KC Johnson

BC Workshop


Constitution Society:

Other document websites:

Lesson Plans

Brief Bibliography

Constitutional Era:

  • Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, enlarged edition (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1992)
  • Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Vintage Press, 1997)
  • Jack Rakove, James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic (New York: Longman, 2006)
  • Herbert Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For: Political Thought of Opponents of the Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981)
  • Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1993)
  • Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Williamsburg, VA: Institute of Early American Culture, 1969)


  • Daniel Farber, Lincoln’s Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)
  • Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, 2d edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004)
  • Michael Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • David Kyvig, Explicit & Authentic Acts: Amending the Constitution, 1776-1995 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998)
  • Merrill Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)
  • Abigail Thernstrom, Voting Rights–and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2009)

Audio Clips on Constitutional Themes

1.) Rights & Representation

President Johnson and Bill Moyers, 21 Aug. 1964, discussing the congressional response to the Supreme Court’s one-man/one-vote ruling.

President Johnson: Why in the living hell they want to put it [a plank supporting the reapportionment decisions] in the platform, notify every little state. [Majority Leader] Carl Albert’s district [in Oklahoma] is put together and he’s abolished from Congress. Now who wants to do that to Carl Albert, when he’s the best instrument the liberals have for achievement in this town, since [former House Speaker] Sam Rayburn? Now, why would they want to abolish his district?

It’s not so bad if the Senate abolishes it, or the Court abolishes it. But it’s awful if he is asked—the [Democratic National] Platform Committee of which he heads—to abolish himself. That’s just cruel, inhuman punishment. Now, it looks like even a goddamned college professor could understand that.

Bill Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Paul Douglas has got less sense than any man I know when judgment’s required. He’s always off chasing some damn balloon in the air.

Moyers: That’s right.

President Johnson: So . . .

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Bill, the pitch is this: they’re coming—the Congress hasn’t adjourned. It was due to adjourn; it didn’t adjourn. Does Dr. Douglas know that?

Moyers: I hope he does.

President Johnson: All right. Now, why didn’t they adjourn? What are they coming back for? They’re coming back to consider the Tuck bill, and the Dirksen bill, and the Mansfield bill.

Now, what they ought to do—if the liberals want a real plan of attack, [if New York Times reporter] Tony Lewis wants something to do, is get ten of them out here at a Georgetown house some night with [historian and former Kennedy aide] Arthur Schlesinger, and let them all agree that one of them will talk four hours and the other one will talk four hours. And that’s what they [the liberals] do best: is talk.

[Senate Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield won’t run after 6.00. They’ll do that for two weeks, and the show will be over. The Tuck bill will be dead. The Supreme Court will be riding high. That’ll be it—period. That’s simple. You don’t have to be smart to know that. Hell, I knew that before I left Johnson City. [Snorts.]


President Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, 21 July 1964, discussing how the Democrats can address the concern of white, ethnic voters about civil rights legislation

Robert Kennedy: A good deal of thought has to go into, as far as these Northern [white ethnic] communities, and these industrial areas—because, you know, what’s going to be done . . .

I think, Mr. President, it’s a major mistake to let him [Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater] choose this battleground, and have the struggle in this election over the question of civil rights. Because if it comes down to the question of civil rights, Democrats are going to have a very tough time. I think we’ve got to get it [the focus of the campaign] off that . .

President Johnson: Yes . . .

Robert Kennedy: Off that question.

President Johnson: Of course, the difficulty—what we need to get it on is his [Goldwater’s] impetuousness and his impulsiveness and his wanting to turn the bomb over to somebody else. Of course—

Robert Kennedy: Yes. But even more than that, in my judgment, is the economics. I think that that’ll scare people [the nuclear issue], and I think that’s helpful. But it’s difficult for people sometimes to understand exactly what turning the bomb over to the NATO commander—they don’t know whether it’s already in the hands of the NATO commander.

President Johnson: Well, that’s the problem we got.

Robert Kennedy: Yeah. But I think also if you get it also into economics, and what this [the Democratic program] is going to mean, what it’s going to mean as far as your lunch-pail is concerned, what it’s going to mean as far as your family, and what it’s going to mean when you get sick, what it’s going to mean economically.

When the country’s at peace, as it is now, and they’re not concerned about the Russians as much, and they’re not concerned about the . . . There’s not a crisis, like the Berlin Wall [in 1961], or Cuba [in 1962], then they’re going to be thinking—

President Johnson: I don’t know: A mother’s pretty worried if she thinks her child is drinking contaminated milk, or that maybe she’s going to have a baby with two heads [from nuclear fallout] or things like that.

He’s [Goldwater] pretty vulnerable, and I think will take care of himself some.

Robert Kennedy: Yeah.

President Johnson: I think that . . .

But I certainly agree with you, that civil rights is . . .

Robert Kennedy: Is not our thing.

President Johnson: Is something around our neck.


President Johnson and Georgia governor Carl Sanders, discussing the issue of seating a biracial delegation from Mississippi, 25 Aug. 1964, in two parts.

President Johnson: What’s happening is we’re doing four or five things. Number one: we’re coming in there and seating the state of Mississippi. Every damn one of them. Now, they oughtn’t to be, Carl. They oughtn’t to …

Carl Sanders: I don’t—

President Johnson: You and I just can’t survive our political modern life with these goddamned fellows down there [white Mississippi leaders] that are eating them for breakfast every morning. They’ve got to quit that. And they’ve got to let them [African-Americans] vote. And they’ve got to let them shave. And they’ve got to let them eat, and things like that. And they don’t do it.

However much we love [Democratic Senators] Jim Eastland and John Stennis, they get a governor like Ross Barnett, and he’s messing around there with [George] Wallace, and they won’t let one [black] man go in a precinct convention. We’ve got to put a stop to that, because that’s just like the old days, by God, when they wouldn’t let them go in and cast a vote of any kind.

You’ve put a stop to it in your state. But we’re going to ignore that. We’re going to say, “Hell, yes, you did it. You’re wrong. You violated the ’57 [civil rights] law, and you violated the ’60 [civil rights] law, and you violated the ’64 [civil rights] law, but we’re going to seat you—every damn one of you. [dripping with sarcasm] You lily white babies, we’re going to salute you.”


President Johnson: . . . Now, I’m a poor old man here that’s got a government falling on me.

In Vietnam today, I just walked out of the [National] Security Council. I’ve got [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara coming in here at 6:00 tonight. I’m bringing [Ambassador to Vietnam] General [Maxwell] Taylor back. I’ve got Cyprus in a hell of a war.

I can’t go up there and tell those damn fellows, and argue with [Harlem congressman] Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King and the fellow from Alabama—Bull Connor. They ought to try to make it as easy on me as they can, because they’ve all been in these things in their own state conventions. They’ve got problems, and they’re going to have them.

Now, this doesn’t hurt anybody. I’m for everybody taking the oath. Nobody claims they won’t do it except Mississippi and Alabama.

Sanders: That’s right, and now they say they’ll do it. They just don’t want to be singled out in writing.

President Johnson: Well, just tell them that every national committeeman has taken it, from every state, speaking for his state.

Sanders: Well, I agree with you. I—

President Johnson: Every one of them have already done it. But I don’t object. I’d come up there myself, walk out naked and take it, if it would ease Bull Connor’s pressure any.


President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., 21 April 1965, discussing the Voting Rights Act

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: And it’s very interesting, Mr. President, to notice that the only states that you didn’t carry in the South, five Southern states, have less than 40 percent of the Negroes registered to vote. Very interesting to notice it. I think a professor in the University of Texas in a recent article brought this out very clearly.

So it demonstrates that it’s so important to get Negroes registered to vote in large numbers in the South, and it would be this coalition of the Negro vote and the moderate white vote that will really make the new South.

President Johnson: [with King periodically agreeing] That’s exactly right.

I think it’s very important that we not just say we’re doing this—and we’re not doing it—just because it’s Negroes and whites, but we take the position that every person born in this country when he reaches a certain age: that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight, and that we just extend it to whether it’s a Negro, or whether it’s a Mexican, or who it is.

And number two, I think we don’t want special privilege for anybody, we want equality for all and we can stand on that principle. But I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you, yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination—where a man’s got to memorize a Longfellow [in order to register to vote], or whether he’s got to quote the first 10 Amendments, or he’s got to tell you what Amendment 15, 16, and 17 is. And then ask them if they know and show what happens.

Some people don’t have to do that, but when a Negro comes in he’s got to do it, and if we can just repeat and repeat and repeat. I don’t want to follow Hitler, but he had an idea that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it often enough, even if it wasn’t true, why, people would accept it. Well, now this is true!

And if you can find the worst condition that you run into in [the Southern states of] Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina, where — well, I think one of the worst I ever heard of is the president of the school at Tuskegee [a prominent Historically Black College] or the head of the government department there or something, being denied the right to cast a vote and if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, and get it on television, and get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can.

Pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, “Well, that’s not right, that’s not fair.” And then that will help us on what we going to shove through in the end.

Rev. King: Yes, you’re exactly right about that.

President Johnson: And if we do that, we will break through as — it’ll be the greatest breakthrough of anything not even excepting this ’64 [civil rights] act. I think the greatest achievement of my administration, I think the greatest achievement in foreign policy, I said it to a group yesterday, was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But I think this will be bigger, because it’ll do things even that even that ’64 act couldn’t do.

2.) Presidential Power & Standing Armies

Richard Nixon on Quakers, Vietnam, and military service

Nixon and Kissinger on South Vietnam’s chances to survive a political settlement

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