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

You can watch a livestream of this year’s reenactment on noon ET on Christmas Day here:

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


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 –



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.”



Alexander Hamilton: “When the Interests of the People are at a Variance with Their Inclinations”

Some words of wisdom from Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 71

“When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited, in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men, who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.”

I hope that in the coming years there are men and women in public office who have the “courage and magnanimity” to truly serve the public interest, even at “the peril of [the public’s] [temporary] displeasure.”

The 243rd Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

On December 16, 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three British tea ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor to protest British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773.

The Tea Act of 1773 reads, in part,

WHEREAS by an act, made in the twelfth year of his present Majesty’s reign, (entitled, An act for granting a drawback of part of the customs upon the exportation of tea to Ireland, and the British dominions in America; for altering the drawback upon foreign sugars exported from Great Britain to Ireland; for continuing the bounty on the exportation of British-made cordage; for allowing the importation of rice from the British plantations into the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, Lancaster, and Whitehaven, for immediate exportation to foreign parts; and to empower the chief magistrate of any corporation to administer the oath, and grant the certificate required by law, upon the removal of certain goods to London, which have been sent into the country for sale;) it is amongst other things, enacted, That for and during the space of five years, to be computed from and after the fifth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two, there shall be drawn back and allowed for all teas which shall be sold after the said fifth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two, at the public sale of the united company of merchants of England trading to the East Indies, or which after that time shall be imported, by license, in pursuance of the said therein and hereinafter mentioned act, made in the eighteenth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, and which shall be exported from this kingdom, as merchandise, to Ireland, or any of the British colonies or plantations in America, three-fifth parts of the several duties of customs which were paid upon the importation of such teas; which drawback or allowance, with respect to such teas as shall be exported to Ireland, shall be made to the exporter, in such manner, and under such rules, regulations, securities, penalties, and forfeitures, as any drawback or allowance was then payable, out of the duty of customs upon the exportation of foreign goods to Ireland; and with respect to such teas as shall be exported to the British colonies and plantations in America, the said drawback or allowance shall be made in such manner, and under such rules, regulations, penalties, and forfeitures, as any drawback or allowance payable out of the duty of customs upon foreign goods exported to foreign parts, was could, or might be made, before the passing of the said act of the twelfth year of his present Majesty’s reign, (except in such cases as are otherwise therein provided for:) and whereas it may tend to the benefit and advantage of the trade of the said united company of merchants of England trading to the East Indies, if the allowance of the drawback of the duties of customs upon all teas sold at the public sales of the said united company, after the tenth day of May, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, and which shall be exported from this kingdom, as merchandise, to any of the British colonies or plantations in America, were to extend to the whole of the said duties of customs payable upon the importation of such teas; may it therefore please your Majesty that it may be enacted; and be it enacted by the King’s most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That there shall be drawn back and allowed for all teas, which, from and after the tenth day of May, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, shall be sold at the public sales of the said united company, or which shall be imported by license, in pursuance of the said act made in the eighteenth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, and which shall, at any time hereafter, be exported from this kingdom, as merchandise, to any of the British colonies or plantations in America, the whole of the duties of customs payable upon the importation of such teas; which drawback or allowance shall be made to the exporter in such manner, and under such rules, regulations, and securities, and subject to the like penalties and forfeitures, as the former drawback or allowance granted by the said recited act of the twelfth year of his present Majesty’s reign, upon tea exported to the said British colonies and plantations in America was, might, or could be made, and was subject to by the said recited act, or any other act of parliament now in force, in as full and ample manner, to all intents and purposes, as if the several clauses relative thereto were again repeated and re-enacted in this present act.

The Tea Act’s passage allowed for 17 million pounds of unsold surplus tea owned by the British East Indian Tea Company to be sold to markets in the American colonies. The tea was shipped to the American colonies and sold at a reduced rate. Under the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, there was a tax on tea. It’s important to note that in 1770, British Parliament repealed all other taxes under the Townshend Acts other than the tea tax, which was left in place so Parliament could retain its right to tax the American colonists.

According to the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum,

American colonists were outraged over the tea tax, which had existed since the 1767 Townshend Revenue Act and did not get repealed like the other taxes in 1770, and believed the Tea Act was a tactic to gain colonial support for the tax already enforced. The direct sale of tea by agents of the British East India Company to the American colonies undercut the business of colonial merchants. Prior to the Tea Act, colonial merchants purchased tea directly from British markets or smuggled from illegal markets. They then shipped it back to the colonies for resale. Outraged that American merchants were undercut, colonists initially in Philadelphia and New York refused the British East India Company tea to be offloaded and sent the ships back to England. In many colonial ports to protest the Tea Act, the shipment of British East India Company tea was unloaded and left untouched on the docks to rot. The Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor arrived in Boston in late November to the middle of December 1773. The colonists, led by the Sons of Liberty, wanted the ships to return to England, and refused the unloading of the ships’ cargo of tea. Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to let the ships return to England and held the Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor in Boston Harbor until matters could be resolved and the tea offloaded.

You can watch a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party here:

Celebrating the 225th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights

Cross-posted with the ConSource blog.

According to a survey released last year, 1 in 10 Americans think the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet? It does not.

This statistic underscores the need for Americans to study the Bill of Rights.

Thursday, December 15 marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. 

We hope you will join with ConSource and others as we use this historic milestone to celebrate and study the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791, when Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to approve the 10 amendments that came to be known as our Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787 that “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”

And, yet, the Constitution signed in September 1787 did not include a Bill of Rights.

To learn about how James Madison, who once called bills of rights “parchment barriers,” and the first federal Congress drafted the amendments we call the Bill of Rights, you can explore the legislative history of the Bill of Rights in the ConSource digital library.

You can also check out this concise history of the Bill of Rights written by our Executive Director Julie Silverbrook in the Washington Times special report celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Another great free resource is this filmed discussion between historian Carol Berkin and ConSource Executive Director Julie Silverbrook on the history of the Bill of Rights.

On the evening of Thursday, December 15, we will host a special Bill of Rights Day program with the National Archives on the Bill of Rights in the 21st Century. 

Moderated by Supreme Court correspondent Jess Bravin from the Wall Street Journal, panelists include Judge Thomas Griffith, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Judge Patricia Millett, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and Judge Andre M. Davis, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The program will be hosted at the National Archives (7th and Constitution Avenue, NW).

You can register to attend the program here, or, if you can’t join us in person, you can watch a livestream of the video here.

Wishing you a Happy Bill of Rights Day!