There’s Still Time to Support the Constitution in 2016!

George Washington famously said in 1795 “[T]he Constitution is the guide, that I will never abandon.”

You cannot be guided by what you do not understand. And so in order for the Constitution to be the guide our citizens will never abandon, they must first understand it.

ConSource is devoted to ensuring that American citizens of all ages understand the Constitution.

Your year-end contribution will support:

We hope you will consider donating today. Every dollar donated to ConSource helps us ensure that Americans of all ages, in the words of Noah Webster, value “the principles of virtue and of liberty,” and that we “inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

Thank You and Happy New Year!

 

 

The Election of 1800: A Divisive Election, the Electoral College and the Peaceful Transition of Power

As we approach the inauguration of President-elect Trump, I thought it might be useful to consider our nation’s first divisive election –

The presidential election of 1800 between incumbent John Adams and his vice president Thomas Jefferson was a divisive and hard-fought election for both candidates. Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, whose sympathy for the French and their revolution threatened to bring similar chaos to the United States. Democratic-Republicans attacked Adams and Federalists in Congress over the centralization of federal governmental power, and the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In the end, the Democratic-Republicans swept both houses of Congress. The decision in the Electoral College was much closer. Under the Constitution, vote for president and vice president were not listed on separate ballots. Although Jefferson and Adams were the primary opponents, Jefferson actually received the same number of electoral votes as his running mate, Aaron Burr. According to the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, if two candidates each received a majority of the electoral votes but are tied, the House of Representatives would determine which one would be president. Therefore, the decision rested with the House of Representatives, then still under Federalist control, where each state would cast a single vote.

Most Federalists preferred Aaron Burr. But, after 35 blocked ballots, Alexander Hamilton, a well-respected Federalist party leader, helped secure the presidency for Jefferson, viewing him as the lesser of two evils. As we know, Burr went on to fatally shoot Hamilton in their infamous duel.

With Jefferson’s election and the Federalist defeat in Congress, this was the first time government under the new Constitution would change party hands. It is significant that after such a divisive election, there was a peaceful transition of political power between the opposing parties. Jefferson appreciated this moment when in his inaugural address, he said “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” You can read the full text of Jefferson’s first inaugural address here.

The tie vote between Jefferson and Burr in the Electoral College pointed to serious problems with the electoral system under the U.S. Constitution. In 1804, the 12th Amendment was passed and ratified to correct these problems by providing for separate Electoral College votes for President and Vice President.

This episode in our nation’s history can be used to encourage discussion of divisive elections, political parties, the Electoral College, and the peaceful transition of political power.

Christmas, Family Tradition, and the Annual Reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware River

During the holiday season, I traditionally return to my family home in historic Bucks County, Pennsylvania to celebrate with family and attend the annual reenactment of George Washington’s daring 1776 crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day. Washington and his men braved ice, sleet, and blinding snow to cross the river and achieve victory over the Hessian soldiers at Trenton. Washington’s bold victory reinvigorated the American people’s fight for independence.

The men and women who recreate Washington’s famous crossing take pains to preserve the integrity and accuracy of this famous military feat.  And, although, the actor interpreters do not always successfully cross the river (as rising tides and ice have prevented safe passage for many years), hundreds of patriotic citizens still gather to commemorate and relive a crucial moment in American history.

As we huddle together in the cold each year, I am reminded that there are many Americans who wish to meaningfully reconnect with and learn more about our nation’s history.

This is why I have devoted my career to connecting American citizens to our nation’s constitutional history. Learn more about my work at ConSource at http://www.ConSource.org.

You can watch a livestream of this year’s reenactment on noon ET on Christmas Day here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS2piSau56c

A Note on Historical Preservation on the 165th Anniversary of the Library of Congress Fire of 1851

On this day in 1851, a spark from a stove causes a devastating fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and destroys about 2/3rds of its 55,000 volumes, including most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, sold to the institution in 1815.

This was not the first time that the Library’s collection was ravaged by fire. When the British army invaded Washington, DC, and burned the capitol during the War of 1812, they destroyed the Library of Congress’s then 3,000 volume of books and documents.

We have lost large amounts of the world’s documentary heritage due to war, fire, water, gas and heat, dust, and just plain old neglect.

As the late historian Pauline Maier described in her extraordinary work “American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence,” many of our nation’s most treasured documents were not always treated with reverence, or even care. The Declaration of Independence, one of our national treasures, serves as a particularly striking example of how our nation has evolved in its treatment of precious historic texts.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was copied onto low-grade parchment – the “ordinary type of colonial manufacture that could be easily found on sale in Philadelphia.” The Declaration then went on to become “one of the most abused documents in the history of preservation . . . battered and bandaged since its birth.”

The Continental Congress likely transported the document, along with other papers, as it moved from place to place throughout the Revolutionary War. Later, the Declaration would sit, along with the national government, in New York and Philadelphia, until, in 1800, it was moved to the nation’s new capital in Washington, DC, where it remains today. Once in DC, however, the Declaration was still continually transferred around to various buildings and homes.

In August 1814, when the British invaded Washington, DC, a clerk managed to save the document from destruction by removing it from the city and hiding it in Leesburg, VA.

In 1823, the document was further damaged when a “wetpressing process” was used to make a facsimile copy. The ink on the document continued to fade after the State Department in 1841 “grew tired of pulling the document out to show visitors” and instead put it on display across from a large window, where it was exposed to excessive sunlight for approximately 35 years.

In 1921, the Declaration was transferred to the Library of Congress, where enormous care was taken to protect the already damaged and worn document. In 1952, the Declaration was finally transferred to the National Archives, where it now safely resides in an “airtight thermopane container.”

Today, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and archival institutions around the country take great care to preserve our nation’s documentary history.

Over the course of the last decade, digitization has arisen as an additional means of preserving our nation’s history. Digitization provides yet another way for our nation to commit itself to preserving precious historic texts, so they can be celebrated and studied for years to come. Not only does digitization help preserve the original documents by reducing handling and potential damage, but is also creates a permanent digital file of the original and increases access to the historical documents by making the materials available online.

More of American (and world history, for that matter) is available online than ever before. But there is still much work to be done. This is why my non-profit ConSource has devoted itself to making sure that the documents comprising our nation’s constitutional history are freely available online for anyone to explore and learn from. It is an honor for us to work with archival institutions all over the country to help preserve and spotlight the precious historical documents they house in their physical locations. To view the ConSource digital library visit ConSource.org.

 

George Washington Voluntarily Resigns as Commander in Chief of Continental Army On This Day in 1783

In what is considered one of the greatest acts of statesmanship, on December 23, 1783, General George Washington voluntarily resigns as commander in chief of the Continental Army and retires to private life at his home at Mount Vernon. His resignation followed the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

By surrendering his military power to the civilian authority in the temporary national capital of Annapolis, MD, Washington set the course for American becoming a constitutional republic rather than a monarchy or, even, a military dictatorship.

Below is a transcript of Washington’s resignation speech –

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Images of Washington’s speech are below –

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Scholars James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn described Washington’s resignation in a way that reflects the the classical republican ideals that animated the founding generation: “The Virginian, like the victorious Roman soldier Cincinnatus, went home to plow.”

Washington’s retirement was short lived. A few years later, he was unanimously elected in 1788 as the nation’s first president under the federal Constitution of 1787.

 

Preserving the Sacred Fire of Liberty This Holiday Season

You’ve read the troubling statistics. American citizens of all ages lack a basic understanding of our nation’s history and form of government. Across the nation, school boards and colleges and universities are cutting civics and history programs and young citizens are, as a result, losing the opportunity to study our nation’s Constitution and history. In addition, many foundations and private philanthropists have shifted away from funding the vibrant constellation of civics education organizations aimed at addressing the decline in civic knowledge and constitutional literacy.

The question is – what can you personally do to help?

A simple way to help stem the tide and reverse the troubling decline in civics and constitutional literacy is by supporting ConSource’s work.

You can make a difference by donating today!

Every dollar donated to ConSource supports our work to make constitutional history more accessible to and understandable by American citizens of all ages.

George Washington famously said during his first inaugural address “[T]he preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

How do we preserve the sacred fire of liberty and our republican model of government? We have to make sure our nation’s citizens – of all ages – understand and value our nation’s Constitution.

You cannot defend what you do not understand. And so in order for citizens to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they must first understand it.

Now is the time to invest in educating our citizens about our Constitution and system of government.

ConSource’s work has never been more important than it is today.

I hope you will consider making a year-end donation this holiday season to help support our work.

 

The Presidential Oath of Office: Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution reads –

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

I have this poster in my office. It is a reminder that the President takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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