Historians are generally agreed that if the Constitution had been put before the electorate for an up-and-down vote—a plebescite, in effect—it would not have been ratified. This essay considers how three large groups—African Americans, artisans, and small farmers—viewed the Constitution, and examines why these groups had deep reservations about its ability to steer the nation forward without compromising the founding principles of the American Revolution.
The Lewis and Clark expedition is rightly considered one of the great American stories. In May of 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off by keelboat up the Missouri River with thirty-one men, the “Corps of Discovery,” on an expedition authorized by Congress at the request of Thomas Jefferson. The expedition’s grip on the popular imagination is understandable. It features adventures and trials, close calls and improbable coincidences, exotic encounters and fascinating personalities.
By the time Jefferson entered the White House, Congress was shelling out nearly one-fifth of the national budget to buy off the Barbary pirates. Jefferson wanted war, but was convinced that Congress would not support it. He therefore asserted an executive privilege: by executive order he sent a small fleet of American warships to the Mediterranean with instructions to protect US commerce.
During James Madison’s presidency (1809–1817) Dolley Madison laid the foundation for the role of what would become the unofficial office of “first lady.” For more than a hundred years, she remained the first lady by which other presidential spouses were judged.
Bitter over the American declaration of war in 1812, when the British Empire had faced the emperor Napoleon at the peak of his power, the British sought payback in 1814. The powerful British navy targeted the villages and cities along Chesapeake Bay, including Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland, for destructive raids.