American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith

Opens on March 13, 2021

“We the People.”

Revolutionary Americans took a great leap of faith by establishing a new government based on the sovereignty of the people. Power would not be in the hands of a monarchy or a dictator … but instead, entrusted to its citizens. Every generation since has faced questions ignited by that revolution while on the never-ending quest to form a more perfect union.

The History Center will examine the bold experiment to create a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” in its new exhibition, American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, which opens on Saturday, March 13 at the Smithsonian’s home in Pittsburgh.

Developed in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), this timely exhibition will explore the history of citizen participation, debate, and compromise from the nation’s formation to today, as our region and country attempt to make sense of a year that included heated election cycles, civil unrest, presidential impeachments, and unprecedented challenges to our democracy.

The American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibition will be on view through Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.

With immersive displays, engaging interactives, and rare artifacts, the exhibit will focus on the changing political ideas and principles of the nation, citizenship in a pluralistic society, and political participation and engagement.

American Democracy will also examine how Pittsburghers and events in Western Pennsylvania have significantly helped shape our democracy, including the Whiskey Rebellion, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and more.

The 7,000-square-foot exhibit will include:

  • A Pennsylvania land grant signed by Benjamin Franklin;
  • A travel desk that belonged to George Washington, on loan from Carnegie Museums, as well as his knee buckle and a platter from his home in Mount Vernon
  • More than 15 artifacts from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, including a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk;
  • Powerful objects of politics and protest, including a Pittsburgh-made “March on Washington” banner, a Black Construction Coalition flag, and campaign buttons and ribbons;
  • A special section on citizenship and Pittsburgh’s role in the development of the U.S. naturalization exam;
  • Artifacts that showcase our region’s history and impact on the groundbreaking American Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990.

The American Democracy exhibition is a key component of the History Center’s America 101 initiative, which empowers citizens to know and act on the promise of the country’s founders, enabling them to write the next chapter of our democracy.

This History Center initiative engages visitors through public programs, special exhibitions, digital learning tools, and educational curriculum. By 2026 – America’s 250th anniversary – America 101 will ensure that citizens in Western Pa. and beyond are more knowledgeable about American history and able to pass the history and civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test.

America 101 is sponsored by the Nimick Forbesway Foundation and the Charity Randall Foundation.