Nat Turner’s Rebellion

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Depiction of Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

On August 22, 1831, the greatest slave rebellion in United States history occurred, led by a “mystic religious visionary named Nat Turner.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 323.

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War Between the Governors and Governed

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James Madison. By: Gilbert Stuart.

The debate surrounding the adoption of the Bill of Rights revealed to many Americans the stark differences between Federalists and Antifederalists. Edmund Pendleton, in the Virginia Convention, stated that opposition to the Constitution “rested on ‘mistaken apprehensions of danger, drawn from observations on government which do not apply to us.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 543 quoting Pendleton (Va.), in Elliot, ed., Debates, III, 36-37. Pendleton pointed out that many governments in the world were ruled by dictators. Id. Those governments had “bred hostility between ‘the interest and ambition of a despot’ and ‘the good of the people,’ thus creating ‘a continual war between the governors and the governed.'” Id. Pendleton believed that these beliefs led Antifederalists to demand a bill of rights and to have other unfounded fears about the Constitution. Id.

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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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The Birth of the Senate

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City Hall of New York City in 1789, where Congress convened during the 1790s.

In the earliest years of the American Republic, theories were abound about the proper structure of government to best balance equality and wise decision-making. John Adams stated, in his Thoughts on Government, that “a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy, whose government is in one assembly.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 208-09 quoting John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 194, 196. These theories became tested throughout the young country, in each of the state’s constitutions.

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