Aug. 29, 2019

121. Interpreting George Washington's Constitution with Lindsay Chervinsky: Explorations in Early American Law Part 3

121. Interpreting George Washington's Constitution with Lindsay Chervinsky: Explorations in Early American Law Part 3
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In the fall of 1789, George Washington ordered a printed copy of the Constitution along with the laws passed by the First Federal Congress. A book binder bound the printed sheets in leather and added the words "President of the United States" to the front cover. Washington referred to the volume as the "Acts of Congress." Inside, he made a few short marginal notations next to key passages in the Constitution. You can see a digitized version of the Acts of Congress here.

Why did Washington write in this book? And what can his brief scribbles tell us about how he interpreted the Constitution as well as his actions as the first president of the United States? 

In our own time we wrestle with questions about the Constitution’s meaning. Is it a document fixed in time, to be understood as its Framers and the American people understood it in the 18th century, or is it a living, flexible document responsive to historical change?

Washington’s answers to these questions may surprise you.

On today’s episode, Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky of the White House Historical Association helps us to understand George Washington’s Constitution. She is the author of a recently published article in the journal Law and History Review that is the first to make sense of Washington’s careful notations. She is also the author of a soon to be published book entitled The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution. Dr. Chervinsky dropped by the studio after speaking with teachers as part of Mount Vernon's Teacher's Institute. If you are a teacher, click the link to learn how you can participate in this program. 

This is Part 3 of our Explorations in Early American Law mini-series. Be sure to check out Part 1 with Dr. Nicola Phillips and Part 2 with Dr. Kate Brown. 

About Our Guest:

Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a White House Historian for the White House Historical Association. She received her B.A. with honors in history and political science from George Washington University and her masters and Ph.D. in Early American History from the University of California, Davis. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University before joining the WHHA. 

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the Americ --- Send in a voice message: Support this podcast: