We the Teachers

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, 50 Years Later

On the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to a vast escalation of the US involvement in Vietnam, we reprint the following post:Gulf_of_Tonkin_location_wikiCommons

During the Kennedy administration, the US became minimally involved in a civil war in Vietnam, sending military advisors to assist the South Vietnamese in countering efforts, supported by North Vietnam, to unify Vietnam under a communist government.

Unlike the event that triggered large-scale military involvement in Korea—the invasion of the south from the northern part of a divided country—the episode that triggered a gradually escalating US military involvement in Viet Nam could be described as an isolated attack. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US Destroyer Maddox, on August 2, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam.  Attacks reported to have taken place on the Maddox and another Destroyer, the Turner Joy, on August 4 appear not to have taken place, although this was not known for certain at the time.

President Johnson announced the attacks in a television address to the American people on the night of August 4. The next day he sent Congress a request for “a resolution expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia.”

Congress passed a resolution on August 10, now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, stating that the United States was prepared to use “all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” as the President determined, to defend states in southeast Asia asking for assistance.

In the light of more recent history of US military intervention overseas, the last paragraph of Johnson’s message asking for the resolution makes interesting reading:

The events of this week would in any event have made the passage of a congressional resolution essential. But there is an additional reason for doing so at a time when we are entering on 3 months of political campaigning. Hostile nations must understand that in such a period the United States will continue to protect its national interests, and that in these matters there is no division among us.

Senator Taft Compares the North Atlantic Treaty to the Monroe Doctrine

SenRobertTaftThe North Atlantic Treaty, creating the defense alliance of NATO, was signed in April 1949, but required Senate ratification. The vote for this came in July. Senator Robert A. Taft—the effective leader of the Republican Party in the Senate—announced his intention to oppose the treaty and, after it passed, made another speech criticizing it. One can read the speech as an example of the isolationist, “fortress America” approach to foreign policy that leaders like Taft and former President Hoover espoused. Many viewed Taft’s view as outmoded by the post-World War II reality of an expansionist Soviet Union, and the isolationist character of Taft’s thinking helped defeat his runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952. However, Taft’s speech merits reading for the contrast he draws between the North Atlantic Treaty and the Monroe Doctrine, an earlier assertion of the US intent to defend its foreign interests against any attempt by a major power to expand its empire. Taft’s critique details how much further the United States would now go to protect allies, as well as how much firmer the commitment we were now willing to make.

Lincoln’s View of Reconstruction in July 1864

Abraham_Lincoln_seated_Feb_9_1864_slideshowIn July of 1864, the Civil War was in its fourth summer, its end point uncertain but its enormous cost in human life painfully clear. The Union Army had not yet achieved the decisive victory that would insure the vindication of Lincoln’s understanding of the Union as unbreakable. And the people of the North were questioning the war’s human cost. Looking ahead to the fall presidential election, Lincoln thought it unlikely that voters would return him to office, and he expected that his Democratic opponent, if elected, would begin negotiating peace on Confederate terms–probably allowing slavery to continue and implicitly or explicitly acknowledging the right of individual states to nullify federal law or withdraw from the Union at will.

Hence we can infer that a bill pushed through Congress by radical Republicans just before it adjourned for summer recess seemed to Lincoln intemperate and impractical. The Wade-Davis bill tried to predetermine the policy for the reconstruction of the South that would follow a Union victory in the war. It would have stipulated that only those who could swear an oath that they had never given aid to the Confederacy be allowed to vote in the reconstructed states. It would also have required any state readmitted to the Union to have abolished slavery. Lincoln had shown through the Emancipation Proclamation that he now saw the abolition of slavery as a necessary outcome of the war, but he wanted that abolition to be made permanent by Constitutional amendment, and securing the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives was proving difficult. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but he went on to issue on July 8 a proclamation explaining this action, in which he said he was

unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration; and . . . I am also unprepared to declare, that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for nought, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort; or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States, but am at the same sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted . . . .

On July 18, Lincoln issued a letter evidently intended for the Confederate leadership but refraining from addressing them as such, lest he imply their political legitimacy. Instead, he advised those “To Whom It May Concern” that he would entertain and consider “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States.”

Did Emma Lazarus Read a Letter Washington Wrote to LaFayette?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Independence Day, several documents well worth reading come to mind. You may wish to read Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, which on our site shows the words that would be deleted from the final version in italics, and the words that would be added in brackets. You might also read Calvin Coolidge’s speech in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration—one of our collection of 50 Core Documents. But today your faithful blogger is  returning from a month spent with her French goddaughter Camille, a young person born in America who feels love for our country along with her love for and loyalty to France. So let us instead consider one of several warm letters written by George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette. This one, of June 25, 1785, shows Washington congratulating his friend on his safe return to France after a visit back to the young American republic whose independence he had helped to secure. It also shows Washington’s healthy priorities. Although America’s supreme leader in wartime, he writes to his friend that he will now speak of peace. This passage draws on language from the Sermon on the Mount while prefiguring that in Emma Lazarus‘s famous poem, which became the inscription on our State of Liberty—itself a gift from our friends in France. Vive les deux Républiques!

As the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter: I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro— the channels of Potomac and James river . . . .

Lincoln Defines the American Understanding of Equality

Abraham-Lincoln-profile_1850sOn June 26 in 1857, Abraham Lincoln spoke to an audience in Springfield, Illinois to refute a speech given there two weeks earlier by Stephen Douglas. The speech could be seen as a rehearsal for those he would make the following summer as he debated Douglas while campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat. But it already makes a powerful argument against Douglas’ strategy for handling the sectional divide over slavery.

Denying that slavery was inconsistent with fundamental American principles, Douglas championed “popular sovereignty” as a solution to the confrontation between pro- and anti-slave forces that arose each time a western territory made application for statehood. In his recent speech, he had reaffirmed his confidence in this plan despite the violence that had raged in Kansas prior to the referendum there that was supposed to decide whether that state would be slave or free. He also endorsed the Supreme Court decision, made in March 1857, on the case of Dred Scott, a slave who had been transported by his master into a free state and who contended that he had become free during his residence there. Judge Taney had authored the decision which ruled against Scott, and in it he addressed the attitudes of the Founders regarding slavery, given their principle, articulated in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal. ”

According to Lincoln, Taney’s claim, to which Douglas agreed, was that the famous statement on human equality had been only a rhetorical tactic. Douglas had in fact said in his speech that they were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain.”  Lincoln identified an obvious problem for pro-slave forces with such an argument: it would mean that many white immigrants to the US were not covered by the declaration of human equality. More important, he emphasized the destructive thrust of an argument that denied human equality as the basis for our system of Constitutional government. What Americans would be celebrating a week hence, on the Fourth of July, was a revolution born of a conviction that the Founders fully embraced: All men are created equal. Although Americans had not been prepared to fully realize the principle in their civic life at the Founding, it was true and implied a fully attainable goal, because its import and application were very specific. The Founders

. . . did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal–equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that “all men are created equal” was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, (and) thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.



Hamilton Explains the Compromises of the Constitution

hamiltonNew York was the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution. Its ratifying convention met between June 17 and July 26, 1788, at roughly the same time that Virginia and New Hampshire were holding conventions. When these three conventions began, the approval of at least one more state was needed to make the Constitution the law of the entire country. In his detailed discussion of the nationwide ratification debate, Gordon Lloyd notes that “New York, in many ways, was at the center of the ratification controversy.”  It was there that the most vigorous newspaper debates took place, and it was Alexander Hamilton of New York who originated the idea of writing The Federalist to explain and defend the provisions of the new constitution. Although Hamilton had left the Constitutional Convention early due to frustration over objections to a strong central government, once a final document was approved, he threw his support behind it. His advocacy was critical to New York’s decision to ratify. One of the most notable speeches made in the course of the nationwide ratification debate was made by Hamilton on the second day of argument in the New York Convention, June 20. Answering criticisms made by John Lansing and Melancthon Smith, Hamilton insisted on the inadequacy of the existing Articles of Confederation. He then went on to explain how the document written in the Philadelphia convention was the product of necessary and reasonable compromises between large and small states and between Northern, commercial states and Southern states whose economy was based on slave-labor agriculture. As he explained to his fellow delegates,

The natural situation of this country seems to divide its interests into different classes. There are navigating and non-navigating States. The Northern are properly the navigating States; the Southern appear to possess neither the means nor the spirit of navigation. This difference in situation naturally produces a dissimilarity of interests and views respecting foreign commerce. It was the interest of the Northern States, that there should be no restraints on their navigation, and that they should have full power, by a majority in Congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. The Southern States wished to impose a restraint on the Northern, by requiring that two thirds in Congress should be requisite to pass an act in regulation of commerce. They were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners; and, by obliging them to employ the shipping of the Northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision ingrafted in the Constitution; and the Northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small States, seeing themselves embraced by the Confederation upon equal terms, wished to retain the advantages which they already possessed. The large States, on the contrary, thought it improper that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these sources a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary, therefore, to compromise, or the convention must have dissolved without effecting any thing.


McGovern Criticizes the Carter Doctrine

800px-George_McGovern,_c_1972South Dakota Senator George McGovern, although spectacularly unsuccessful as a Democratic candidate for President in 1972, offered articulate critiques of American foreign policy even after his attempt at national leadership failed. An article McGovern wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in June 1980 shows his willingness to pick apart what he sees as the simplistic thinking of a president from his own party, Jimmy Carter.

By 1980, Carter’s earlier call for a foreign policy based in support of human rights rather than in regard for American interests had been thwarted by a variety of intransigent geopolitical conflicts, notably the rise of a religious nationalism in Iran that contested the rule of the American-backed Shah. After the Shah was deposed, Carter’s decision to admit him to the US for medical treatment provoked a violent reaction in Tehran, where the American embassy was seized and over 60 Americans taken hostage. When the Soviet Union seized this moment to invade Afghanistan, Carter reacted in the manner of earlier presidents presiding during the Cold War, issuing a new doctrine declaring American determination to protect its interests in the middle east: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  McGovern criticized Carter for returning to a policy governed by Cold War calculations. He spelled out a number of concerns—“local, regional, and internal to the Soviet Union”—to which, he said, the Carter administration was now “indifferent, caught up as it was in the excitement of unveiling its new doctrine”:

It was almost as if, when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, we were relieved to find ourselves freed from the complexities of Third World nationalism and the Islamic revival and back on the comfortably familiar turf of a bipolar Cold War world. Once they heard the call of the Carter Doctrine, the Iranians would naturally forget about the shah, the Arabs would forget their differences with Israel, our allies in Western Europe and Japan would gratefully follow our lead, and all would join with us in a grand alliance against Soviet aggression. Now the unwelcome “lesson of Vietnam”–as Daniel Yergin put it, “that ‘fundamental designs’ may be illusory and that global implications may be secondary to local issues”–could also be cast aside. Americans could be patriots again, without bothering to make the troublesome distinction between patriotism and jingoism.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

At a crucial moment in theFDR-300x200_radio-mike 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.

Reagan Commemorates D-Day at Pointe du Hoc

President_Reagan_giving_speech_on_the_40th_Anniversary_of_D-Day_at_Pointe_du_Hoc,_Normandy,_France,_1984This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day—June 6, 1944—when Allied forces landed on the shores of Normandy and began fighting to retake northern continental Europe from Nazi occupation. Today only a few veterans of that battle remain; but on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, many traveled back to Normand to commemorate this costly but remarkably successful operation, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Before a group of Army Ranger veterans gathered at Pointe du Hoc, the site where they had struggled through a hail of German gunfire to mount the cliffs and destroy a coastal gun battery, President Reagan delivered a moving speech. He praised the courage of the Rangers and of other Allies—British, French, Polish and Canadian—who assured the success of the invasion.

What is most notable about Reagan’s 1984 speech, however, was the public reminder he issued, that “not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war.”

In contrast to his predecessor Jimmy Carter, who blamed an “inordinate fear of communism” for American failure to consistently promote human rights and to work toward nuclear disarmament, Reagan implicitly announced that the restoration of independence to Soviet-occupied nations would have to precede arms reduction:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.

But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more that a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

Carter Proposes a Foreign Policy in Pursuit of Human Rights

JimmyCarterPortrait2This week we feature another commencement address that signaled a new president’s intention to depart from previous policy. On May 22, 1977, at the graduation exercises of the University of Notre Dame, President Jimmy Carter spoke on “Human Rights and Foreign Policy.”

Carter announced an approach to foreign policy that would engage international issues with the same openness and sense of fair play that he intended to bring to domestic issues. Instead of defending American interests in a world presumed to be often hostile to those interests, he would pursue a human rights agenda in a world that, he suggested, was becoming open to American ideals:

I believe we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence, which we have, for humane purposes. We can also have a foreign policy that the American people both support and, for a change, know about and understand. . . .

We are confident that democracy’s example will be compelling, and so we seek to bring that example closer to those from whom in the past few years we have been separated and who are not yet convinced about the advantages of our kind of life.

We are confident that the democratic methods are the most effective, and so we are not tempted to employ improper tactics here at home or abroad.

We are confident of our own strength, so we can seek substantial mutual reductions in the nuclear arms race. . . .

Democracy’s great recent successes — in India, Portugal, Spain, Greece — show that our confidence in this system is not misplaced. Being confident of our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear. I’m glad that that’s being changed.

For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water. This approach failed, with Vietnam the best example of its intellectual and moral poverty. But through failure we have now found our way back to our own principles and values, and we have regained our lost confidence.

LBJ Describes a “Great Society”

Lyndon_B._Johnson,_photo_portrait,_leaning_on_chair,_color_commonsIt is commencement season, and prominent leaders are appearing at colleges and universities across the country to offer words of encouragement and inspiration to new graduates. Few of their speeches will herald so important a shift in America’s public agenda as that made fifty years ago today, when President Lyndon Johnson described his vision of a “Great Society” in a commencement address at the University of Michigan. Nevertheless, Johnson’s speech, in outlining a view of the progressive movement of American history, bears comparison with Franklin Roosevelt’s “Commonwealth Club Address” in 1932. Johnson told young adults coming of age in 1964 that

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. . . .

Leaving Office, Johnson Speaks of the Burdens of the Presidency

Lyndon_Johnson_wiki-commonsAs President Johnson prepared to leave office in January 1969, he delivered his last State of the Union Message to Congress. He used it to review the civil rights reforms and the new programs that had been established during his five years as president, a list that included the Voting Rights Act, the creation of the “Head Start” preschool education program, and the passage of Medicare benefits for senior citizens. But he also alluded wistfully to parts of his agenda he had not been able to accomplish. Largely due to public discontent–especially among those on college campuses–with his Vietnam War policy, Johnson had announced in March 1968 that he would not run for reelection. In retrospect, the most poignant, and arguably the most impressive, section of his speech is its gracious closing:

President-elect Nixon, in the days ahead, is going to need your understanding, just as I did. And he is entitled to have it. I hope every Member will remember that the burdens he will bear as our President, will be borne for all of us. Each of us should try not to increase these burdens for the sake of narrow personal or partisan advantage.

Now, it is time to leave. I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped to make our country more just, more just for all of its people, as well as to insure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity.

That is what I hope. But I believe that at least it will be said that we tried.

The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education


Thurgood Marshall argued for the plaintiffs in the case.

Tomorrow, May 17, is the 60th anniversary of a momentous Supreme Court decision: Brown v. Board of Education. The case reversed earlier Supreme Court rulings on the legality of segregation in public facilities—notably Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a ruling in favor of a Louisiana state law requiring blacks to surrender to whites their seats on trains, and Cumming v. Richmond (Ga.) County Board of Education (1899), in which the Court upheld a school board’s decision to spend money on a high school for whites while closing a high school for blacks.

By 1954, a few judicial victories for desegregated education had been won. Between 1936 and 1950 the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education fund successfully sued in four instances involving higher education (three involving applicants not admitted to law schools and the fourth involving a black student admitted to a doctoral program but forced to sit apart from white students.) But Brown was the first to successfully sue for desegregation of the public schools children attend, and since the Court consolidated five different cases from several states, the decision would have broad impact. However, the Court did not immediately specify the means by which the plaintiffs would be given relief. It invited the “Attorneys General of the states requiring or permitting segregation in public education” to submit new briefs on this question the following fall:


Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education.

“Because these are class actions, because of the wide applicability of this decision, and because of the great variety of local conditions, the formulation of decrees in these cases presents problems of considerable complexity. On reargument, the consideration of appropriate relief was necessarily subordinated to the primary question — the constitutionality of segregation in public education. We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws. In order that we may have the full assistance of the parties in formulating decrees, the cases will be restored to the docket, and the parties are requested to present further argument . . . .”

On May 31, 1955, the Court announced a plan by which desegregation was to proceed.


The Beginnings of Our Constitution

christyToday and tomorrow, May 14 and 15, are the anniversaries of two linked events in our Founding. On May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress issued a “resolve” to the thirteen colonies: that each “Adopt such a government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular and America in general.” This instruction initiated the effort that all the colonies—soon to be states—would undertake by 1780: the creation of state constitutions. Gordon Lloyd, in his website on the Constitutional Convention, notes that:  “Between 1776 and 1780 each of the thirteen colonies adopted a republican form of government. What emerged was the most extensive documentation of the powers of government and the rights of the people that the world had ever witnessed.” He goes on to say that “These state constitutions displayed a remarkable uniformity. Seven attached a prefatory Declaration of Rights, and all contained the same civil and criminal rights. Four states decided not to “prefix” a Bill of Rights to their constitutions, but, instead, incorporated the very same natural and traditional rights found in the prefatory declarations. New York incorporated the entire Declaration of Independence into its constitution.”

The resulting state governments were “robust and healthy,” Lloyd notes. After the Continental Congress created a government linking all the new states—the Articles of Confederation—a conflict arose, becoming particularly noticeable after independence was secured. The state governments were more powerful than the “late arriving, weak and divisive continental arrangement.” Statesmen such as Washington and Hamilton were frustrated that the Articles could not easily compel states to comply with the articles of peace with Great Britain or easily regulate interstate commerce. Madison worried that overbearing majorities in the state legislatures “were passing laws detrimental to the rights of individual conscience and the right to private property. And there was nothing that the union government could do about it because the Articles left matters of religion and commerce to the states,” Lloyd writes. So an initiative began to convene representatives of the states in Philadelphia to discuss ways of improving the Articles of Confederation.

Gordon Lloyd

Professor Gordon Lloyd

The date appointed for the opening of the convention in Philadelphia was May 14, 1787.

Gordon Lloyd’s website on the Constitutional Convention amasses a wealth of information and resources useful for student research. A comprehensive online collection of information on the Convention, it presents the facts of the Founding in multiple ways, adaptable to different learning styles.



Jefferson Explains the Purpose of the Declaration

20120115025846!Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800On this day in 1825, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter in response to a query from Henry Lee on the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was known as the primary author of that document. His account of what the Declaration intended emphasizes that the principles it expressed were shared by all those supporting the Revolutionary cause. It was “an expression of the American mind,” he said, one that synthesized ideas drawn not only from political philosophers read by Americans but also from the colonists’ own experience. The Declaration was to express “the common sense of the subject.” Having been allowed during much of the colonial period to govern their own affairs semi-autonomously, Americans had arrived at an understanding of their own rights. These rights, and America’s assertion of independence, rested on principles that the Declaration made clear.

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