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The Importance of Historical Documents in United States History

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jennifer Adams
February 8, 2020

During this critical time of turmoil amongst and between the government and the people, it is especially imperative that we take the time to understand our historical background. The United States of America was founded under a democratic government because we wanted, “Civil and religious freedom,” amongst other things, which was not possible under a monarchy. “Our forefathers, inhabitants of the Island of Great Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedoms.” The Declaration of Independence lays it out for all to see:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

Under the Articles of Confederation, the original governance document for the United States from 1781–1789, congress lacked a strong and solid leadership and there was not a president, at least not as the president that comes from The Constitution of the United States. The president was for one year to preside over, “A Committee of the States.”

The Constitutional Convention, May 14, 1787–September 17, 1787, created a new system of government instead of attempting to fix the form from the Articles of Confederation. This new system is the government that is in place today. All the powers of government are detailed in the United States Constitution and its subsequent amendments.

Not only are the legal founding documents of historic value in understanding where the United States has been, but also Congressional Records that date back to approximately 1744. In these records contain valuable information on the philosophy of the first form of government for these free United States. Included are the proceedings of the meetings and acts and orders of said Congress.

In 1927, the House of Representatives with support of the Senate, provided the, “Documents illustrative of the Foundation of the Union of the American States.”

“No more appropriate memorial of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of American independence could be produced.”

Over the course of years since the founding of the United Colonies (at that time), as the result of government (the form it was at that time), and others, founding leaders not only kept government records, but correspondence between and amongst each other, and others. They also kept personal journals, and we are able to have a better understanding of the logic and rationalization of decisions that were made during the founding of The United States.

There are a number of themes that flow through all the founding documents; entitlement to life, liberty, and property, a right to assemble, the mandate that the branches of the government be independent of one another and the right to change government if the current one is not working (not just by elections, but to create a whole new government):

“That whenever any form of Government  becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying out its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)

Another series of recurring themes are related to crimes: treason, felony, breach of the peace, and high misdemeanor.  However, the last are not delineated in the founding documents, but they are described in length in other historical documentation.

Current documents, be they electronic, analog (written), Tweets on Twitter, records from a hearing, call logs, conversations and the like will one day be, “Historic documents,” and part of the United States historical record. These new historical documents could determine the outcome of some great debate one hundred years in the future.


Author:

Jennifer A Adams, MPA
Emergency Management Planner
Adams Consulting
[email protected]
Twitter: @tr33s4ever

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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