Entries by Amanda Hughes

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Best Friends: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

This design of limited constitutionalism, further, was nothing less than imitating in human artifice the order of nature reflected in the powers of God affirmed in the
Declaration. God held the three powers of effective order, legislative, executive and judicial. He legislated “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God;” regarding humans he was the executor, for “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;” and he was appealed to as “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” God, in other words, united the three powers of effective order in his own person. He could do so precisely because he exists in an order above man and respecting which no “consent” to his rule could be demanded. No man is God’s equal, while every man is any king’s moral equal.

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With a Firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence

In light of the common canard that most of the Founders were deists, it is important to note that this phraseology is utterly inconsistent with deism—a philosophy which contends that God created the world and then walked away and is unconcerned with present human actions. God is described as the “Supreme Judge of the World.” This acknowledges that God has universal standards and that He will hold all men accountable for their actions. This is not a disconnected, indifferent God. The founding generation widely believed that there were eternal consequences for improper actions during life. Thus, the signers of the Declaration were not merely willingly accepting the temporal consequences of their bold action, but they were effectively saying that they were willing to stand before the throne of God and accept His judgment of these actions.

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Weighing a Decisive Break, Preparing Defenses, and Why Some Founders Did Not Sign the Declaration of Independence

The deliberation about independence took shape over a decade of resistance against British taxes and tyranny. While some colonists spoke of a possible break with Great Britain, most considered themselves English and could not imagine living outside the empire. However, the war forced them to reconsider their ties with the British and provided a moral imperative to protect natural rights against a tyrannical government.

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George Walton of Georgia: Lawyer, Second Continental Congress Delegate, Council of Safety Member, State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

George Walton was born in Virginia sometime between 1740 and 1750. The exact date is not known. Walton’s father had died before his birth, and his mother died a few years later, so Walton was taken in by his father’s brother, who was also named George Walton. The elder Walton was not a poor man, but he had thirteen children of his own to raise, as well as those of his brother. When he was fifteen, the younger Walton was apprenticed as a carpenter, where he learned that trade. He was released from his apprenticeship while still a teenager, when he moved with an older brother to Savannah, Georgia. There, he became a clerk in an attorney’s office, and began to learn the law while on the job. By 1775, Walton had not only become a practicing attorney, but had also become one of the most sought-out and prosperous lawyers in Savannah. As his professional success grew, Walton became involved with the young Whigs opposing British rule in America.

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Lyman Hall of Georgia: Clergyman, Physician, Second Continental Congress Delegate, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Lyman Hall was a multi-talented clergyman, physician, and statesman who served in the Second Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, and won state office in his adopted state of Georgia. Repeatedly, Hall faced personal and financial losses as a result of his service to his country and his state, but he emerged as a respected political figure in a politically fractious environment.

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Button Gwinnett of Georgia: Merchant, Planter, Second Continental Congress Delegate, Council of Safety Member, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Gwinnett presented his credentials in Philadelphia on May 20, 1776. He served on some committees, but little is known about his participation in any debates on independence. Gwinnett did vote for the motion in support of independence, and he did sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2. Gwinnet returned to Georgia, probably hoping to re-gain the appointment to the battalion commander, but McIntosh was selected to remain in that position. Gwinnet was soon chosen to participate in a state constitutional convention that would draft the first of Georgia’s constitution. Once he arrived at the convention, Gwinnett was chosen as speaker. Most records of the debates at the convention have not survived to this day, but it appears that the final product was to Gwinnett’s liking. The new state constitution established relatively low property ownership requirements for voting, created a unicameral state legislature, and established a weak chief executive, elected by the legislature, who could not veto legislative actions. The new constitution also abolished the parish system of representation and created counties that would serve as administrative units of the state as well as a basis for representation in the legislature. The new document was approved in February of 1777. By that time, Gwinnett served on the Council of Safety, which assumed governmental power after the Provincial Congress adjourned. The president of the Council of Safety, Archibald Bulloch was the de facto chief executive. Bulloch died suddenly, late in that month. The Council of Safety selected Gwinnett to serve as temporary president. The only dissenting vote was cast by George McIntosh, the brother of Lachlan McIntosh.

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Arthur Middleton of South Carolina: Planter, Continental Congress Delegate, Militia and Council of Safety Member, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Once settled back in South Carolina, Arthur became engaged in politics, interested in the activity of independence. His father, Henry Middleton, viewed negatively the colonies’ Loyalists and wanted his son to succeed him as a member of the Continental Congress to oppose the encroaching policies of the British. Due to Arthur being a vocal critic of England and Parliament’s actions, like his father, this led to the thirteen-member Council of Safety. He served on the council as a delegate of the First and Second Provincial Congresses, then succeeded his father as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776. Though a man of great wealth and much to lose, with sober knowledge of the risk to his own life and that of his family, Arthur supported the cause of freedom, voting in favor of independence from Great Britain, leading him to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence.

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Thomas Lynch, Jr. of South Carolina: Planter, Company Commander, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Declaration of Independence Signer

In South Carolina on the eve of the Revolution, Lynch enjoyed the life of a planter, farming and discussing politics, rather than practicing law as his father hoped he would along with becoming engaged in public life, after having received a good education and studying law. He allied himself with figures such as Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Christopher Gadsden, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. He was a staunch advocate of South Carolina’s right to form its own independent government, regardless of the wishes of the other British colonies. He found the talk by the British politicians distasteful toward the colonists which served to strengthen his views for supporting independence.

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Thomas Heyward, Jr. of South Carolina: Lawyer, Judge, Continental Congress Delegate, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Heyward voiced early his opposition to British rule and the control being forced upon the colonies through such methods as the Stamp Act. Soon after becoming a member of the Continental Congress, Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence, standing with Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence. Disagreements about whether to support independence included a warning from his father that voting for it could result in being hung. Still, Thomas Heyward believed independence for the colonies was acting in good judgment. With a strong sense of duty, he took notice of the abuses upon his fellow countrymen by the British Crown, further solidifying his resolve to discuss and accomplish independence.

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Edward Rutledge of South Carolina: Lawyer, Captain of Artillery in the Revolutionary War, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

As a delegate to the Congress, Rutledge initially opposed Virginian Richard Henry Lee’s June 1776 plan for independence, arguing that the time was not yet “ripe.” Persuaded that the urgency of independence and the actions of Parliament called for southerners like himself to line up in the pro-Revolution group, he argued that the vote by Congress be unanimous and became the first South Carolina delegate to affix his signature. His oratorical style was said to resemble Cicero.

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John Penn of North Carolina: Lawyer, Continental Congress Delegate, Board of War Member, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Penn served in the Continental Congress until 1780. During that time, Penn, a very zealous man when it came to the Colonies separating from England, clashed with other members of the Congress who were not as convinced. This included the President of the Congress, Henry Laurens. As it turned out, Mr. Penn and Mr. Laurens roomed together during this time. Mr. Laurens, who was much older than Penn and in disagreement with his views, challenged Penn to a duel. But the duel was canceled the morning of, as Mr. Penn suggested such an idea was just foolish. Mr. Laurens agreed and the duel was canceled.

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Joseph Hewes of North Carolina: Merchant, State Legislature and Continental Congress Delegate, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Hewes returned to Edenton in late November 1774, suffering from a fever, probably malaria, that would continue to plague him intermittently. He nevertheless remained active, serving on Edenton’s Committee of Safety, which had the responsibility for enforcing the Continental Association in Edenton. The outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts and King George III’s subsequent refusal to negotiate with the colonies undermined the position of moderates like Hewes and led him to act more aggressively. When Congress reconvened in May 1775, Hewes recruited two Presbyterian ministers to rally support for the American cause among Highland Scots in the North Carolina backcountry. Mainly Presbyterians, the Scots had long been estranged from the colony’s politically dominant English Anglican faction to their east. Hewes also served as secretary to Congress’s Naval Board and helped secure John Paul Jones’s commission in the Continental Navy.

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William Hooper of North Carolina: Lawyer, Salisbury Deputy Attorney General, Continental Congress Delegate, and Declaration of Independence Signer

His service in the Fourth Provincial Congress of April 1776 only increased his frustration. He served on a committee that tried but failed to produce a new state constitution. As prospects for reconciliation with Great Britain evaporated, Hooper supported the Halifax Resolves, endorsing independence, but his presence at the North Carolina congress meant he missed the Continental Congress’s debate over the Declaration of Independence. He did, however, participate in the general signing of the document on August 2.

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Carter Braxton of Virginia: Planter, Merchant, House of Burgesses and Continental Congress Delegate, and Declaration of Independence Signer

From this auspicious beginning, one might assume that Carter led a happy and contented life of comfort. Yet his wealth did not shield him from tragedy. His mother died just a week following his birth, and his father passed away when Carter was only 13. He married Judith Robinson upon leaving the College of William and Mary after only one year, but sadly she also died after they had been married for only two years. Perhaps to ease his grief, he traveled to Europe and England where he learned a great deal about the rulers of his colonial home, knowledge and perspective that would inform his decisions when revolutionary fervor gripped the colonies. After two years in Europe, he returned, marrying a second time in 1760 to Elizabeth Corbin. It is reported that they had 16 children together.

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Francis Lightfoot Lee of Virginia: Planter, House of Burgesses and Continental Congress Delegate, State Senator, and Declaration of Independence Signer

But Francis Lightfoot Lee, a planter born in 1734 in Westmoreland, Virginia, contemporarily known as Frank, the second-youngest of the Lee brothers, was a determined worker, someone who did things out of duty and a devotion to getting done whatever task lay before him. He didn’t seek the spotlight, but was seen as a tireless worker. A leader, certainly, but one who led by doing.

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Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia: Planter, Brigadier General in the Continental Army, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia gave his fortune and his health to further the cause of American Independence. When he and his fellow signers pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” the men of the Second Continental Congress took that risk seriously. Some paid more than others and Thomas Nelson Jr. may have paid more than all of them. He was never a healthy man, but the mission of independence took much of the health that he did have, resulting in an early death at the age of 50. He also sacrificed his family’s fortune, spending and donating it to help win the War of Independence. This was truly a man who risked and gave all so that we could live in the nation that we do today.

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Benjamin Harrison V of Virginia: State House Speaker, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

In the next decade, as more issues came to the fore, Harrison became more involved in the resistance. In 1770, he joined an association of Virginia lawmakers and merchants that boycotted British imports until the British Parliament repealed its tea tax. He was as well a sponsor of a bill that declared illegal any laws passed by Parliament without the consent of the colonists. In 1772, Harrison and Jefferson were among six Virginians who petitioned the King to end the importation of slaves from Africa. Although Harrison sided with the East India Company’s demand for payment when its tea was dumped into the Boston harbor in 1773, he condemned the Intolerable Acts that were the response of the British Parliament. He was among eighty-nine Virginia Burgesses who denounced the new policy—and invited colonies to convene a Continental Congress. It followed that Harrison was selected as one of Virginia’s delegates to that gathering.

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Thomas Jefferson of Virginia: Secretary of State, Vice-President and President of the United States, Declaration of Independence Author and Signer

By the mid-1770s, Jefferson was ready to join the arguments of other patriots as a writer and statesman in the Second Continental Congress. In 1774, he authored a pamphlet entitled Summary View of the Rights of British America. He wrote that God was the author of natural rights inherent in each human being. The Americans were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate… 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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Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: Continental Congress Delegate, Author of the Resolution That Led to the Declaration of Independence, and Signatory

In May, 1776, the Virginia convention instructed its delegates to vote for independence. On June 7, Lee introduced his “resolution for independancy [sic].” The motion’s first section, adopted from the speech by Edmund Pendleton to the Virginia convention, declared: “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.”

Debate on the motion was delayed until July due to the inability or unwillingness of some delegations to consider the issue. In the meantime, colonies were declaring themselves independent and adopting constitutions of their own. With events threatening to bypass Congress, a committee was selected to draft a declaration of independence. Lee was unavailable. He had hurried back to Virginia, apparently to attend to his wife who had fallen ill. That absence prevented him from participating in the debate on his resolution on July 2. He returned in time to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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George Wythe of Virginia: Continental Congress Delegate, Judge, Professor of Law, and Declaration of Independence Signer

In Philadelphia, when Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, he studied a document drafted a short time earlier by a committee consisting of Wythe, Edward Rutledge, Sam Adams, and himself, considered a precursor to the Declaration. On May 29, the Continental Congress resolved to publish a “animated address” to the inhabitants of the colonies to “impress the minds of the people with the necessity of their now stepping forward to save their country, their freedom and property.” Significant numbers of Americans were not convinced of the need to sever ties with the Mother Country. The address persuaded the colonies that they must act to deliver their country from bondage by “uniting firmly, resolving wisely, and acting vigorously.” The surviving draft is in Wythe’s handwriting, and Jefferson preserved it among his most important papers.

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Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland: State Constitution Framer, Continental Congress Member, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a third generation American. His grandfather emigrated from Great Britain to America in the late seventeenth century, procuring a large tract of land in Maryland. At ten Charles was sent to a Jesuit school, subsequently attending Jesuit colleges in French Flanders and Reims, and then attending the College Louis le Grand in Paris. The next few years he studied law in France and then in England, at the Temple, London.

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Thomas Stone of Maryland: Lawyer, Continental Congress Delegate, Committee of Correspondence Member, and Declaration of Independence Signer

As the British Navy, with more than 30,000 troops aboard hundreds of ships, assembled in New York’s harbor to prepare to do battle with Washington’s troops, including the Maryland Line, on Long Island, reconciliation appeared hopeless and sentiment among the delegates to the Congress moved more towards independence. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee introduced the independence resolution to the Congress in early June and Jefferson began writing the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Stone moved ever so slowly, but firmly, in favor of independence, and cast his Yea vote on July 2. He returned on August 2 to sign the Declaration.

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William Paca of Maryland: Lawyer, Continental Congress Delegate, Judge, Governor, and Declaration of Independence Signer

William Paca cared deeply for the veterans of the American Revolution and he did everything possible after the war to help them in any way that he could, personally, legally and financially. As a result of these actions, in 1783, he became an honorary member of the society of the Cincinnati. Membership in the Society was usually reserved for Revolutionary War officers, but Paca was given this honor due to his constant efforts to support the Revolutionary war veterans. After the Revolutionary War ended, Paca served in various legal roles within the state of Maryland, including serving as their third governor. He would also later help to push forward many of the amendments to the constitution that would become the Bill of Rights.

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Samuel Chase of Maryland: Attorney, United States Supreme Court Justice, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

In 1791, Chase became chief justice of the Maryland General Court, where he stayed until he was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President George Washington in 1796. Chase served in that capacity until his death in 1811.

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Thomas McKean of Delaware: Militia Colonel, State Deputy Attorney General and Chief Justice; Continental Congress President and Declaration of Independence Signer

In 1775, he represented Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and then Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress from 1774-1777. On July 1, 1776, two of the three Delaware delegates were in attendance. McKean voted in favor of Independence and George Read voted against it. McKean strongly opposed the power that the British were imposing upon the colonies. He sent an urgent message to Caesar Rodney in Dover to come at once to Philadelphia to break the deadlock. Rodney rode overnight in a rainstorm, having arrived wearing boots and spurs as described by McKean, and the deadlock was broken on July 2.

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George Read: Attorney General, Acting Governor, Delaware Supreme Court Justice, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

George Read (1733-1798) was born in Maryland from a line of Irish and Welsh immigrants. However, he was raised in Delaware. He died in New Castle and is buried in Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard in Newcastle. Read was educated in Pennsylvania where he studied law and admitted to the Philadelphia Bar at age 20. In 1754, he returned to Delaware. In 1763, he married the widowed sister of George Ross, fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania and uncle of Betsy Ross. What is impressive is Read’s forty-year involvement in local, state, and national politics during which time he embraced both the politics of reconciliation with Britain in 1776 and the politics of change from 1786.

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Caesar Rodney of Delaware: Stamp Act Congress Delegate, Governor, Militia Officer, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Slavery as well as many other abhorrent forms of inequality were considered normal in the eighteenth century. Monarchy and tyranny were common nearly everywhere. To Caesar Rodney’s credit, he helped to establish the United States as an exception to this rule. He not only voted to break free from Britain but also signed the Declaration of Independence, which asserted the “self-evident” “truths” that all mankind are equally “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Almost immediately, states with fewer slaves began either to abolish slavery or enact plans for gradual emancipation. Eventually, as the Civil War concluded, President Abraham Lincoln invoked the ideas of the American Revolution to outlaw slavery throughout the United States. The Revolution sparked many other gains for equality, as well. Even today, people appropriate its principles in support of liberty and equal rights.

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George Ross of Pennsylvania: Minister, Lawyer, Army Colonel, Continental Congress Delegate, Uncle of Betsy Ross, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Ross’ skill as a lawyer was quickly noticed, resulting in his appointment as Crown Prosecutor (Attorney General) for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, serving for 12 years. In 1768, he was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, representing Lancaster. There his Tory politics began to change and he was soon heard supporting the growing calls for American independence.

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James Wilson of Pennsylvania: Land Speculator, Lawyer, Second Continental Congress Delegate, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Declaration of Independence Signer

It appears that Smith’s influence was more constructive than Hume’s. The latter denied the essential existence of such concepts as virtue and vice. Hume instead characterized them as artificial constructs or mere opinion. Wilson was critical of Hume’s patent skepticism, deeming it flawed and derogatory of what Wilson saw as the moral sensibilities integral to human nature. He considered Hume’s skepticism inconsistent with what he viewed as the ethical basis of the political commonwealth, that is, consent of the governed. As he wrote later, “All men are, by nature equal and free: no one has a right to any authority over another without his consent: all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it.” However, Wilson also believed, along with John Adams and many other republicans of the time, that such consent could only be given by a virtuous people. In short, Wilson’s democratic vision was elitist in practice. The governed whose consent mattered were the propertied classes. The others might register their consent, but only under the watchful eyes of their virtuous betters in society.

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George Taylor of Pennsylvania: Coal Worker, Ironmaster, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

George Taylor was a foreign-born patriot who began his adult life as an indentured servant, but rose to be one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This relatively unknown man’s life is emblematic of the many everyday Americans who helped in our cause for independence.

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James Smith: Attorney, Judge, Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania Militia, Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

However, a fire destroyed his office and papers shortly before he passed away. Because of this incident, not much is known about James Smith’s work. The result is that historians study Smith not through his journals, but through his actions. And his act of bravely signing the Declaration of Independence shows the world that James Smith believed that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights.

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George Clymer of Pennsylvania: Merchant, Continental Treasurer, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Despite Clymer’s extensive involvement in the story of the American founding, he is not on the list of influential, or even underrated founders. We attribute this to Clymer’s inclination to work behind the scenes on the various committees to which his colleagues elected him. He reminds us of the steady and vital work done by individuals who do not seek the limelight. Contemporary William Pierce of Georgia, who provided character sketches of multiple founders, portrayed him as “a respectable man, and much esteemed.”

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John Morton of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Assembly Speaker, First and Second Continental Congress Member, Sheriff, Judge, and Declaration of Independence Signer

Morton’s first responsibility for petitioning the King for redress of rights was his appointment to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. From that first act of the colonists until the final vote on July 2, 1776, the colonists’ primary objective was not to seek independence, but to protest unjust actions of the British Parliament and to remain loyal to the mother country by seeking reconciliation. The repeated refusal of the British Parliament and King to consider their requests over the subsequent 10 years drove the colonists to unite for independence in the end.

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Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania: Printer, Scientist, Postmaster, Fireman, “Committee of Five” Member, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Franklin was later appointed to the “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration of independence for the colonies. He served on the committee with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. Jefferson was the primary author, but Franklin did suggest some important edits. His most famous edit was changing the phrase, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Franklin believed that the term “sacred” sounded too religious and that “self-evident” sounded more scientific. Even though he was not the primary author, many of the ideas within the Declaration of Independence had been spoken by Dr. Franklin in the previous months and years. He wholeheartedly supported the document and voted in favor of Independence on July 2, 1776.

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Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania: Physician, United States Mint Treasurer, Continental Congress Member, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Dr. Benjamin Rush had studied medicine in Philadelphia, then in Europe under the world’s foremost physicians, and then returned to Philadelphia in 1769. Though his practices were archaic by today’s standards, he is considered by some as the “Father of American Medicine” for his work on staff at the Pennsylvania Hospital, where he opened the first free medical clinic. He was among the first to recognize alcoholism as a disease and began to promote temperance. Dr. Rush wrote the first textbook on mental illness and psychiatry, recommending treatment with kindness, earning him the title “Father of American Psychiatry.”

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Robert Morris of Pennsylvania: Merchant, Superintendent of Finance, Agent of Marine, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Robert Morris, Jr., is one of only two men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of 1787. He thus was present at three critical moments in the founding of the United States. His most significant contributions to that founding occurred during the decade of turmoil framed by the first and last of these, that is, the period of the Revolutionary War and the Confederation.

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Abraham Clark of New Jersey: Surveyor, Lawyer, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

No doubt the proximity of tensions created by British Control were driving forces behind his decisions, at the time, again to pursue fairness, even if that meant risking all and joining forces to work toward independence.

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John Hart: Farmer, Second Continental Congress Delegate, First Speaker of the New Jersey State Legislature, and Declaration of Independence Signer

On August 13, Hart was elected to the State Assembly of New Jersey and on August 29 he was elected Speaker of the General Assembly. Hart presided over the Assembly briefly but was called home to care for his sick wife. He returned to the Assembly on October 7, but was called home once more. The Assembly adjourned on August 8, the same day that his wife died, leaving behind her husband and thirteen children, two of whom were still minors. In November, the British army invaded New Jersey and Hart was forced to hide out in some rock formations in the nearby Sourwood Mountains to escape British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries who damaged, but did not destroy, the farm.

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Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey: Merchant, Judge, Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

At this time, Revolutionary fervor was accelerating in the colonies over customs fees and Hopkinson relinquished his role as Customs Collector when New Jersey Royal Governor, William Franklin, well aware of Hopkinson’s apparent loyalty to the British government and of his political connections in London, named him to the New Jersey Provincial Council, the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature, in 1773. Hopkinson then moved his family to his wife’s hometown of Bordentown, New Jersey where he once again entered the practice of law. During this time, he became disenchanted with the British government’s hostility to Americans’ rights and freedoms and joined the patriot cause, writing many patriotic pamphlets and satires, employing a common practice of using a variety of pseudonyms, that were widely circulated in the colonies.

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John Witherspoon: Presbyterian Minister, President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Despite the best efforts of several excellent historians, the contributions of the dissenting Protestant clergy, known as the “Black Robe Regiment” or “Black Regiment,” to the dissemination of revolutionary principles has largely gone unnoticed. The ministers were instrumental in propagating the ideas of John Locke from the pulpit for congregations that were consistent with the revolutionary ideas they read about in pamphlets and newspapers and heard in taverns and legislative halls that formed “the American mind.” The ministers preached about the ideas of natural rights, self-government by consent, and the right of revolution against tyranny. They urged the young men in their congregations to pick up their muskets and go to war in the defense of their sacred rights from God. The clergy delivered what are called political sermons as they easily wove together their religious and political ideals with their covenant theology that Americans were a new Chosen People.

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Richard Stockton: New Jersey Supreme Court Justice, Delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

These brave patriots did in fact suffer, Stockton not being the only person to suffer losses. Five signers reportedly were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. Nine signers fought in the Revolutionary War and died from wounds or hardships. A large number of the 56, a dozen or more, had their homes pillaged and burned. Benjamin Franklin, one of the few signers of the Declaration and the Constitution, said after signing the Declaration, “We must indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”

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Lewis Morris: Major General in the New York Militia, Delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

When the fateful day came to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, Morris was warned by family members that doing so would result in the loss of his estate and fortune since British troops were stationed near his home. Morris famously replied, “Damn the consequences, give me the pen.” As it turned out, his relations were correct. The British quickly devastated his 1,000-acre forest, confiscated all his livestock, and destroyed his beautiful home at Morrisania. Additionally, Morris and his family were forced to go into exile for the duration of the war.

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Francis Lewis of New York: Businessman, Prisoner of War, Stamp Act and Second Continental Congress Delegate, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Despite his wealth and his involvement in public affairs at an exceptional time, Lewis was no stranger to personal tragedy. Already mentioned was his loss of both parents as a young child, left also without siblings. Only three of his seven children reached adulthood. Perhaps most traumatic was the fate that befell his wife. Lewis had married Elizabeth Annesley, his business partner’s sister, in 1745. While Lewis was away, in 1776, his house in Whitestone, in today’s Queens, New York, was destroyed by the British after the Battle of Brooklyn. Soldiers from a light cavalry troop pillaged the house, and a warship then opened fire. Worse, the British took his wife prisoner and held her for two years. Historical sources aver that the conditions of her captivity were inhumane in that the British denied her a bed, a change of clothing, or adequate food over several weeks.

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Philip Livingston of New York: Merchant, Member of the First Continental Congress, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

For Americans from “sea to shining sea,” the saga of American independence begins in July 1776. For Philip Livingston, one of four New York delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence, the origins of this great epoch commenced some eleven years earlier under comparable duress and at similar risk.

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William Floyd of New York: Major General in the Revolutionary War; Representative in the First United States Congress, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

It was a life well lived, in times of struggle and change. Records from the time do not make much mention of Floyd. He was not a visible presence or vocal voice in the Congress. Records from the proceedings mention his presence, but his impression on other delegates might well be summarized in a contemporary’s letter to John Jay, that named William Floyd as one of the “good men, [who] never quit their chairs” (Grossman, 2014, p. 397). We should all be grateful to those, who like Floyd, never quit their chairs, and ensured the founding of our nation through their service and sacrifice.

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Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut: Major General in the Revolutionary War, Sheriff, Governor, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Willing to fight for these strong beliefs of freedom and self-determination, Wolcott led Connecticut’s Seventeenth Regiment of militia to New York, joining George Washington’s army. At that moment, then Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull appointed Wolcott as a Brigadier General, commanding all the state’s militia regiments in New York, later being promoted to Major General. Oliver never wavered in his fierce opposition to Great Britain, describing the British in his memoirs as “a foe who have not only insulted every principle which governs civilized nations but by their barbarities offered the grossest indignities to human nature.”

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William Williams of Connecticut: Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Pinch Hitting for the United States of America

The Fundamental Orders were the first charter government that did not refer to the authority of the King of England, but rather to the authority of God through the people. As Hooker put it – fifty years before John Locke penned his Second Treatise on Government in 1689 – “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly in the free consent of the people … the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.” The signers of the Declaration of Independence all pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor” to the success of the Revolution. Many paid dearly with the first two, though all in time gained honor. Williams, when he signed the Declaration, had achieved a great deal as a pre-Revolutionary American and had much at stake.

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Roger Sherman of Connecticut: Signer of Five Most Important United States Founding Documents Including the Declaration of Independence

Roger Sherman is representative of the many great Americans who sacrificed and worked so diligently to create America. While our schoolbooks typically teach us about a few monumental figures like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, the yeoman’s work of creating this wonderful country of ours was done by so many forgotten figures. Moreover, Roger Sherman, a farmer’s son with limited formal education, is a shining example of what people from modest circumstances and with few opportunities can accomplish in this great country of ours by applying themselves. This sort of rags-to riches story can only happen in America and we need to be reminded of that fact.

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Samuel Huntington: Farmer, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice, Governor, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Samuel Huntington was a man who devoted much of his life to the service of his country. From the age of 33 until he passed away in his 64th year, Huntington served in some public capacity, including state assemblyman, Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, President of the Continental Congress, and Governor of his home state of Connecticut. During his time, this Signer of the Declaration of Independence was so highly regarded that he was awarded honorary degrees from Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale. Additionally, his acquaintances included George Washington, John Adams, and Ben Franklin. That is impressive for any man, let alone one who was self-educated and began life as a farmer. A man like that deserves to be remembered by us today.

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Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island: General Assembly Speaker, Superior Court Chief Justice, Governor, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

His mother, Ruth Wilkinson, was the granddaughter of Lawrence Wilkinson who arrived in Providence in 1652. Stephen grew up on a farm in what is now the town of Scituate (it broke off from Providence in 1731) receiving virtually no formal schooling. Instead, he read all the classics and was instructed by his mother and other relatives in subjects such as mathematics and surveying. By all accounts, Hopkins was very bright.

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Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Vice President of the United States Under James Madison

Gerry continued to serve in Congress and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, but he left that assembly in 1780 over a concern that too much power was being concentrated in the central government. In 1783, Gerry was persuaded to return to the Confederation Congress which was meeting in New York. While there, Elbridge met Ann Thompson and the two were married in 1786. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the couple had ten children.

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William Ellery of Rhode Island: Merchant, Lawyer, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

When relations between England and her American colonies soured in the 1760s, Ellery became a vocal opponent of British oppression and joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of like-minded Patriots. He stated, “To be ruled by Tories (supporters of England) when you may be ruled by the Sons of Liberty is debasing.” Ellery joined this assemblage on May 16, 1776, and proudly affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence when it was officially signed on August 2, 1776. He wrote to his brother Benjamin, “We have lived to see a period which a few years ago no human forecast could have imagined – to see these Colonies shake off and declare themselves independent of a state which they once gloried to call Parent.”

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Robert Treat Paine: Pastor, Massachusetts Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Due to Robert’s father losing his fortune in 1749, Robert knew he had to make his own way in the world. After teaching for a year, Robert went to sea as a merchant ship captain from 1751-1754. His business pursuits were not very lucrative and, in 1755, he began to study law under Judge Samuel Willard, a relative in Lancaster, Massachusetts. To help make ends meet, Paine continued to preach part-time in nearby Shirley. In 1755, the French and Indian War had started. As any adventurous young man might do, Paine took a three-month break from his studies and volunteered as a chaplain on an expedition to assault Fort Saint-Frederic (today Crown Point). While the attack did not amount to much, it was a good experience for Paine and gave him an appreciation for the military and the needs of an army.

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John Adams of Massachusetts: Second President of the United States, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Like Aristotle and Polybius, Adams feared that pure forms, especially democracies, were unstable and inevitably led to tyranny, because of man’s lust for power due to his fallen nature. Classic republics fared little better, because they, too, relied on human virtue to sustain them. Adams doubted that Americans possessed sufficient virtue, though strong government direction through support of religion and morality might have a positive influence. The “mixed government” of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1787 became the system of “checks and balances” of the United States Constitution which would augment reliance on the people’s virtue in sustaining liberty. As Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51, to preserve liberty while allowing government to function, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

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Samuel Adams of Massachusetts: Firebrand for the American Revolution, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“Better tidings will soon arrive. Our cause is just and righteous and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection.” – Samuel Adams while encouraging wavering Continental Convention delegates in the gloomy winter of 1776-1777. Among his accomplishments, he founded Boston’s Committee of Correspondence, which – like similar entities in other towns across the Colonies – proved a powerful tool for communication and coordination during the American Revolutionary War.

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John Hancock of Massachusetts: First and Largest Signature on the Declaration of Independence

Hancock would later spend his own money to help fund the Continental Army in 1775 and throughout the war. He took his generous nature and applied it to the entire nation. John Hancock passed away in 1793, while serving as the governor of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts. His funeral was a huge event in Boston as one of their Sons of Liberty had passed. Church bells tolled, businesses closed out of respect to him and he was laid to rest in Boston as one of the main voices of independence and an enduring legacy as one of our key Founding Fathers. He once said, “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice. But I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.” His most public display of these words was his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

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Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: Physician, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was a man who excelled in all that he did, as a physician and surgeon, in the New Hampshire legislature, and as a judge. We are also indebted to Thornton for his efforts to help America gain her independence from England, including his signing of the Declaration of Independence. This accomplished patriot was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland on March 3, 1714 to James and Elizabeth Thornton, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. Interestingly, Matthew was one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence born in Ireland, James Smith and George Taylor, both of Pennsylvania, being the other two.

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William Whipple of New Hampshire: Ship Captain, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

With the outbreak of the Revolution, William Whipple began his long career as a public servant. In June 1774 he was on a Committee to prevent the landing of tea in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He became a member of the Committee of Safety and was a member of the Provincial Convention held at Exeter. In 1776, Whipple was sent by New Hampshire as one of its three delegates to the Continental Congress. With his seafaring experience and his family’s ship building experience, he was appointed to the Marine Committee. To run the British Navy’s blockades, the new country would need more ships and experienced ship Captains; Whipple’s background prepared him well for leading that effort. He also served as a superintendent of the commissary and quartermaster departments, attempting to bring efficiency to departments that seemed to have great difficulty supplying General George Washington’s forces with what they needed to fight the war.

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Josiah Bartlett, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

As tensions with England began to rise, Bartlett was elected to New Hampshire’s legislature. He was serving as a member of that body during the Stamp Act controversy. One early historian notes that the Royal Governor attempted to bribe Bartlett into siding with the Crown, but Bartlett “rejected every overture.”

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The Drafting Committee of Five, and 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately” is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The moment was not captured and preserved by Movietone News but, whether true or not, that sentence captures the gravity of the action those 56 men took when they signed the document that ended with the words “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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Totally Dissolved: Releasing America From All Allegiance To the British Crown Through a Declaration of Independence

The United States was created in this document and the members of the Second Continental Congress tell us how serious they were in creating it, as well as telling the World how they would defend it for themselves and future generations of Americans. The United States is now its own nation and can conduct itself accordingly. The signers are also letting the world know they acted with the best intentions and they appeal to God for the final verdict on those intentions. They end this conclusion of text by stating that they fully understand that if they do not succeed, they will be charged with treason and executed. They were willing to give everything so that our new nation had a chance at survival.

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Answered Only by Repeated Injury: Petitions for Redress, and a Declaration of Independence

The war followed from a decade of tyranny, taxes, and violations of the colonists’ right to govern themselves by their own consent. The colonists continually sent petitions to king and Parliament to protest these oppressions and humbly ask for a redress of grievances. The right of petition was a traditional right of Englishmen with a long history reaching back to the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689). The colonists were angry about the violations of their rights and liberties but were just as irate that their petitions were ignored or treated with disdain.

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Unworthy the Head of a Civilized Nation: Waging War Against Us by Completing the Works of Death

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

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Foreign To Our Constitution: Abolishing Our Most Valuable Laws, Altering Fundamentally the Forms of Our Governments

Yes, the colonists were British subjects. Yes, they were subject to British law, but the King and his ministers and the Parliament had overlooked an important point: over the last 150 years the colonists had become a new people with a new taste for freedom enjoyed by few other people on earth, and they were not going to readily give it up to an emboldened bully called Parliament.

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Attempts to Bring the American Colonists to Heel: Military Independent of and Superior to the Civil Power

It was the asserted refusal of the British to subordinate their military forces in the colonies to civilian control that created one of the points of conflict leading to the American revolution. Both the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen “united states” denounced the king’s “affect[ing] to render the Military independent of and superior to, the Civil power.”

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Securing Freedom: Protecting the Colonies Amidst Mounting Aggression, Necessitating a Declaration of Independence

The British had established a military presence in the 13 colonies since their inception in the 1600s. Military conflicts were a way of life in the colonies and they included wars with Native-Americans, the Dutch, Spain and France. The largest number of British troops were sent to the colonies during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and 60s. As a result of that conflict, Britain was plunged into tremendous debt and arrived at the conclusion that the colonies, who lived under the protection of the greatest military force on the planet, should pay for that protection from outside invasions and threats from Native Americans. That payment would come in the form of several Acts of Parliament resulting in taxation, bringing increased revenue to the British empire. When the colonists rebelled against these Acts and displayed behavior that King George III felt was dangerous and treasonous, he took action and sent more troops to the colonies to quiet the dissention. It did not work.

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Eating Out Their Substance: Ever-Expanding and Intrusive Presence of Tax Collectors, and the Declaration of Independence

“They planted by your care? No! Your oppression planted ‘em in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable…They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of ‘em. As soon as you began to care about ‘em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over ’em, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this house, sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon ’em; men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them….They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defense, have exerted a valor amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defense of a country whose frontier while drenched in blood, its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument …. The people I believe are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated.”

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Accountability of Judges, and the Declaration of Independence

The experience of Massachusetts was still fresh in the minds of the Founders. An act of Parliament in 1773 had decreed that the salaries of judges would be paid by the King at his discretion, and forbidden them to receive salaries from the colony’s legislature. John Adams, a Bostonian and later contributor to the Declaration and America’s second president, observed, “This as the Judges Commissions were during pleasure made them entirely dependent on the Crown for Bread [as] well as office.” Adams explained: It was by all Agreed, As the [Royal] Governor was entirely dependent on the Crown, and the [colonial] Council in danger of becoming so if the Judges were made so too, the Liberties of the Country would be totally lost, and every Man at the Mercy of a few Slaves of the Governor.

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The Heart and Lungs of Liberty: Representative Government and Trial by Jury

Things were coming to a head. Future president John Adams thundered, “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them, we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.” And Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, would later write to essayist Thomas Paine (Common Sense), “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

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Raising Conditions of New Appropriations of Lands: Citizenship and Obstructing Economic Independence in the American Colonies

In December 1773, King George III (reigned 1760-1820) suspended the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740. His intent was to strike at the heart of the economic engine fueling economic independence among the American colonies. His other goal was to extinguish momentum for independent thought and religious expression. These actions formed the basis for this grievance in the Declaration of Independence.

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Delayed Elections and Dissolved Legislatures: Threats To the Independence of Their Assemblies

The British government’s abandonment of its constitutional relationship with the colonies had breached the contract on which the political commonwealth was based. Thus, the people were placed in a new “pre-political” condition. In this stage, each individual was sovereign over his or her own affairs. The legislative power had not been annihilated, but rested within each individual for himself or herself. As anticipated by the social contract theorists and reflected in the Declaration of Independence itself, these individuals would establish new forms of government in order better to secure their God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By the consent of the governed, the legislative power would then be exercised by the people collectively as in a democracy, or, more likely, by an assembly elected by the people as in a republic.

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Invasions on the Rights of the People: Dissolved Legislatures, and the Declaration of Independence

However, the continued attempts at taxing the colonists in the Stamp Act (1765), Townshend Acts (1767), and Tea Act (1773), among other taxes, demonstrated to the colonists that the British ministry was bent on tyranny in the colonies. The British government was burdened by a massive debt incurred in fighting the Seven Years’ War and wanted the colonists to pay for thousands of redcoats stationed in forts out west. The Americans responded by demanding in countless pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, declarations of rights, and speeches that they could only be taxed by their consent. For Washington, self-government was a moral principle and must be defended. “That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends.”

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Disruption of Self-Government: Fatiguing America Into Compliance With Harsh Measures

The dislocation and dissolution of these Colonial Legislatures led to the same disruption and “discomfort” experienced by Massachusetts’ elected representatives. The goal of punishing opposition and suppressing dissent was achieved by forcing elected officials into “places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records.” It certainly interfered with the colony’s public business and prevented officials from “access to information necessary to conduct it.”

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Formidable To Tyrants Only: Representation Denied the American Colonists Justified a Declaration of Independence

By expanding their assemblies to accommodate population growth, the colonies were following the procedures and processes that had been in place up to that point. King George’s actions did not follow precedent and had no recourse to the common good or legal principle, but represented his will to control. This capricious decision based on nothing more than his will to exert power is a violation of the fundamental principle of what gives government legitimacy. When the King works for his good only it is a dereliction of duty and gives those governed the right to dissolve the bonds of government.

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Open for Business: Colonial Americans’ Objection To Suspended Legislation, Furthering the Push Toward a Declaration of Independence

Suspending clauses were typical in colonial America. Essentially, they stated that the law would not take effect until the king’s advisers had a chance to review the legislation and either approve it or reject it. The British government viewed this as a necessary means of keeping colonies from violating British laws like the Currency Act. The Americans, however, had a much darker view of suspending clauses. They saw them as way for the king to take away their rights by canceling laws passed by the legislatures.

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Ideals for Legitimate Government: The Declaration of Independence, and Rule of Law

There is a difference between just and unjust rebellion and the signers are making the case that their actions are just because of their commitment to the law and King George’s refusal to abide by law and accepted practice. John Locke, the obvious muse of Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “The difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite…Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins.” By positioning their actions within the context of law, those signing the Declaration position themselves within a tradition that authorized the dissolution of government when the rule of law was no longer in force.

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Confronting a Long Train of Abuses and Usurpations: America Submits Facts To a Candid World by a Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence serves as the cornerstone of our nation, and the men who created this statement of natural rights did not do so lightly. Their causes to break from Great Britain were not “light and transient causes” and they wanted to make sure that the world who was going to be reading this declaration would understand the events and circumstances that brought the colonies to the point of separation in the summer of 1776.

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Caution of the Declaration of Independence: Restrain Governments Long Established From Change Due To Light and Transient Causes

The Founders did not necessarily want to change the whole world, even though they did, but after years of insufferable treatment by King George, his government and military, they believed they had to attempt to throw off the “forms to which they are accustomed.” The Founders pulled material from many different sources to form a new government, but they didn’t necessarily have all the answers to form a successful government to replace the British monarchy.

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Declaration of Independence, and the Right of the People to Alter or Abolish Destructive Government

The “right of the people to alter or abolish” their government is derived from our natural right to self-governance. The notion of self-governance is relatively new. In 1776, the world was ruled by royalty or warrior chieftains. Some upstart colonialists then penned the most revolutionary document in the history of man. Kings and queens no longer enjoyed a Divine Right to rule. Instead, the individual was now the one endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Like most revolutionary visions, this one didn’t suddenly spring onto the world stage. Baron de Montesquieu, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and many others had advocated that “consent of the governed” was dictated by the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Of course, not everyone accepted this concept—certainly not King George III or English nobility. It took seven years of warfare for the colonies to solidify their claim of self-governance.

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Consent of the Governed, and the Declaration of Independence

The American colonists were drawn to the principle of consensual government in the decade of resistance before the Declaration of Independence. The main argument of the American Revolution was, of course, “no taxation without representation.” The colonists were willing to pay taxes as British subjects, but they demanded in countless pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, declarations of rights, and speeches that they could only be taxed by their consent. This consent would be given in their colonial legislatures since they were not and could not reasonably be represented in Parliament.

In 1774, George Washington said it well when he described it with a practical example: “I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours, for money.” Washington thought it was violated constitutional and natural rights. Taxation without consent was “repugnant to every principle of natural justice…that it is not only repugnant to natural Right, but Subversive of the Laws & Constitution of Great Britain itself.”

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Endowed by Their Creator: The Declaration of Independence and Unalienable Rights

Take this excerpt from a 1773 Election Sermon by Pastor Simeon Howard: “In a state of nature, or where men are under no civil government, God has given to every one liberty to pursue his own happiness in whatever way, and by whatever means he pleases, without asking the consent or consulting the inclination of any other man, provided he keeps within the bounds of the law of nature. Within these bounds, he may govern his actions, and dispose of his property and person, as he thinks proper, Nor has any man, or any number of men, a right to restrain him in the exercise of this liberty, or punish, or call him to account for using it. This however is not a state of licentiousness, for the law of nature which bounds this liberty, forbids all injustice and wickedness, allows no man to injure another in his person or property, or to destroy his own life.”

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Declaration of Independence, and Principle That All Men Are Created Equal

The principle of equality protected the liberties of all citizens to create a just society. All citizens enjoyed equal political liberty by giving their consent to representative government at all levels and by participating in government. All possessed freedom of conscience regarding their religious beliefs and worship. They also had economic equality. This understanding of equality did not mean that all people had the same amount of income or property, but that they had property rights and ought to have equal opportunity to pursue their happiness and keep the fruits of their labor in a free society. During the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln explained that the idea, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it,” is the “tyrannical principle” of monarchy and slavery.

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Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, and the American Declaration of Independence

These “expressions of the American mind” were common formulations of natural rights that influenced the Declaration of Independence. The four mentions of God in the document demonstrate their understanding of the divine, but it also showed that God was the author of good government according to natural law. The American founders drew from a variety of traditions in arguing for their natural rights and liberties. Ancient thought from Greece and Rome, the English tradition, and the ideas of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers combined with Protestantism for a rich tapestry. While the Enlightenment provided a strong influence on the founders, the contribution of their religious beliefs has often been downplayed or ignored. The average American colonial farmer or artisan may not have read John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government or ancient philosophy, but they heard dissenting religious ideals and Lockean principles from the pulpit at religious services.

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Declaration of Independence and Necessity of Dissolving Political Bands

Locke allows for much greater involvement by God, in that God gave man a nature that “put him under strong Obligations of Necessity, Convenience, and Inclination to drive him into Society, ….” Moreover, the natural rights of humans derive from the inherent dignity bestowed on humans as God’s creation. The human will still acts out of self-interest, but the contract is a much more deliberate and circumscribed bargain than Hobbes’s adhesion contract. For Locke, the government’s powers are limited to achieve the purposes for which it was established, and nothing more. With Hobbes, the individual only retained his inviolate natural right to life. With Locke, the individual retains his natural rights to liberty and property, as well as his right to life, all subject to only those limitations that make the possession of those same rights by all more secure. Any law that is inimical to those objectives and tramples on those retained rights is not true law.

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Apple of Gold in a Picture of Silver: Declaration of Independence Influence on the United States Constitution

The Founders created a free constitutional republic so that Americans might govern themselves by their own consent through their representatives. Limited government meant that its powers were restricted to guarding the people’s rights and governing effectively so that the people might live their lives freely. A free people would pursue their happiness and interact amicably in the public square for a healthy civil society. In Federalist #1, Alexander Hamilton explained the entire purpose of establishing free government based upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. He stated that Americans had the opportunity and responsibility to form good government by “reflection and choice,” not by “accident and force.” The United States was founded uniquely upon a set of principles and ideals.

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Opposition: The Second Continental Congress, Threat of War, and America’s Decision to Move Ahead with Declaring Independence

Congress sought to thread the needle between protecting the Americans from intrusive British laws and engaging in sedition and treason. In constitutional terms, it meant maintaining a balance between the current state of submission to a Parliament and a ministry in which they saw themselves as unrepresented, and the de facto revolution developing on the ground. The first effort, by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, was the “Declaration on the Causes of Taking Up Arms.” It declared, “We mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us…. We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separation from Great Britain, and establishing independent States.” Then why the effort? “[W]e are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice.”

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The Declaration of Independence in History, and Contested Meaning of America’s Self-Evident Truths

In an 1857 speech criticizing the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), Abraham Lincoln commented that the principle of equality in the Declaration of Independence was “meant to set up a standard maxim for a free society.” Abraham Lincoln’s political philosophy and statesmanship was rooted upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence and their realization according to constitutional means. He consistently held that the Declaration of Independence had universal natural rights principles that were “applicable to all men and all time.” In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stated that the nation was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

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Introduction: Revolutionary Importance of the Declaration of Independence

The importance of the Declaration of Independence can hardly be overstated. It established for the first time in world history a new nation based on the First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the Social Compact, equality, and the right to alter or abolish oppressive government.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, the American Revolution was not fought for lower taxes or to protect slavery. In fact, the tea tax which provoked the Boston Tea Party actually lowered the price of tea, and many of the Founding Fathers were opposed to slavery.

Religious texts aside, the Declaration of Independence may be the most important document in human history. It totally upended the prevailing orthodoxy about government and has led to momentous changes across time and the world. Certainly we have fallen short, over and over again, of its ideals. But without the First Principles of the Declaration of Independence, we would live in the total darkness of oppression as mankind had for a millennia before.

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90-Day Study Essay Schedule 2021

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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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Happy Constitution Day! 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 s