Entries by Amanda Hughes

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Keeping the Republic: America’s Founders on the United States Constitution and Upholding Tradition, Continuity, Virtue and Stability of Good Government

Many of these dysfunctions were spawned by utopian schemers who without thought or hesitation cast aside rules and institutions forged in human experience.

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Failures of Utopian Creation Experiments: America’s Founders and Their Warnings Against Attempts to Reinvent Human Nature

To paraphrase Hamilton from The Federalist No. 6, though it is reasonable for us to aim at progress through prudent change and experimentation, one must be far gone in Utopian speculations to believe that human beings can ever achieve a completely perfect society. History has vindicated the Founders’ advice on this through many examples of Utopian experiments that have resulted in tyranny, oppression, and death for many people.

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America’s Founding Knowledge of Failed Utopian Ideologies: Establishing a U.S. Constitution Based on Tradition and Natural Rights to Prevent Tyranny

A large utopian society, whose members are not bound together by religion or by rules derived from long-established customs which reflect the traditional ordering within stable communities, requires increasingly brutal force to maintain commitment to the utopian project. Pol Pot’s devilish regime in Cambodia nearly half a century ago is a notorious example of this, as memorialized in the chilling movie The Killing Fields.

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Trade and American Independence: Establishing a United States Constitution for Lasting Political and Economic Freedom

After the revolution, the Founders made strategic choices that affected the international trade practices that the new nation would follow. Tariffs and trade restrictions were still permissible, but procedural constraints limited their use. Within the United States Constitution, the Founders established a particular process by which taxes, including tariffs, would be enacted.

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Prescience on Decline of the British Empire in Brutus No. VIII: Warnings That Influenced Formation of the United States Constitution

Germane to these questions then, are the enumerated powers that give the national government the ability to raise, borrow, and spend money, and specifically to maintain standing military forces. Brutus warned that these unlimited powers threatened the economic future of the country and the sovereignty of the people.

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Empire for Liberty: The American Founders on Curbing International Domination and Overreach

The power and influence of the United States in the world has always strived to be something different. Whatever else that can be said about American expansion and intervention overseas, and there is plenty of room for critique, it has most often been constrained by Americans themselves. Whether through idealistic objectives set by governments in power, contentious domestic politics, or the vocal opposition of small minorities or brave lone voices, the United States has never expanded or intervened without the reminder that such activities threaten the soul of America itself. “She might become the dictatress of the world,” John Quincy Adams said in his famous address on July 4, 1821, but “She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

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Guarding American Sovereignty: The United States Constitution and Its Protections Against World Government Control

This is due, in no small measure, to the United States Constitution’s mandates about the Senate’s advise and consent role in terms of treaty ratification—if the foreign relations team of a U.S. president were to fail at their job or to be seriously compromised in some measure in terms of international negotiation, and as a result the U.S. were to give up a great deal of its independence, its sovereignty, it is left to the Senate to ensure that the interests of the people of the United States are protected, and that the agreement should not be ratified…In terms of the relationship between the United States and the United Nations, the obligations of the U.S. are not entirely different than any other treaty-governed relationship that the U.S. may be obligated to. The issues of sovereignty and compromise remain the same—and the relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch in terms of the power to negotiate and the power to ratify are maintained. But, as always, it remains left to the people to ensure that both branches protect the interests of the American people in the long term.

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United States Independence and Sovereignty: Cautions From America’s Founders Against Relinquishing Policy Decisions to International Organizations

Because the American people have granted these powers, they have entrusted the American government with the responsibility of dealing with foreign policy issues for the security of our rights. According to the U.S. Constitution, however, the American people did not authorize our government to “delegate” that responsibility or those powers to another governing body, including international organizations – especially ones comprised of nations that abhor the very principles of justice for which the United States stands.

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International Regimes, Events Leading To Creation of the United Nations, and Involvement of the United States

In the aftermath of World War I, the League of Nations was finally established with the lofty goal of preserving world peace. In reality, its purpose was to bring together the “democratic” (i.e., “civilized” or “historically advanced”) nations to work together regarding territorial disputes and colonial possessions through negotiation rather than resorting to war. However, the United States Senate rejected membership in the League of Nations on the grounds that it would strip our nation of some degree of its domestic sovereignty and its independence in choosing foreign policy actions.

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The United States Constitution vs. the Regime of Mao Zedong: Opposite Systems of Government

Under the U.S. Constitution, the three branches of government check and balance each other, as power is set against power. In a communist regime, there are no checks on the party’s will. All political power belongs to the party. Under Mao, “at the top, thirty to forty men made all the major decisions. Their power was personal, fluid, and dependent on their relations with Mao.”

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Barriers Against Encroachments on Individual Natural Rights of Life, Liberty and Property: America’s Founders and a Well-constructed Constitution

Anti-federalists and Federalists understood that one of the best means for preventing abuses of natural rights is to find a way to prevent all political power from being held in the same hands. As Brutus wrote, “When great and extraordinary powers are vested in any man, or body of men, which in their exercise, may operate to the oppression of the people, it is of high importance that powerful checks should be formed to prevent the abuse of it.

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Enemies of Freedom: Mao Zedong and the 1966 Cultural Revolution in China

The terrible abuses of natural rights during Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” remind us of the importance of the United States Constitution, which explicitly guarantees the due process of law before anyone can be deprived of life, liberty, or property. The Constitution also enshrines the fundamental idea of individual freedom, perhaps most importantly in the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty.

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The United States Constitution as a Bulwark Against Tyranny

Freedom can only exist in a framework of laws that supports it. The Constitution, if followed, will continue to prove itself on the world stage to survive the attacks of tyranny, which continue to threaten.

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U.S. Constitution vs. the Evil of Nazi-style Regimes: Design of America’s Founding Political System for Maintaining Independence and Self-governance

The American people were substantially alienated from their administration in office but not from their entire political system. It was, however, on trial. There was no guarantee it would survive.

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Hitler’s Evil Path to Tyranny

Inflation was severe. It was said that, before the war, you took your money to shop in a purse and brought your goods home in a wagon but, after the war, you took your money in a wagon and brought your goods home in a purse.

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New Deal and the Great Society: Warnings From America’s Founders on Constitutional Misconstruction

It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,’’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.

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The Constitutional Wisdom Ignored by the New Deal and Great Society

Numerous economic downturns and crises plagued America during the first one hundred fifty years of its existence. The nineteenth century witnessed repeated depressions. Undoubtedly, the Great Depression of the 1930s amounted to the most severe economic crisis ever experienced in the United States. As with all previous crises, however, the country recovered from the Great […]

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Economic Depression, New Deal, and the Great Society: America’s Founders on Separation of Powers to Restrain Unelected Administrative Tyranny

All of this constitutional analysis should remind us that an unofficial fourth branch of government—the administrative state, or simply, the bureaucracy—amassed an incredible amount of regulatory power throughout the course of the twentieth century and into this century. Indeed, if one were to examine a chart of all the regulatory agencies, it would be hard to find an area of American daily life that is not regulated in dozens of ways throughout the day. The reason for the regulatory agencies makes a certain amount of sense in an advanced industrial society and economy. All Americans want to fly in safe airplanes, drink clean water, and know what they are eating…The rise of the bureaucratic administrative state was problematic for a number of reasons. First, it dramatically increased the scale and scope of federal government well beyond that envisioned by the Founders. Second, it substituted rule by the people and their representatives in Congress for rule by unelected experts in the executive branches. Third, at times, administrative agencies were allowed to set their own rules, enforce them, and decide and rule on disputes thereby amassing the power of all three branches of government.

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Barriers to Dismantling Constitutionalism: America’s Founders and Their Safeguards Designed in the United States Constitution Against Progressivism

Collectivism/Cooperation. Progressivism holds to a diminished view of individualism and private property, replaced by the need for everyone to cooperate to achieve progressive goals, to include forced “cooperation” if necessary.

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The United States Constitution and Institutional Framework for Executive Firmness

Publius’ understanding of the presidency not only departs from the conception of executive power which prevailed under the Articles, it also contradicts the new conception of the presidency advanced by the Progressives, more than a century later. President Woodrow Wilson rejected the United States Constitution as an antiquated and constricting product of a bygone era, and equally rejected its moral foundation in the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. In place of natural right, he substituted historical right.

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Power Concentrated in the Hands of a Few: Conflict of Progressive Government Toward American Individualism and the United States Constitution

At the 1896 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, a former Congressman from Nebraska, William Jennings Bryan, gave a stirring oration in favor of the party’s “pro-silver” political platform. Filled with passion and a near-revolutionary fire, the speech concluded with a warning to those who wanted the United States to maintain a gold standard for the dollar, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Bryan underscored this patently religious analogy by posing at its conclusion with his arms outstretched like someone nailed to a cross. The convention erupted in pandemonium. The ecstatic reaction of the delegates resulted in the “Boy Orator of the Platte River” receiving the party’s nomination for president of the United States at age 36, the youngest major party nominee ever. He became the Democrats’ presidential standard bearer twice more, in 1900 and 1908, again the only major party nominee to do so. He lost each time.

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United States Constitutional System and Armed Forces: Decentralized Power and Due Process vs. Stalin’s Centralized Control by Military

We approach governance from the perspective that rights are naturally occurring in man and that power flows from the citizenry to the government, whose powers are carefully enumerated and tightly constrained. These other systems believe that government grants rights to their citizens, and that absent action by that citizenry, it is assumed that the government retains all power to act. There were no checks on power in Stalin’s USSR—millions died or suffered as a result of it.

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From Liberty To Suppressed Dissent: Founders on Empowered Armed Forces While Preventing a Stalin-type Military Regime in America

The Founders were rightly skeptical of what could happen when government power was not hemmed in by lawful constraints—and what happens when people are not able to debate and exercise true dissent. The warnings debated in the Federalist Papers were made manifest in the brutality of the Soviet Union’s Stalinist era and, frankly, through the oppressions of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, and other socialist leaders.

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Founding Tradition of U.S. Armed Forces Protecting Liberty and Prosperity vs. Joseph Stalin’s Military Regime

The Red Army from the time of its formation through its incarnation as the Soviet Army and to the time of its collapse was forever fighting wars. From 1917 to 1922 the Red Army fought numerous civil wars for Soviet dominance of Russia, as well as the Polish-Soviet War to mop up the residual Polish state following the First World War.

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Founding Guard Against an Unchecked American Executive: World War I and Constraints by the U.S. Constitution on Presidential Powers

Although the executive branch has broad authority in foreign policy and during wartime, its powers are not limitless. Those constitutional limits became even more important when a war was global in scope and America had a President who resisted them.

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Foresight on Consequences of World War I: America’s Founding Proposal for a Constitution To Unite the States

Federalist Papers 6 and 7 are at first glance an odd place to go when it comes to explaining the onset of World War I. Their topic is the threat of internal war among the states absent the adoption of the unified federal republic in the Constitution. But the fundamental principles expressed, especially that the “causes of hostility among nations are innumerable,” will resonate with generations of World War I students who have tried to catalogue the many causes of the Great War.

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World War I and Commercial Rivalries: The American Founders on Solving Trade Disputes Threatening the Union

Supporters of the proposed United States Constitution of 1787 frequently warned that there was no mechanism under the Articles of Confederation to prevent what they saw as the inevitable commercial rivalries between the states from escalating into armed conflict. Such rivalries had begun to appear through protectionist trade laws enacted by various states. Another event was the dispute between Virginia and Maryland over fishing and navigation in Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. The end, the Federalists charged, would surely be the dissolution of the union into some number of quarreling confederations.

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Constitution Framers, the American Civil War, and Preserving the Union Through Compromise, Virtue and Statesmanship

Despite the philosophic differences, it is clear that as Congress lost the ability to collapse differences through virtue and statesmanship, and promote union through compromise, the union was destined to dissolve. The framers admitted that this was the case; that representative self-government relied upon a functional representative branch of government that protected and advanced the interests of citizens. Is our Congress capable of compromise, statesmanship, and advancing our common interests today? Perhaps the tools that quelled disunion throughout the Antebellum period could help solve our congressional crisis today.

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Key to Subverting the Violence of Faction: America’s Founding Design of the United States Constitution Against Disunion

In his First Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln argued that “the Union is much older than the Constitution.” What did Lincoln mean when he spoke of the Union? The Declaration of Independence explains that the Americans were “one people” because they were providentially, philosophically, and hence politically united. In addition to referring to the Americans as one people, it also references the American people using the collective “We.” Furthermore, the document calls itself a “unanimous” declaration of the “united” States of America. The authors saw the separate colonies as previously united, and unanimity implied that they were “of one mind.” In short, the Declaration expressed that the Americans were one people capable of governing themselves. Because the Americans were united as one people and were arbitrarily ruled by another, the Declaration asserts that they have a duty to assert their independence by appealing to their Creator and natural laws of justice. Therefore, the principle of union, the rallying cry of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and George Washington, is one of the bedrock principles of the American founding.

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The American Civil War and Consequences of Secession: Defining the Union, Role of the People and the States

Lincoln reinforces these points in his Message to Congress in Special Session. He calls secession “sugar-coated rebellion” and denies any revolutionary character to it. Instead, it is a “sophism” deriving its “currency from the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State – to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union.” The original thirteen became a Union before completing their separation from Great Britain. And the others came into the union from a condition of dependence. Thus, the reverence given to “states” is based on mist and shadows and does not match this history of the American regime. In short, the states only possess those powers granted to them by the Constitution, and this does not include the power of secession.

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Property Ownership and Political Stability: The U.S. Constitution’s Design to Secure Individual Rights the Communist Manifesto Abolishes

Bound up in Marx’s 1875 statement is the essence of force and coercion. Regardless of whether it is the “state” acting (and in Marxist philosophy, the state-centered transition phase between capitalism and communism is “socialism”), or the communistic society, you’re talking about force—the state determines what your “abilities” are, and you are forced to give of those abilities to society at large, regardless of your own feelings in the matter.

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Contrasting Visions: The United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution vs the Communist Manifesto

Inspired and enabled by the Communist Manifesto, these regimes destroyed societies in a quest of a property-free utopia that was unachievable. In so doing they imprisoned, tortured, banished, and killed over a hundred million of their own citizens, while foisting war and chaos on the world. Thirty years after the fall the Soviet Union, “millions of people worldwide — one-fifth of the world’s population — still live under communist tyranny. It has become somewhat fashionable to say that communism, or “socialism,” is a good idea (or theory) that could work if we just implemented it correctly. The Communist Manifesto gives lie to that claim. The vision is destruction, the mission tyranny. The result predictable. How many more need to die before we finally accept this fact?

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Avoiding the Dustbin of History: Failures of Communism and America’s Constitutional Foresight on Human Nature, Self-governance, and Civil Society

Communism was responsible for an estimated 100 million deaths. It suppressed human flourishing in the arts and sciences by extinguishing liberty, created widespread suffering with decrepit economic systems, imposed crushing police states, and destroyed the institutions of civil society. Most of the American founders understood that such utopian schemes were doomed by their flawed understanding of human nature, self-governance, and civil society. The American founding vision built a constitutional order with self-governance and a healthy civil society that allowed individuals to thrive.

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Folly of a Dictatorship Led by a Single Tyrant: The Undoing of Napoleon Bonaparte vs America’s Constitutionally Constrained Executive

Napoleon was not curbed by constitutional constraints upon his executive power. He suppressed the critical press and created his own propaganda machine. The emperor was able to use his military to crush internal dissent, stop brigandage, and thwart foreign invasions. Unconstrained by prior legal limitations on his conduct, the emperor designed his own legal system, the Code Napoleon, and imposed it upon his own nation. Ultimately, Napoleon’s own limitless ambition led to his undoing, but not until thousands had died in his pursuit of conquest.

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Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution, and America’s Protection of the Newly Formed United States Against Tyranny

As first consul, the directors eventually chose a young, military hero who had managed to lead French armies to victory despite a depleted officer corps and a mass of enlisted soldiers who were recruited through a very unpopular conscription process. This person’s name was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was initially named consul, but soon made clear that he wished to exceed his constitutional limits. By 1804, Napoleon was named emperor by several government agencies and subsequently was approved as emperor in a national plebiscite. Napoleon was to wield more concentrated power than any extant monarch in the world. His rise to power demonstrates both the failure of France’s constitutional design and its commitment to enforce constitutional provisions.

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Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and America’s Rejection of One-man Rule

It would do so less by trying to remake human beings, something the Founders thought impossible and itself a temptation to exercise too much corrupting power. Instead, they hoped that they could channel human ambition, human love for power, in ways that offset one another. The branches would exercise checks and balances on their sister institutions. If one person or group gained too much authority, the others possessed means to keep us from falling into rule by one man or one group of persons.

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American Founding Observations of the French Revolution That Influenced the United States Constitution and Governing

More fundamentally, the desired objectives were different in the two revolutions, and that in turn contributed to the ways in which the American Constitution contained provisions to address. The French focused on replacing or changing the existing government. The Americans, on the other hand, wanted to break away and form a government removed from Great Britain. With that in mind, starting with the Declaration of Independence, through the Revolutionary War, and culminating in the Constitution in 1787, the founding fathers inserted wisdom into the form of government and the United States Constitution to help prevent failures they observed in French government.

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Ou La Mort or Deliberation: The French Revolution and the American Revolution

When Benjamin Franklin identified the new form as “a republic, if you can keep it” he implied that the continual fostering and renewal of the habits of deliberative government was the spirit of the American Revolution and the essential ingredient for the continued success of the United States.

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American Revolution Principles of Natural Rights Republicanism and Constitutionalism vs the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror

The American Founders’ thinking about human nature and government was guided by differing strains of thought from ancient philosophy, the English tradition, the British Enlightenment, and Protestant Christianity. As a result, they developed a realistic understanding of vice and virtue, sin and goodness. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #51, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

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Upon a Need of Virtue to Self-govern: Penning a United States Constitution for a Free and Independent Nation

“It is a great mistake to suppose that the paper we prepare will govern the United States. It is the men whom it will bring into the government and interest in maintaining it that is to govern them. The paper will only mark out the mode and the form. Men are the substance and must do the business.” -John Francis Mercer

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Keeping a Republic: America’s Founders on the Role of Public and Private Virtue

“A people may prefer a free government; but if from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when directly attacked; …they are more or less unfit for liberty.” John Stuart Mill

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America’s Founders on Virtue as Fundamental to Republican Government

John Adams’s major work on constitutional government and republicanism was A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, a treatise on the emerging American constitutionalism with its emphasis on checks and balances of governmental powers. But Adams was also a prolific writer of letters to numerous correspondents. Many years before he wrote in his 1798 response to the Massachusetts militia, “Our government was made only for a moral and religious people,” he wrote to the chronicler of the period Mercy Otis Warren that republican government could survive only if the people were conditioned “by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.” Sounding the theme of positive classic republicanism, he continued, “There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honor, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.”

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The United States Constitution as a Bill of Rights

Where is the explicit protection of speech, or religion, of conscience, of the right to keep and bear arms, etc.? Hamilton’s answer of course would be: “where is the government given power in the Constitution to intrude upon any of those rights? The weight of Hamilton’s and Madison’s argument must rest then on the Constitution actually being, and, more importantly, remaining, a limited powers document. It is quite clear from the journals of early Congresses that congressmen routinely considered the Constitution to limit the powers of government.

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Indispensable Contents of a Bill of Rights for the United States Constitution: Federalist and Anti-federalist Perspectives

Federalists initially countered these arguments in a couple of ways. In Federalist 84, for example, Hamilton argued that the Constitution should be allowed a trial period before alterations were made. There may be several things the American people want to change five or ten years down the road, so make the changes then when a judgment can be made about whether they are necessary. Second, the structure and design of the Constitution already protected rights through separation of powers, checks and balances, enumerated powers, and republicanism. Any attempt to infringe on personal rights would never be able to survive this gauntlet of obstructions. Finally, a bill of rights could endanger rights because it would only include certain specified rights, leaving others unprotected. It would also imply that rights come from government and that it alone chooses which rights to recognize.

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Purpose for a Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution

The challenge now was to craft a bill of rights that would be acceptable to the thirteen states. James Madison of Virginia, an early opponent of a bill of rights and a member of the House of Representatives, eventually changed his position on the matter and led the effort to develop one that would satisfy the Anti-federalists.

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Toward a More Perfect Union: Correcting the Articles of Confederation Through the United States Constitution

All but the last of the twelve “bullet points” Madison set down in “Vices” were accompanied by elaborating commentary. For instance: “Failure of the States to comply with the Constitutional requisitions,” the first complaint, was explained as an “evil” which “has been so fully experienced both during the war and since the peace, [which] results so naturally from the number and independent authority of the States and has been so uniformly exemplified in every similar Confederacy, that it may be considered as not less radically and permanently inherent in, than it is fatal to the object of, the present System.”

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Articles of Confederation, Designing a United States Constitution, and Empowering a National Government While Preventing a Tyranny

James Madison was one of the leading voices of the Federalists who propagated this new view. Before the Convention, Madison penned the Vices of the Political System, which detailed the evils that beset the Confederation. He thought, “The great desideratum in Government is such a modification of the sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions to control one part of the Society from invading the rights of another, and, at the same time, sufficiently controlled itself from setting up an interest adverse to that of the whole society.” In other words, the main goal was to empower the national government without creating a tyranny.

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From the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union to a United States Constitution

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was our nation’s first constitution and essentially served as the basis for our government from 1777 to 1789. It was created by the thirteen original states to help them unify their war efforts against England and was the precursor to our present Constitution.

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Laboring Over Ingredients for Good Government: America’s Founding Generation on Drafting Early State Constitutions

So far from intending each of the three branches to be wholly coordinate, they decided to curb any excess of power in any one branch by balancing it with an effective power in another. Where they had experienced an evil in an omnipotent Legislature, they checked it; where they had actually felt the oppression of a too strong Executive, they checked him; where they believed a Court had been too independent, they checked it.”

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Successful Government and Forming State Constitutions on All Political Power Being Vested in and Derived From the People Only

Second, these constitutions in general got the purpose of government right. Massachusetts’ constitution (1780), penned by John Adams, said the purpose of government resided in the power “to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquillity, their natural rights and the blessings of life.” This reasoning, too, aligned with the Declaration of Independence. It declared that all human beings possessed “unalienable rights,” meaning claims on others that no one else could infringe. It then said that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”

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Framing Early State Constitutions and Developing a Republican Form of Government, Under Threat of Battle

Many of those early state constitutions were hastily drafted under adverse conditions. The threat of approaching British troops forced some constitutional conventions to adjourn and reconvene multiple times. Some states’ constitutional framers were not completely convinced that the revolution would be successful. According to Article 26 of New Jersey’s constitution of 1776, “if Reconciliation between Great Britain and these Colonies should take place, and the latter be again taken under the Protection and Government of the Crown of Great Britain, this Charter shall be null and void, otherwise to remain firm and inviolable.”

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Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God: Preserving the Purpose of the Declaration of Independence Through the United States Constitution

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had occasion to reflect upon the principles of the American Founding. Using a biblical metaphor, he thought that the Declaration of Independence was an “apple of gold” because it contained the foundational principles of the new country. The Constitution was the “picture of silver” framing the apple with the structures of republican government, thus preserving the purpose of the Declaration. In the mind of Lincoln—and those of the Founders—an inextricable link bound together the two documents in creating a free government.

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From a Declaration of Independence to a Constitution: The Laws of Nature and Preservation of the United States of America

The Federalists prevailed, but experience has at times exposed weaknesses in the Federalist’s arguments. The federal government has overtime supplanted the states in their power. Appeals to the people to amend their Constitution have not just become infrequent, but have ceased almost altogether: The Constitution has not been amended “soup to nuts” in more than 50 years. And this has happened as the judicial power has expanded under the doctrine of a “living constitution” to displace the amendment function; this raises the question whether the Constitution can continue to be the people’s document if the courts, and not they, are its author in key respects.

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Where No Government Had Gone Before: The Enduring Success of America’s Declaration of Independence

The words contained in the Declaration of Independence were some of the most revolutionary ideas ever printed. When Congress approved the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” they were going where no government had gone before.

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The U.S. Constitution on Managing British Colonial Governance in North America and Careful Admission of New States to the Union

The British government had both successes and failures when it came to their management of the North American colonies. The authors of the Constitution learned from those mistakes and crafted clear language to safeguard against making them again.

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Virginia’s House of Burgesses, Rights of the British Colonies, and Establishing Representative Governing in America

In its day, many of the men who assembled there later assembled on the national stage to lead our country. Throughout the crisis with England, it was an eloquent and vocal proponent for American liberty and many of the ideas found in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were first debated and refined in their meetings.

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Royal, Self-governing, and Proprietary Colonies: Advancing From British Rule Toward American Independence

Like the entrepreneurs of today, a few men came up with an idea, presented it to their friends and associates, and asked them to invest in their plan. Their organizations had wide latitude to appoint leaders and run their business as they wished. Virginia, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were all initially established as self-governing colonies. However, these colonies soon found out that their independence was on a short leash. If the colony was poorly administered like in Virginia or if the people proved troublesome like in Massachusetts, these dominions were converted into a royal colony with all the restrictions that came with it. By the time of the American Revolution, only Rhode Island and Connecticut, retained their original self-governing charter. The King always had the final say.

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Building America’s Political House on Solid Ground: Foundations of Faith, Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower Compact

Its true foundation rested on those commitments—human equality and liberty—as understood through the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Those principles still hold out the promise of provision, provision of a strong foundation against all storms, internal or external. It does; but only if we continue to build wisely and faithfully upon it.

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“City Upon a Hill” and the Mayflower Compact: Forming a Constitutional Republic Sustained Through Civic Virtue, Natural Rights and Liberty

The concept of a “city upon a hill” originated with Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” sermon aboard the Arbella. He described the purpose of establishing a godly society to work towards the common good, just government, and civic virtue. Winthrop’s thinking about a “city upon a hill” was influenced by covenant theology: “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” The same ideals about a religious and civil covenant with God and each other were present in the Pilgrims’ “Mayflower Compact.”

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Consent of the Self-governed: Mayflower Compact and the City of God on Earth

The singular importance of the Mayflower Compact was in the foundation it provided for a theory of organic generation of a government legitimized by the consent of the governed. Self-government became realized through a contract among and for those to be governed.

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King and Parliament in 17th Century England vs. a Self-governing People and President in the U.S. Constitution

But our presidents do take some role in religious expression. George Washington’s Farewell Address warned of the need for religious belief among the people. That belief would shore up national morality among the ultimate human rulers, We the People. It would aid in public and private happiness, in the ruling of self that is a prerequisite to running a popular government. Moreover, since Washington, most presidents have published proclamations or given speeches that thank or make requests of God. John Adams warned in 1798 that our Constitution was made for a religious people and the need to cultivate those beliefs, consistent with human liberty. Perhaps the greatest speech ever given on American soil, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, consisted of an extended meditation on God’s will in the American Civil War and an affirmation of God’s goodness in the midst of so much hardship and bloodshed.

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Parliament in 17th Century England and Why America Does Not Have a King

Americans intentionally divided power among its political institutions in a way different from that which enveloped the English in the 17th century. They did not divide by who ruled, since the people ruled entirely. They divided by governmental function. They divided these functions and thus institutions into three, not England’s two: a Congress to make laws, a president to enforce them, and a judicial system to decide disputes based on the law. This separation of powers has proven far more consistent and effective over its history.

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Memorial Day – A Day of Remembrance Written in the Hearts of the American People

America is the great nation that it is because we revere and honor the memory of brave souls who gave their lives to preserve it. Let the memory and sacrifices of those who have come before, for liberty purchased at such an immeasurable price for future generations, be forever written in our hearts. “Whether we […]

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King vs. Parliament in 17th Century England: From Absolutism to Constitutional Monarchy, Influence on American Governing

It is an axiom of politics that politicians will seek first to protect their privileges and second to expand them. The increased demands by parliamentarians for political power inevitably clashed with the monarchs’ hereditary claims. Both sides appealed to traditional English constitutional custom for legitimacy. With their assumptions about the source of political authority utterly at odds, compromise became increasingly complex and fleeting. It was treating a gangrenous infection with a band-aid. Radical surgery became the way out. The American Revolution in the following century, and even the American Civil War of the century thereafter, showed evidence of a similar progression, with the two sides operating from fundamentally contradictory views of the nature of representative government and proper division of power between the general government and its constituent parts.

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U.S. Constitution’s Presidential Limits: The Framers’ Opposition To King Louis XIV “I Am the State” Monarchy Into Despotism

In America, the power of impeachment works to ensure that a President doesn’t abuse his office—either by abusing the rights of American citizens or by using his office for his personal enrichment. The founders were deeply troubled by centralized power, especially the idea that an absolute monarch could become a tyrannical despot. While ensuring that a President could do his job, they created a constitutional system that checked the strong powers of the executive branch.

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The Federalists on Diffusion of Power in American Government to Thwart Absolute Monarchy as Held by King Louis XIV

To be certain, whether based upon familial experience or an overall approach to political philosophy (and most likely a combination of the two), the authors of the Federalist saw that the political machinations and concentration of absolute monarchic power during the reign of King Louis XIV as something to not just avoid, but to actively work against.

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“Sun King,” Louis XIV, and an American Constitution That Originated From the People as Sovereign

Yet there was another maxim in the Corpus, “What touches all must be consented to by all.” This suggests that the ultimate authority rests not in the governor, but in the governed. In the Roman republic, actions were taken in the name of the Senate and People of Rome. That idea was symbolized by the SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus) which was prominently displayed even on the standards of the imperial Roman legions. There is an obvious tension between these maxims. One might locate in that tension the beginning in Western political thought of the lengthy and ongoing debate over the nature of sovereignty.

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Founding Fathers on Designing a Constitution for Serving the American People, Not a Government of Machiavellian Authority

As they debated the construction of a new Republican form of government in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they sought to use their knowledge of republican and authoritarian governments over thousands of years to construct one that might prevent their proposed republic from ultimately being overcome by authoritarian-minded opponents. The features of acquiring authoritarian power in government noted by Machiavelli were features that the Convention delegates sought to minimize in their new Constitution.

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Machiavelli, Science of Politics, and the Founders’ Solution to Prevent Government Fortifying Against the American People

It should come as no surprise that such instructions during the Middle Ages came with a heavy dose of Christian ethics to civilize the prince and habituate him to just and temperate rule. After all, as Thomas Aquinas noted, God gave the ruler care of the community for the general welfare, not a license to exploit the people for the ruler’s own benefit.

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Federalists and Anti-federalists on Machiavelli and a Well-constructed Government Able To Check Attempts To Seize and Hold Power

The Founders’ knowledge of the successes and failures of all types of government was deep; Machiavelli’s observations of what government transitions normally looked like provided an important, more recent, reminder of how quickly a Republic can fail internally if its government is not well constructed at birth and externally when confronted by powerful, amoral governments, led by autocrats’ intent on seizing and holding power.

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The 1579 Netherlands Constitution and the Founders’ Vision for Careful Balance of Federal Powers While Protecting the States

The Articles of Confederation was also built on historic example, and among these was the 1579 constitution of the Netherlands provinces—the subject of Federalist #20, authored by Madison. Created as a result of the “Union of Utrecht”—a treaty created between the seven northern Dutch provinces who had allied with one another to oppose the Habsburg-controlled southern provinces, this constitution laid out the shared power structure between these unified territories. But Madison recognized that the flaws endemic in the document creating this Dutch confederacy were duplicated by the flaws in the Articles of Confederation.

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Flexibility to Act Without Violating the U.S. Constitution: America’s Founders Discuss History of Policy Vices Within the United Netherlands

The Federalists defended the new Constitution’s ability to remedy these potentially deadly defects: the requirements for ratifying and amending the Constitution were reduced from unanimity to a supermajority of state conventions; furthermore, all acts of Congress under the new Constitution would require only a majority vote of both houses of Congress. This last improvement especially makes it less likely that the federal government would need to violate the Constitution to take necessary actions in times of crisis, as the United Netherlands had done on numerous occasions. This problem is further mitigated by the independence and discretion of the president to take certain actions in times of crisis without prior authorization from Congress; it is further mitigated by the fact that there are implied powers in the Constitution, as indicated by the necessary and proper clause in Article II. These improvements would give the federal government a degree of flexibility to better fulfill its responsibilities, especially with regard to national security, without the need to undermine the sanctity of the Constitution by frequent violations.

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United Provinces of the Netherlands and the Articles of Confederation: Factors Influencing Design Toward a Stable U.S. Constitution

Historians have usually described the government of the Netherlands in the two centuries between 1579 and the political system’s collapse in the late 18th century as a “republic.” Consistent with his commentary about the government of Venice, James Madison did not approve of this characterization. In Number 20 of The Federalist, he deemed the United Netherlands “a confederacy of republics, or rather of aristocracies, of a very remarkable texture.” While at times complimentary in his assessment, overall he saw in their government further evidence of what ailed, in his view, all confederations, including the United States under the Articles of Confederation. Like the Articles, the Dutch system was forged in a war for independence, the first goal of which was to survive militarily. The Dutch referred to their Revolt of the Netherlands as the “Eighty Years’ War.” Fighting against Spain began in 1566, the seven northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands formally united in their common cause through the Union of Utrecht in 1579, a watershed step not unlike the agreements of mutual aid and action among the North American colonies in the years before 1776.

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U.S. Constitution Safeguards for the Whole Union: Disunity Prevention the Founders Built in After Studying the Holy Roman Empire

The framers of the Constitution also found remedies to prevent the “inordinate pride of state importance” from hindering the national government’s efforts to promote the good of the whole Union. By dividing Congress into two houses, the preponderance of state influence in national affairs is confined to the Senate, in which state legislatures would appoint the senators (as opposed to direct election by the people of members in the House of Representatives). Rather than each state having one vote in the Senate, the two senators do not need to agree or vote in the same way on any particular law or policy. The framers also overcame reliance on the voluntary compliance of the states to provide the needed revenue for national purposes by giving to Congress a real tax power. “There is no method of steering clear of this inconvenience,” Hamilton observed, “but by authorizing the national government to raise its own revenues in its own way.”

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Ancient Confederacies, the Holy Roman Empire, and Weaknesses of Divisive Executive Authority

Madison’s second and most important critique of the Holy Roman Empire is a lack of centralized control and effective checks over the member states. In theory, the member states are expected to restrain themselves from infringing upon the duties of the central government and are pledged to obey its authority. As Madison writes, “The members of the confederacy are expressly restricted from entering into compacts prejudicial to the empire; from imposing tolls and duties on their mutual intercourse, without the consent of the emperor and diet; from altering the value of money; from doing injustice to one another; or from affording assistance or retreat to disturbers of the public peace. And the ban is denounced against such as shall violate any of these restrictions.”

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Electoral Structure and Allegiances of the Holy Roman Empire

Madison dismissed the Empire as a playground of foreign rulers because of the conflicts among the members of the Empire and between the emperor and the nobles large and small. This division allowed foreign rulers to split the allegiances of the nobles and to keep the empire weak.

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Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Republic of Venice, and Founding America on a Process of Governance Through Elections

Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution provides: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” This was an important provision included by the drafters to ensure a process of governance through elections. The drafters had examples of the Republic of Venice and Rome and other regimes in collapse, with concerns about other forms of government, even those labeled republics, at its core.

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Preventing Government Abuse: Federalist and Anti-federalist Debates on History of the Republic of Venice to Avert Concentration of Powers

Jefferson opined that the concentration of legislative, executive, and judicial powers in one body would be “the definition of despotic government.” Further, it mattered not “that these powers would be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it, turn their eyes on the republic of Venice.” Leaving aside the historical veracity of Madison’s and Jefferson’s characterizations of Venice, their perceptions shaped their ideas of a proper “republican” political structure and how that would differ from Venice.

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Five Hundred Years of the Republic of Venice – What Went Wrong

Aristotle in his Politika did not discount the role of the demos in Athens. Like Madison, Aristotle considered democracy to be unstable and dangerous. From an analytic perspective, as was the case for Plato, democracy was a corruption of politeia, which he considered the best practical government for a city. Man is a politikon zoon, a creature which by his nature is best suited to live in the community that was the Greek polis. Once more, preserving a stable society and governing system was the key to maximizing the flourishing of each resident in accordance with the natural inequalities of each. Aristotle saw that balance in the “mixed” government of Athens, neither pure democracy nor oligarchy, in which the formal powers of the demos in the assembly and the jury courts were balanced by the Council of 500 and the practice of deference to the ideas and policies advanced by the elite of the wealthy and of those who earned military or civic honor.

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Necessary and Proper by the U.S. Constitution: The Founders on Limiting Federal Control in Response to Roman Republic History

“We admit, as all must admit, that the powers of the Government are limited, and that its limits are not to be transcended. But we think the sound construction of the Constitution must allow to the national legislature that discretion with respect to the means by which the powers it confers are to be carried into execution which will enable that body to perform the high duties assigned to it in the manner most beneficial to the people. Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are Constitutional.”

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Why Have There Been No Military Coups in the United States?

The dogs of war have barked no less frequently for Americans than for other nations, but the wolf of military takeover has remained silent. And this, despite the fact that we have seen some twelve U.S. generals elevated to the presidency, beginning with George Washington. Unlike Marius, our military men have been able to become first in peace after having been first in war, without bringing a general’s command-and-control temperament with them.

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The Roman Republic: From Aristocracy to Dictatorship

As societies become more sophisticated, that archaic form of tribal leadership proves inadequate. A more stable form of kingship emerges, one based on reason and excellence of judgment, which, in turn, fosters consent of the governed. Initially, such kings are elected for life. Eventually, the dynastic impulse of rulers to pass their office from father to son leads to kingship often becoming hereditary. Over time, such dynastic succession induces a sense of superiority and entitlement, which results in formal distinctions and ceremonies to set the royals apart from commoners. Worse, these royals begin to consider themselves exempt from rules and morals. As ordinary people begin to react with disgust at such licentiousness and arrogance, the ruler responds with anger and force. Thus, the inevitable outgrowth of kingship is tyranny.

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Federalists and Anti-federalists on Classic Roman Thought, Human Nature, and Forming a Successful U.S. Constitution

Whether to have one or two bodies in the legislature was a topic of contention in the Convention. The final Constitution proposal was for two bodies, a House and a Senate. In Anti-federalist 63, the authors state, “But they are so formed, that the members of both must generally be the same kind of men, men having similar interests and views, feelings and connections, men of the same grade in society, and who associate on all, occasions. The Senate, from the mode of its appointment, will probably be influenced to support the state governments; and, from its periods of service will produce stability in legislation, while frequent elections may take place in the other branch.”

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Human Nature and Forming Good Government: Cautions American Founders Learned from Studying Ancient Political Philosophies

All our Founding Fathers were educated in the early-to-middle 18th century. Some were able to attend the colleges of the day, but most were not so able and were self-taught or homeschooled. Primary and secondary education for all included study of the Bible. Libraries were few until Benjamin Franklin and his Junto Club members started the first public library in the early 18th century. Soon thereafter they started the American Philosophical Society to “promote useful knowledge.” With so few books and libraries, no internet to provide instantaneous acquisition of virtually any information or knowledge one would like to acquire, no email to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, no Zoom to interact with experts on any topic, it’s natural to wonder how America’s Founding Fathers could have acquired the knowledge required to write the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, and later, the United States Constitution. How were they able to create a Constitution, admired around the world, in only three months meeting in the humid city of Philadelphia in a building with no air conditioning?

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The Stoics and Classic Roman Thought on Human Nature and Good Government

The result was a refocus of the meaning of life from the ultimately outward-looking virtue ethics of Aristotle and the vigorous political atmosphere of the polis. In this psychological confusion and philosophic chaos arose several schools. One, the Skeptics, rejected the idea that either the senses or reason can give an accurate portrayal of reality. Everything is arbitrary and illusionary, truth cannot arise from such illusions, no assertion can claim more intrinsic value than any other, and everything devolves into a matter of relative power: law, right, morality, speech, and art. Such a valueless relativism can expose weaknesses in the assumptions and assertions of metaphysical structures, but its nihilism is self-defeating in that it provides no ethical basis for a stable social order or workable guide for personal excellence…The historian Will Durant observed, “A civilization is born stoic and dies epicurean.” By that he meant that civilizations degenerate. As he explained, “[C]ivilizations begin with religion and stoicism; they end with skepticism and unbelief, and the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure.”

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How Greek and Roman Political Structures Informed the Architecture of the American Constitution and Government

But we have to make sure that all of the branches are working properly, lest the American experiment become a cautionary tale that scholars two millennia from now examine as an example of what not to do.

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How the Flaws in Classical Governance Informed Debates Over the American Constitution

Madison then goes on to talk about the challenges that the founders of these governments faced, showing that there is indeed a lesson in the debates that existed in Greece and Rome for those debating the ratification of the Constitution: “History informs us, likewise, of the difficulties with which these celebrated reformers had to contend, as well as the expedients which they were obliged to employ in order to carry their reforms into effect.”

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Constitutions of Athens, Sparta, and Elements American Founders Changed to Form an Effective, Stable Government

In classical studies and terminology, a (political) constitution is a concept that describes how a particular political system operates. It is a descriptive term and refers to actual political entities. It is, therefore, unlike what Americans are accustomed to hearing when that term is used. Rather, we think of The Constitution, a formal founding document which not only describes the skeleton of our political system, but has also attained the status of a normative standard for what is intrinsically proper political action. Thus, we can talk about constitutional law and of rights recognized in that document in defining not just how things are done, but how they ought to be done.

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The Five Principles That Render the American Republic More Stable

Publius implied that no past regime had created the circumstances for reasonable lawmaking or political stability. Past regimes lacked liberty, but they also lacked institutional arrangements to foster reflection and cooperation in law making, and thus were ruled by the force of one or the accidents of the many.

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American Founders’ Reliance on Western Tradition: Correcting Failures of Plato, Aristotle, and Ancient Greek Thought

In Federalist 51, Publius argued that what makes a republic– a reliance on the people– is also the “primary security” for liberty. He argued that “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.” Unlike Plato’s Republic, which relied on a philosopher king, the American Constitution relies on the virtue and wisdom of the people. Unlike Aristotle’s mixed regime, the idea of consent permeates all of our institutions. What makes the American regime unique is its firm reliance on the people as the source of political power, and the faith that the people are capable of justly wielding political power.

American Exceptionalism Revealed

Essay #1 — HISTORIC TOPIC #1: Plato, Aristotle, and Ancient Greek Thought on Human Nature and Good Government – How they succeeded and how they failed. Wisdom of the Founders: Framing a Constitution on Human Nature by Christopher C. Burkett, Associate Professor of History and Political Science; Director, Ashbrook Scholar Program, Ashland University. Essay #2 […]

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Wisdom of the Founders: Framing a Constitution on Human Nature

The American Founders needed to improve upon these constitutional devices because they wanted to create a political system that balanced civic virtue with liberty. To accomplish this, they established a Constitution framed upon a more realistic notion of human nature – one that acknowledged and anticipated both the good and bad aspects of human motives.

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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

90 in 90 = 180! History Holds The Key To The Future! Our 11th 90 Day Study on the Declaration of Independence Launches February 15, 2021: Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor! Click “Read More” for the schedule. Click the button below to sign up for a daily essay to be emailed to you.
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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.