The Constitution is, quite simply, the basis of American democracy. The document details what the branches of government must do, what they are entitled to do, and what they cannot do. Read the full text here.
In 1951, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recruited 13 parents to file a class action suit on behalf of their children. The named plaintiff, Oliver Brown, was the father of a third grader who, denied admission to a neighborhood school because of his race, was forced to walk six blocks to take a bus to a black school. On reviewing the District Court's ruling based on the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decided that segregated public schools were unequal and unconstitutional. This led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. These words are from the unanimous opinion written by Earl Warren. Read the full text here.
Shortly before the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams appointed many judges and justices. While most of these Federalist commissions were delivered before the Democratic-Republican administration took over, some were delayed and declared void. Unable to take office, William Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to force the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to hand over his commission. The Court recognized Marbury's right, but they decided against him because his claim was both inappropriately presented and based on an unconstitutional act of Congress. This ruling solidified the Court's power to review and interpret the laws of the land. These words are from the unanimous opinion written by John Marshall. Read the full text here.
The Declaration of Sentiments was presented in July 1848 at the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. Composed by the abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence by casting women in the role of the oppressed and men in the role of the tyrant. This led to much heated dispute, but it is now recognized as the first step towards the addition of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. E-text available here.
This essay was published on January 19, 1788. In it, Madison weighs the pros and cons of the government's power to raise military forces in times of war and to keep standing armies in times of peace. Read the full text here.
The collection of essays known as The Federalist Papers was written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay between 1787 and 1788, under the pseudonym Publius. The writers' main objective was to garner support for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Federalist No. 1 by Hamilton is both an introduction to and a blueprint for the collection. In this essay, Hamilton considers whether society is capable of forming a just government based on rational choice. Read the full text here.
Ratified by Congress on January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment imposed a federal ban on the manufacture, sale, transport and consumption of alcohol. In 1933 it was repealed by the 21st Amendment, bringing the Prohibition Era to a close. Read the full text here.
In 1966, the Supreme Court issued a decision that created a set of rights known as "Miranda rights." According to the opinion, a person being arrested and held in police custody must be informed that he or she has a right to representation by an attorney and a right to avoid self-incrimination. Read the full text here.
The 19th Amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote. Congress passed it on June 4, 1919 and ratified it on August 18, 1920. This list includes vocabulary from the transcription of the Joint Resolution of Congress proposing the 19th Amendment. Read the full text here.
Imprisoned in April, 1963 for protesting segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this letter to affirm that nonviolent civil disobedience was essential to achieving the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. Read the full text of the letter here.
Christopher Columbus embarked on the first of three voyages to the "New World" with three ships — the Niña, Pinta and Santa María — on August 3, 1492. On October 12th, Columbus and his crew arrived on the island known today as San Salvador. He kept a logbook in which he faked some entries to soothe a mutinous crew, and a private diary in which he described the journey that shaped the subsequent history of the western hemisphere. Upon his return to Spain, Columbus presented these records to Queen Isabella I of Castile. She had the diary copied and retained the original, then gave the copy to Columbus before his second voyage. The whereabouts of the original Spanish text remain a mystery — its location has not been known since 1504. Here are 14 words selected from the historic text.
Robert E. Lee's farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia was delivered at Appomattox Court House on April 10, 1865, one day after the surrender that effectively ended the Civil War. The speech is brief and eloquent. Lee thanks his men for their sacrifice and explains that the outcome is not due to their performance. For more on this speech and its important words, read the full article.