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U.S. Constitution

To know what the Framers intended, we need to understand the historical context.

Editor's Note: We asked Prof. Joseph Ellis, one of the leading scholars on the Founding era, to provide us with historical content for the Second Amendment and what the founders intended when they wrote it. Prof. Read more >>

The Supreme Court left the door open for reasonable regulations of guns if Congress has the will to act.

Editors Note: We asked Prof. Adam Winkler, a nationally recognized expert on Constitutional law and the history of gun control, to give us his thoughts on how we can steer a middle ground between the right to bear arms and strict gun control. Read more >>

We researched all the colonial and state constitutions enacted before 1791 to find out what the Founding generation said about militias and the right to bear arms in these antecedent documents.

By the time the Second Amendment was drafted and ratified in 1791, all of the states except Georgia and North Carolina had codified regulations on militias in their state constitutions. Read more >>

The first ten amendments prevent majorities from exercising power at the expense of individuals. But they weren’t called a “bill of rights” until more than a century after ratification.

On December 15, 1941, America was at war. Just one week earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned the nation that our people, our territories, and our interests are in grave danger” after the “unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan” on Pearl Harbor. Read more >>

Taft is remembered for emphasizing constitutional restraint as President, but he also set aside more public lands and brought more anti-trust suits than his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. And he set the standard for integrity and personal conduct in the White House.

Jeffrey Rosen is a historian, law professor, and President and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Read more >>

His experiences in the Civil War shaped the mind of one of our greatest jurists.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was one of the most influential judges ever to take the bench, serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for thirty years and largely defining First Amendment rights as we now understand them. Read more >>

In order to have a well-informed citizenry, it's critical to focus on history and civics education in our schools.

It is painful to see a state such as Massachusetts — so central to our Nation's past — plan to cut back even more on the teaching of American history. Read more >>

It has been called one of the most consequential debates in American history. The Revolution's greatest orator later fought to stop ratification of the Constitution because of his worries about powers proposed for the Federal government

Under the Articles of Confederation, these United States were barely united. Unable to agree on either foreign or domestic policy, they sank into economic depression. In May 1787, delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island sent none) arrived in Philadelphia to define a new federal government. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

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

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 >>

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SET ASIDE THE CONSTITUTION?

What does it mean to be an American? This may sound like a trite question, but it is one that we have been asking for the entire history of the United States, and it has more relevance than ever in the age of globalization—and terrorism. Read more >>

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, Read more >>

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. Read more >>

A 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. Read more >>

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. Read more >>
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: Read more >>

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?

It's the only industrial nation in which the possession of rifles, shotguns, and handguns is lawfully prevalent among large numbers of its population.

After the Revolution, Washington returned to farming at Mount Vernon but eventually called for that he wished a “Convention of the People” to establish a “Federal Constitution”

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. Read more >>