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Tag: Congress

Emancipation Proclamation: Petitioning for Freedom

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

January 1 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While this document is remembered for freeing the slaves in the Southern states, petitioners had been attempting to end slavery since the nation’s founding. Petitions by anti-slavery groups were sent to the newly elected Congress soon after it first met.

On December 30, 1799, the Reverend Absalom Jones and other free blacks of Philadelphia sent a petition to Congress. Although they recognized the “blessing” of their freedom, they were concerned about their fellow men: “We cannot be insensible of the condition of our afflicted Brethren, suffering under various circumstances in different parts of these States; but deeply sympathizing with them, We are incited by a sense of Social duty and humbly conceive ourselves authorized to address and petition you in their behalf.”

Jones and the petitioners noted that the Constitution “is violated by a trade carried on in a clandestine manner to the Coast of Guinea.” They also mentioned that the Southerners’ practice of kidnapping free African Americans and transporting them to Southern states in order to sell them also violated the “solemn Compact” of the Constitution. The petition ends with this appeal:

In the Constitution, and the Fugitive bill, no mention is made of Black people or Slaves—therefore if the Bill of

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No, it’s not in the Constitution

These days, pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France as our American minister, and John Adams was American minister to Great Britain.

The Constitution established the system of Federal courts.

No. The Constitution established “one supreme … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Adams, Franklin, and Vergennes (part IIc)

In the last post, we brought the Adams-Vergennes story up to their abrupt break in late July 1780. Adams departed for the Netherlands, where he hoped to raise additional funds for the United States war effort and make the United States less dependent on France.

Meanwhile, Vergennes appealed to Franklin and through Franklin to Congress, requesting that Adams be relieved of his ambassadorial duties. Vergennes supplied Franklin with the Adams correspondence, and Franklin forwarded it to Congress. Vergennes also made France’s wishes known to Congress through Ambassador Anne-Cesar, Chevalier de la Luzerne, in Philadephia.

In this letter, Franklin makes clear to Vergennes that Adams was not speaking for him or Congress:

It was indeed with very great Pleasure that I received the Letter . . . communicating that of the President of Congress and the Resolutions of that Body relative to the Succours then expected: For the Sentiments therein express’d are so different from the Language held by Mr Adams, in his late Letters to your Excellency as to make it clear that it was from his particular Indiscretion alone, and not from any Instructions received by him, that he has given such just Cause of Displeasure, and that it is impossible his Conduct therein should be approved by his Constituents. I am glad he has not admitted me to any Participation in those

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History Crush: Susan B. Anthony

Today’s History Crush guest post comes from the National Archives staff in New York City. Sara Lyons Pasquerello, education technician, and Angela Tudico, archives technician, don’t care about clichés! Their love for this suffragist will never falter—and might even expand!

As we enter Women’s History Month, it is only fitting that we reveal our history crush—Susan B. Anthony. She may seem a cliché choice, but since our office holds the Susan B. Anthony court case for illegal voting, she is hard to pass up. The case is one of the most notable ones we hold relating to women’s history. And if you scratch below the surface, there is more to this story than most people know.

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 into a Quaker family with strong ties to the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and upstate New York. The Anthony farm in Rochester, NY, served as a gathering place for community activism and nurtured Susan B. Anthony as she began her lifelong mission for social change.

One of the things we admire most about Susan B. Anthony is the combination of idealism and pragmatism that her work for the vote represented.

Her idealism hearkens back to the principles of the Founding Fathers and the belief in a government deriving its powers from the “consent of the governed,” implying a confidence and trust in a … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: A Liberal Arts Education

Among our extensive collection of Mathew Brady photographs is this one of Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, whose sideburns appear to slide down his cheeks towards his cravat.

The Honorable J. B. Grinnell’s name may seem familiar if you have ever browsed college catalogs, or if you are an alum of Grinnell College, located in Grinnell, Iowa.

Although Grinnell was born in Vermont,  he packed up his sideburns and went West in 1854 to set up a Congregational church out in the wilds of the Iowa terrriroty. The town and college that he helped set up both bear his name.

After Iowa became a state, Grinnell served as a state senator and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for President. In 1862, Grinnell was elected to Congress.

Grinnell crossed paths with Horace Greely, whose neard has been featured on Facial Hair Friday before. Grinnell, along with ”Liberal Republicans” and Democrats, supported  Greeley for President—presumably for political reasons rather than a shared love of sideburns.

But not all was peaceful in the world of politics and facial hair. On June 14, 1866, Grinnell was assaulted by fellow Representative and sideburn-lover Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau. The Kentucky man beat the unarmed Grinnell with an iron-tipped cane after an incident on the House floor when Grinnell disputed his Civil War record.

After a special investigation, the House cleared Grinnell but censured Rousseau. … [ Read all ]