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 »

101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

This is not a test. It’s the real thing.

How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Conrad.) But just how well does the average person remember the important facts—the laws, treaties, people, and events that should be familiar to everyone? 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 Lawn America’s Greatest Architectural Achievement

In designing, the University of Virginia, Jefferson sought not only to educate young men for leadership, but to bring aesthetic maturity to the new nation

ALTHOUGH THOMAS JEFFERSON had evolved very clear concepts of what a modern educational system should be, it was not until 1817 that he had the opportunity to put his theories into practice at Charlottesville, Virginia. He was an old man by then, but there was nothing old-fashioned about his ideas. Age and experience had given him a majestic perspective, not merely of education but of American culture as a whole. Read more »

THE BANKING STORY

Banking as we’ve known it for centuries is dead, and we don’t really know the consequences of what is taking its place. A historical overview.

For the last several years congressional committees and presidential task forces have been nattering back and forth about what should be done to change the legal order that establishes and specifically empowers and regulates the nation’s banks. They have dealt with their subject as a collection of technical problems they could solve: a bit of oil here, a tightened bolt there, a replacement for a blown gasket—and the old machine will be as good as new. But, in fact, our banking problems are systemic: we need a new machine.Read more »

Where Have All The Great Men Gone?

The early years of our republic produced dozens of great leaders. A historian explains how men like Adams and Jefferson were selected for public office, and tells why the machinery that raised them became obsolete.

THERE IS NO clear consensus on what constitutes greatness, nor are there any objective criteria for measuring it—but when we look at holders of high public offices and at the current field of candidates, we know it is missing. Some of our leaders are competent, articulate, engaging, and some are honest and honorable. But greatness is missing. Read more »

Digging Up The U.S.

In the underpinnings of our cities, in desolate swampland, beneath coastal waters—wherever the early settlers left traces of their lives—a new generation of archaeologists is uncovering a lost world

CROUCHED IN an L-shaped pit, a foot below the surface of the forest floor, John Ehrenhard, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, is contemplating a piece of charred wood. The sandy soil around the base of what appears to have once been a post has been carefully scraped away, and Ehrenhard, a small, lithe man wearing a colorful bandanna over his longish hair, seems ready to pounce.Read more »

Age Of The Octagon

A HERITAGE PRESERVED
The brief mid-nineteenth-century popularity of eight-sided houses has left us a strange and delightful architectural legacy

A GREAT MANY people have, at one time or another, happened to drive past a curious, eightsided house. And most who come across such a building believe it to be unique, the inexplicable architectural whim of a long-dead local. But in fact there are hundreds of these “unique” houses still standing, all of them testament to a vigorous, nationwide vogue that sprang up on the eve of the Civil War. Read more »

Fear Of The City 1783 To 1983

The city has been a lure for millions, but most of the great American minds have been appalled by its excesses. Here an eminent observer, who knows firsthand the city’s threat, surveys the subject.

EVERY THURSDAY , when I leave my apartment in a vast housing complex on Columbus Avenue to conduct a university seminar on the American city, I reflect on a double life—mine. Most of the people I pass on my way to the subway look as imprisoned by the city as my parents and relatives used to look in the Brooklyn ghetto where I spent my first twenty years. Yet no matter where else I have traveled and taught, I always seem to return to streets and scenes like those on New York’s Upper West Side. Read more »

The Ten Best Secretaries Of State…

When the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, took office in 1790, his entire staff consisted of just six people, including himself and a part-time translator. The current Secretary presides over almost fifteen thousand employees scattered around the globe. During the intervening years, of course, the challenges facing Jefferson’s successors have changed dramatically as the infant republic has grown into a world power. Read more »