Interview With A Founding Father

James Wilson was an important but now obscure draftsman of the Constitution. Carry Wills is a journalist and historian fascinated by what went on in the minds of our founders. The two men meet in an imaginary dialogue across the centuries.

 

His red judge’s robe looked faded and theatrical by daylight. People at the bus stop stared at him, and his face flushed near the color of the robe. But he busily ignored them. Read more »

Taking Another Look At The Constitutional Blueprint

In this year of the bicentennial of the Constitution, American Heritage asked a number of historians, authors, and public figures to address themselves to one or both of these questions:

1. What change would you like to see in the Constitution and why?

2. What article or clause of the Constitution is of particular significance to you—and in what historical, political, personal, or other connection? Read more »

A Few Parchment Pages Two Hundred Years Later

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. It safeguards our liberties and establishes a government of laws, not of men and women. Above all, the Constitution is the mortar that binds the fifty-state edifice under the concept of federalism; it is the symbol that unifies nearly 250 million people of different origins, races, and religions into a single nation. Read more »

Enlisted For Life

Oliver Wendell Holmes was wounded three times in some of the worst fighting of the Civil War. But for him, the most terrible battles were the ones he had missed.

He was born in 1841, in a Boston that took its water from backyard wells and its light from whale-oil lamps. He died ninety-four years later in a nation that the army pilot James Doolittle had just crossed in twelve hours. Between the birth and the death came a career and a renown few achieve, and thirty years of serving as one of the most brilliant, influential, and revered Justices of the Supreme Court.Read more »

The Case Of The Chambermaid And The Nine Old Men

When Elsie Parrish was fired, her fight for justice led to dramatic changes in the nation’s highest court.

When, on a spring day in 1935, Elsie Parrish walked into the office of an obscure lawyer in Wenatchee, Washington, to ask him to sue the town’s leading hotel for back pay, she had no idea she was linking her fate to that of exploited women in a Brooklyn laundry a whole continent away. Still less did she think that she was setting off a series of events that would deeply affect President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plans for his second term.Read more »

A Letter To Hon. Earl Warren, Chief Justice Of The United States (retired And Deceased)

Dear Chief: It is coming up on twenty-five years since, fresh out of law school, I reported for duty as your clerk on the Supreme Court. It would seem timely that, with a quarter-century of law practice under my belt, I report in—that I give you an accounting of the record since I finished my postgraduate education under your stewardship, that I reflect what, if anything, I’ve learned in the interim about the practice of law and its place as an astonishingly powerful institution in our society. Read more »

“the Wall Of Separation”

The Founding, Fathers never did agree about the proper relationship between church and state. No wonder the Supreme Court has been backing and filling on the principle ever since.

THE SUPREME COURT has been busy of late scrutinizing the “wall of separation,” a figure of speech attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It is not like the ugly Berlin Wall, built of concrete blocks and topped with broken glass and barbed wire. Rather it is more like a double-mirrored screen. Persons standing on either side discover whatever preconceptions about the First Amendment they may have brought with them. Read more »

The Law And Potter Stewart: An Interview With Justice Potter Stewart

A quarter-century of judicial history, as seen—and made—by our only retired Supreme Court justice, a man whose allegiance to the Constitution often forced him to act against his personal preferences.

POTTER STEWART CAME TO the Supreme Court in 1958, appointed by President Eisenhower at the age of forty-three. The product of a prominent Ohio family long given to public service, he himself had served on the Cincinnati City Council and as a judge of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.Read more »

Fair Comment

Americans don’t hesitate to say anything they please about a public performance. But the right to do so wasn’t established until the Cherry Sisters sued a critic who didn’t like their appalling vaudeville act.

The year 1896 found Oscar Hammerstein in trouble. He was in debt, and the acts he had brought to Broadway weren’t doing well. He was desperate. “I’ve tried the best,” he is reported to have said. “Now I’ll try the worst.” So he sent for the Cherry Sisters. Effie, Addie, Jessie, Lizzie, and Ella Cherry clearly were the worst act of the day. They couldn’t dance, and they couldn’t sing. In fact, they couldn’t do anything at all. Except draw crowds. Read more »

Freedom Of The Press: How Far Can They Go?

The Supreme Court says the First Amendment gives newspapers the right to denounce the government, advocate revolution, attack public figures, and even be wrong. This may not be nice—but those who understand the strengths of a republic wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the summer of 1919 a group of dissident members of the Socialist party, including the radical journalist John Reed, published a manifesto in the left-wing newspaper Revolutionary Age attacking the party’s more moderate elements and calling on workers in the United States to rise up and “overthrow the political organization upon which capitalistic exploitation depends.” The only uprising their “Left Wing Manifesto” engendered was a walkout by Reed and his comrades at the Socialist party’s national convention that AuRead more »