In April 1975, the anniversary of the Revolutionary battles of Concord and Lexington, the United States began celebrating its bicentennial, a series of events that stretched out to cover the 200th anniversaries of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Judiciary Act and the Bill of Rights, as well as several other intermediary happenings. While many aspects of this prolonged national birthday party were, expectedly, celebratory in nature, there was also a significant amount of introspection. What was unique about the American system? Why had it worked so well? What were its most significant successes, and its most abject failures? Would an eighteenth-century document be able to guide the United States into the twenty-first century?

Scholars and laypersons alike disagreed on the answers to many of these questions, but in general they did conclude that the American experiment of an open, pluralist and democratic society had shown a resilience that allowed it to overcome crises few of the Founding Fathers could have anticipated. They did not claim that the system was perfect, but rather, that as certain problems have been overcome and more groups admitted into society as equal partners, the democratic system has shown an amazingly strong sense of continuing vitality. If it can continue to meet challenges in the future as it has in the past, then one can hope that American democracy, with all its flaws, will continue to provide, as Thomas Jefferson believed it would, man's best hope for governing himself.

The two pieces that follow are quite different in nature, but both point to differing aspects of that vitality.

  1. United States v. Nixon (1974)
  2. Excerpts from Presidential Debates (1992)

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