George M. Curtis III

George Curtis is a former professor of history at Hanover College and a former fellow at Liberty Fund.

“My Country, ’tis of Thee”


About the middle of the morning on Monday, the sixth of May 1776, 45 men assembled at the Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia. They were members of the House of Burgesses, elected back in the summer of 1774. Having entered the chamber of the House, they sat, silent. Elsewhere in the Capitol there were no signs of the royal governor or his council. Soon the Burgesses got up and went back outside. There they met others who, joining them, reentered the chamber, this time as delegates to the fifth and final Virginia revolutionary convention; this time carrying instructions from the people in their home counties calling on them to instruct Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress to declare American independence and to draft a constitution for Virginia.

While such a launching, this little-remembered ritual, may not seem so much to many in the thrall of the apotheosis of the 1787 Constitution, it remains a bright metaphor to illustrate the seamlessness of the transition from colony to country in America generally and in Virginia. This vivid drama of a departure joined with that of a prospect shows how far these Virginians had come since April 1774, even as it puts in relief just how significant the next two months, May and June of 1776, would be, culminating as they did with Virginia declaring its independence, establishing a bill of rights, and, two weeks later, completing a written constitution.

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The Contest for Constitutional Liberty

A Funeral Procession for the Stamp Act of 1765.

In 1993 John Phillip Reid published the fourth and final volume of his Constitutional History of the American Revolution.  The subtitles for each volume are noteworthy: The Authority of Rights (1988); The Authority to Tax (1987); The Authority to Legislate (1991); and, finally, The Authority of Law.  The shelves of many American libraries, public and private, have welcomed the accumulated weight of historical explanations of the coming of American Independence with political, economic, and social templates serving as the sources of underlying causation.  Few, too few, have offered legal and constitutional analyses, an intellectual shortcoming that would have astounded, and likely angered, American whigs watching from their perch in 1775.

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The Measure of Remembrance: The Declaration of Independence and the American Future


Editor’s note: This Fourth of July oration was first delivered by G. M. Curtis III on July 1, 1989 in Lone Mountain, Montana, for a conference on American citizenship.

As an American historian and as an American citizen who looks forward to the 21st. century, I place great stock in John Adams’s early 19th. century exhortation to future generations that they remember and celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Technically speaking, I suppose that we are jumping the gun by about one day, since the Continental Congress first agreed to the Declaration on the 2nd. of July 1776.  Actually, the past five days in one way or another has represented a remembrance and a reconsideration of many of those values and beliefs that John Adams cherished enough to tender the ultimate sacrifice: his life and property.  It is altogether fitting and proper, then, as my historical footnote for these discussions and as a remembrance of the Declaration of Independence, to return to the first principles therein contained, principles that not only retain their merit today, but more importantly, offer us hope for the years to come.

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Reclaiming the Citizenship of Our Fathers

What So Proudly We Hail

Having just finished reading What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, some readers might well ask, "Really, do we?  Is it that simplistically romantic?"  The editors might well reply in the negative suggesting that the song, "The Star-Spangled Banner," conveys brilliantly a condition achieved after having weathered a potentially deadly challenge, a condition earned after having acted courageously in the defense of American liberty against a British military assault.  Hence in the title the editors signal that they have intentionally sought out many voices in their remarkable collection which call upon readers to aspire…

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