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Archive for '- Constitution'

The 17th Amendment Observes Its Centennial

When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas traveled around Illinois in 1858 debating each other while vying for a seat in the U.S. Senate, they weren’t looking for votes from the masses.

They were seeking votes in the Illinois legislature. Douglas was the incumbent senator, and Lincoln, who had served one term in the House in the 1840s, was a railroad attorney.

In the 1850s, U.S. senators were selected by the state legislatures as directed by Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution, which says: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”

Lincoln Douglas debate marker

Historical marker commemorating one of the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debates, 06/03/1938

According to the Senate Historical Office, the framers thought that having senators elected by the legislatures would aid senators because they would be less subject to pressure and have more time to do business. And, they felt, direct election would strengthen ties between the national and state governments.

But opposition to this arrangement began long before the Lincoln–Douglas debates. Political problems in states resulted in many seats going empty for long periods. Support grew slowly for popular, or direct, election of senators by voters.

Strong resistance in the Senate to a proposed Constitutional amendment calling for direct … [ Read all ]

The 16th Amendment and 100 years of Federal income taxes

The 16th Amendment and the first Internal Revenue Bureau Form 1040 will be on display from April 1 to April 30 at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Today’s guest post comes to us from education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey.

“Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever sources derived, without apportionment among the several states and without regard to any census or enumeration.” 16th Amendment to the Constitution

Joint congressional resolution proposing the 16th Amendment to the states, July 12, 1909, National Archives, General Records of the United States Government

Each April, millions of Americans stay up late, snap pencils, and double-check their math as they complete their Federal income tax returns.  This year marks the centennial of the constitutional amendment that made this a yearly ritual.

The Civil War prompted the first American income tax, a flat 3 percent on all annual incomes over $800, in 1861. Congress enacted a 2-percent tax on annual income over $4,000 in 1894, but it was quickly struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

By the early 20th century, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties advocated a constitutional amendment allowing a Federal income tax. On July 12, 1909, Congress passed a joint congressional resolution proposing such an amendment. The resolution was then sent to the states for consideration. … [ Read all ]

George Washington Writes in the Margins

Today’s blog post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

Last month, President Obama began his second Inaugural Address by saying, “Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.” President Obama’s words resonate as the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday approaches on February 22, popularly known as Presidents Day.

Over two centuries ago, on April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first Inaugural Address knowing that he had little to guide him in the job that lay ahead but the principles stated in the Constitution.  The Articles of the Constitution had been debated, discussed, and agreed upon just two summers earlier by the delegates of the Constitution Convention, and were still untested.  Nevertheless, Washington was a strong supporter of the Constitution and would look to it for guidance in his unprecedented role as President.

During Washington’s first year in office, Congress ordered 600 copies of the Acts of Congress to be printed and distributed to Federal and state government officials. The book compiled the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress.

George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress contains his own handwritten notes in the margins. The … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Page 1 of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Case of U.S. ex. rel. John Wheeler v. Passmore Williamson, 07/19/1855; Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2004, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia. (National Archives Identifier: 2641488)

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah .

[ Read all ]

Jefferson in Paris: The Constitution, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is the Senior Registrar in the Exhibits Division.

“It is impossible to increase taxes, disastrous to keep on borrowing, and inadequate to merely to cut expense.”

This is not a quote from the 2012 American  elections or the current fiscal cliff debate.  These are the words of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, finance minister of France, describing the financial conditions of his country in 1786 to his king, Louis XVI.

The French monarchy was deep in debt due to continuous war expenditures, most recently from the American Revolution, when France supplied monies, ships, soldiers, and arms to the the struggling United States, not to mention its own naval engagements with the British Navy. The French people were poor and hungry, and there was great inequality among the classes. Attempts at reform failed, setting the stage for the bloody civil rupture known as the French Revolution, beginning with democratic ideas and ending in Napoleonic despotism.

With his experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia behind him, Thomas Jefferson continued his practical education in world affairs in pre-revolutionary France. Across the Atlantic, the fledgling American government had its own problems, which though different, were … [ Read all ]