Published on Nov 5, 2015

The Origins of the Reconstruction Amendments panel features Jack Rakove, John Harrison, Pamela Brandwein, and is moderated by Jeffrey Rosen. This event is presented in partnership with the Federal Judicial Center.


Isiah Berlin on freedom... 

A National Narrative of the United States 

Shortly after ratified by 38 of the 55 delegates to the constitutional convention, the US Constitution was released to the public for ratification by the people. The ratification process revolved around having citizens (white males) get voted in the states, removed from the legislators. The federalist papers were part of the effort by the framers of the US constitution to engage in the people in the most radical political experiment, allowing people to choose to be governed by a government of their representatives. It set off an experiment in democracy still being played out today.

The document was written in secret and under guard during the summer of 1787, outlining Version 2, the revised structure for the operating system of the newly proposed government of the United States. Similar to the process of successful startups, the new version was necessary to adapt to inefficiencies in the system, changing external conditions, the failure of the funders (the states) to finance the operations, and the inadequacy of United States version 1.0, the Articles of Confederation and the continental congress that it brought into existence. Version 2.0, the US constitution and the various upgrades, including the Bill of right, and the additional amendments provided a framework and an operating system that allowed for great geographic expansion and solidifying the sustainability of the emerging nation in an agrarian world. A central and revolutionary aspect of the constitution was the need to have the people ratify it.

On October 27, 1788, the first federalist paper, penned by Alexander Hamilton, appeared in newspapers in New York. The constitution was ratified after lengthy and at times very contentious public debate in the 13 original states.

It would take another four score and seven years to bring about Version 3, an operating system that defined citizenship and the rights to freedom for all Americans, a crucial feature that was left out of Version 2.0. Of course, that version met with much opposition and was achieved at a cost of over 600 hundred thousand lives lost during the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate States. Version 3.0 with the 13,14, 15 & 19th amendments was sufficient to operate the US for the next 80+ years.

Versions 1–3 while successful for the agrarian and industrial world of prior generations is unable to achieve the needed outcomes for the global digital world Americans inhabit in the 21st century. The fundamental issues that were at the core of the emerging nation and continued to divide Americans through the past 231 years have persisted and are amplified by technical developments in media and social media. A reboot or simple patches will not be sufficient, what is needed is a new version, a new operating system.

United States Version 4.0 is needed to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. An operating system that leverages that scientific and technical advances and most importantly the better understanding of the science of human nature and happiness and the ingredients of well being.

We envision a process that brings about a “modern” understanding of human nature and the constitution, provides a framework and tools to leverage technology and scientific insights, embrace crowdsourcing and other collaborative activities to address challenges in our society.

Blueprint for Version 4.0. A version that is true to the vision articulated in the Declaration of Independence, modern understanding of human nature, the challenges confronted by prior versions and the evolving digital age. Clay Shirky observed that it took over a few centuries, for the printing press had an impact on civilization until the scientific community had a framework the peer review process, journals.

A system that has built-in solutions and recognizes and incorporates the tendency to conflict. Most importantly, an organizing system that allows citizens to participate and engage in a government of, by and for the people. United States Version 4.0 reclaims and builds on the insights and strategies that inspired and led our founders in the early stages of the emerging United States. These include the contributions of John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin to the United States start-up.


The United States 4.0 will use indicators to monitor wellbeing in addition to GDP and develop to reliable capture that information. Indicators play an important role to monitor progress and to define outcomes. Most western societies measure Gross Domestic Product a measure of the productivity of the national economy. What is not measured is the well being of the people.


Robert Kennedy put it clearly:

“The Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and … the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl… Yet [it] does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play… the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Robert Kennedy, 1968


The Vision: Declaration of Independence

American does well when its leaders and citizens are inspired by a vision. Starting with the vision articulated in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the hearts and minds of generations since. A vision that proclaims that

“We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”


United States 1.0: Articles of Confederation

The inalienable rights to life and liberty have been addressed extensively, yet the pursuit of happiness and the role of government to secure it for the people has been banished from the public discourse. This is unfortunate as John Adams so clearly noted in the rationale for government:

“We ought to consider, what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word happiness to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

All sober enquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?”

"Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly, than a recollection of the happy conjunction of times and circumstances, under which our Republic assumed its rank among the Nations; The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment… have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own."

George Washington, [Circular to the States, 8 June 1783 



United States 2.0: The US Constitution

“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”




United States 3.0: The Reconstruction Amendments

Gettysburg Address

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”



United States 4.0:

"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The George Washington Farewell Project 

Americanism and Our Civic Ritual of Freedom

  • Americanization Day:  An ongoing  exploration of the shared vision of being an American 

  • The Citizen Toolbox