Archive for April, 2013

Original Documents

Letter to James Madison by George Washington – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Washington writes here to Madison, two months before the Constitutional Convention was set to start in Philadelphia. A year earlier, only twelve men from five states attended a gathering held in Annapolis, Maryland, to amend the Articles of Confederation. Both men feared the consequences should this convention similarly fail. March 31, 1787 My dear Sir: […]

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIII: Constitution by Thomas Jefferson – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIII: Constitution 1 Thomas Jefferson Virginia, the most populous state, adopted its state constitution in 1776, a month before the Declaration of Independence passed Congress. Jefferson, Virginia’s governor from 1779 to 1781, addressed the problems that plagued the state’s first attempt at self-government in his 1784 book, Notes […]

Vices of the Political System of the United States by James Madison – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

In this essay, Madison outlines the main issues that the Constitutional Convention should address. His early arrival in Philadelphia allowed him to incorporate his ideas into a recommended plan for the Convention–what came to be called the Virginia Plan–representing no mere revision of the Articles of Confederation, but the adoption of an entirely new Constitution. […]

Letter Transmitting the Constitution by George Washington – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

As they affixed their names to the new Constitution, the Framers understood that their work had just begun. Four months of debate and compromise paled in comparison to the challenge of convincing the states to ratify. Unanimity was not necessary for the Constitution to go into effect–only nine of thirteen states were needed–but they knew […]

Essay I by Brutus – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Supporters of the Constitution dubbed their opponents “Anti-Federalists.” Opponents resented the label, but it stuck. The Anti-Federalist author Brutus–most likely New York lawyer Robert Yates–penned this essay, the first of sixteen, a month after the Constitution was completed. Having attended the first month of the Constitutional Convention, Yates had left, disgusted with what he perceived […]

Letters I and II by Federal Farmer – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Alexander Hamilton acknowledged the Federal Farmer–believed to be either New Yorker Melancton Smith or Virginian Richard Henry Lee–as “the most plausible” Anti-Federalist. Here, the Federal Farmer argues that the federalism of the Constitution is a mirage, for it sets up a structure in which all power will flow to the center.

Essay XI by Brutus – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Here Brutus criticizes the power granted by the Constitution to an independent judiciary. January 31, 1788 The nature and extent of the judicial power of the United States, proposed to be granted by this constitution, claims our particular attention.Much has been said and written upon the subject of this new system on both sides, but […]

Draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a critique of King George III’s involvement in the slave trade. Although not approved by the entire Second Continental Congress, it indicates that the leading Founders understood the slavery issue in moral terms. 1776 …He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most […]

The Northwest Ordinance by Congress of the Confederation – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Passed when only a single state outlawed slavery, the anti-slavery stance of the Northwest Ordinance–barring slavery in the territories, and thus in future states–gave weight to Abraham Lincoln’s later argument that the Founders sought to place slavery “in the course of ultimate extinction.” July 13, 1787 Article VI …There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary […]

George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on Slavery – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

None of the leading Founders ever declared slavery to be a just or beneficial institution. In fact, they hoped to see the slave trade eradicated, and eventually the entire institution of slavery made illegal. George Washington Letter to Robert Morris 1 April 12, 1786 “…[T]here is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than […]

Letter to the English Anti-Slavery Society by John Jay (1745-1829) – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

In 1777, Jay’s first attempt to abolish slavery in New York failed. In 1788, the state banned the importation of slaves. By 1799, the New York Manumission Society advocated for a bill, signed into law that year by then-Governor Jay, specifying that as of July 4, all children born to slave parents would be freed […]

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII: Manners by Thomas Jefferson – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

The primary author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was well aware that his ownership of slaves violated the principles he espoused. 1784 The particular customs and manners that may happen to be received in that State? It is difficult to determine on the standard by which the manners of a nation may be tried, […]

Letter to John Jay by Alexander Hamilton – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Hamilton, a founder of the New York Manumission Society, writes to John Jay, a co-founder of the Society and then-president of the Continental Congress, arguing that slaves should be allowed to fight for the American cause in the War for Independence, earning their “freedom with their muskets.” Eventually, some 5,000 blacks served as soldiers in […]

Letter to Henri Gregoire by Thomas Jefferson – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

The Constitution specified that Congress could not prohibit the importation of slaves until 1808. President Jefferson signed the bill to bring about this prohibition in March 1807 and it went into effect on January 1, 1808. Writing here a year later, he maintains hopes for an end to slavery itself.

Speech on Reception of Abolition Petitions by John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

The number of slaves in America had grown from 700,000 in 1790 to over two million in 1830. Northern opposition to slavery was growing in the 1820s and 1830s, as it became clear that hopes for a withering away of slavery were unrealistic. This elicited a similarly strong response

Speech on the Oregon Bill by John C. Calhoun – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Even worse than political errors such as the Northwest Ordinance, Calhoun argues here, are theoretical errors, chief of which is the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence. June 27, 1848 …I turn now to my friends of the South, and ask: What are you prepared to do? If neither the barriers of the constitution […]

Letter to John Holmes by Thomas Jefferson – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Awakened to the looming crisis over slavery by the Missouri Compromise, Jefferson foresees in this letter that the Compromise was far from the final word on the matter. April 22, 1820 I thank you, dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on […]

Letter to Edward Everett by James Madison – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

In this 1830 response to Massachusetts statesman Edward Everett, Madison maintains that a state does not possess the authority to strike down as unconstitutional an act of the federal government. The contrary doctrine, known as nullification, would take on later significance. August 28, 1830 I have duly received your letter in which you refer to […]

The Missouri Compromise – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

The sectional struggle over slavery came to a head in 1820. With eleven free states and eleven slave states, if Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, the balance of power would shift toward the South. After several months of debate, a compromise emerged: Maine would enter the Union as a free state, Missouri […]

The Wilmot Proviso – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Early on in the Mexican-American War, America gained control over a vast swath of new territory extending from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. In 1846, Congressman David Wilmot proposed a ban on slavery across the region, angering those who advocated on behalf of slavery’s westward expansion. August 8, 1846 Provided, That, as an […]

The Constitution and the Union by Daniel Webster (1782-1852) – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Webster began representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate in 1813, and by the 1830s had attained a national reputation–in part as a result of his Senate debates with nullification proponent Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. Webster spent the final decade of his life attempting to avert the growing sectional divide, never wavering in his […]

Alabama Slave Code of 1852 – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

Growth in the slave population and threats from abolitionists led Southern states to adopt new slave codes in the mid-nineteenth century. Alabama’s revised code, adopted in 1852 and in effect until the end of the Civil War, built on a previous code from 1833. 1852 Chapter III. Patrols. §983. All white male owners of slaves, […]

Essays on Founding Documents/Readings

Monday, April 1, 2013 – Essay #31 – Letter to James Madison by George Washington – Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 – Essay #32 – Notes on the State of Virginia Query XIII: Constitution by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 – Essay #33 – Vices of the Political System of the United States by James Madison – Guest Essayist: Kevin R. C. Gutzman, J.D., Ph.D., Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Department of History, Western Connecticut State University and Author, James Madison and the Making of America

Thursday, April 4, 2013 – Essay #34 – George Washington’s Letter Transmitting the Constitution – Guest Essayist: Geordan Kushner, Fellow at the Mathew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Friday, April 5, 2013 – Essay #35 – Essay I by Brutus – Guest Essayist: Justin Dyer, Ph.D., Author and Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri

Monday, April 8, 2013 – Essay #36 – Letters I and II by Federal Farmer: The Debate about the Size and Scope of the Federal Government is Not New – Guest Essayist: George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 – Essay #37 – Essay XI by Brutus – Guest Essayist: Mr. Robert Frank Pence, Founder, the Pence Group

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 – Essay #38 – Draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: Brian J. Pawlowski, former Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow

Thursday, April 11, 2013 – Essay #39 – The Northwest Ordinance – Guest Essayist: Kyle Scott, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Houston

Friday, April 12, 2013 – Essay #40 – George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on Slavery – Guest Essayist: Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project

Monday, April 15, 2013 – Essay #41 – Notes on the State of VA, Query XVIII: Manners by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: Paul Schwennesen, southern Arizona rancher and Director of the Agrarian Freedom Project

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 – Essay #42 – Letter to John Jay by Alexander Hamilton, March 14, 1779 – Guest Essayist: Nathaniel Stewart, attorney in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 – Essay #43 – Letter to the English Anti-Slavery Society by John Jay – Guest Essayist: Brenda Hafera, Finance and Events Co-Ordinator at the Matthew J. Ryan Center For the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University

Thursday, April 18, 2013 – Essay #44 – Letter to Henri Gregoire by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: Logan Beirne, Olin Scholar at Yale Law School and author of Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

Friday, April 19, 2013 – Essay #45 – February 6, 1837 Speech on Abolition Petitions by Sen. John C. Calhoun- Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President, Institute for Liberty

Monday, April 22, 2013 – Essay #46 – Speech on the Oregon Bill by Sen. John C. Calhoun, June 27, 1848 – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 – Essay #47 – Letter to John Holmes by Thomas Jefferson – Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 – Essay #48 – Letter To Edward Everett by James Madison – Guest Essayist: Charles K. Rowley, Duncan Black Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia

Thursday, April 25, 2013 – Essay #49 – The Missouri Compromise – Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Friday, April 26, 2013 – Essay #50 – The Wilmot Proviso – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

Monday, April 29, 2013 – Essay #51 – Daniel Webster’s “The Constitution and the Union” – Guest Essayist: Logan Beirne, Olin Scholar at Yale Law School and author of Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 – Essay #52 – The Alabama Slave Code of 1852 – Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation