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What Is It?

The 1776 Series is a collection of original essays that explain the foundational themes of the American experience. Commissioned from distinguished historians and scholars, these essays contribute to the broader goal of RealClear's American Civics portal: providing an education in the principles and practices that every patriotic citizen should know.


Essays

Why Is the Constitution Not Democratic? by Dennis Hale & Marc Landy

It’s hard not to notice that in the United States, political arguments frequently turn on questions that, in other democracies, nobody talks about. What are the powers of the legislature? What may the executive do? What can the states do without begging permission from the national government? Why can’t an idea popular with the public become a law?. . . Read more.


Lincoln, the American Founding, and the Moral Foundations of a Free Society by Lucas Morel

Abraham Lincoln believed that the success of American self-government required the right ideas and the right institutions. He thought that the right ideas were found in the Declaration of Independence—specifically, human equality, individual rights, government by consent of the governed, and the right . . . Read more.


Religion and the Moral Foundations of American Democracy by Carson Holloway

According to social scientists, traditional religiosity is in decline in contemporary America. Fewer Americans identify as members of long-established churches. Fewer Americans attend religious services on a weekly basis than in generations past. Some Americans view these developments in purely empirical terms . . . Read more.


Civic and Moral Virtues, the American Way by Will Morrisey

In declaring their independence from Great Britain, Americans famously asserted their unalienable rights. Much less conspicuously, but no less tellingly, they listed ten moral responsibilities consonant with those rights. In announcing their political separation, they begin by acknowledging a duty . . . Read more.


Self Government, the American Way by Will Morrisey

After winning the independence they had declared in 1776, Americans had to prove that they could sustain self-government in peace. They’d governed themselves already, as colonists, but now the British government no longer protected them from the other European powers, and indeed remained a potential enemy . . . Read more.


Started in Slavery, Founded in Freedom: 1619 vs. 1776 by S. Adam Seagrave

Now that everyone with a computer and an opinion has had his or her say on the merits and shortcomings of the “1619 Project,” we are now in a position to step back and ask ourselves: What is really at stake here? The most controversial aspect of the project has not been its content—apart from one important, mistaken . . . Read more.


Howard Zinn’s Assault on Historians and American Principles by Mary Grabar

Recently, Michael Barone heralded a bipartisan refutation of the New York Times’s 1619 Project. As part of “an ongoing battle for control of the central narrative of American history,” Barone noted, the August 2019 Times magazine supplement had made the case for redefining the founding of the United States from 1776 to 1619, when, presumably, the first . . . Read more.


George Washington and Self-Government by William B. Allen

As George Washington’s first presidential administration, the first term of government under the United States Constitution, neared its end in 1793, the president found himself confronting a form of populism antithetical to stable politics in a republic. The situation emerged from the turbulent development . . . Read more.


Hamilton: Statesmanship at the Service of a Natural Rights Republic by Tony Williams

In recent years, American civic culture has suffered deep cleavages. Civil conversations have been poisoned by battles over the meaning of America’s past, and which figures we should revere—and condemn. Even America’s Founding Fathers have come under the microscope, but one—Alexander Hamilton . . . Read more.


Martin Luther King, Jr., the American Revolutionaries, and the Politics of Parallel Reality by S. Adam Seagrave

Throughout the Stamp Act crisis of the 1760s—the “Prologue to Revolution,” according to the title of historian Edmund S. Morgan’s published collection of documents—the British North American colonists sent petition after petition to both houses of the British Parliament. These petitions frequently asserted the rights that the colonists possessed . . . Read more.


Increased Devotion by Christopher Flannery

Abigail Adams quoted from memory the ode “How Sleep the Brave,” by English poet William Collins, in a letter to her husband John, started on Sunday, June 18, and mailed on Tuesday, June 20, 1775. She had just confirmed reports of the death of their dear friend and family doctor, 34-year-old . . . Read more.


The Founders' Understanding of Equality by Robert Curry

We have reached a time when each of us must make an effort to rediscover what Adams and Jefferson and the other Founders meant when they declared that we are all created equal. For over a century, instead of trying to help each generation of Americans understand the Founders’ idea of America, political thinkers . . . Read more.


On the Peculiar Character of American 'Racism' by David Azerrad

That America is a racist country is the great self-evident truth of the Left and of the ruling class whose moral opinions are shaped by it. This truth is self-evident in the sense of being readily apparent to them, as evidenced by the countless disparities in life outcomes between blacks and whites. No explanation for these disparities . . . Read more.


America’s New Birth of Marriage: Reconsidering the Founders’ Understanding of Marriage and Family by Brandon Dabling

The United States is engaged in a prolonged struggle over the meaning of marriage, and the American Founders’ conception of marriage remains something formidable to reckon with in this contest. The centrality of the Founders’ thinking was apparent in the 2015 Supreme Court same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which . . . Read more.


Why Woke History Is Not the Answer by Wilfred Reilly

The United States may be the first country in history to tell a “noble lie” about its past that makes that past look worse, not better, than it actually was. For certain, the premodern history of the United States included a great deal of barbaric, uncivilized behavior: the conquest of Native American tribes . . . Read more.


Republican Self-Government Versus Judicial Supremacy by Greg Weiner

Last June, the Supreme Court made its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, a case that asked whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employers from discriminating against gay or transgender people. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, the Court’s liberal core . . . Read more.


Frederick Douglass's American Identity Politics by Peter C. Myers

Mark Twain copied a friend's remark into his notebook: "I am not an American; I am the American." That is a claim—to be the American, the exemplary or representative American—that very few Americans could plausibly make. Twain himself could. Benjamin Franklin . . . Read more.


Freedom of Speech Versus Identity Politics by Arthur Milikh

Much evidence suggests that freedom of speech may be banned in the coming years under the guise of regulating “hate speech.” Many on the left who demand and welcome this development do not foresee the broad consequences of their actions. Nor do many defenders . . . Read more.


The Lost Art of Association by Luke C. Sheahan

America is a nation of joiners. When the French aristocrat and political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the early 1830s, he was astonished at all the ways Americans associated. He wrote, “Of all countries in the world, America has taken greatest advantage. . . Read more.


Conservative Nationalism and US Foreign Policy by Colin Dueck

At its most exemplary, conservative nationalism is a democratically oriented and civic form of patriotism, a love of a particular place, maintaining that the world is best governed by independent nation-states and that only within the context of such states can a free citizenry experiment with constitutional forms of . . . Read more.


Civic Virtues as Moral Facts: Recovering the Other Half of Our Founding by Daniel J. Mahoney

Until a half century ago or so, there was a moral consensus, however fraying, that informed and shaped the exercise of freedom in the Western world. The self-determination of human beings, of citizens in self-governing political orders, presupposed a civilized inheritance that allowed free men and women to distinguish . . . Read more.


Taking Federalism Seriously by Marc Landy

Federalism is like a diet. Both the Left and Right try to stick to it, but each abandons it when its craving for the policy equivalent of fries and a shake grows too strong. The Left, which normally looks to the national government for policy solutions, cheerfully applauds state efforts to deal with the least local of all environmental problems . . . Read more.


Madison's Five Lessons for Overcoming Polarization by Lynn Uzzell

There has never been a time when our nation wasn’t divided by partisanship. Yet some eras are more divisive than others, and few of us would deny that we’re living through an especially polarized time. For those who don’t trust their instincts on this question, numerous surveys bear out a collective hunch: polarization really has gotten worse . . . Read more.


Natural Rights and Religious Liberty: The Founders’ Perspective by Vincent Phillip Muñoz

The meaning of religious freedom remains one of the more contested areas of our constitutional politics. The progressive left tends to emphasize freedom from religion, especially freedom from the influence of traditional religious sexual morality. Social conservatives, by contrast, emphasize the right to be religious . . . Read more.


The Right of Revolution in the American Founding by Kevin Portteus

According to the American Declaration of Independence, people enter into political society for the sake of protecting their inalienable rights, which are otherwise insecure. The question then arises: what can the people do if the government betrays its trust, and violates their rights? The Declaration’s initial answer is . . . Read more.


The Moral Foundations of the Market Order by Richard M. Reinsch

The moral justification for markets finds itself on the defensive in the face of aggressive challenges issuing from progressives but also from economic nationalists on the right. Many of those on the right don’t understand themselves to be challenging markets as such – only certain economic forces that, they contend, have drained the middle class . . . Read more.


What Is American Citizenship? by Dennis Hale & Marc Landy

These days, the idea of citizenship immediat­­ely calls to mind the idea of rights: we have rights because we are citizens of a rights-protecting nation. Behind this idea is the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain “unalienable” rights. Yet the Constitution begins differently . . . Read more.

RealClear's American Civics portal explores the principles and practices every patriotic citizen should know.