In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore was developing as a bustling urban center and port. The city diverted the streams around John Barron’s successful wharf and lowered the water level, which negatively impacted his business. He sued the city to recover his financial losses.
Introduction: Why Study the Landmark Decisions?
What does it mean to “constitute” America?
How would anyone do that? And why?
And what is “America,” anyway?
“America can mean simply the “New World”—the two American continents, “new to the late-Renaissance Europeans who stumbled upon them en route to China, if not to the Asian settlers who’d lived here for centuries. In that sense, hundreds of millions of Americans now live in dozens of countries, under several distinctive forms of government.
Given the prominent display of the Stars-and-Stripes flag on the Constituting America website, no one reading these words will imagine “America” to mean that, here. We mean the United States of America, a particular country in America, which declared its independence, its self-government, from an empire ruled from Europe. To assert self-government requires one to establish the terms and conditions by which that government will proceed. By leaving home, a young man or woman declares independence from parents: Very well then, but how will you live, under your newfound self-rule? You say you want to live at liberty, pursuing happiness, but what’s your plan? Read more
Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.
By August 1910, Theodore Roosevelt had been out of office for a year and a half. He was unhappy with President William Howard Taft’s performance. Although Roosevelt had effectively designated Taft as his successor and continued to esteem him personally, Taft wanted no part of the rising Progressive movement in American politics. By 1910, Roosevelt did, for reasons that remain controversial.
“… if constitutionally we elect a President, and therefore you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with.”
– Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1859
John Brown had been hanged for treason on December 2, 1859. Brown had lead a raid on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on October 16. Brown and his group had intended to secure weapons to arm slaves for a revolt against their masters. The United States Marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee captured the raiders, foiling the plan. On November 2, Brown received his death sentence.