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Union University Dept of History

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Dr. Pauline Maier Talks about Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution for History Lectureship

Oct 11, 2011 -

Prize-winning historian Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served as the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer on October 11, 2011. She delivered two lectures, one on the Declaration of Independence and the other on the ratification of the United States Constitution.

In her afternoon lecture, Dr. Maier talked about “Who Wrote the Declaration of Independence?” to a Union University audience of well over 100 people. She questioned the commonly accepted idea that Thomas Jefferson alone authored the Declaration of Independence. She pointed out that the five-man Declaration committee appointed by the Continental Congress in June, 1776, put together an outline for the document before selecting Jefferson to serve as the Declaration’s draftsman. Professor Maier also noted that the committee intervened to make changes in Jefferson’s draft before submitting it to Congress for approval. Congress in turn made alterations of its own, cutting out sections of the committee’s draft that were patently false and completely rewriting the Declaration’s last paragraph. Dr. Maier concluded that while Jefferson’s role in the writing of the Declaration of Independence was significant, the final result included input from other members of the Declaration committee and powerful input from Congress.

The topic of Dr. Maier’s evening lecture was “Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Why Should We Care?” Dr. Maier began by stating that her book on ratification of the Constitution was the first to have that subject as its main focus from beginning to end. Authors before her had acted as though the real story of the Constitution was its writing and that its ratification was a “no brainer,” Professor Maier stated that in fact ratification of the Constitution was filled with uncertainty and was closer to being a cliff-hanger than a foregone conclusion. In terms of our own understanding of the Constitution, Dr. Maier contended that the ratification debates were a much more reliable source than the Federalist Papers for what people in the 18th century believed the Constitution’s provisions to mean. Historically, Professor Maier pointed out that her study showed the need to make changes in how historians present the story of that time. She discovered, for example, that there were more divisions of opinion about the Constitution than the traditional view would have us believe of two national parties called the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. At the end of her lecture, Dr. Maier asserted that the United States was not just dependent on the elite group of men who wrote the Constitution, but on many others who, at the level of the state ratification conventions, spent considerable time and energy to gain an understanding of the Constitution and help shape America’s future. The ratification process was the democratic part of the Constitution’s story. She concluded by saying: “It (the ratification process) brings us down to earth. It gives us models. It might even give us inspiration, and that’s why we should care.” Approximately 700 people attended the evening lecture.

Dr. Pauline Maier delivers a lecture on "Who Wrote the Declaration of Independence?" on October 11, 2011, as a part of the Carls-Schwerdfer History Lecture Series.

Members of the history department and Dr. Pauline Maier take a moment for a photo on October 11, 1022. In the photo are: (left to right) Dr. David Thomas, Dr. Stephen Carls (standing), Dr. Terry Lindley, Dr. Pauline Maier, Dr. Judy LeForge, and Dr. Keith Bates.

Attendees at an October 11 dinner in honor of Dr. Pauline Maier, the 2011 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer, enjoy conversation together. They are: (starting at the front left and going clockwise) Dr. Judy LeForge (back to camera), David Conway, Dr. Roman Williams, Megan Winters, Dr. Keith Bates, and Mr. Robert Briley (back to camera).

Dr. Stephen Carls (left) and Union President Dr. David Dockery smile together during a presentation of books at an October 11 dinner in honor of Dr. Pauline Maier, the 2011 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer.

Dr. Pauline Maier (standing), the 2011 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer, responds to a question during an informal question time at an October 11 dinner in her honor. Those seated around her are: (starting on the left and going clockwise) Dr. Carla Sanderson, Dr. David Thomas, Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Gene Fant, and Dr. Terry Lindley.

A large crowd awaits the beginning of the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecture on the evening of October 11, 2011. Award-winning historian Dr. Pauline Maier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the featured speaker.

Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University, welcomes attendees to the evening lecture of the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lectureship on October 11, 2011.

Prize-winning historian Dr. Pauline Maier, the 2011 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer, talks about "Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Why Should We Care?" on October 11.

Dr. Pauline Maier autographs a copy of her book RATIFICATION: THE PEOPLE DEBATE THE CONSTITUTION, 1787-1788 during a book signing on October 11, 2011.