During the partial government shutdown of 2013, an expert panel of historians and policy analysts convened in Washington, DC, to discuss the presence of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy in contemporary politics.
Pauline Maier, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discusses several aspects of her book American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. She reveals that the most stirring ideals for us today were an expression of the will of the people and the embodiment of the historical experiences of Americans, rather than the work of a single individual (Thomas Jefferson). She focuses particularly on the meaning and evolution of the phrase, "all men are created equal."
In 1807, Aaron Burr was tried and acquitted on charges of treason for his "adventures" in the American West, but he had fallen out of favor in American life long before, after he had run for president against Thomas Jefferson, served a single term as vice president, and shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel. A free spender, a womanizer, and the only Founding Father who was actually descended from the English aristocracy, Burr was famously secretive and conspiratorial. In this lecture, historian Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University, argues that Burr's true treason was not his actions in the West but his naked ambition and his lack of principles and character that made him a threat to the young republic.
Joseph J. Ellis, Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College, discusses his Pulitzer Prize–winning book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, explains the emergence of the men who led the Revolutionary War and created the new nation, and delves into the four criticisms modern society lays at the door of the Founding Fathers.
A. E. Dick Howard, the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Virginia School of Law, presents a short history of the Constitution and discusses the Supreme Court’s role in the ongoing debate about the separation of church and state.
James F. Simon, the Martin Professor of Law at New York Law School, traces the protracted conflicts between Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, over the role of the US Supreme Court and the federal government.
Ron Chernow presents the full sweep of Alexander Hamilton’s dramatic life and achievements and makes the case that Alexander Hamilton was the most influential American who never attained the presidency.