American Democracy

A Great Leap of Faith

On Display
Exhibition Type
Limited Time Exhibition
The entrance to a gallery with a wall graphic logo of a political button with American flag design and words American Democracy

About the Exhibition: Examining our government’s founding and the continuing story of America’s bold experiment in a government “of, by, and for the people," American Democracy comes to life through Smithsonian collection artifacts, contemporary objects, and touchable artifacts. In addition to in-exhibition artifacts, audio/video presentations from the Smithsonian and The History Channel and immersive technologies such as touch-screen adventures take visitors beyond the exhibition.  Explore five major themes through this exhibition:

  • the first bold leap to democracy as “A Great Leap of Faith”
  • a nation for and by the people in "A Vote, A Voice"
  • political campaigning with “The Machinery of Democracy”
  • the power of the American people to go "Beyond the Ballot"
  • sustaining our nation with “Creating Citizens”

Highlights: George Washington's 1774 letter to Bryan Fairfax about how taxation without representation caused the American colonists to revolt; Edmund Pendleton‘s 1788 record of the Virginia ratification of the U.S. Constitution; an 1833 portrait of Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak) by Robert Mathew Sully, 1833; a 1915 Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage banner; and more.

Related Programs: American Democracy Member Tours on Thursdays at 10:30 am: December 1 | December 8 | December 15

American Democracy Featured Artifacts

A copper coin with the initials GW in the center and words around it: Long Live the President
Clothing button celebrating George Washington’s inauguration, 1789

From the VMHC Collection, 2019.36.1.

An oil portrait of a Black Hawk in a suit jacked, with a red cloak
Portrait of Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak) by Robert Mathew Sully, 1833

From the VMHC Collection, 1852.1.

A sepia page with small printed type
 Edmund Pendleton‘s record of the Virginia ratification of the U.S. Constitution, June 28, 1788

From the VMHC Collection, JK 3925.1776 May A12.Rare.

A sepia toned letter with cursive handwriting on it
George Washington letter to Bryan Fairfax, July 20, 1774 (detail)

From the VMHC Collection, Mss12.1865.Apr10.

A sepia toned letter with cursive handwriting on it
George Washington letter to Bryan Fairfax, July 20, 1774 (full page)

Inside the American Democracy Exhibition

An exhibition with display cases and various artifacts and photographic reproductions
A gallery wall of posters and advertisements
Two guests look at reproductions on a gallery wall


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.
Smithsonian logo
Presenting Sponsor
Supporting Sponsors

Community Foundation for a greater Richmond
E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
Lettie Pate Evans Foundation Exhibition Fund
Kevin & Theresa Osborne
Linda W. Warren Special Exhibition Fund