Continuing Revolutions

In 1795, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the American Revolution set a "ball of liberty" in motion that "will roll round the globe." During the years between the end of the war and Jefferson’s election as president, that ball rolled across the new nation as Americans created a new government, fashioned a new economy, and forged a new people, all with unforeseen consequences for the meaning of liberty and equality that continue to shape our world.

  • Constituting a Nation

    The business of the American Revolution did not end with the cessation of hostilities. Financial and diplomatic problems pressed the new nation in ways that revealed the fundamental weakness of the Articles of Confederation as a system of national government. What resulted was the promise of "a more perfect Union" and a constitution designed to secure the independence that the war had won.

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  • We the People

    The Constitution pledged to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility," and "secure the blessings of liberty," yet the limits of that language were clear from the outset. Riots, rebellions, and the exclusion, even further restriction, of the rights of women, slaves, and Native Americans posed serious challenges for the new nation.

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  • Anarchy of Our Commerce

    In 1786, James Madison warned of the "unhappy effect of a continuance of the present anarchy of our commerce." National and personal debt, weak paper currency, rampant counterfeiting, and the destruction of trading networks that had been protected by British legislation and the Royal Navy, all hampered the development of a viable American economy.

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  • Making an American Mind

    A French immigrant to the United States wondered in 1784, "What then is the American, this new man?" The answer to the question could be found in the explosion in American culture after the war, especially in poetry, literature, theater, and painting. It was patriotic and inward-looking, yet determined to meet European cultural standards.

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