Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.

Constitution Corner

Articles About America's Founding 
by Judy Leithe

The principles set forth in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are foundational to Women of Washington. In these articles we explore the lives of our Founding Fathers, as well as everyday people, all of whom took on extraordinary personal risks and challenges when they left their native countries and made new lives for themselves, and their posterity, in a new land. Then, due to the crushing demands of King George III, they defended their newfound freedoms against the most powerful military force in the world -- that of the British Monarchy. We are the beneficiaries of these founders' foresight and courage.



Who were the people in the 1600s who left their ancestral homes in England, and embarked on months-long voyages across the stormy Atlantic Ocean, only to arrive in the raw wildernesses of North America? Even though at that time, England’s agricultural and animal husbandry systems, and its advanced arts and crafts made England one of Europe’s most cultivated societies. And, for the educated classes, it was also the home of two world-renown universities, Oxford and Cambridge. England had also built the most powerful military force in the known world. However, the commoners’ lives were largely spent in servitude to the monarchy.

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WORLDWIDE SLAVERY - Part I: Slavery in the Americas

The overall focus of this In Search for Freedom essay series will be on the people and events of the 1600s to the mid-1700s which led up to the founding of the United States.  At that time, the majority of the people who immigrated to North America were of English origin, with French, Dutch, and Spanish settlers in smaller numbers.

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WORLDWIDE SLAVERY - Part II: The Pervasiveness of Tyranny

In this essay, we will attempt to bring perspective to some of the origins of human bondage and how persons, from nearly every culture and ethnic background, have been forced into slavery by powerful invaders.  

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CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH: The Survival of Jamestown

The Spanish and French governments had been enriching their treasuries with gold and silver from the New World since the mid-15th century.  By the early 1600s, England also recognized the importance of staking their claim in North America. 

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THE PILGRIMS - Part I: Guided by Their Faith

History tells us that the peoples of the world were ruled by chieftains, emperors, and kings.  In other words, conquer or be conquered.  These rulers kept most of the world’s population under the control of an elite few.  Out of this authoritarian system, family dynasties emerged, convincing themselves that their authority came from the “Divine right of kings.” 

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THE PILGRIMS - Part II: The Mayflower Compact

The most famous ship in American history was the Mayflower.  However, it was not a passenger ship.  The Mayflower was used for the transportation of cargo, and in times of conflict, it was even pressed into service as a warship to defend England’s maritime interests.  However, in 1620 it was chartered to carry 102 Puritans, along with 60 additional passengers and crew, on a stormy voyage across the Atlantic to the New World. 

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THE PILGRIMS - Part III: A Fifty-Year Friendship

Having survived the perils of the north Atlantic crossing aboard the Mayflower, during their first winter in Massachusetts nearly half of the Pilgrims had perished from malnutrition, scurvy, and exposure to frigid temperatures.  Living conditions were harsh both on and off the ship. 

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THE PILGRIMS - Part IV: A Day of Thanksgiving

From a grateful people to a grateful nation.  Thanksgiving is a unique tradition that started in the Plymouth Colony in 1621.  It was a three-day celebration and time for thanksgiving for the Pilgrims’ successful harvest of corn after a harsh first year in Plymouth Colony.  They were also grateful for the help and friendship of the people of the Wampanoag Tribe. 

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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: From Printer's Assistant to Founding Father

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to his Puritan parents Josias and Abiah Franklin. 

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THOMAS PAINE: Author of "Common Sense"

On January 29, 1737, Thomas Paine was born to Quaker parents in the British village of Norfolk. By the age of 12, it was necessary for him to leave school to assist his father whose trade was crafting ladies corset stays out of whale bone and fabric. Without the possibility for a formal education, and well into his adulthood, Thomas frequented libraries where he immersed himself in books on Greek and Roman history, the sciences, engineering and mechanics.

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JOHN AND ABIGAIL ADAMS: American Revolution Preserved in Letters

The beautiful countryside surrounding the Adams’ farmhouse, in Braintree, Massachusetts, held endless fascination for John Adams during his youth

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THOMAS JEFFERSON: America’s Renaissance Man

Thomas Jefferson’s parents, Peter and Jane Jefferson raised their family of ten children on their Colonial Virginia farm called Shadwell.  Jane Jefferson tended to their 9 children while also overseeing the activities on their farm.  While Peter Jefferson did not have the advantages of a formal education, he was a successful farmer, surveyor, and mapmaker.  He was also a captain in the Virginia militia, served as a justice of the peace and sheriff, and was a member of the Virginia Legislature.

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GEORGE WASHINGTON - Part I: Four Generations of Virginians

George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, came from a prominent English family that lost their estate and political standing during one of England’s civil wars.  As a consequence, in 1655, John relocated to the British colony of Virginia in order to build a new life.  He purchased land in Westmoreland County and in 1660, he married Anne Pope, started a family, and served as a colonel in the British military.  After his death in 1677, his eldest son, Lawrence, inherited his father’s Westmoreland farm, which he named Mount Vernon.    

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GEORGE WASHINGTON - Part II: Fort Necessity

During the 1740s, the early British colonists had enjoyed successful trade with the native people along the Ohio River, especially the Iroquois Tribe.  

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GEORGE WASHINGTON - Part III: French and Indian War

The French and British kingdoms had a history of conflicts over the dominance
of their respective countries in Europe. As both countries explored the North
American Continent, they claimed territories for themselves. By the early
1600s, France had established trade relations with the natives of the northern
Huron Confederacy tribes and had created settlements in eastern Canada.
Shortly thereafter, the British began developing colonies on the American east
coast, stretching from Massachusetts to South Carolina and traded with the
Iroquois Confederacy.

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As the American colonies began to prosper, King George III became more tyrannical in governing his American subjects.  At the same time, the colonists were becoming increasingly resentful of the immoral and illegal treatment they were receiving from their own king.

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DAUGHTERS OF LIBERTY - Penelope Barker's Tea Party

Like their male counterparts throughout the Revolutionary War era, women played significant roles in protesting the heavy-handed British rule.  As their fathers, husbands, and sons fought for freedom, both on the battlefield and in the Continental Congress, women had to become completely self-sufficient running households, working farmlands, and caring for their families.  

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From the Pilgrims’ landing in Massachusetts in 1620, and for the next 150 years, the populations of farm communities and towns continued to grow in North America.  Most of the colonists had come from England and still considered themselves to be loyal British citizens.  However, King George III and his British Parliament viewed the colonists as inferior subjects to be ruled and primarily valued as new sources of revenue for the crown.

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There is some dispute about who fired the first shot of the Revolutionary War.   Was it when British troops encountered Captain John Parker and his Minutemen in Lexington at dawn on April 19, 1775?  Or, was it two hours later when the British were again confronted by a larger contingent of armed Patriots at the North Bridge crossing of the Concord River?

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THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL - The first battte of the Revolutionary War

The Massachusetts colony played a prominent role in the development of the British colonization of the New World.

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Benjamin Franklin was in attendance at the Albany Conference in June of 1754.  The Conference, consisting of representatives from 7 of the 13 colonies, mostly from the Northeast, was called to strengthen trade relations with the Iroquois Nations.  Another topic of discussionconcerned French military incursions into their colonial territories. 

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THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE America’s Noble Mission Statement

Books were rare in the early years of the colonies.  The English settlers who crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard cramped merchant ships brought the barest of necessities and precious few books. 

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On July 3, 1775, General George Washington and his appointed officers rode onto the Cambridge Commons where the men from the Northeastern colonies had gathered to enlist in the Continental Army of the United States.  The recruitments were largely made up of militias from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont – men who had already faced British troops in battle at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill.    

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Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) was born in Senegal, Affrica.  At around 8 years of age, Phillis was kidnapped by some of her own countrymen, who sold her into slavery.   She was eventually brought to Boston, Massachusetts when she was around 12 years of age. 

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Henry Knox was from a large Irish family in Boston.  When his father died Henry gave up school and became the sole support for his mother.  He worked for a Boston book seller until he was able to open his own bookstore, where he developed a keen interest in books on military strategy.

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As General Washington began training the various New England militias into functional ground troops, he was well aware that the powerful British Navy posed a threat to all of the thirteen colonies dotted along the eastern coastline.  Washington understood the importance of creating a colonial navy if they were to defend themselves against British naval attacks on their coastlines.

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The commander of the British Army, General William Howe, and his brother, Admiral of the Navy, Richard Howe were assigned to quell any uprisings in the colonies.  Their first aim was to disarm the northeastern colonists and lay seize to the city of Boston and Boston Harbor, thereby severing their ties from rest of the colonies to the south.

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As General Washington prepared his troops to defend New York City, he learned that the British might also attack Brooklyn on nearby Long Island.  Although this seemed like a ploy to draw his soldiers away from their posts in lower Manhattan, Washington sent General Israel Putnam and a division of 10,000 troops across the East River to Brooklyn Heights where Putnam spent the next several weeks building up American defenses.

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Georgia Frontierswoman and Patriot Spy (Article 21)

December 15, 2017

Nancy Morgan Hart (1735-1830) was a legendary hero of the American Revolution who made it her mission to rid the Georgia territory of British Loyalists.  Even the local Cherokees referred to her as “Wahatche” or “war woman.”

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A Government of Laws, Not of Men - Part I (Article 19)

December 1, 2017

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."       James Madison, Federalist #51

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March 3, 2017

The Declaration of Independence can be read in under 5 minutes!  However, following up on the participants' names and the human stories during this epic time in U.S. history can be inspiring.  In this document, which would be presented to the British Monarch, the Continental Congress listed 27 grievances signifying the extent to which the Colonists suffered at the hands of the British.  In summary, they wrote of their inhumane treatment:  "...works of death, desolation and tyranny...with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages..." 

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Declaration of Independence - (Article 3)

March 24, 2017

The World’s Most Famous Mission Statement

As we learned last week, the Declaration of Independence can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Yes, that is right - the very document that ignited the American Revolution and launched the nation that would become a “shining city on a hill” - can be read in less time than the instructions for your new toaster. 

We recognize Thomas Jefferson as the true author of the Declaration of Independence but four other men were appointed to the writing committee:  John Adams, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  

Today we explore the four components of the Declaration itself.

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Declaration of Independence - (Article 4)

April 21, 2017

After Signing the Declaration of Independence

When the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence affixed their name to that document, they knew they were committing treason; that they were taking on the most powerful military force on earth with a ragtag army and militias made up of farmers and merchants.  Benjamin Franklin famously said as he was signing: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  Indeed, many of the signers fought, some were captured, some lost their homes, their fortunes and sometimes their families.  

What the signers did following the war gives further testament to the greatness of the men that assembled in Philadelphia that sultry summer.

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A Republic, If We Can Keep It - Part II (Article 20)

December 8, 2017

Anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, and a woman asked Ben Franklin whether the nation had been given a monarchy of a republic; he famously replied, "A republic madam, if you can keep it."

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Nathaniel Greene - From Quaker to Major General (Article 32)

March 9, 2018

The Society of Friends began in England in the 1650's.  More familiarly known as Quakers, they believe that there is something of God in everybody.  Therefore, as pacifists, they are opposed to war.

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The Crisis (Article 33)

March 16, 2018

"These are the times that try men's souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman..."

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The Crossing (Article 34)

March 23, 2018

British General William Howe, a seasoned military officer, already had General George Washington's army in retreat...Now all he needed was to seize Philadelphia to put an end to this pesky Colonial rebellion.

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Victory or Death (Article 35)

March 30, 2018

Just as General Washington was preparing the first phase of his audacious attack on the Hessian enemy army in Trenton, he hastily gave battle passwords to all of his officers; "Victory or Death!"

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Let Them Come! (Article 36)

April 6, 2018

A mixture of rain, snow and hail soaked the Patriot army as they slogged through the night.  Their food supplies were spent, and many of their muskets were rendered useless due to moisture.

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Disturbing News (Article 37)

April 13, 2018

Throughout the eight years the American Patriots fought against the British Monarchy for independence, communications on the battlefield were, at best, difficult and slow.

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The Battle of Princeton (Article 38)

April 20, 2018

As soon as the Continental Army returned to New Jersey for the Second Battle of Trenton, General Washington sent out a call to arms to reinforce his troops.  Within less than twenty-four hours, three units of United States Marines joined Washington on the march north to Princeton.

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From the Colonial Battlefields to the Palace of Versailles (Article 39)

April 27, 2018

 France was an unlikely ally from which Benjamin Franklin sought aid in the United States' Revolutionary War against Great Britain.  Both of these European countries were ruled by kings, but, ironically, we had more in common with the British than with the pure monarchial rule of France. 

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A Tribute to our Founding Mothers - (Article 7)

September 8, 2017

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year...
                    -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

But wait...there is another story about Sybil Ludington, known as the female Paul Revere! 

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Leadership, True Grit, and Spies (Article 40)

May 5, 2018

During the eight harrowing years of the Revolutionary War, time and again George Washington let his army of Patriot soldiers through severe winter storms or blistering heat, on all-night marches immediately followed by encounters with enemy forces, and even on well-timed retreats from battles where they would be otherwise overwhelmed by the British Army.

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George Washington - Spymaster (Article 41)

May 11, 2018

George Washington's alias was "Agent 711."  Of all of the venerable titles bestowed upon Washington, he was known as, The Spymaster, to only a select number of people.  These people were part of a small network of spies, double agents, and informants whose intelligence Washington used to gain the upper hand with the British.

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Revolutionary War Veteran - Deborah Sampson (Article 16)

November 10, 2017

The bronze statue of Deborah (Sampson) Gannett, located in Sharon MA, depicts a woman wearing a simple Colonial-style dress although, on one side, she is draped with a coat of a Continental Army soldier and, she is also holding a musket and a powder horn.

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Lydia Barrington Darrah - Revolutionary War Spy (Article 28)

February 9, 2018

Lydia Barrington Darragh was a Philadelphia Quaker who became a Patriot spy during the American Revolution. Her courageous efforts helped prepare General George Washington for an attack by the British in December of 1777.

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The Turning Point of The Revolutionary War (Article 43)

May 25, 2018

By early September of 1777, the British already had control of Canada, Rhode Island, and New York City. At the same time, British General William Howe was poised to take over Philadelphia, the temporary capital of the United States.

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Winter at Valley Forge (Article 44)

June 1, 2018

After General Burgoyne surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga, New York, in the fall of 1777, George Washington brought his army together to fight the British forces of General William Howe, whose plan was to seize Philadelphia, the capital of the United States.

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The "Pentagon" of Valley Forge (Article 45)

June 8, 2018

During the six-month encampment at Valley Forge, from December 1777 through June 1778, George Washington's headquarters were in a two-story stone house with an adjoining building, which served as sleeping quarters for up to twenty-five of his officers.

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Leaving Valley Forge (Article 46)

June 15, 2018

The British Army, under General William Howe, had occupied the American Capital of Philadelphia, from the fall of 1777 through the spring of 1778, causing the Continental Congress to flee to the safety of York, Pennsylvania. 

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They Came to the Aid of the Soldiers - Part 1: Molly Pitcher (Article 47)

June 22, 2018

Throughout the Revolutionary War, there were Colonial men, women and even children who put their personal safety aside to join in the fight for freedom, by whatever means possible.

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They Came to the Aid of the Soldiers - Part 2: Children of the American Revolution (Article 48)

June 29, 2018

At age thirteen, orphan and future U.S. President, Andrew Jackson joined the Continental Army as a courier in the backcountry of the Carolinas.

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TURNCOAT (Article 49)

July 6, 2018

Ever since his collusion with the British was discovered, the name Benedict Arnold has been synonymous with the word traitor!

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The Siege of Charleston (Article 50)

July 13, 2018

British General Henry Clinton wanted to turn his defeats, at West Point and the northern Colonies, into what he considered certain victories in the Colonial South.

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The Timely Alliance (Article 51)

July 20, 2018

Throughout the northeastern winter of 1780, General Washington's army struggled due to a lack of the most basic provisions -- food and clothing, as well as going for months without pay.

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Yorktown - The Final Battle! (Article 52)

July 27, 2018

Through the many battles that took place during the Revolutionary War, there was a decided contest of wills between General George Washington and his British counterparts, Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis.

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A Heartfelt Farewell - (Article 53)

August 3, 2018

Throughout the long Revolutionary War, George Washington had been guided by his deeply held faith that Divine Providence would lead his Patriot army to defeat their oppressive British overlords.

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Washington - The 18th Century Cincinnatus - (Article 54)

August 10, 2018

The Revolutionary War was over.  General Washington's Continental Army, and his French allies, had defeated the British Army at Yorktown in 1781, causing the British General Cornwallis to surrender.

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Foundations of a Free Society - (Article 55)

August 17, 2018

Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence, which he completed in 19 days.  After revisions, it was ratified with the famous signature of John Hancock, the President of the Congress, on July 4, 1776.  However, it is worth noting that this definitive document was largely influenced by the writings of John Adams.

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The Miracle of the Constitution - (Article 56)

August 24, 2018

Guest Author:  Michael Medved
Excerpted from his best-selling book: "THE AMERICAN MIRACLE"

Americans rightly embrace the Constitution as a cornerstone of the country, a fortunate foundation both inevitable and (mostly) immutable. 

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The Miracle in Philadelphia - (Article 8)

September 15, 2017

By 1787, ten years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, and of the republican form of government, the country was deeply in debt.

James Madison, and other patriotic thinkers of the time, began work on what turned out to be the greatest document written by man, The United States Constitution.

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The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights (Article 57)

August 31, 2018

The U.S. Constitution was approved on September 17, 1787.  It went into effect on March 4, 1789, with a majority vote of nine of the thirteen states, but it took another year before being officially ratified by all thirteen states.

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The Oath of Office - The First U.S. Law Passed by Congress - (Article 9)

September 22, 2017

June 1, 1789 - First Congress, First Session - Volume 1
by Judy Leithe

We all know our Constitution is unique in providing for a free and just society, and the oaths taken by our representatives are important. We love our English cousins but, let's contrast their oaths of office, taken since 1868, with our own: 

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We the People…(Article 58)

September 7, 2018

The dream of freedom from tyranny was deeply ingrained in the hearts of our remarkable 'national' ancestors.  Our forefathers and mothers routinely faced dangers and hardships which almost defy description.

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An Education in Civility (Article 18)

November 24, 2017

As Justice Kennedy likes to point out, the word civics springs from the Latin word that was also the same root for civility.  And both civics and civility are essential elements of civilization.  Just consider the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, free press, free assembly.

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The First Amendment - The Foundation of our Republic - (Article 10)

September 29, 2017

by Judy Leithe 

Take a moment and name the 5 Freedoms guaranteed by our First Amendment to the Constitution.  

The 5 Freedoms are: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

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When Benedict Arnold Was a Patriot (Article 42)

May 18, 2018

Benedict Arnold was highly regarded by George Washington.  He identified with Arnold's fiery boldness, his instincts for risk-taking tactics on the battlefield and, initially, considered Arnold as a valued asset to the cause of liberty.

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