We the Teachers

Religious Liberty and the American Founding


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George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI is perhaps the best expression of the spirit of religious liberty that shaped the new American republic.  August of 2015 is the 225th anniversary of its composition, and our webinar on 22 AUG was in celebration of this important moment in American history.

In addition to Washington’s letter, scholars and teachers discussed Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  All three documents may be found in 50 Core American Documents: Required Reading for Students, Teachers and Citizens.

For the story behind the letter and additional information about it, please visit the web site of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.

Session 6: The Constitutional Convention pt2 – The Connecticut Compromise

Prof. Gordon Lloyd:  

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What accounts for the persistence of the New Jersey Plan supporters despite their defeat earlier? What are the arguments against the “legality” and “practicality” of the Amended Virginia Plan? When and how did the Connecticut Compromise emerge as a viable alternative? How did the “partly national, partly federal” concept enter the discussion? Why did Madison argue that the issue facing the delegates was not small states vs. large states but the slavery question? What is the significance of who was elected to the Gerry Committee? Who changed their minds and why during this month long discussion over representation? Who favored and who opposed the Connecticut Compromise? What else, besides the representation issue, was discussed during this part of the Convention?

Session 5: The Constitutional Convention, pt1 – The Alternative Plans

Lecture, Prof. Gordon Lloyd:  

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Of what significance were the rules adopted by the Convention? In what respects did the Virginia Plan represent a new constitution rather than a mere revision of the Articles? What were delegates’ initial reactions and questions concerning the Virginia Plan? What parts of the Plan were rejected or amended? What did the delegates mean when they spoke of a national government as opposed to a federal government? What different principles animate the New Jersey and Virginia Plans and the Hamilton Proposal? Why were they even introduced? What are the arguments for representation of the states, as opposed to the people, in the federal government? Consider the discussions of the executive power, bicameralism, and the role of the judiciary in the context of “republican principles.” What do “republican principles” say about the sources of power, the powers, and the structure of the federal government? Is Madison’s extended republic argument a departure from republican principles?

Session 4: The Revolutionary Era

Lecture, Dr. David Hackett Fischer:  

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How did the American colonists define liberty and freedom as they sought to secure their independence from mother England? During the Revolutionary War, what difficulties did the Americans face in fighting for liberty while maintaining the supremacy of civilian over military authority?
  • Fischer, Washington’s Crossing

Session 3: The American Mind, Part 2

Lecture, Dr. Lucas Morel:  

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The political logic of the argument of the Declaration, continued: Further reflections on the course of human events, people, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, self evident truths, equality, rights, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, consent, prudence, the ends of government, the right to abolish government and institute new government, facts submitted to a candid world, sacred honor, and more.

The 15th Amendment: Providing the Vote


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On 21 July, NCSS and TAH.org hosted the last of three episodes in their joint Summer Webinar Series about the Reconstruction amendments. Professor Scott Yenor discussed with a group of teachers the reasoning behind the 15th Amendment, different ideas about how to achieve its goal, and the resulting impact of access to the vote – real or imagined – by African-Americans over time. You can download a copy of the slideshow here, and the reading packet for the entire series here.

Session 2: The American Mind, Part 1

Lecture, Dr. Chris Flannery:  

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Thomas Jefferson wrote that in drafting the Declaration of Independence he meant to give expression to “the American mind.” What does the Declaration tell us about the American mind as it related to the foundations, forms, and purposes of the newly sovereign United States? What is the political logic of the argument of the Declaration? What is the philosophical and historical heritage on which the Declaration draws? Reflections on the course of human events, people, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, self evident truths, equality, rights, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, consent, prudence, the ends of government, the right to abolish government and institute new government, facts submitted to a candid world, sacred honor, and more.

Session 1: Intro and the “Apple of Gold”: – The Centrality of the Declaration of Independence in American Political Life

Introduction, Dr. Peter Schramm:  

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Part 1, Dr. Chris Flannery:  

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Part 2: Dr. Lucas Morel:  

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Why is it important to understand the Declaration of Independence? What does the Declaration say, and why and how does it say it? What does the Declaration not say, and why and how does it not say it? What is the significance of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration? What does the Declaration mean, and what does the Declaration not mean?

Standards-Based Search Tool for Our Documents Library

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is very happy to announce the launch of our Standards Search Tool for our Documents Library. You can now search for standards by type (Social Studies or Common Core ELA for History), state, and grade level and get lists of documents that are relevant to teaching them. You can also select a specific document and see which standards are most appropriate to it. A short how-to page is here, and you’ll see the interface for the tool on any document page – like this one - on both the right side of the screen and on the ‘Academic Standards’ tab right above the text of the document.

The 13th Amendment: The Beginning of a Constitutional Revolution?

Professor Scott Yenor:   

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On the evening of 7 July, 2015, TeachingAmericanHistory.org and the National Council for the Social Studies presented the first of three webinars in a series based around the three Reconstruction Amendments. Professor Scott Yenor, of Boise State University, worked with a group of teachers from across the country to consider the constitutional, legal, and practical issues surrounding the 13th Amendment. Did the amendment represent a departure from constitutional precedent, or a culmination of it? How was the question of slavery dealt with as a constitutional and legal issue through this amendment? Were the Reconstruction amendments truly a coherent ‘package,’ as often portrayed? These questions and others were addressed in detail using this documents packet and this slideshow. Download those files and follow along with the attached podcast.

Presidential Academy: The Declaration of Independence and the American Founding

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is proud to offer the first 11 of 30 sessions of our Presidential Academy documents-based survey course of American history and American political thought through iTunesU, iTunes, and this blog.

Starting on Tuesday, 14 July, we’ll publish one session per week, excluding some weeks due to holidays. This first portion of the course will end on Tuesday, 22 September, and will be followed the week after by Part 2, and then Part 3 in 2016.

Presidential Academy was a grant-funded program that TAH.org presented to groups of teachers who met and studied in three cities over two weeks, with discussions rooted in three separate documents. The first days were in Philadelphia, beginning with the American Founding, through the Declaration of Independence. Additional documents and ideas were addressed and analyzed throughout the several sessions there before the group moved on to Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Finally, the group moved to Washington, D.C., and study of modern America, with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the focal point.

Each session is made up of a set of readings, all linked from its blog post, and usually one lecture. Guiding questions and focus issues are at the foundation of each week’s study. A list of all session titles in Part 1 of the course is below, along with the dates on which each will be published on this blog, and the audio made available through iTunes. You can subscribe to our iTunes Podcast feed by clicking here. The entire course, divided into the three major sections – Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington – is already available on iTunesU.

Session 1: Introduction and the “Apple of Gold”: - The Centrality of the Declaration of Independence in American Political Life, 14 July
Session 2: The American Mind: Part I, 21 July
Session 3: The American Mind: Part II, 28 July
Session 4: The Revolutionary Era, 4 AUG
Session 5: The Constitutional Convention, Part I – The Alternative Plans, 11 AUG
Session 6: The Constitutional Convention, Part II – The Connecticut Compromise, 18 AUG
Session 7: The Constitutional Convention, Part III – The Committee of Detail Report and the Close of the Convention, 25 AUG
Session 8: The Constitution and American Self-Government, 1 SEP
Session 9: The Proposed Constitution of 1787 and Its Defense in The Federalist Papers, 8 SEP
Session 10: The Federalist Papers – The Sum of Power and the Separation of Powers, 15 SEP
Session 11: The Federalist Papers – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, 22 SEP

We invite you to deepen your knowledge of American history through this series, and use these materials in any way that will benefit you and your students.

Presidential Academy: A full course in American History

Presidential Academy, a program run by the Ashbrook Center for teachers and held in Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington, D.C., is now available on iTunes U and will soon be available through this blog.

We’ve taken all 30 sessions of the program and packaged them into three parts, listed below, and we’re making them available in two formats, as indicated. Each session is made up of a lecture, usually 60-90 minutes long, and set of readings, which are linked from our documents library on TAH.org.

We invite you to subscribe to our iTunes podcast – through which all the audio for the Presidential Academy will be made available – and to use all these materials to expand your knowledge and understanding of the American experiment in republican self-government.

Part 1: The Declaration of Independence and the American Founding

Part 2: The Gettysburg Address and the Civil War

Part 3: MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Modern America

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

At a crucial moment in the struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, Franklin Roosevelt dispensed with more conventional wartime rhetorical forms and resorted to a public prayer. “My fellow Americans,” he began, “Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”

Roosevelt’s prayer movingly evokes the urgency and uncertainty of the moment we remember as D-Day. Of course, his prayer expressed all the themes that he would have put into a rousing wartime speech, but it couched them in a form that implicitly acknowledged the contingent hopes of men amid a large historical struggle. It bespoke a kind of humility in the face of enormous odds, and the insufficiency of mere human effort to achieve success in a struggle against worldly powers threatening decent human life. It prepared Americans to endure the long struggle ahead, as Allied forces would fight to take and hold each square foot of Nazi-occupied Europe. Asking the Creator to guide American soldiers, he said:

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Veto Message of the Bill on the Bank of the United States

Proclamation Regarding Nullification, Andrew Jackson,December 10, 1832


For suggestions on how to guide students in analyzing the document, see the EDSITEment lesson plan, Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis in The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing. The lesson was co-authored with high school teacher Constance Murray by Washington and Lee Professor Lucas Morel, a faculty member in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program. Excerpts from Jackson’s Proclamation and a student worksheet make the document accessible to students.

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