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The Declaration of Independence.
The Bill of Rights.
Uh ... the Articles of something ....
Uh ... the Federalist thing-a-ma-bobs ....
The first three, you know. But after that, maybe you’ve failed to explore, to go beyond the center of our patriotic universe.
America is more than just three documents. While those three compose the heart, they're not alone in giving life to America. Lesser-known writings/documents have helped create and shape our country.
Here’s a few of those lesser-known documents. Read them and establish yourself as an aficionado on freedom.
Written in 1774 by George Mason and George Washington, the Fairfax County Resolves enumerate the fundamental constitutional rights of the British-American colonies.
[Resolved that] our Ancestors, when they left their native Land, and settled in America, brought with them (even if the same had not been confirmed by Charters) the Civil-Constitution and Form of Government of the Country they came from; and were by the Laws of Nature and Nations, entitiled to all its Privileges, Immunities and Advantages; which have descended to us their Posterity, and ought of Right to be as fully enjoyed, as if we had still continued within the Realm of England.
Written in 1774, the Summary View was Thomas Jefferson’s first substantial state paper.* Coined by Washington as “Mr. Jefferson’s Bill of Rights,” the Summary View set out America’s grievances against King George III.
That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate: Let those flatter who fear; it is not an American art. To give praise which is not due might be well from the venal, but would ill beseem those who are asserting the rights of human nature. They know, and will therefore say, that kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people. Open your ***, sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the third be a blot in the page of history.
During John Adam’s presidency, the Alien and Sedition Acts criminalized the act of speaking out against the government. Voices and opposition were silenced to an almost preposterous degree . Consider New Jersey’s Luther Baldwin, who was fined and jailed for saying he didn’t care if cannon fire hit Adams in the butt.
In opposition to the Acts, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison authored the Kentucky (Jefferson) and the Virginia (Madison) Resolutions. These Resolutions asserted constitutional rights, challenged federal overreach and championed the states’ powers.
[Resolved that] this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
Early in the Revolution, John Adams was a staunch supporter of George Washington. In fact, it was Adams, much to John Hancock’s chagrin, who nominated Washington to lead the Continental Army. But over time, Adams soured on Washington, and in 1807, Adam’s penned a humorous, if not snarky, letter listing Washington’s 10 “talents.”
While not a document of liberty, Adam’s letter reminds us that the Founding Fathers were very much human, very much flawed and, at times, like the states themselves, very much at odds.
6. Washington was a Virginian. This is equivalent to five Talents. Virginian Geese are all Swans. Not a Bearne in Scotland is more national, not a Lad upon the High Lands is more clannish, than every Virginian I have ever known. They trumpet one another with the most pompous and mendacious Panegyricks. The Phyladelphians and New Yorkers who are local and partial enough to themselves are meek and modest in Comparison with Virginian Old Dominionism. Washington of course was extolled without bounds.
Seventy years after the Declaration of Independence, Frederick Douglass launched his anti-slavery newspaper, North Star. On the launch date - December 3, 1847 – Douglass authored “Our Paper and Its Prospects,” which explained his purposes for publishing the paper.
It is neither a reflection on the fidelity, nor a disparagement of the ability of our friends and fellow-laborers, to assert what “common sense affirms and only folly denies,” that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,—that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT—and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty.
During the Red Scare, many were afraid to speak out against anticommunist crusader, Senator Joseph McCarthy. But on June 1st, 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith spoke in protest before the U.S. Senate. Her Declaration of Conscience speech invoked the image of a “national suicide” and warned of an ending to everything that Americans hold dear.
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism
The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.
You’ve likely heard of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written on April 16th, 1963.
But have you read it?
King’s very powerful, and very public, “I Have a Dream” speech often overshadows** his more intimate, but no less powerful, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
*Jefferson’s views were so striking and treasonous that rumors linked him to a bill of attainder in London.
**Including these 6 unsung Martin Luther King Jr. works/speeches you should know but probably don't.