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Tag: James Madison

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

After his victory in the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt promised that although his first term had lasted only three years (beginning after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901), he would adhere to the two-term precedent established by George Washington. Yet by 1912, convinced that only his progressive leadership would save the Repbulican party, Roosevelt announced his candidacy. Roosevelt contended that he had only promised to refuse a third consecutive term. Berryman shows Roosevelt attempting to dodge the anti-third term principle as he crouches before Washington's ghost. Not until 1951, after Franklin Roosevelt's four terms in office, did Congress enact the XXII Amendment to the Constitution, officially limiting Presidents to two terms (NAtional Archives Identifier 306175)

After his victory in the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt promised that although his first term had lasted only three years (beginning after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901), he would adhere to the two-term precedent established by George Washington. Yet by 1912, Roosevelt announced his candidacy. Not until 1951, after Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms in office, was the 22nd Amendment ratified, officially limiting Presidents to two terms (National Archives Identifier 306175)

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took … [ Read all ]

In their own words: President George Washington

Washington at his inauguration in New York, April 30, 1789 (National Archives, 148-CCD-92C)

This is the first 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.

As a registrar in the Exhibits Division of the National Archives for over 25 years, I have had the good fortune to work with many dedicated professionals at the National Archives. It has been a privilege to have access to the holdings, including the rarest of the rare. However, I always return to my favorites, the letters of the Founding Fathers.

Some of the most revealing letters come in a series of records blandly called Miscellaneous Letters in Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. Thanks to the irregularities of early recordkeeping, personal and official correspondence were sometimes mixed. These are draft letters or short notes with crossouts and annotations that illuminate the thoughts and work habits of the authors. The letters usually have to do with policy issues, but the topics are sometimes private and political. From the 1789 to early 1820s, there are hundreds of letters written by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

In the official files of the early U.S. Government, we expect to find letters and memos on the subjects facing a youthful country: diplomacy, … [ Read all ]

History Crush: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull (after painting by Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1801); National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of Henry Cabot Lodge

Today’s “History Crush” comes from Jessica Kratz, an archives specialist with the Center for Legislative Archives. She’s been carrying a torch for one of our record-makers for quite some time!

Most of my colleagues are all too aware that Alexander Hamilton is my history crush. Maybe the gigantic replica $10 bill hanging in my office gives it away?

I’ve been fascinated by Hamilton for as long as I’ve studied American history. In school, most of my teachers touted the importance of founders like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, but after reading the Federalist Papers, I became hooked on Alexander Hamilton. An orphan from the British West Indies who traveled alone to America as a teenager, Hamilton rose from his humble beginnings to become one of the most important men in our nation’s history.

I often wondered why Jefferson was so beloved while Hamilton, clearly brilliant with remarkable foresight, was so underappreciated. Were his negatives—he was born out of wedlock, philandered, promoted the benefits of child labor, and lost a duel—overshadowing his many accomplishments? Hamilton served in the Continental Army, Continental Congress, and Constitutional Convention; was the first Secretary of Treasury; and established the first National Bank, the U.S. Mint, and the Coast Guard.

Even … [ Read all ]