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March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.
Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

American Democracy:
A Great Leap of Faith

 

"...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." 
          — Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863


Inspired by the new permanent exhibition at the National Museum of American History, American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, explores America's bold experiment in a government "of, by and for the people."

“The Bloody Massacre,” by Paul Revere, 1770
Courtesy Library of Congress

The exhibition is on display from July 20 through Nov. 10, 2019 in the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center.

From the Smithsonian Institution, the exhibition features engaging multimedia experiences, immersive design and artifacts from the Smithsonian as well as the Gilder Lehrman Collection and Gettysburg National Military Park.

American Democracy demonstrates that democracy relies on every citizen’s active participation in the quest to form a “more perfect union.”

Featuring artifacts from the Smithsonian and supplemental items from the Gettysburg collection and artifacts on loan from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, “American Democracy” demonstrates that self-government relies on every citizen’s active participation in the quest to form a “more perfect union.” Exhibition sections explore the origins of American democracy, the changing identity of eligible voters, the machinery of democracy, the right to petition and protest beyond the ballot, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

The exhibition is divided into five sections:
 
  1. Setting the scene, “The Great Leap” examines the system that the colonists inherited and the issues that founding generation debated to change that world. 
  2. “A Vote, A Voice” looks at Americans grappling with the expansion and contraction of voting rights as they debated who should have a direct voice in the political process.
  3. “The Machinery of Democracy” investigates the informal institutions and activities not spelled out in the Constitution, but which make America’s participatory system possible and motivate citizens to join political parties, support candidates and vote. 
  4. “Beyond the Ballot” explores the ways in which Americans have shaped their country through petitioning, protest and lobbying throughout the country’s history and across the political spectrum. 
  5. Concluding the exhibition, “Creating Citizens” examines the basic questions of: How diverse should the citizenry be? Is there a need to share a common national story? And what are the rights and responsibilities of citizens? These questions have shaped the most contested debates in America’s more than 200-year-old political history

American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith was developed by the National Museum of American History and adapted for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

To learn more about the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, visit www.sites.si.edu.