Madison’s Radical Agenda

A diminutive, persuasive Virginian hijacked the Constitutional Convention and forced the moderates to accept a national government with vastly expanded powers

On May 5, 1787, James Madison arrived in Philadelphia. He was a diminutive young Virginian—about five feet three inches tall, 130 pounds, 36 years old—who, it so happened, had thought more deeply about the political problems posed by the current government under the Articles of Confederation than any other American. Read more »

Magna Carta Comes To America

The Founding Fathers’ belief in the “law of the land” derived from a 13th-century document recently donated to the National Archives

“King John was not a good man,” wrote A. A. Milne in his children’s classic, Now We Are Six. This feckless 13th-century king so badly mismanaged his kingdom that powerful English barons confronted him in June 1215 at Runnymede, a large meadow in the Thames Valley. In tense negotiations, the angry barons outlined their requirements for certain fundamental rights, writing down their demands in a 2,500-word document in medieval Latin on a single sheet of parchment.Read more »

Amendment To The Constitution

Should Mick Jagger get off of his cloud? And make room for Red Cloud? Was the Architect of Liberty a lousy architect? And who let the poodles out? Our fifth annual survey puts them all in their place.

 

Overrated “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

 
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Amending America

We tend to see the Constitution as permanent and inviolable—but we’re always wild to change it

Six weeks into the 104th Congress, the balanced budget amendment (hereinafter BBA) that had passed the House almost made it through the trickier procedural shoals of the Senate with the two-thirds majority needed to propel it on to the state legislatures. The Senate majority leader promises he’ll bring it up for a later vote, so the BBA might yet become the twenty-eighth amendment to the Constitution—that is, the twenty-eighth change in our fundamental charter of national organization. What would that mean? Read more »

The British Vew

The recent British ambassador to Washington takes a generous-spirited but clear-eyed look at the document that, as he points out, owes its existence to King George III

The guest at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., leaves his car and is ushered through a comparatively modest, low-ceilinged entrance hall. The architect, Edwin Lutyens, wished to surprise him, for the entrance hall opens up into a magnificent double staircase that mounts toward the still more opulent reception rooms above, the central feature of which is a sixty-six-yard-long corridor. It is Lutyens’s equivalent of Beethoven’s transition to the finale of his C Minor Symphony. “Lovely corridors,” said a distinguished predecessor of mine, before my wife and I came.Read more »

Mr. Franklin’s Leadership Maxims

At the first meeting of my first class in business school, our instructor divided the class into groups and gave each group a project. “Most of you are going to spend the rest of your lives trying to get things done in or through groups,” he told us, “so you might as well start now.” Read more »

The Supreme Court

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting! God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” On October 6—the first Monday of the month—those venerable words will herald the opening of the 1975–76 term of the Supreme Court of the United States, which has long been revered as the bulwark of our constitutional system. We offer here a portrait of its role in the American past.

 

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Business Of The Highest Magnitude

OR DON’T PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW WHAT YOU CAN RAM THROUGH TODAY

Dr. Benjamin Rush believed the hand of God must have been involved in the noble work. John Adams, writing from Grosvenor Square, London, called it the greatest single effort of national deliberation, and perhaps the greatest exertion of human understanding, the world had ever seen.Read more »

Our Two Greatest Presidents

Without doubt they were Washington, who walked carefully within the Constitution, and Lincoln, who stretched it as far as he dared

The myth and the reality of American history seldom come within shouting distance of one another. What the average American believes and what the historians would like him to believe about, let us say, the first winter in Plymouth, or the Boston Massacre, or Mrs. Bixby’s five sons, are two quite different things.

The Constitution: Was It An Economic Document?

A leading American historian challenges the long-entrenched interpretation originated by the late Charles A. Beard

By June 26, 1787, tempers in the Federal Convention were already growing short, lor gentlemen had come to the explosive question of representation in the upper chamber. Two days later Franklin moved to invoke divine guidance, and his motion was shunted aside only because there was no money with which to pay a chaplain and the members were unprepared to appeal to Heaven without an intermediary.