The 1776 Commission, also known as the 1776 Project, was an advisory committee established in September 2020 by President Donald Trump to support what he called “patriotic education”. The commission released The 1776 Report on January 18, 2021, two days before the end of Trump’s term. Academic Historians overwhelmingly criticized the report, saying it was “filled with errors and partisan politics”. The commission was terminated by President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021. We have read the report and found it to be a fair and informative recounting of history. The current administration has their reasons to oppose “Patriotic Education”, but we offer this for you to read and judge for yourself.
A CONSTITUTION OF PRINCIPLES Part 1
It is one thing to discern and assert the true principles of political legitimacy and justice. It is quite another to establish those principles among an actual people, in an actual government, here on earth. As Winston Churchill put it in a not dissimilar context, even the best of men struggling in the most just of causes cannot guarantee victory; they can only deserve it.
The founders of the United States, perhaps miraculously, achieved what they set out to achieve. They defeated the world’s strongest military and financial power and won their independence. They then faced the task of forming a country that would honor and implement the principles upon which they had declared their independence.
The bedrock upon which the American political system is built is the rule of law. The vast difference between tyranny and the rule of law is a central theme of political thinkers back to classical antiquity. The idea that the law is superior to rulers is the cornerstone of English constitutional thought as it developed over the centuries. The concept was transferred to the American colonies, and can be seen expressed throughout colonial pamphlets and political writings. As Thomas Paine reflected in Common Sense:
“The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education and family.” Alexander Hamilton
For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.
To assure such a government, Americans demanded a written legal document that would create both a structure and a process for securing their rights and liberties and spell out the divisions and limits of the powers of government. That legal document must be above ordinary legislation and day-to-day politics. That is what the founders meant by “constitution,” and why our Constitution is “the supreme Law of the Land.”
Their first attempt at a form of government, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was adopted in the midst of the Revolutionary War and not ratified until 1781. During that time, American statesmen and citizens alike concluded that the Articles were too weak to fulfill a government’s core functions. This consensus produced the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which met in Philadelphia that summer to write the document which we have today. It is a testament to those framers’ wisdom and skill that the Constitution they produced remains the longest continually-operating written constitution in all of human history.
The meaning and purpose of the Constitution of 1787, however, cannot be understood without recourse to the principles of the Declaration of Independence—human equality, the requirement for government by consent, and the securing of natural rights—which the Constitution is intended to embody, protect, and nurture. Lincoln famously described the principles of the Declaration (borrowing from Proverbs 25:11) as an “apple of gold” and the Constitution as a “frame of silver” meant to “adorn and preserve” the apple. The latter was made for the former, not the reverse.
The form of the new government that the Constitution delineates is informed in part by the charges the Declaration levels at the British crown. For instance, the colonists charge the British king with failing to provide, or even interfering with, representative government; hence the Constitution provides for a representative legislature. It also charges the king with concentrating executive, legislative, and judicial power into the same hands, which James Madison pronounced “the very definition of tyranny.” Instead, the founders organized their new government into three coequal branches, checking and balancing the power of each against the others to reduce the risk of abuse of power.
The intent of the framers of the Constitution was to construct a government that would be sufficiently strong to perform those essential tasks that only a government can perform (such as establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare— the main tasks named in the document’s preamble), but not so strong as to jeopardize the people’s liberties. In other words, the new government needed to be strong enough to have the power to secure rights without having so much power as to enable or encourage it to infringe rights.
More specifically, the framers intended the new Constitution to keep the thirteen states united—to prevent the breakup of the Union into two or more smaller countries—while maintaining sufficient latitude and liberty for the individual states.
The advantages of union are detailed in the first fourteen papers of The Federalist (a series of essays written to urge the Constitution’s adoption), and boil down to preventing and deterring foreign adventurism in North America, avoiding conflicts between threats, achieving economies of scale, and best utilizing the diverse resources of the continent.
While the Constitution is fundamentally a compact among the American people (its first seven words are “We the People of the United States”), it was ratified by special conventions in the states. The peoples of the states admired and cherished their state governments, all of which had adopted republican constitutions before a federal constitution was completed. Hence the framers of the new national government had to respect the states’ prior existence and jealous guarding of their own prerogatives.
They also believed that the role of the federal government should be limited to performing those tasks that only a national government can do, such as providing for the nation’s security or regulating commerce between the states, and that most tasks were properly the responsibility of the states. And they believed that strong states, as competing power centers, would act as counterweights against a potentially overweening central government, in the same way that the separation of powers checks and balances the branches of the federal government.
This was proudly reproduced and published without asking anybody whatsoever. Tomorrow at the same the time the installments will continue.