Getting to Know the Constitution

Before we get into this required web assignment, I would strongly recommend that you read this excellent overview of the role that the Constitution has played in our political discourse from the 1790s through the present. It’s by Jill Lepore, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and a professor of history at Harvard, and was published last January, when the Tea Party still seemed to matter. It is a little long, but I actually found it a fun read, and I guarantee that it will change the way that you think about this document that we all take for granted but that very few of us have actually read. In any case, I think it will really help you think about this assignment.


Here are the directions for the assignment. Please read them carefully as they are a bit complicated. What we are going to do is create our own annotated version of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I have posted every article, section, and amendment, and will have each of you pick one. You then each will write a commentary of your chosen piece of about two paragraphs in length. (The longer articles are broken up into sections, but Articles V, VI, and VII are not since they are short, so if you pick one of those, you will write on the whole article). In your commentary, you will tell us what you think that section/article/amendment means, and what issue or problem the founders sought to address by it. The assignment will happen in two stages:

First Stage: Everyone will pick a first choice and a second choice. You can read the whole Constitution here, and the Bill of Rights here. E-mail me at bo’ once you have picked your two choices (in your e-mail, make sure to include your name and section number, which is 6752). I will post who got what assignment here. Since there are only thirty-three items, two people will be assigned to a few of the pieces. The assignments are first-come, first-serve, so don’t wait too long to make a choice.

Second Stage: Once you see that your assigned section/article/amendment has been confirmed, you can post your commentary by clicking on the link to it on the assignment page. Since this is a history class, the emphasis of our commentary should be on the Constitution and Bill of Rights as they were initially ratified (parts that were later amended or deleted appear as a hypertext link, which will direct you to the text of the relevant changes). You can see an example comment that I wrote by clicking on Article I, Section 1.

Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Review for Midterm

Here is the review sheet for the mid-term. I have also uploaded the lecture PowerPoints for each chapter in the right-hand column under “Course Documents.” I will keep these up until Monday morning. Also, here is a link for the Chapter 6 Review Sheet,which might be helpful for the Midterm.

By the way, here is a link to an interesting piece from the BBC about a recent debate over the legality of the Declaration of Independence. Check out the video–it might give you some useful ideas!

Good luck studying for the midterm, and drop me a line if any questions come up.

Published in: on October 20, 2011 at 2:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oct. 12th Question: A Loyalist Satire

Just a reminder: We do not have class on Monday, October 10, because of Columbus Day. We will have our quiz on Chapter 5 on Wednesday as usual, and you can download the review sheet here.

Keep in mind that the midterm will be held on Monday, Oct. 24, as scheduled on the syllabus, and it will cover everything up through Chapter 6 (the syllabus says up through Chapter 7, but we are a week behind due to the semester’s late start because of the hurricane). It would be a good idea to start organizing and reviewing your notes–we’ll talk some more about some study strategies in class on Wednesday.

Lastly, I would recommend that you begin reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, particularly if you are a slow reader. You can buy the recommended version here, or simply read it online here. We will begin our discussion of the first few chapters of this book on the class session after the midterm (Wednesday, Oct. 26).

Now let’s move on to this week’s web comment. The syllabus says that the Oct. 5 comment was required, but since we’re a week behind, we will not yet do the required one yet–we’ll save it for the following week when we actually read about the Constitution. So instead, I have an optional question that deals with the last phase of the Revolutionary War. If you have not yet commented, please think about doing so as you need to do at least six over the semester to receive a decent grade for this component of the course.

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For almost the entire Revolutionary War, New York City was occupied by British forces, serving as the headquarters for the British war effort. A great many patriots fled the city, making it a redoubt of loyalist sentiment. One influential loyalist was the printer James Rivington, who published a newspaper called the Royal Gazette (the masthead is at the top of this post). On January 31, 1781, Rivington published a satirical “last will and testament” of the Continental Congress. You can read his satire here.

Before answering the questions below, make sure you understand what was going on at that particularly point in time. The war was still going on, with most of the fighting now happening in the South. Patriot General Nathanael Greene had just defeated Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, but the war still was far from over. Cornwallis wouldn’t surrender at Yorktown until later that year, in October. Review the events of this period on pages 123 – 125 of your textbook. when you have done that, reread Rivington’s satire and answer the following questions: What tactics is Rivington using to make fun of Congress? Why might his audience find his depiction of the independence movement as pact with the devil amusing? What do Rivington’s attacks tell you about his own position? (He was obviously against independence, but what might be some specific reasons)? Please answer these questions in one-to-two paragraphs, citing evidence from Rivington’s text.

Published in: on October 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm  Comments (12)