Since the 2020 election we’ve held “First Principles” and “Another Reconstruction” a free, two-part online town hall series featuring David Bromwich, Jedediah Purdy, Leah Wright Rigueur, and Brandon M. Terry. At the first town hall, our guest speakers summarized some of the components they see as necessary for a free and open democracy — such as trust, free expression, as well as basic civics education — and then evaluated the contemporary threats to those principles.
Join us on January 20th for a Community Conversation in which all the participants can continue the discussion. Hosted over Zoom, we invite you to reflect on the principles of democracy.
To complement these online events and conversations, we have curated a brief selection of readings that set forth or examine some of the first principles upon which our democracy rests. Many of these pieces were written by the guest speakers who will be participating in both of HNY’s upcoming town halls.
The Constitution of the United States
The supreme law of the United States and the document which lays out the formal structures of our democracy. This link includes the complete Constitution as well as the text of all amendments.
This collection of 85 essays arguing for adoption of the US Constitution —written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison and published under the collective pseudonym of “Publicus”— is widely viewed as one of the most important collections of documents in American history.
Selected writings and videos from our speakers:
An eloquent and challenging examination of the complexities and challenges that attend free speech.
“It’s Time to Rethink American Exceptionalism”
As a phrase, American exceptionalism has become much more elastic than its orginiator, Alexis de Tocqueville, intended. In this essay, Bromwich briefly summarizes the history of American exceptionalism before arguing for the moral hazard built into contemporary understandings of the phrase.
“The Concession to Climate Change I Will Not Make”
A lucid, beautifully crafted, and sobering look at parenting in the age of climate crisis, and an oblique way to get at what matters most in the future.
“The Earliest American Heroine”
Taking a recent excavation of the “lost colony” of Roanoke as a catalyst, Purdy offers a succinct overview of the memory of the lost colony, highlighting Virginia Dare, a child born in the colony who is believed to be the first person of English descent born in North America.
Leah Wright Rigueur
“The Major Difference Between Black Male and Female Voters”
Rigueur’s deft analysis of the history and present of gendered difference between male and female black voters’ political allegiances.
“Eleanor Roosevelt & Why Black Voters Left the GOP”
In this NPR interview – the link contains both a transcript and the audio – Rigueur details the history of this relationship between African-Americans and the Republican Party in the 20th century.
Brandon M. Terry
In this essay, an introduction to a written forum on Martin Luther King, Jr’s thought and influence, Terry presents a nuanced introduction to King’s legacy.
An expansive essay reckoning with the legacy of the civil rights movement in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Recommended Readings From Our Speakers:
At the end of the First Principles Town Hall, Brandon, David, and Leah each put forward a book that was central to their democratic faith:
David Bromwich recommends
Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
Whitman is considered America’s preeminent practitioner of what we could call democratic poetics.
Leah Wright Rigueur recommends
Black Reconstruction in America, by W. E. B. Du Bois A visionary and foundational text for understanding African American contributions to a pivotal moment in American history, as well as all that has come sense.
Brandon M. Terry recommends
Dark Water: Voices from Within the Veil, by W. E. B. Du Bois Du Bois’s bracingly resonant, century old, multi-genre call for racial, social, and economic reform.
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Reading list compiled by Michael Washburn, Director of Programs, with help from fellow HNY staff members.