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Last Best Hope of Earth

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The Revolution

The Erosion of Separation of Powers

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Thomas Jefferson. By: Mather Brown. 1786.

In the 1780s, there began to be a distinct erosion of the doctrine of separation of powers.

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Guarding Against an Evil

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Benjamin Franklin. By: Joseph Siffred Duplessis.

Americans’ political beliefs were rapidly changing as the American Revolution progressed into the early years of the Republic. In fact, those beliefs were “constantly in flux, continually adapting and adjusting to ever-shifting political and social circumstances.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 438.

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The Conventional Debate

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William Smith. By: Gilbert Stuart. 1801-02.

In Pennsylvania, extraordinary events were transpiring that would shape how people expressed their will. William Smith (“Cato”) and a group of individuals, led by James Cannon (“Cassandra”) in 1776, debated the issue of how institutions should reflect the people’s will, given the Radical Political Experiment unfolding in Pennsylvania.

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The Genesis of the Bill of Rights

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Magna Carta.

Prior to the American Revolution, the colonists had become familiar with the concept of charters. Charters, whether royal, corporate, or proprietary, operated “as the evidence of a compact between an English King and the American subjects.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 268; see also Leonard Krieger, The Politics of Discretion: Pufendorf and the Acceptance of Natural Law (Chicago, 1965), 121.

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A Check on Dangerous Usurpations

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Samuel Chase. By: John Beale Bordley.

While an upper house of state legislatures was desirable to some, as explained in The Birth of the Senate, it also had its detractors. Those detractors argued that it was a mere redundancy, wholly irrelevant to the founding of a stable government. In taking that position, the detractors ignored many of the benefits of having a second house in the legislature.

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A Moral Reformation

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Patrick Henry. By: George Bagby Matthews.

As eluded to in Virtue as a Principle and Foundation, vices had come to plague American society shortly after the American Revolution. Patrick Henry said, in 1780, that he “feared that our Body politic was dangerously sick,” as from top to bottom, society appeared to be embracing vice. Patrick Henry to Jefferson, Feb. 15, 1780, Boyd, ed., Jefferson Papers, III, 293.

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The Delegation of Sovereignty

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Noah Webster. By: James Herring.

Prior to the creation and ratification of the Constitution, Americans struggled with legislatures who had run rampant. This, however, was the doing of the people themselves.

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Carrying Liberty to Excess

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David Ramsay. By: Rembrandt Peale.

While there were perceptions that America was suffering from a malaise in the 1780s, the political theory at the time had an explanation: licentiousness.

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A Perceived Burden of Intolerable Evils

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John Quincy Adams. By: John Singleton Copley.

After the American Revolution and after the war with Britain, America was suffering what appeared to be a crisis.

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