Lafayette’s Emancipation Proposal

Shortly after the end of the war for independence, the Marquis de Lafayette proposed a plan emancipating some slaves. Lafayette asked Washington to join in the proposal. Lafayette instituted his plan alone in the French West Indies. Had Washington joined Lafayette in the proposal it could have contributed to a more general emancipation movement throughout America.

Public Protests in Early America

Americans throughout their history have protested their government’s actions and inaction. In the mid-1780s, a wave of violent protests swept through half a dozen states, the most significant being Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. Most Americans condemned this violence with one notable exception. Thomas Jefferson, serving as U.S. minister to France and thus separated from the political maelstrom occurring in America, praised “a little rebellion now and then” as a means to preserve liberty against the inevitable oppression of government.

The Federal Pillars

Thousands of metaphors and similes filled the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. On January 16, 1788, these metaphors took on an actual visual image as the Massachusetts Centinel, a Boston weekly newspaper published by Benjamin Russell, printed a woodcut entitled “The Federal Pillars.”

The Transfer of Presidential Power

The Constitution provides that the President and Vice President have four-year terms and are eligible to be re-elected. Starting with George Washington as the first President, no person ever attempted to serve more than two terms as President until in 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to a third term and then a fourth term in 1944. In response to Roosevelt’s longevity, Republicans proposed the Twenty-second Amendment which was adopted in 1951 limiting the President to no more than two terms. Consequently, the transference of presidential power occurs frequently and has generally gone smoothly, if not always cordially. Each of the first three transfers of power was unique.

Pardons and Reprieves

At the end of every President’s term of office we’ve come to expect a flurry of pardons and reprieves to be granted. Some of these dispensations arouse public outrage, some praise, while most receive unnoticed acquiescence. The President’s unlimited power to grant pardons and reprieves (except in cases of impeachment) stimulated a limited though forceful debate during the year-long struggle to ratify the Constitution.