Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

Our Founding Fathers Said That?

Constitutional Convention (Granger Collecton, NY/courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy of SIRS Discoverer)

The United States Constitution is considered to be “the supreme law of the land.” And it has been for more than two centuries. No small feat for a document uniting the ideas of nationhood, independence, defense, general welfare, and all sorts of liberties.

This document certainly was not created alone.

Many people contributed to the development, shaping, and writing of the U.S. Constitution. Those who had the most significant impact on its outcome are considered to be the U.S. Founding Fathers (remember that this was the 18th century–women, such as Abigail Adams, influenced the Constitution, but through their husbands…a blog post for another day).

With all of the hullabaloo around the upcoming presidential election, and with all of the recent discussions on and controversies around gun rights and women’s rights and immigrants’ rights and LGBTQ rights and criminal rights and voting rights…, let’s take a listen to what some of our Founding Fathers have said about the U.S. Constitution.

First U.S. President George Washington (Gilbert Stuart/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)


“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”–George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington is considered by many to be the “father of the country.” He was, after all, the nation’s first President. He served that office from 1789 to 1797. Prior to that, he was a general in the Revolutionary War and is considered to have played a pivotal role in leading the American Army to victory.

Our first president was known as a man of few and select words, as embodied by the above quote. He thoughtfully deemed the U.S. Constitution a “guide” to be followed, not the zenith or the ultimate truth.

Third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (Rembrandt Peale/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)


“Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”–Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States (1801-1809), was a terrible speaker but a terrific writer. He wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and his input was invaluable to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson was a lawyer, diplomat, naturalist, architect, educator, statesman, musician, inventor, scientist, geographer…he was fluent in many languages…he supported women’s rights, free public education, and a free library system. All in all, a brilliant and cultured man. He knew government had to be kept in check, and that the general population was essential to maintaining this stability: “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government–lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”–Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Patrick Henry was never president, but he certainly made a name for himself as an orator, lawyer, and politician. He served as first and sixth governor of Virginia, and was instrumental in opposing the Stamp Act of 1765. In fact, he may be most famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

This guy liked freedom.

Henry’s political priorities always aligned with affirming the general population’s rights and well-being. He was consistently against the idea of a strong central government. He initially opposed the idea of a U.S. Constitution, fearing it would jeopardize individual freedoms and state sovereignty. He only became an ardent supporter of the Constitution once the Bill of Rights was added.

Henry wanted the U.S. Constitution to serve as an “instrument” for the people, providing them with the means necessary to maintain their freedoms and hold their government accountable.

Fourth U.S. President James Madison (John Vanderlyn/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)


“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”–James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison, fourth president of the United States (1809-1817), is considered to be the “father of the Constitution.” He had helped write Virginia’s State Constitution, the model for the U.S. Constitution. Both are grounded in his belief that the United States’ potential would be “derived from the superior power of the people.”

Madison predicted a national crisis if no Constitution was drafted. His advocacy for creating a U.S. Constitution paved the way for the Constitutional Congress.

He understood the importance of understanding and interpreting the context in which the document was written. As the context of the living documents changes, should the Constitution?

“It is every American’s right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.”–Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin’s words could not be more timely.

Franklin–statesman, writer, scientist, philosopher, inventor, political theorist, printer–understood that true freedom in this nation began with freedom to choose for oneself.

Franklin’s highest political office was Minister to France. But as the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, he had participated in significant events in American history, such as the signing of the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

As a participant in the signing of the Constitution, Franklin shared an observation that all hoped would be a symbol for the new country. Upon seeing the sun sitting atop George Washington’s chair at the closing of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin said: “I have the happiness to know it is a rising sun and not a setting sun.”

What are your students’ thoughts about the U.S. Constitution? Find resources in SKS and SIRS Discoverer and join us throughout the month of September as we celebrate National Constitution Month.

Presidents Day … or Whatever It’s Called

Washington's Birthday Research Topic via eLibrary

Washington’s Birthday Research Topic screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

No matter what your calendar says, there is no federal holiday called “Presidents Day.” It is still officially “Washington’s Birthday.” While many states have adopted their own holidays to honor various combinations of presidents, the third Monday in February, technically, honors our first president.

George Washington’s birthday is February 22, which was celebrated even when he was still alive, and in 1879 the date was made an official holiday by an act of Congress. This continued until the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the holiday to its place on the third Monday of the month, consequently ensuring it would never fall on the actual date of Washington’s birth. The term “Presidents Day” (or “Presidents’ Day,” depending on where you are and how you feel about apostrophes) was first coined in the 1950s during an effort to create a holiday to honor all presidents, and it was considered in a rejected version of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that would have changed the holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln as well. Over the years, many states began declaring their own Presidents Days to honor Washington, Lincoln and their own native sons, and in the 1980s advertisers began promoting the term “Presidents Day,” adding to the confusion about the holiday. There continue to be efforts to return to focus to George Washington and to move the date back to February 22, with many complaining that the holiday, which most associated with a day off of work and discount sales, has lost its effect as a way to honor Washington and Lincoln and as a tool to foster historical literacy.

However you feel about the name of the holiday and whom it should honor, eLibrary has all of the bases covered. First, we stuck to the federal designation when we created our Washington’s Birthday Research Topic page, which can give you the basics on the holiday itself. Then, there are RT pages on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all of the presidents (if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings). Just type the name in the eLibrary search box. (You can watch for autocomplete drop-downs to aid you while typing.) We also have many RTs related to presidential elections, aspects of the presidency and even the often-forgotten vice presidents. Examples: U.S. Presidential Election, 1960, American Presidency, Vice Presidency, Charles Curtis.

Research Topics and other resources can be topics button smallfound by clicking the “Topics” button in the bar at the top of the page in eLibrary. Here, you can search for and click on underlined words to drill down into subject headings. You can always click on underlined words in the topic string at the top of the page to widen or narrow the scope. An item with a star next to it in the outline or in the topic string will display a Research Topic page directly related to it. Here are some headings to get you started on this topic: Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Presidential Elections, Holidays.


The First U.S. Presidential Election

On this day in 1789, the United States held its very first presidential election.

In accordance with the recently ratified Constitution, white male property owners voted for electors, who in turn voted for the presidential candidates.

George Washington

President George Washington

The winner of this process by a landslide was George Washington, the Virginia landowner who had led American forces in the war against the British. Washington was sworn into office in New York on April 30, 1789.

Washington was a delegate to both constitutional congresses. He was unanimously named both as commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and as president of the convention that drafted the Constitution.

Washington’s popularity cut across the political spectrum, and included both Federalists, who advocated for a strong central government, and Democratic-Republicans, who sought to reserve most governmental powers to the states.

Washington finished first with 69 votes, followed by his fellow Federalist, John Adams of Massachusetts, whose 34 votes won him the vice presidency. (Prior to the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, the candidate who received the most electoral votes became president while the runner-up became vice president.)

You can learn much more about this fascinating time in American history from the extensive resources in eLibrary.

SIRS Discoverer: Accessing Presidents Day Coverage

"George Washington." Photo credit: Boston Public Library / Foter / CC BY

“George Washington.” Photo credit: Boston Public Library / Foter / CC BY

Presidents’ Day falls on Feb. 18 and was originally created in honor of the first president of the United States, George Washington. It is a day to remember the contributions of the 43 presidents. SIRS Discoverer covers them all from Richard Nixon to John F. Kennedy; Bill Clinton to president Barack Obama; and it includes a comprehensive collection of biographies, historical photographs, editorially selected websites and news to fit a variety of educational needs. Start your research with: “He’s Back: Richard Nixon at 100” or “Welcome Back, President Obama!”

Since SIRS Discoverer’s content is hand-curated by editors, the most current and relevant research is always at your fingertips.

Play this interactive, editorially-selected website featured in SIRS Discoverer from the Library of Congress: