Democracy’s Blueprints: The Documents that Built America

The Declaration of Independence (John Binns)

July 29 – February 1, 2017

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Location:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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The blueprints of American democracy, drawn from as far back as the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century and including the founding documents of this nation, are laying out the pathways of the twenty-first century. As the nation has grown from the fledgling country to super power status, the blueprint grew and changed to meet new challenges as America spread across a continent — and beyond its shores. The blueprints of American democracy, drawn from as far back as the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century and including the founding documents of this nation, are laying out the pathways of the twenty-first century. As the nation has grown from the fledgling country to super power status, the blueprint grew and changed to meet new challenges as America spread across a continent — and beyond its shores.

The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta

The Great Charter was issued by King John of England in 1215 and established the principle that every man, including the king, was subject to the law. Principles of the Magna Carta are echoed in the Bill of Rights.

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions... nor will we proceed with force against him... except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

The Declaration of Independence (Stone Engraving)

The Declaration of Independence
(William J. Stone Engraving)

Drafted in 1776, these exalted phrases from Thomas Jefferson express the colonial ideals of liberty and equality and provide the justification for the colonies severing ties with the mother country.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence (John Binns)

The Declaration of Independence
(John Binns)

Drafted in 1776, these exalted phrases from Thomas Jefferson express the colonial ideals of liberty and equality and provide the justification for the colonies severing ties with the mother country.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Constitution & The Bill of Rights (front)

The Constitution & The Bill of Rights (front)

In 1787, delegates from twelve states met in Philadelphia and drafted the document that would create a new federal system composed of three separate branches, including both reserved and concurrent powers of states. James Madison wrote ten amendments to the Constitution in 1789, which were ratified in 1791 and are known today as the Bill of Rights.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution & The Bill of Rights (back)

The Constitution & The Bill of Rights (back)

In 1787, delegates from twelve states met in Philadelphia and drafted the document that would create a new federal system composed of three separate branches, including both reserved and concurrent powers of states. James Madison wrote ten amendments to the Constitution in 1789, which were ratified in 1791 and are known today as the Bill of Rights.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine

President Monroe outlined America's stance on foreign policy and interference from Europe in his 1823 State of the Union Address to Congress. Henceforth, further efforts by European nations would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention.

It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness...

Throughout the country’s short history, we have struggled with problems similar to those faced by our founders. As a nation, we espouse equality, but still struggle with states restricting voting in subtle ways like requiring identification, creating fewer polling places, and restricting voting hours. We proclaim freedom of speech, but find protesters trying to prevent or disrupt campaign speeches. We hear arguments over the size of federal government — arguments that reverberate from the history books of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist battles. We complain about gridlock in Congress, but forget that early Congresses had similar difficulties, especially over slavery. We wonder about the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the debate surrounding appointments. Yet eight such vacancies have lasted more than a year — two of them more than two years. Through these current problems, and those to come, it is the blueprints of democracy that buttress our positions and guide our responses.

And through all these problems — sometimes presented as crisis after crisis by the media — we move on with America's blueprint, guided by our founding freedom documents. The judiciary finds room in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to accommodate unwritten, but implied rights, such as privacy. Members of Congress pass laws to meet new technological challenges, such as privately owned drones. Presidential administrations generate regulations to meet unforeseen situations, such as terrorism. All are held to the test:

Do they match the words and spirits of the documents of democracy that have formed America's blueprint?

News Coverage

Ever seen the Magna Carta? It’s in Portland

KOIN 6 News, July 29, 2016

The blueprints of American democracy — printings and engravings of The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Monroe Doctrine and the Magna Carta — are coming to the Oregon Historical Society. The Magna Carta, written in 1215, was the first document to reign in the power of a monarch and is widely regarded as the basis upon which Western democracy was formed. The engraving on display in Portland was made in 1733 and includes the original Latin text.

'Democracy's Blueprints' opens Friday in Portland

KATU News, July 25, 2016

Early paintings and engravings of The Magna Carta, The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights and The Monroe Doctrine will be on display at the Oregon Historical Society starting July 29. The "Democracy's Blueprints: The Documents that Built America" exhibit continues through February 1, 2017.