When the Constitution was first written there were no term limits. George Washington could have served as president as long as he wished. His life is full of examples of heroism on the battlefield, but one of his most noble examples is what he did at the end of his second Presidential term.
Washington knew the world was watching the American experiment, so he gave them something amazing to see when he willing stepped down after his second term, a move unheard of in world history! It’s not how Washington used power, but how he relinquished it that made him great. As President he had demonstrated the power of the office; but when he willingly stepped down he showed the world that the American President, unlike Kings and Tyrants, is a mortal and fallible man just like his fellow citizens.
John Adams succeeded Washington. Adams ran for a second term in 1800, it was a hostile election where the press played a huge role for the first time. The papers were full of slanderous and unfair characterizations of the men who gave birth to our country. The very men who gave their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in times which tried men’s souls, were now being portrayed as their county’s greatest enemies – the country they created!
Adams lost the election becoming the first sitting President to suffer defeat. The world was watching again. Many were worried about the transfer of power. The pages of ancient and modern history are stained with the blood of violent overthrows. This campaign was harsh. Would Adams step down willingly? Will a bloody power-struggle ensue?
America, once again, put on a history making show for the world! Adams accepted defeat and peacefully departed the seat of Government. We owe John Adams a debt of gratitude for providing a wonderful example of a political leader accepting defeat and encouraging a peaceful transfer of power.
“When the President does it that means it’s not illegal.”
This sounds like the old divine right of king’s theory resurrected in 1970s America! But our wonderful system prevailed over such arrogant claims! Congress wanted Nixon to turn over the tapes, Nixon said no. The Supreme Court voted unanimously to side with Congress. Nixon then resigned knowing the tapes would expose him. Nobody is above the law in America!
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
Washington stepped down willingly after two terms. Adams accepted defeat and left the seat of Government. Nixon resigned while in office amidst a scandal. All these were peaceful transfers of power. So in victory, in loss, and even in shame, the American institutions are shining examples to the world.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution: Why they should be considered together – They are Two Documents Forever Linked – By Daniel Sheridan
On This Day, August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act prohibiting voting discrimination against minorities.
Amendment 15 of the U.S. Constitution, ratified February 3, 1870, reads:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
“The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Even though the Constitution provides for equal voting rights many were still denied those rights 95 years after the Amendment became part of the Constitution. Thus LBJ signed the “Voting Rights Act” deemed “appropriate legislation” to “enforce” the Fifteenth Amendment.
President Johnson wanted to create what he called, “The Great Society.” A society where the promise of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” applies to everyone.
LBJ believed he was fulfilling that promise with the following measures: Voting Rights Act, Medicaid, Federal Aid for Education, Environmental Protection laws, Food Stamps, Head Start, NPR, The Arts and Humanities Act, The Public Broadcasting System, Consumer Protection Laws, and The Civil Rights Act. These measures, created during the LBJ years, are still with us today.
When LBJ signed The Civil Rights Act he said,
“There goes the south for a generation.”
The Genius of America’s Institutions, the Principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the Tendencies of the Age! –By Daniel W. Sheridan
Subtitle – How Chicago went from a hand drawn map to a world center for expressing the freedom principles as set forth in our founding documents.
By the late 1800s Chicago grew into an enormous city and the growth of the state’s other cities, counties and townships were a political marvel. People who witnessed Illinois’ rapid expansion exclaimed, “Illinois is a miracle!”
—Frederick Douglass Nominated For President In Chicago
Chicago played a huge role in the struggle for Civil Rights. It was in Chicago where Frederick Douglass became the first African American to be nominated for President at the 1888 Republican National Convention held in the Auditorium Building. The nomination went to Benjamin Harrison.
Frederick expressed this hope in the 1840s:
“The arm of the Lord is not shortened, and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
Surely being considered for the Presidency was proof that his hopes were being confirmed and the “tendencies of the age” were moving toward freedom and justice for all.
—- President Barack Obama
Then, on this day, August 4, 1961, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. He moved to Chicago in the 1980s and the rest is history! He was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996 then became a United States Senator in 2005. Obama loves his city and cheers on his favorite Chicago team, the White Sox, whose field once drew thousands of African Americans to watch the segregated Negro League teams and greats like Satchel Paige. Then, on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama became the first African American elected to the Presidency with 365 electoral votes. He gave his victory speech from Chicago’s Grant Park.
—-The Tendencies of the Age
August 4 saw the beginnings of Chicago, victories in the struggle for civil rights, and the birthday of the man who would become the first African American President.
So let us draw encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, the genius of American Institutions, and let our spirits be cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.
Warren G. Harding was elected President on November 2, 1920. This was the first Presidential election in which women voted and it was the first election where the results were broadcasted over radio.
In the summer of 1923 President Harding went on a trip to Alaska which took a toll on him physically. From Alaska he went to California where he became sick and died suddenly on this day, August 2, 1923.
Vice President Calvin Coolidge was at his father’s Vermont farmhouse when a telegram arrived around 2:30 A.M delivering the sad news. Calvin Coolidge wrote about that night:
“On the night of August 2, 1923, I was awakened by my father coming up the stairs, calling my name. I noticed that his voice trembled. As the only times I had ever observed that before were when death had visited our family, I knew that something of the gravest nature had occurred. He placed in my hands an official report and told me that President Harding had just passed away. My wife and I at once dressed. Before leaving the room I knelt down and…asked God to bless the American people and give me power to serve them.
My first thought was to express my sympathy for those who had been bereaved and after that was done to attempt to reassure the country with the knowledge that I proposed no sweeping displacement of the men then in office and that there were to be no violent changes in the administration of affairs. As soon as I had dispatched a telegram to Mrs. Harding, I therefore issued a short public statement declaratory of that purpose.
Meantime I had been examining the Constitution to determine what might be necessary for qualifying by taking the oath of office. It is not clear that any additional oath is required beyond what is taken by the vice president when he is sworn into office. It is the same form as that taken by the president.
Having found this form in the Constitution, I had it set up on the typewriter, and the oath was administered by my father in his capacity as a notary public… The oath was taken in what we always called the sitting room, by the light of the kerosene lamp, which was the most modern form of lighting that had then reached the neighborhood. The Bible which had belonged to my mother lay on the table at my hand.”
Those were the words of Calvin Coolidge. Do you know what he did after he was sworn in? He went back to bed! He wasn’t called silent and cool Cal for nothing.
Let’s close with one funny story about President Coolidge. He was at a dinner party where the woman sitting next to him told the President that she had made a bet with a friend that she could get him to say more than two words that evening. President Coolidge, Silent Cal, replied,
Two words! That’s all he said the rest of the night. She lost the bet.
“I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.” Calvin Coolidge
“No man ever listened himself out of a job.” Calvin Coolidge
July 30th, 1619, is a day that should be remembered and celebrated by every American. To understand why let’s travel back in time to the Virginia colony, years 1612 through 1619, and examine the economic and political problems they were facing.
The Economic Situation before 1619
The colonists were suffering economically and wanted to improve their condition. Men like John Rolfe, the guy who married Pocahontas, started growing tobacco to sell at market, others followed his example. The Governor of the colony, Governor Dale, a tyrant, put a stop to the profitable trade just as they started making a profit. A few years later a more lenient governor, Governor Yeardley, lifted the restrictions and the trade started to prosper again.
There was another problem. All the goods in the colony were kept in a common storehouse and distributed equally among the people. Some called it communism, but it was more like corporatism. That means everything belonged to the company and the company provided for the settlers. There was no private ownership of property or in the fruits of one’s labor.
The system was a flop! One eye-witness said:
“When our people were fed out of the common store and labored jointly in the manuring of the ground and planting corn…the most honest of them…would not take so much faithful and true pains in a week as…he will do in a day on his own crop.”
People were given a living no matter how hard or little they worked, as a result, many slacked off. Why work hard if you’re going to be fed anyway? This system didn’t benefit anyone. Just the opposite, it brought everyone down to the same level of poverty – including those who worked hard.
The Political Situation
Captain Argall was governor of the colony in 1616. He was a cruel, tyrannical, and greedy man. Argall ruled the colony with an iron fist for three miserable years. He proclaimed martial law in a time of peace and enforced his unjust laws with bayonet.
The colonists complained to the company and the company responded by appointing George Yeardley as captain-general to investigate the situation and right any wrongs.
Economically and politically the colony was a mess.
Yeardley arrived in Jamestown in April of 1619. After investigating the situation he sided with the colonists and abolished the oppressive laws of Argall. The colonists breathed a sigh of relief. To help prevent further abuses the company put a new government in place with a system of checks and balances.
Second, they established a colonial Assembly so that the people could take part in the administration of public matters through elected representatives.
Then the company called on the people to elect representatives to the legislature. This Assembly, convened at the order of Governor George Yeardley, met for the first time on July 30, 1619. The assembly was called the House of Burgesses.
This was the first legislative body ever assembled in this country in which the people through their elected representatives made laws for their own governing. This meeting is the birthday of American free institutions.
The common system was also abandoned. Settlers were allowed to govern themselves, own land, and provide for themselves, and as a result, the colony started to prosper.
The next year, 1620, about ninety women of good character arrived in the colony; sixty more the next year. The farmers recognizing their worth married them and raised families. Domestic ties were now established in the New World, and, as a result, the colonists considered Virginia home and abandoned any thoughts of returning to England. The colony was now permanent.
Political and economic oppression is the background. Liberty was the cure. Prosperity followed.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
July 30, 1619, should be celebrated by every American. It was on that day American free institutions were born. Institutions that are meant to secure the rights of the people – the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors.
For an audio lesson of this story, click here: http://sheridanhistory.com/americas-story-lesson-55-the-birth-of-americas-free-institutions/
For further information on the Story of America’s Free Institutions, click here: http://sheridanhistory.com/law-and-government/
What motivated the early settlers to come to a New World and endure great sufferings?
Swedish-American inventor, mechanical and Naval engineer, John Ericsson, was born on this day, July 31, 1803, in Sweden.
In 1836 Ericsson invented the screw propeller for steam vessels which was a huge improvement over the paddle wheel. However, it wasn’t until he moved to America a few years later that American shipbuilders began to realize the greatness of this invention.
By 1838 steamships were making regular trips across the Atlantic bringing back with them laborers from Europe, thus increasing our population and creative talent at the same time.
Ericsson’s inventions also helped change the course of Naval and World History during the Civil War. The Confederates were dominating the seas with their iron-clad ship. John Ericsson, in just 100 days, invented the crafty “Yankee cheese-box on a raft,” the famous Civil war iron-clad called, “The Monitor,” to neutralize the Confederate beast.
On March 8, 1862, the Monitor encountered the larger Confederate Virginia. “A multitude beheld the encounter…from the shores near and far. The superior size and armament of the Virginia were neutralized by her unwieldiness and depth of draught. The Monitor, more active, and passing everywhere over shoal or through channel, could elude or strike as she chose. Neither had much power to harm the other; each crew behind its shield maneuvered and fired for the most part uninjured…On the morning of that day both North and South believed that the Confederacy was about to control the sea. The anticipation, whether hope or fear, vanished in the smoke of that day’s battle. With it, too, passed away the traditional beauty and romance of the old sea-service: the oak-ribbed and white-winged navies, whose dominion had been so long and picturesque, at last and forever gave way to steel and steam.”
Ericsson has been described as one of the most influential engineers of all time, without doubt nineteenth century America’s greatest Naval engineer, and a genius with an “indomitable zeal.”
On this day, July 27, 1974, the House of Representatives votes to recommend the first article of impeachment against President Nixon for obstruction of justice (You can see the full text of the impeachment here: http://watergate.info/impeachment/articles-of-impeachment).
Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitutions says,
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The power of impeachment of public officials was one of the many English practices that Americans perpetuated and improved. The House of Commons had impeached some of the King’s ministers; however, the King could pardon them. So the English improved that practice in the 1700s when a law was enacted declaring that impeached officials couldn’t receive a royal pardon. This assured the English people that the King’s ministers would be held accountable for their actions. The King, however, couldn’t be impeached.
James Iredell gives the background of this provision when speaking to the North Carolina Ratifying Convention on 28 July 1788:
“In that country, that is England, the executive authority is vested in a magistrate who holds it by birthright. He has great powers and prerogatives, and it is a constitutional maxim, that he can do no wrong. We have experienced that he can do wrong, yet no man can say so in his own country. There are no courts to try him for any high crimes; nor is there any constitutional method of depriving him of his throne. If he loses it, it must be by a general resistance of his people…Under our Constitution we are much happier. No man has an authority to injure another with impunity. No man is better than his fellow-citizens, nor can pretend to any superiority over the meanest man in the country. If the President does a single act by which the people are prejudiced, he is punishable himself… If he commits any misdemeanor in office, he is impeachable, removable from office, and incapacitated to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit. If he commits any crime, he is punishable by the laws of his country, and in capital cases may be deprived of his life.”
Throughout history when rulers misbehaved the only recourse for the people was violent overthrow or assassination. But the U.S. Constitution provides for a peaceful way of ousting corrupt public officials. Impeachment powers are granted to the House of Representatives. Article 1, Section 2 reads:
“The House of Representatives shall…have the sole power of impeachment.”
This assures the American people that the President, Vice President, and all civil officers are accountable to the House of Representatives, that is, to We The People. Instead of violent overthrow, We The People, through our reps, hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
The Senate, which in the original Constitution represented state governments, tries impeachment proceedings. Article 1, Section 3 reads,
“The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present.”
The two-thirds concurrence for conviction is required in order to protect the accused from a mere party motivated indictment. For instance, history seems to bear out that Andrew Johnson was impeached on solely party lines, and though most voted to convict, they were still one vote shy. The provision seems to have worked in that case.
If the accused is convicted, Article 2, Section 3 reads,
“Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States; but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law.”
The President, Vice President, and all civil officers, if convicted, are removed from office and are forbidden from holding future office in the national Government. But that’s not all. The convicted person can still be tried and punished in a normal court of law.
America is a Government of laws, not of men. The American tradition teaches that nobody is above the law. Americans took from their English heritage and improved it. In England, they got as far as impeaching the King’s ministers, but, as William Blackstone confessed in his Commentaries, “That the king can do no wrong is a necessary and fundamental principle of the English constitution.” But in our Constitution it is a necessary and fundamental principle that any leader can do wrong and will be held accountable for it.
We can be proud of our American system of government which sets an example for the world – our leaders are accountable to the people and the transfer of power is a peaceful process.