Independence 25 Years Later

July 13, 2010

Reading the Declaration in the Second Generation: John Quincy Adams’ Speech on Independence Day in 1821

John Quincy AdamsIn 1821, John Quincy Adams, then the Secretary of State, delivered a July 4th address in Washington DC on the occasion of a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Such occasions and the speeches accompanying them were once a common part of July 4th celebrations. Adams gave a number of such addresses over the years.

In his address in 1821, Adams begins by describing the situation of America and the world prior to the Declaration. Politics had been a matter of conquest and superstition, exemplified in the rule of Kings by a supposed divine right. But a new understanding of divinity revealed in the Reformation, Adams told his audience, eventually lead to a new understanding of politics. Common to both religious and political reformation was the understanding that “man has a right to the exercise of his own reason.” Through this exercise men came to understand their natural God-given rights. Americans blended these rights with the rights of Englishmen in the Declaration. The address then includes the Declaration. Following the reading of the Declaration, Adams makes a case for the exceptional character of the Declaration and the United States: the Declaration “was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government…. It stands, and must for ever stand, alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes,… a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed… hold[ing] out to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties, founded in the laws of nature, and of nature’s God.” Part of America’s exceptional character, according to Adams, is that it tries to conduct its external as well as internal politics by the principles of the Declaration and proclaims to all “mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.”

But Adams, a statesman deeply experienced in the harshness of the world, in words destined to be his most quoted, immediately tried to limit the still fledgling republic’s responsibilities. “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” By engaging in the wars of others, even wars of independence, according to Adams, “the fundamental maxims of [America’s] policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.” Adams concluded his address by reminding his audience that America’s “glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of mind.”

David Tucker, Associate Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School

Read the document:
Speech on Independence Day, John Quincy Adams, 1821

Liberty and Constitution: Weekend Seminars for Teachers

The Ashbrook Center and Liberty Fund are proud to announce a series of four new seminars for teachers of American history or government. These seminars will explore the meaning of liberty in the U.S. Constitution by focusing on the debates over ratification and the origins of the Bill of Rights.

Four seminars will be offered during the 2010-2011 academic year, each to be held in one of the states at the center of the ratification debates over the U.S. Constitution: New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Participants at each site will focus on the ratifying convention that occurred there. Seminars will be led by instructors in Ashbrook’s Master of American History and Government program, university professors who specialize in the Founding Era and American Constitutionalism.

  • Poughkeepsie, New York – Friday, September 10 to Sunday, September 12, 2010
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Friday, October 29, to Sunday, October 31, 2010
  • Boston, Massachusetts – Friday, March 4 to Sunday, March 6, 2011
  • Richmond, Virginia – Friday, March 18 to Sunday, March 20, 2011

A total of seventy-two teachers–eighteen at each site–will be chosen to participate in the program. Each seminar will begin on Friday afternoon and conclude on Sunday afternoon. The seminars are offered at no cost and each participant will receive a $425 travel and expense stipend.

Don’t delay. Applications for the New York and Pennsylvania seminars are due by August 1, 2010. Applications for the Massachusetts and Virginia seminars are due by December 31, 2010. For more information and to apply to attend, click here.

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. If you already have a Masters degree or would simply like to obtain additional CEUs, you may also attend specific courses for continuing education credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

A sample course in the MAHG program: The Reform Tradition in America

Professors Jeff Norrell and Natalie Taylor will examine three important eras in American history when movements to reform the political and social life of the country dominated the public debate: the decades preceding the Civil War, the decades preceding the First World War, and the decades following World War II. During each period, great efforts were made to advance the rights of two segments of the population: African Americans and women. The course will be offered in Session Five, Sunday, July 18, to Friday, July 23, 2010.

The two instructors bring different areas of expertise to this study. Professor Norrell has long studied race relations in the Southern United States and the civil rights movements that took place there, not only the movement after World War II, but also the efforts of earlier reformers in the period following Reconstruction. Most recently, he has published a highly acclaimed biography of Booker T. Washington, Up From History (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2009). Norrell will lead seven sessions in the course, primarily covering the abolition movement, post-Civil War efforts to educate African-Americans, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Professor Taylor, who researches American political theory and feminist theory, will lead seven sessions dealing with efforts to expand women’s rights, in movements that owed a large intellectual and practical debt to the abolition and civil rights battles that preceded them.

In large part, the course examines the ways Americans have grappled with the meaning and consequences of their decision to found a republic on the idea of human equality. Slavery, of course, fundamentally contradicted this decision, and it is not surprising that the first important reform movement in America was aimed at abolishing slavery.

No less surprisingly, the women who fought alongside male abolitionists grew conscious of their own limited civil freedoms. An independent movement pursuing woman’s suffrage began before emancipation of African Americans was secured. The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, was not ratified until 1920, some fifty-five years after the amendments abolishing slavery and granting freedmen suffrage and equal protection under the laws. But women’s suffrage was granted at a time when voting rights of southern African Americans were severely restricted in the segregated South. Women would again join efforts to lift these restrictions during the 1950s and 60s Civil Rights era; and again they would draw lessons from this struggle that they would apply in their own feminist movements.

Two Founding Ideas, Intertwined

From the Revolution to the War on Terror, Americans have defined our society with the words liberty and freedom. We have held up these ideals as core values in the midst of cultural uncertainty and political strife. But where did these words come from, and how have their meanings changed as America evolved from scattered English colonies to the dizzyingly diverse, multicolored mosaic of the 21st century? In his book Liberty and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer shows how “liberty” and “freedom” originally meant two different things: “liberty” implied separation and independence, while “freedom” carried the idea of attachment to a community of free people. Yet, like the double strands of DNA, the two ideas became intertwined, and they have recombined in every generation to shape American culture in fundamental ways.

In this audio lecture, Fischer discusses his 2004 book. In his view, “what made America free, and keeps it growing more so, was not any single vision of liberty and freedom but the interplay of many visions.” Check out the book itself for the complete argument and the rich array of color illustrations, showing symbols Americans have designed and used, from the flags of Revolutionary regiments to cigarette cards to Norman Rockwell paintings.

David Hackett Fischer is University Professor at Brandeis University and author of several highly acclaimed histories, including Albion’s Seed, The Great Wave, Paul Revere’s Ride, and Washington’s Crossing.

Featured This Summer at EDSITEment

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. EDSITEment has updated two lessons plans on the novel: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: Profiles in Courage and To Kill A Mockingbird and the Scottsboro Boys Trial: Profiles in Courage. You can also find other resources on the novel here. A companion volume to the novel has just been published by Mary McDonagh Murphy, who considers the Mockingbird “our national novel” since “it is the first adult novel that many of us remember reading, one book that millions of us have in common.” She has compiled a set of interview with prominent Americans–including Oprah, Anna Quindlen, and Tom Brokaw–who speak about how the book has impacted their lives.

The Declaration of Independence: “An Expression of the American Mind” is a lesson plan for grades 9-12 that guides students in discovery of the documents that influenced the language of the Declaration and in comprehension of its ideas about a government designed to protect human rights. Students are introduced to social contract theory; read excerpts from Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other documents; and annotate a copy of the Declaration to spell out its argument.

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit our website.

Get Email Updates is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)