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"A More Perfect Union..." at the Truman Library

During this presidential year, the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, has organized an exhibition entitled  " A More Perfect Union:  How Critical Presidential Elections Reshaped the Constitution." The exhibition opens on March 4, 2016 and runs through December 31, 2016.

This exhibition examines the evolution of the American government through the Constitutional amendment process, and it highlights some key Presidential elections that pushed that process forward. Featuring a number of original materials from the Truman Library, the National Archives, and from other institutions, the exhibition is particularly interactive in that it contains multiple participatory activities to engage visitors. The show also includes clips of Presidential campaign commercials, the first televised Presidential debate, and other videos. 

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In one letter written just three months after the signing of the Constitution, John Adams conveys his first impressions of the nation's new charter to John Jay. 

The Public Mind cannot be occupied about a nobler object than the proposed Plan of Government. It appears to be admirably calculated to cement all America in Affection and Interest as one great Nation. A Result of Accommodation and Compromise, cannot be supposed, perfectly to coincide with any Ones Ideas of Perfection. But as all the great Principles necessary to Order, Liberty and Safety are respected in it, and Provision is made for Corrections and Amendments as they may be found necessary, I confess I hope to hear of its adoption by all the States. 

On March 5, 1771 the Freemen of the Province of Pennsylvania petitioned King George III for their constitutional rights.

Fully confiding, that your Royal Majesty will always make the Preservation of the constitutional rights of your subjects a Principal Object of Your Attention and that upir  Royal Disposition Delights in the Freedom and Happiness of Your People, We most humbly and earnestly implore your Majesty by your Royal Authority, Influence and Recommendation; to procure us Relief from the Grievance now most respectfully represented.  

Five years later in the city of Philadelphia, the Freemen of Pennsylvania joined the other twelve colonies to declare their independence from George III and British rule altogether.  

Meanwhile, the rights of slaves were compromised away and instead they were treated as chattel.  A century later Americans were forced to address the issue in the election of 1860.  The Democratic Party split into northern and southern factions, making way for Republican Abraham Lincoln to win the Presidency.  

Among the items the National Archives loaned for the exhibition is a note from Senator Joe Lane to his mistress and Southern spy Rose Greenhow during the 1860 Democratic Convention in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the midst of chaos, Lane reports: 

I don't think [Senator Stephen] Douglas [of Illinois] has declined.   The Convention has divided.  Ten Southern states have withdrawn.  Separate organization has taken place.  Conciliation hardly probable, should they hold out as now a Southern man will be nominated, then we will have a triangular fight, result doubtful.

The Charleston Convention failed to select a presidential candidate. Douglas was later nominated at another convention in Baltimore. In a third convention of mostly Southern Democrats, John Breckenridge was nominated for the Presidency and Senator Lane for his Vice President.

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Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations will be on exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian from September 21, 2014 through 2018. The exhibition covers diplomacy with American Indian nations from the colonial period to the present day. Eight or more Indian treaties from the National Archives will be rotated into the exhibition every six months.

Treaty with the Six Nations at Konondaigua of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, New York, 1794
National Archives General Records of the U.S. Government

 

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