Declaration of Independence we not only make this fact known to the world, but we give clear definition to what we mean when we created, “free and independent States.”

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Secretary of State: Role and Purpose on the State Level

Many of the executive records have both the signatures of the Secretary of State and the Governor because the Secretary of State serves as the Governor’s personal notary public. When the Secretary of State is witnessing the Governor’s signature, the Great Seal of Alabama is used as the “notary” seal. The executive records are composed of writs of arrest, contracts, deeds, and leases, as well as listings of abandoned vehicles found in the state, information on municipal incorporations, and the names of all the notaries publicly registered in Alabama.

The Secretary of State is Alabama’s “Chief Election Official,” and the office is given many different election duties under state law. Election records include vote totals, certified ballots, and records showing how much money candidates and political committees raised and spent during an election. Copies of certificates of election, commissions, and oaths of office are also on file for many elected officials.

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Arizona: Born Angry – Guest Essayist: Sean Beienburg

Not all states can say that their first public act was defying the president of the United States. Arizona, the last state admitted to the Union from the contiguous United States, can.

Like many westerners then and now, Arizonans were anxious about and skeptical of concentrations of power, especially power wielded from afar, and, in writing their constitution, they sought to see it widely dispersed. (In this, Arizona’s Founders were not unlike the American Founders, increasingly distressed at their local government affairs being directed from the metropole, in violation of what they understood their English liberties to guarantee.) This meant not only that the state government would be carefully limited and easily checked by the people, but also that its constitution would ensure private actors could not wield undue influence in the state.

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The Role of the State Attorney General

State Attorneys General (AG) serve as the chief lawyers for their respective states and work to defend state sovereignty in a variety of contexts. They represent the interests of their states in court proceedings by defending state laws against legal challenges and, in many cases, enforcing state laws in both civil and criminal actions. They frequently are called upon to provide legal advice to state officials and to issue legal opinions on a range of issues. They also may oversee critical government programs, such as (in Texas) the state’s child support function.

While similar to their federal counterpart—the U.S. Attorney General—these state officers perform functions that vary greatly from the federal context, specifically in three ways.

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Battle for Power Between the National Government and the States

Indeed, opponents of the Constitution had cited “Montesquieu on the necessity of a contracted territory for a republican government.” Federalist 9. A large territory, Montesquieu had supposed, encouraged a monarchy, as monarchies were more adept at communications over distance and operate on principles that do not require thorough familiarity with the governed (rather they require familiarity with a small body of subordinate princes). The Constitution resolved these issues by creating a federal republic, where local rule prevailed in areas touching the daily lives of the people.

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The Unique Role of American State Governors

To many, the position of state governor is a faint echo of the president of the United States. The president is in charge of a vast empire stretching coast to coast with global implications while governors are seen as mere presiders, not much more than little men running little fiefdoms perpetuating their own schemes for self-interest and self-aggrandizement.

That view, of course, is blatantly false. The position of governor in the American political system far predates the concept of a president, though the role of the American president is a noble position of service as first exemplified by George Washington who refused a crown to rule as king and instead chose to serve through a presidency. Governors in the American colonies maintained relations with overseas powers and oversaw the vast expansion of the American state. Governors oversaw massive political changes as state constitutional systems were created. Governors laid the foundation for the modern American state through their vision, leadership, and administration.

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Apportionment and State Judiciaries

Unfortunately, the Court cast aside Justice Frankfurter’s warning that judges should stay out of the apportionment controversy and let the democratic process resolve it. Where wise men feared to tread, the justices foolishly rushed in. In 1962, in Baker v. Carr, they decided that such issues were “justiciable,” after all. Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims, they decided that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment supplied the solution. All legislative districts, whether congressional, state legislative, or local, had to be equal in population to be constitutional. The history of the Equal Protection Clause contains no evidence that the Congress or the states intended it to address this issue. Indeed, section two of that amendment addresses a very specific instance of representation, that is, a state’s representation would be reduced in the House of Representatives by the proportion that it denied its adult male citizens the right to vote on racial grounds. The framers of the amendment were fully aware of political representation, yet did not consider the Equal Protection Clause itself applicable broadly to representation or voting.

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Apportionment and State Constitutions

States also apportion their state legislative districts and determine how local electoral districts are apportioned. State constitutions typically provide for regular reapportionment and fix who–legislatures, courts, commissions–is to conduct that reapportionment. Local districts, such as county commissioners, school boards, and junior college districts, are included in this process, even if they perform multiple functions, as long as one of those functions is legislative and the body is elected by districts. The Supreme Court has recognized one exclusion, in Ball v. James (1981), for certain special governmental units that have only limited legislative powers, such as water districts. For those, voting and representation can be apportioned on the basis of amount of water rights or use, rather than population. The distinction between special and general governmental bodies is none-too-obvious, however.

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Apportionment, Voting and Representation

In a republic, two distinct principles are essential to political influence, voting and representation. Although there is no logical connection between any particular systems of voting and representation, there is a practical overlap. It is not astonishing, therefore, that allocation of voting and representation not only have been addressed in all republican constitutions, ancient and modern, but that conflicts over these issues have flared up in American history. “No taxation without representation” was one potent Revolutionary War-era slogan–and continues to be an (avoidable) obsession with some residents of the District of Columbia and with its municipal government. That slogan arose out of fundamental differences between English and American conceptions of voting and representation that had evolved from the experiences of living under distinctive physical and social conditions.

Voting qualifications and representation have been major controversies in several periods of American history. The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was deadlocked several weeks over the representational structure of the proposed Congress and nearly broke up over the matter before Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut presented the current compromise system. The constitutional upheaval of the second quarter of the 19th century during the “Age of Jackson” that produced numerous state conventions was triggered by popular restiveness over the outdated systems of voting and representation. One particularly tragic-comic event during that time was the Dorr War, a “civil war” in Rhode Island in 1841/2. It was precipitated by an attempt to reform the voting qualifications and legislative apportionment in place since the old colony’s royal charter had been made, with a few qualifications, the new state’s constitution at independence. Once more, in the 1960s, voting and representation became major constitutional issues. This time the matter was addressed through litigation in courts, rather less democratic than constitutional conventions and less dramatic than civil wars, no matter how small.

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City Leadership: Two Case Studies

Greenwich, Connecticut, where I live today, began as a colony founded in 1640 by a group of Englishmen that included daughter-in-law of John Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and author of the famous “city on a hill” sermon. While the Town of Greenwich, population 61,000, is old, its modern charter arrived in 1975. The charter is filled with provisions for budgets, elections, flood control, health, home rule, ordinances, parks and recreation, zoning, parking, public works, sewers, a board of estimation and taxes, a town council, selectmen (think mayors and deputy mayors), and a town clerk.

As this litany of charter provisions shows, a town or city touches almost every aspect of the daily life of its people. Whether you are driving on a road, visiting a park, waving to a policeman directing traffic, taking in the bustle of your local commercial district, or simply parking your car, you are working with your city government and your city government is working for you. A city government is always busy making a great many households into one community, into its own little “city on a hill” as John Winthrop would have said. A city government not only must do all these things – imagine a world without police or firemen, or in the case of Greenwich, public beaches! – it must also pay for them.

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Mississippi’s Road to Statehood

Mississippi followed a long, winding path to reach statehood. Following thousands of years of various Native Americans inhabiting the landscape, European powers burst upon the scene in the 1500s. Between then and the late 1700s, Spain, France and England had all claimed at least portions of the area we now know of as Mississippi. When the fledgling United States acquired the area in the late eighteenth century, it took nearly twenty years before Mississippi became this nation’s twentieth state.

Congress established the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798. Spain had claimed a large portion of the area but had given up much of its rights by 1795. Initially, this region consisted of a strip of land between the Mississippi and Chattahoochee Rivers but by 1812, it encompassed all of the present-day states of Mississippi and Alabama. The territorial government consisted of a governor, three judges and a secretary who served as a ruling council. Once the population level reached a certain number, the territory could apply for the second territorial stage which included an elected assembly and a delegate to Congress. Eventually, a territory could apply for statehood.

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The Nation’s Capital: The District of Columbia

The machinations behind the scenes that resulted in the Residence Act are perhaps the first great compromise of the new Republic. The northern states did not want the capital in the South. The southern states did not want it in the North. And no state wanted it located within the confines of any other, thinking it would give that state an unfair advantage in the affairs of the new nation.

As they saw it, the independence of the capital city from the governments of the other states was an additional safeguard of our liberties and of the new system of government created by the U.S. Constitution based on checks and balances of power not just between the three branches of the federal government but between the federal government and the states.

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Home Rule or Dillon Rule? Meaning and Purpose for Effective Local Government

If a particular power is allowed (under whichever rule), it still should not be an unlimited power. Moreover, not all powers are legitimate for any given local government or for any such government. Under current law of local government, it is incumbent on the state legislatures to create institutional arrangements that do limit power, or that appropriate state constitutional limits be in place.

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Down-Ballot Elections

Every year elections are held in the United States.

Federal and state elections every other year (except a few states who are truly “off-year” outside of the two-year cycle). Local elections, county and municipal, are held somewhere every year.

There are approximately 88,000 local governments, districts, and commissions containing over 500,000 elected officials.

Many local offices are nonpartisan, meaning not party affiliated. School Boards and small cities and towns assume local functions are not truly partisan. Is there a Republican or Democrat way of collecting trash or plowing snow?

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Arkansas: A Brief History of Statehood

Arkansas is governed under its 1874 constitution, which is its fifth since statehood, and commonly known as the “Thou Shalt Not” document. It reflected the general suspicion of government power that had been prevalent in the state since entering the Union. Most of these revisions placed into the document were highly restrictive and negative in nature. County governments became more powerful as administrative units of the state, with jurisdiction over roads and bridges, local judiciary, and taxation and spending. The state’s powers to tax and borrow were severely limited, the terms of elected officials were reduced from four years to two years (changed to four years by a constitutional amendment in 1984), the number of elected county officials was increased from two to ten, and the legislative sessions were biennial, limited to sixty days. The governor’s power was greatly reduced, and executive power was divided between seven constitutional officers.

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Counties: Backbone of Local Government, Core of Our Civic Culture

Most Americans have poor awareness and understanding of local government. The decisions and activities of the diverse array of elected and appointed officials go unreported, or under-reported. Holding local power accountable is one of the greatest problems in America today.

Corruption and incompetence are more prevalent than ever. Land use can make or break fortunes, and help or harm a community, especially in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, conflicts of interest are predictable around land speculation. Misuse of public funds, especially directing contracts to friends and family, or for unrecorded payments, is always possible.

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Indiana: Long an Example of Robust Statehood

Formation of today’s traditional Midwest took root in the years after the Treaty of Paris ended the conflict known to Europeans as the Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indiana War. Signed in 1763, this resolution gave the British nominal control over the land from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. During the Revolution, Indiana was the site of a battle for Fort Sackville, at Vincennes. As American forces took the fort, they turned toward an effort driving out the British out of places like Illinois and Michigan, the ultimate objective being Detroit.

After the war, the much-maligned Continental Congress took important steps in organizing these areas. They adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, with the idea that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan would eventually be divided into five states of the union. From the time Ohio became a state in 1803, Indiana’s leaders were hard at work on achieving this end.

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The Sovereignty of a Free and Radically Independent People: Colorado’s Enduring Constitutional Heritage

Early Colorado never devolved into the anarchy that had characterized California in its own early gold rush years. Because about thirty percent of Colorado’s miners had experience in California, they understood the importance of creating effective local self-government immediately. Thus, the miners’ districts were quickly established. Experienced code writers traveled from town to town, helping to create local law.

Defying the nominal authority of the Kansas territorial government, the settlers in September and October 1859 created their own ad hoc government for what they called the “Territory of Jefferson.” Provisional Governor Robert Steele addressed the opening of the Jefferson legislature on November 7, 1859. He explained that the people had been denied protection of life and property; being sovereign, they had taken measures for their security.

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Judicial Finality: Correcting Errors

Consider some recent examples of the Court admitting errors on constitutional issues. In United States v. Curtiss-Wright (1936), the Court upheld a statute that delegated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt authority to prohibit the sale of arms in the Chaco region in South America whenever he found “it may contribute to the reestablishment of peace” between belligerents. The Court then added extraneous language (judicial dicta), claiming that the President possesses “plenary and exclusive” power over foreign affairs and serves as the “sole organ” in external affairs. Anyone reading the text of the Constitution would understand that the Framers did not place all power over external affairs in the President. Clearly that power is allocated to both Congress and the President.

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Judicial Finality: Protecting Individual Rights

In 1916, Congress passed legislation to regulate child labor in interstate commerce. Two years later, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the statute as unconstitutional. Congress did not accept judicial finality. It passed legislation to regulate child labor, relying this time on the taxing power. In Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (1922), an 8-1 decision struck down that legislative effort. Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1924 to provide authority under the commerce power to regulate child labor, but by 1937 only 28 of the necessary 36 states had ratified it.

Instead of accepting judicial finality, Congress passed legislation in 1938 to regulate child labor through the commerce power. In 1941, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the statute. As to its decision in 1918, the Court remarked that it “was novel when made and unsupported by any provision in the Constitution.” A remarkable statement. Not a shred of constitutional support. The Court in 1941 repudiated not only the doctrine of judicial finality but the assumption of judicial infallibility. The motive and purpose of a regulation of interstate commerce are matters, said the Court, “for the legislative judgment upon the exercise of which the Constitution places no restriction and over which the courts are given no control.”

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Judicial Finality: Is There a Final Word on Constitutional Issues?

According to the doctrine of judicial finality, the Supreme Court has the last word in interpreting the Constitution unless it changes its mind or the Constitution is amended. This doctrine, widely accepted, has no basis in the historical record. In part, that is because the Court, as with the other political branches, makes mistakes. Chief Justice William Rehnquist expressed the reason quite crisply in Herrera v. Brown (1993): “It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible.” As this article will explain, when the Court errs it can take six or more decades to recognize a judicial error and announce a correction.

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“All Politics is Local”

de Tocqueville links local government to being fundamental to a free people:

In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people are the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America ‘the people’ is a master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility.

Municipal independence is therefore a natural consequence of the principle of the sovereignty of the people in the United States: all the American republics recognize it more or less;

de Tocqueville noted the benefits of locally focused government in America:

In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people which has established schools as numerous and as efficacious, places of public worship better suited to the wants of the inhabitants, or roads kept in better repair.

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Their Common Defense: Alliance Between the Sovereign States

The “alliance” between the “sovereign states” was on behalf of their “common defense, the securities of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of the them….”

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California, September 9, 1850: Thirty-First Admitted to the United States (Part 2)

The earlier version followed the path of traditional American constitutional structure, with its basic organization of government and its “natural rights” approach.

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California, September 9, 1850: Thirty-First Admitted to the United States (Part 1)

California has had two constitutions during statehood, one from 1849 and the other from 1879. Although only a generation separates them, their style, operative principles, and political consequences could hardly be more different. The Constitution of 1849 represented the classic American constitutionalism of the U.S. Constitution and of the Iowa and New York state constitutions that were its direct antecedents. The Constitution of 1879 bore the imprint of the wave of political populism sweeping the country during that decade. Together with subsequent amendments adopted during the Progressive Era, it became–and remains–an instrument of that time and contributes to the state’s radical politics.

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Home Rule or Dillon Rule?

The states of the United States were intended to be, essentially, laboratories within which “experiments” in government could be tried. The Tenth Amendment supports this view, stating that whatever political power was not delegated to the national government remained with the states and their people. Whether Home Rule or Dillon’s Rule or some combination of both will win out remains to be seen. In any case, the idea of a self-ruling people demands that the decision not be left to the politicians.

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Lower Courts: How Local Judiciary Systems Work

State courts play a vital role in our nation’s legal system. If you are ever a party to a lawsuit or are called as a trial witness, it will likely be in a state court. Without the fifty state court systems the federal court system would be overwhelmed. State courts are usually easy to locate and provide a great opportunity to introduce school children to the U.S. legal system.

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Founders’ Purpose: America’s State and Local Form of Government as Guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution

The idea of a republican government was raised at the Constitutional Convention in the atmosphere of the just-ended War for Independence. The primary target of the signers of the Declaration has been the English king, who was designated a tyrant. This same target lies in the background in discussions of the governmental form.

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Role of State Courts and the American Judicial System (Part 2)

A wave of state constitutional conventions during the middle of the 19th century reflected the increased “democratization” of American politics that resulted in the election of President Andrew Jackson and the emergence of two modern national programmatic parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. In established and newly-formed states, the growing movement for popular control over government led to reforms of judicial systems by having judges run for political office under partisan aegis and denomination. Today, eight states retain some form of partisan election for their appellate courts, and more do so for their general trial courts.

By the late nineteenth century, the tide turned again, with partisan politics becoming identified with political corruption, urban political “machines,” and party bosses controlling the process from “smoke-filled back rooms.” Over the next several decades, reformers, often working under the label of “Progressivism,” pushed broadly for nonpartisan elections, including for judicial offices. Most new states, as well as some established states, adopted this system in the several decades beginning in the 1880s. About one-third of the states still have nonpartisan elections for their appellate courts; still more do so for their general trial courts.

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Role of State Courts and the American Judicial System (Part 1)

Under the Constitution, the only required court is the U.S. Supreme Court. The creation of lower federal courts has always been entirely at the discretion of Congress. Even if federal courts have jurisdiction, they can only hear cases specified in Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution. They are “limited jurisdiction” courts. However, the Constitution does anticipate the existence of state courts, which, in addition to their duties under state law, would perform the functions of federal jurisdiction if Congress chose not to establish lower federal courts. Even today, state courts can hear cases that involve federal jurisdiction, such as claims that arise under federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution, unless Congress has expressly made hearing that type of case exclusive in the federal courts.

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State Supreme Courts

The state and local courts generally address and rule on cases and controversies that involve law and the constitution of that state. However, in some instances, those state court rulings can be appealed and challenged in the federal courts. If the issue is whether a state law violates the Constitution, then federal courts may hear the dispute. In addition, in some instances, if the jurisdictional thresholds are met, then there might be dual jurisdiction.

The federal and state courts are separate entities with different jurisdictional limits and powers. While state issues might be litigated in federal courts if jurisdictional requirements are satisfied, United States Constitutional issues are ultimately the federal courts to decide. The Founders at the national and state levels expected the third branch, while co-equal to the other branches, to be the least powerful branch and interpreters only of laws.

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The States and America’s Republican Form of Government

To the Framers of the Constitution, democracy was a hideous form of government. The colorful Fisher Ames, in one of his more measured criticisms, wrote: “Democracy, in its best state, is but the politics of Bedlam; while kept chained, its thoughts are frantic, but when it breaks loose, it kills the keeper, fires the building, and perishes.” Monarchy was obviously unacceptable; a confederation had been tried and found wanting; this left a republic. But a republic which, according to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, must be “kept.” The Constitution’s Article 4 Section 4 contributes to the “keeping.”

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Alaska: The Last Frontier

While there are in theory strict limits on federal governing powers as laid out in the Tenth Amendment to our U.S. Constitution, in the real world of at least one state, Alaska, the federal government wields enormous power and control. To understand how this came to be, one must look at Alaska’s history.

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Bleeding Kansas and Four Constitutions

The following year, Kansans adopted the Wyandotte Constitution, which was approved by Congress in 1860 as the South seceded. Congress finally admitted Kansas as a free state and banned slavery on January 29, 1861. It was the 34th state in the Union. This constitution opened with a preamble asserting the significance of civil and religious liberty: “We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges, in order to insure the full enjoyment of our rights as American citizens, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the State of Kansas.” The constitution remains the constitution of Kansas though it has been amended since ratification including the addition of women’s suffrage.

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The Frontier Closes: Foreign Policy and the Status of the States (Part 2)

Such radically changed circumstances, which would lead to the world wars of the next century, presented American strategists with a set of problems noticeably different from those seen by Washington and his successors. Would the strengthening empires block American trade? Would they again threaten American shores, as they had not done since 1812?

Further, having fought a devastating civil war, we were less likely than ever to invite the prospect of another war on our own territory—especially given the increasingly devastating power of modern weapon wielded by the well-organized and trained mass armies raised by modern states.

We needed to re-think the question of strategic depth, a question we thought we’d answered by turning the middle part of North America into an empire of liberty. And we also needed to re-think our policies regarding international commerce. All without eradicating the constitutionally legitimate powers of the state governments.

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The Frontier Closes: Foreign Policy and the Status of the States (Part 1)

America became what Jefferson wanted it to be: an “empire of liberty,” that is, a union of free and equal states, with republican regimes securing the natural rights of all its citizens in principle and of most if not all in practice.

What would become of the country? Could the regime of commercial republicanism sustain itself against populist and socialist ideologues who sought to exploit these pressures? Could federalism withstand pressures to ‘nationalize’ everything—that is, bring it under the rule of the central government to the diminution of the state governments?

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Territories of the United States

To date, fifty states have been admitted to the United States, with the last one, Hawaii, having been admitted on August 21, 1959. However, in addition to the states, the United States has a number of major territories, including American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Wyoming: The First State To Grant Voting Rights To Women

In 1888, the Territorial Assembly petitioned Congress for statehood, but that effort was not successful. Despite not being approved for statehood in 1888, Wyoming Territory Governor Francis E. Warren and other territorial leadership decided to hold an election for delegates to a constitutional convention. On September 30, 1889, the Constitutional Convention was held and a state constitution was drafted that was submitted to voters. A short time later, on November 5,1889, the constitution was approved by an overwhelming majority of Wyoming voters, 6,272 to 1,923.

With a new constitution, the Wyoming Territory pushed for statehood again, and after President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming’s statehood bill, Wyoming became the 44th state on July 10,1890.

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Role of State and Local Government and the Bill of Rights

The initial set of amendments drafted by Representative James Madison were distilled from those submitted by the various state ratifying conventions, with the author declaring to Congress “I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the constitution.” While most of those changes dealt with the powers of the general government or with limits to be imposed on that body, one group did not. Hamilton had also criticized the fact that the New York constitution, like that of some other states, lacked an explicit bill of rights. If anything, he noted, states needed bills of rights more than the federal government did, because they were governments of general and inherent legislative power, while the federal government was one of limited and delegated powers. For the former, then, any restriction on its powers had to be express.

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The Bill Of Rights and the States

Congressmen in the summer of 1789 were well aware that the constitution of nearly every state predated the new U.S. Constitution and that they had been working well.  Almost all of them contained either Declarations of Rights or specific protections in the body of the constitution; some of these protections were more elaborate even than those which ended up in the U.S. Bill of Rights.[4]…

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The Lands Forming Nevada as America’s Thirty-Sixth State at the Height of the Civil War

The relationship between Nevada and the federal government is as much a matter of the history of how Nevada became a state as it is the conditions under which it was granted statehood. Like many western states, states whose territories were carved out of the lands gained by the United States as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848.

Until that point, states entering the union retained title to “unappropriated public lands” within their boundaries. But states entering the Union after 1848, by and large, ceded all title to these unappropriated public lands—i.e., lands that were neither privately owned, nor were they dedicated to some official public purpose—to the federal government as an incident of their becoming a state. As a result, these states, which were also much, much larger than their eastern counterparts, came into the Union with massive amounts of federal land within their midst.

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Divided by a River and a Convention: Minnesota’s Constitutional Heritage

Minnesota’s constitutional roots go all the way back to before the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

As Minnesotans will tell you, the state is the source of the Mississippi river. The land east of the river was recognized as part of the United States in 1783, after the United States won the Revolutionary War. A few years later in 1787, Congress, acting under the Articles of Confederation, drafted the Northwest Ordinance. The Ordinance included a set of requirements for new states to be formed out of the Northwest Territory, the area which today includes Minnesota east of the Mississippi, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It required new states to guarantee many individual liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of navigation on public waterways, and the prohibition of slavery.

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West Virginia: The Thirty-Fifth State

On August 20, 1861, President Lincoln empowered this military-backed civilian entity to establishment the separate state of West Virginia from the pro-Union western counties that opted-out of the Secession Convention.

A “free” state convention met in Wheeling, November 26, 1861, and drafted the “Constitution of West Virginia.” It designated forty-four counties, “formerly part of the State of Virginia,” to be “included in and form part of the State of West Virginia.” The Counties of Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Frederick, Berkeley, or Jefferson were not named as part of the state.

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The Constitutional Intrigue of West Virginia Statehood

The “Restored Government,” acting in accordance with Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, passed a resolution allowing the counties of northwest Virginia to split off and form their own state called West Virginia. Before West Virginia is admitted to the Union as a distinct state (in 1863) there were actually three separate governments operating within the confines of the state of Virginia: one part of the confederacy, one part of the Union and one hopeful of becoming a separate state. The “Restored Government” approved a new constitution in 1864. Since this constitution was enacted under wartime conditions and the “Restored Government” stood on rather shaky ground to begin with, the 1864 constitution is not recognized as part of the constitutional history of Virginia.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights contains a statement that “all [political] power is … derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.” When “the people” delegate their sovereign power to a government, is that a one-way trip, is the power forever surrendered? No, no, a thousand times no! Virginia’s Ratification Convention of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 made this crystal clear by writing: “WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia…, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

How much political power did the “Restored Government of Virginia” actually enjoy?

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Louisiana and the Clash of Empires

The issue was finally settled in the fall of 1795 with Europe in flames due to the wars of the French Revolution. Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina negotiated Pinckney’s Treaty which won additional territory in Spanish Florida and more importantly secured the American right of free navigation of the Mississippi and New Orleans to trade.

When Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory to France in 1800, Americans were concerned about Napoleonic designs in North America. However, the continuing wars in Europe and the French failure to suppress a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) led Napoleon to consider selling the territory to the United States. President Jefferson dispatched New Yorker Robert Livingston and Virginian James Monroe to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans as a critically-important port.

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July 3, 1890: “We, the People of the State of Idaho”

The “Idaho Admission Bill” reads: “Therefore, Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representative of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the State of Idaho is hereby declared to be a State of the United States of America, and is hereby declared admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever; and that the Constitution which the people of Idaho have formed for themselves be and the same is hereby, accepted, ratified and confirmed.”

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Nebraska’s State Constitution and One-Of-A-Kind Unicameral Legislature

In 1776, the world was ruled by royalty. Then some upstart colonialists penned the most revolutionary document in the history of man. The Declaration of Independence flipped the world upside down. The Divine Right of Kings became the consent of the governed. The individual was now “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This was a world-shattering concept.

The people were now in charge. Our national heritage is a written constitution that sets the rules for governance between the people and their elected representatives. When Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they almost immediately sat down and wrote a constitution called the Mayflower Compact. When our forefathers wanted independence, they felt a need to express their grievances and philosophy of government in a written Declaration of Independence. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, all thirteen states had written constitutions.

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Texas: A Unique History Which Impacted Its Constitutional Future

While the states which comprise the United States of America each have a unique story and history, the political and constitutional evolution of the great state of Texas is a compelling story in and of itself. I know, for you non-Texans your first response might be “there goes another one of those Texans who believes everything about Texas is bigger, brighter, bolder and more significant than everyplace else in the world”! Admittedly, true Texans are unabashedly proud. They hold an opinion which tends to advance the idea Texas is first in everything and the rest of the world can at best be “first runner up.” However, when one considers the fascinating history of Texas, the uniqueness of her size and the role she played in the growth and development of the United States, her role cannot be overlooked even by the most objective analysis.

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Founders’ Vision for Keeping the States Strong, United, and Free (Part 2)

After the adoption of the Constitution, the next significant use of this compact theory occurred in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798/9, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, and triggered by the Adams Administration’s Sedition Act. These resolutions held that Congress had only limited and delegated powers. If Congress legislated beyond those powers, it invaded the reserved powers of the states and threatened to consolidate power in itself. Division of powers existed to protect the people’s rights against tyranny.

A state government could, perhaps even must, then declare the unconstitutional nature of the Congressional action. Beyond that, matters got murky. The means of redress were left to each state. For Virginia, this included interposition of state authority between its citizens and Congressional usurpation of their rights. Whether this went beyond seeking political change by pressuring Congress to repeal the law or petitioning that body to call a constitutional convention under Article V of the Constitution, to actively using state executive authority to prevent enforcement of the federal law, was not discussed. Though it was implied, there was no clear assertion that the state’s action (by itself or in concurrence with others) outright nullified the offensive law. The more radical Jefferson, however, did allow that a state could nullify the offending federal law within its territory.

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Founders’ Vision for Keeping the States Strong, United, and Free (Part 1)

The constitutional case for vigorous state sovereignty to counter the dangers from a consolidated general government had been made frequently by the Constitution’s critics during the ratification debates. Their claim rested on the principle that the union was a compact of States. They pointed to the fact that the Constitution’s legitimacy rested on approval by the states; that the Constitution’s proponents frequently had asserted that the plan was not a revolutionary new system but an improvement of the extant one, as expressed in the Preamble’s objective to “form a more perfect Union;” and that failure to adopt the new plan would not mean the creation of 13 fully independent entities, but, rather, continuation of the earlier plan that had established a “perpetual union.”

The shift from approval by the state legislatures under the Articles of Confederation to approval by state conventions under the proposed document merely reflected a more refined understanding of republican theory that fundamental alterations must reflect as clearly as practicable the consent of the governed.

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“On Wisconsin!”

Today’s Wisconsin Constitution consists of a Preamble, thanking Almighty God for the freedoms that citizens of the state are blessed with, and then 14 Articles. The first article is a general declaration of rights as citizens of Wisconsin. This allows Wisconsin citizens to live under the same freedoms as the United States Bill of Rights, to prohibit prison sentences for debt, place military under the control of civil authorities, and guarantees our citizens the right to fish and hunt.

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Missouri Statehood and the First Sirens of Civil War

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives began to speak of Maine’s admission to statehood. The first day of deliberation upon Maine, Henry Clay left the Speaker’s chair in order to set the stage for debate. He wanted to assure the Northerners that they had much to lose with the debates over Maine if they continued to give the Southerners ultimatums regarding Missouri. If Maine could not be accepted as a state, then the Northerners would lose any opportunity of equaling the Southern representation in the Senate, and this could have long term consequences.

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Illinois, Admitted December 3, 1818 as the Twenty-First State

Admitted to the Union December 3, 1818, Illinois is the twenty-first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Known as “The Prairie State” as well as the “Land of Lincoln,” the Illinois State Constitution adopted in 1970 is the version currently used. The first state constitution, however, was adopted on August 26, 1818.

Congress required that each new state have a constitution. Delegates were selected and they met in Kaskaskia, Illinois, thirty-three men gathered at a tavern to draft a constitution. Borrowing heavily from the Kentucky constitution, where many delegates had come to Illinois from, as well as the constitutions of Ohio and Indiana (two states that were part of the Northwest Territory), a very small group drafted the constitution. Except for one issue, there are not records of much debate over this constitution to be submitted to Congress.

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How Ohio Crafted Its State Constitution to Uphold the Will of the People

The study of state constitutions is perhaps the most important study that Americans can undertake, yet the most neglected. Understanding the constitution of the state within which one holds residence is important for two reasons. First, because understanding the laws closest to oneself equips one to become a citizen in the truest sense, one who participates in the city with his fellow citizens and engages in the community. And second because the state constitutions, in preserving the past while being layered by amendments of the present, reveal the history and development of the American regime.

Ohio’s state constitution is paradigmatic in the latter sense. The Buckeye State was the 17th state to join the Union, and it was accepted to statehood in 1803. The year in which Ohio was accepted to statehood is important insofar as it forms the essential character of the Ohio Constitution: joining a mere 27 years after the nation declared independence, and a mere 14 years after the Federal Constitution’s ratification, it preserves much of what was original to the Union itself. However, the Ohio Constitution, being ratified after the election of 1800, just after the first major shift in party control, gives Ohio an important place in the new notions of politics that developed during Jefferson’s term as president.

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Tennessee, 1796: The Volunteer State

It’s now understandable why the Tennessee Historical Magazine of 1915 features a writing entitled, “The Development of the Tennessee Constitution” with the subtitle, “The North Carolina Constitution of 1776” with the first line to read: The constitutional history of Tennessee properly begins with the adoption by the revolutionary congress of North Carolina, in 1776… The appointed governor of Tennessee immediately following the acceptance of the cessation papers by the U.S. Government in 1790 was William Blount, who served from 1790 until official statehood in 1796 in what was deemed the “Southwest Territory.”

During this time a 4-week convention comprised of 55 delegates was held in Knoxville to establish the first constitution of a new state. Upon completion, the governing document was sent to Philadelphia, home to young America’s seat of governance, for review by the U.S. Congress and ultimately signed by President George Washington giving Tennessee immediate statehood on its day of birth, June 1, 1796. It would be later said by Thomas Jefferson of Tennessee’s Constitution, based on its North Carolina’s parent and Pennsylvania’s, to be “the least imperfect and most republican of the state constitutions” as it featured specifics on rights, taxes and legislative authority.

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Vermont, 1791: First State Admitted After the Original Thirteen Colonies

In 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen led 83 Green Mountain Boys of Vermont on a courageous expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga. In the early morning of MAY 10, 1775, Ethan Allen, accompanied by Colonel Benedict Arnold, made a surprise assault on Fort Ticonderoga. The bewildered British captain asked in whose name such a request was being made. Ethan Allen reportedly shouted: “In the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” The British surrendered in what was one of America’s first victories of the Revolutionary War.

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Equality of States: The National Union and the Republican Principle

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD: Ratified in 1781, the Articles of Confederation had significant problems. The Congress was unicameral, and the national government did not have an independent executive or judiciary. The states were sovereign, and the national government did not have the power to tax or regulate commerce. It was essentially just a league of friendship. […]

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North Carolina’s Vital Role in Ensuring The People Had a Bill of Rights

Aside from the federal Constitution, North Carolina has had three state constitutions since separation from Great Britain. One in 1776, one in 1868, and one in 1971.

Although different, the North Carolina constitutions have similar passages, and it is evident how elements of the 1776 constitution were incorporated into the 1868 constitution and how many parts of the 1868 constitution were incorporated into the 1971 constitution. Each version has a Declaration of Rights, albeit the number of declarations is different. All three, however, include a reminder that the study of history can affect current policy: “a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.”

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Rhode Island: The Small Colony That Solidified the United States

What the history of Rhode Island reminds us is that the states that formed the Union understood themselves to be acting on behalf of their citizens and the state government. It was thirteen individual states who formed the Union and not the people of those states. The Union did not transform the people into a single-collective, but rather the people were citizens of their states and the states acted on behalf of their citizens at the national forum. This may seem radical in light of how most people view themselves today, but at the time they would have thought our modern construction as radical and a severe departure from the Spirit of 1776 that rebelled against a distant, centralized governing body that limited self-rule. The Spirit of 1776 also saw the former colonies declaring themselves independent individually rather than as a collective.

The actions of the colonies preceded the collective Declaration of Independence. A righteous act of independence had begun with Rhode Island and the nation solidified only when it became the last of the original thirteen to join the union.

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New York: Eleventh of the Original Thirteen to Become a State in the Union

Like the 10th state, Virginia, while New York’s ratification was not required under the new Constitution for there to be a United States, had the vote gone the other way, the United States may have been for naught before they began. The Empire State showed its wealth of wisdom in ratifying the United States and becoming the 11th state in a fledgling nation. Had New York insisted on its voluminous amendments to the draft U.S. Constitution or that a Bill of Rights be passed with any ratification, and four votes had gone the other way, we might well have never moved to fifty states. Thankfully, we will never know.

But New York was extremely influential in the Bill of Rights being considered, including the powerful 10th Amendment, which provides: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” With the 9th Amendment, the intent was to limit the powers of the federal government.

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The Constitutional Roots of Connecticut

Connected is called the “Constitution State”, largely because of the Fundamental Orders, which were written by the Connecticut Colony Council in 1639. Some have argued that this is the first constitution (a few historians say in the entire world) that empowers the citizens of a state to govern themselves. Where other American colonies in the 1600s and early 1700s were largely governed by representatives from Great Britain, citizens of Connecticut practiced a form of self-government. The Fundamental Orders also outlined individual rights that were given to all Connecticut citizens.

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Republican Principles of the 1776 Virginia Constitution

On June 29, the convention adopted a constitution guided by revolutionary principles. The different branches of government were separated and consisted of a bicameral General Assembly, an executive, and judiciary. The House of Delegates was the most representative of the people and were elected annually. The two houses of the legislature voted for the governor and curtailed the power of the executive who was elected annually and could not serve more than three terms consecutively. The principles of 1776 and great suspicion of executive power because of the experience under the king and his royal governors underpinned the weakening of executive power.

The Virginia Constitution was one of the first modern constitutions and represented the republican and revolutionary principles of 1776. The state constitutions created republican governments and helped shape the experiences and principles that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

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How Virginia’s State Constitution Would Impact Construction of the United States Constitution

Before the Declaration of Independence was made, Virginia adopted its state Constitution on June 29, 1776, and its document would be of major impact when the new nation turned to creating a Constitution of its own.

Mason, who had a large role in the drafting of the Constitution in Philadelphia, and who was one of three delegates still in Philadelphia in September who did not sign the Constitution, was one of the main drafters of the 1776 Virginia Constitution. The other was Madison, who is considered by many to be the Father of the Constitution for his work in connection with the Annapolis Convention, the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional Convention. Madison would take his learnings from Virginia a decade later when he helped design the United States Constitution.

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New Hampshire: The First in the Nation

Under fire from the troops defending the fort, these New Hampshire patriots captured the fort and its garrison, took down the British colors, seized most of the gunpowder and departed. When the royal governor the next day regarrisoned the fort and ordered the return of the gunpowder, the insurgents went back to Fort William and Mary and took the remaining gunpowder, plus 16 cannons and all the muskets.

On January 5, 1776, the then provincial Congress of New Hampshire recognized that with the royal governor and British troops having been chased out of the state, the time had come to adopt a state constitution derived not from royal prerogative or British parliamentary grant, but rather from the free suffrage of the people. In doing so and by means of that very first constitution, New Hampshire became the first of the 13 original colonies to declare its independence from the Great Britain – six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

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South Carolina, Admitted 1788 and Eighth State to Ratify the U.S. Constitution

The eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, South Carolina, was admitted to the United States May 23, 1788. It was also the first state to secede from the Union. The current South Carolina State Constitution was adopted in 1896.

Albemarle Point, located on the Ashley River, was established in 1670 as the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina. It was under the supervision of the eight lords proprietors who had been granted “Carolana” by King Charles II. Ten years later, settlers moved across the river to the present site of Charleston.

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Secession? America’s Founding and Why States Seceded From the Union

“At the time of the nation’s founding the states considered themselves to be sovereign entities that could compact together to address common needs, and it could reverse that decision if the common governing body no longer fulfilled its duty. Sovereignty was not relinquished. This is not only documented, but procedurally it is reinforced in that each state needed to ratify the primary governing documents before those documents took effect within that state’s legal jurisdiction. For instance, the U.S. Constitution was drafted by a committee in Philadelphia, it was then sent to the states to ratify individually. And while the Constitution only required nine of the thirteen states to be put into effect, only those states that had ratified it would be part of the Union. Those who had not ratified could not take part in the new government. This is a continuation of the political practice started with the Articles of Confederation in which the Second Continental Congress drafted and approved the Articles but then sent them to each state for independent ratification. The same is true of the Declaration of Independence—no state was forced against its will to fight the British once a majority of states accepted the Declaration; rather, it required unanimous consent from each state in Congress,” Dr. Kyle Scott in today’s essay.

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Maryland’s 1867 State Constitution, Among the Oldest in Use Today

It is August 27, 1776; the British have mounted their anticipated invasion of Long Island, New York. British General William Howe commits 20,000 of his best troops to the fight, including 8,000 Hessians, against approximately 6,000 ill-equipped and ill-experienced Americans (20,000 to 6,000; hardly seems a fair fight). Howe splits his forces across three fronts and executes a daring nighttime flanking maneuver that utterly surprises the American forces. The Americans are soon routed from their defensive lines and forced to retreat onto fortified Brooklyn Heights. To buy time for the withdrawal, Washington orders General William Stirling, commanding two units of the 1st Delaware Regiment as well as four companies from the 1st Maryland Regiment, to hold his line on the Gowanus Road. The 1st Maryland Regiment (part of the “Maryland Line”) is under the temporary command of Major Mordecai Gist (the unit’s commander, Colonel William Smallwood, is attending court martial duty in the city). The British attack up the Gowanus Road consists of 2,000 troops under the command of General James Grant. The Marylanders, soon reduced to less than 400 men (The Immortal 400)[1] are ordered to hold the line near Vechte-Cortelyou house, a stone building commanding the strategic road and a bridge, the only escape route across the Gowanus Salt Marsh. Not only do Gist’s men hold off the British, they make six amazing counterattacks before being finally forced to scatter and make their own escape back to American lines. Only a handful of the Maryland men are successful. Watching from Brooklyn Heights, General Washington turns to General Israel Putnam and states:

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The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: John Adams & the Fundamental Liberties of the People

In the fall of 1779, John Adams was home in Massachusetts during a respite from his diplomatic responsibilities in Europe. While he was there, Adams drafted the state constitution that built on the constitutions and experiences of other states, using them as a model of success and failure. The resulting Massachusetts Constitution was a balanced constitution.

Royal authority had collapsed in Massachusetts in 1775, and the state was governed by a provincial congress under the 1691 colonial charter. The legislature had drafted a constitution in 1778, but the sovereign people of local townships had rejected it.

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Georgia on My Mind

When James Oglethorpe claimed Georgia (named for King George III) in 1732, he then brought settlers to Savannah in 1733, who would have thought that less than 50 years later, there would be a war for independence from England. This was one of the challenges for Georgians. Many were not that far removed from life in England and many were not sure about this new initiative called the United States of America.

That didn’t stop Lyman Hall, Button Gwinnett and George Walton from signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. These three men would find their names on three of the 159 counties in Georgia in the fastest growing part of Georgia some 240 years later.

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New Jersey: Third of the Original Thirteen to Join the United States

Like Delaware, had New Jersey for some reason not ratified the Constitution, there would still have been a United States. Little did the four signers of the Constitution from New Jersey in 1787 foresee that their relatively small state would be the 11th most populous in present times. New Jersey’s delegates were instrumental in protecting the smaller states and although the Virginia Plan ultimately was the winner in the final Constitution, the New Jersey Plan protections were incorporated. The Garden State, along with Delaware and Georgia, were the only three of the thirteen colonies to vote unanimously at their state conventions for ratification of this new union, the United States of America.

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Pennsylvania and Our Form of Government

We have in Pennsylvania a form of government founded on principles of individual liberty and self-determination. William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” as Pennsylvania was called, provided its inhabitants certain inviolable rights through our Charter of Privileges–freedom of religion, liberty of consciousness, the election of our legislative representatives, and protections from abusive government intrusion. Of Pennsylvania, William Penn wrote that it would one day be the “seed of a nation.”