Treason!

Aaron Burr's 1807 trial challenged the Constitution

In late March 1807 Aaron Burr arrived in Richmond, Virginia, in a vile mood, filthy and stinking. He had just endured a month of hard travel under heavy guard through the dense forests of the Southeast. “It is not easy for one who has been robbed and plundered till he had not a second shirt,” he complained to a friend, “to contend with a Govt having millions at command and active and vindictive agents in every quarter.” Read more »

Compromise - Finding A Way Forward

At five critical junctures in American history, major political compromises have proved that little of lasting consequence can occur without entrenched sides each making serious concessions

Compromise has become a bad word for many in the political sphere. Yet our history shows that it’s the way things get done and how the country moves forward. From our founders who cobbled together the Constitution to the genial dealmaking of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, the will to compromise has proven not only a virtue but our saving grace in times of crisis.

Of course, fierce political disagreement is nothing new in our nation’s capital.Read more »

Compromise 1: Philadelphia Story

Without major compromises by all involved and the agreement to avoid the contentious issue of slavery, the framers would never have written and ratified the Constitution

In September 1789, at the end of the Constitutional Convention, James Madison wrote in dismay to his old friend Thomas Jefferson, who was an ocean away in Paris. “I hazard an opinion,” he lamented, “that the plan should it be adopted will neither effectively answer the national object nor prevent the local mischiefs which everywhere excite disgust against the state governments.”Read more »

How History Made The Constitution

Every one of the Founding Fathers was a historian—a historian who believed that only history could protect us from tyranny and coercion. In their reactions to the long, bloody pageant of the English past, we can see mirrored the framers’ intent.

It took an Englishman, William Gladstone, to say what Americans have always thought: “The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” From this side of the water, however, the marvel has not been so much the unique system of government that emerged from the secret conclave of 1787 as the array of ordered and guaranteed freedoms that the document presented.Read more »

The Non-Signers

After a summer of debate, three of the delegates in Philadelphia could not bring themselves to put their names to the document they had worked so hard to create

THE FINAL MOMENT CAME ON MONDAY MORNING, September 17,1787. The heat of summer had given way to a hint of autumn crispness. A weekend rain had cleared the air in Philadelphia and left the city fresh. In Independence Hall a newly engrossed copy of the finished Constitution—written in a fine hand on four large pieces of parchment—lay on the green baize of the presiding officer’s table.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 »

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 »

The Witch & We, The People

Did the fifty-five statesmen meeting in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention know that a witch-hunt was taking place while they deliberated? Did they care?

 

SEVENTEEN EIGHTY-SEVEN was not that long ago. It will be four years before we can celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of what happened in Philadelphia that summer. And it will be something worth celebrating. The United States Constitution was the culminating achievement of the Enlightenment in America, if not in the world.Read more »

The “Horrid And Unnatural Rebellion” Of Daniel Shays

The battle smoke of the Revolution had scarcely cleared when desperate economic conditions in Massachusetts led former patriots to rise against the government they had created. The fear this event aroused played an important part in shaping the new Constitution of the United States

OCTOBER, 1786: “Are your people … mad?” thundered the usually calm George Washington to a Massachusetts correspondent. Recent events in the Bay State had convinced the General, who was living the life of a country squire at Mount Vernon, that the United States was “last verging to anarchy and confusion!” Would the nation that had so recently humbled the British Empire now succumb to internal dissension and die in its infancy?

 
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