The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Opponents Unified in Founding Principles

They asked voters to sort through mounds of partisan propaganda and do whatever necessary to understand the issues. By Georgiann Baldino Political insults and conspiracy theories are nothing new in American history. One election in particular set a standard for nasty charges and countercharges. In the 1858 Illinois senatorial contest, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas hurled insults and[…]

The Founders’ Furious Impeachment Debate – and Benjamin Franklin’s Modest Proposal

Bitter political partisanship marked eleven previous presidential impeachment inquiries and the 1787 debate in Philadelphia. By Harlow Giles Unger The current clash in Congress over whether to impeach the President has extended to more than two centuries the bitter political partisanship that marked eleven previous presidential impeachment inquiries and the 1787 debate in Philadelphia over how to impeach the[…]

Maps and the Beginnings of Colonial North America

Exploring maps and mapmaking influenced the development of colonial North America. Introduction Thousands of surviving maps allow scholars to trace how European and indigenous understandings of North America developed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. These maps convey information about the continent’s physical features, practical details ranging from the contours of rivers and coastlines to[…]

Impacts and Consequences of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Impeachment carried with it grave risks for the Republicans. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, became the first to be impeached when the House of Representatives on February 24, 1868, overwhelmingly passed an impeachment resolution and in the next few days approved 11 articles of impeachment for the Senate to consider. Following[…]

Life and Political Career of Andrew Johnson, the First Impeached President in 1868

Johnson was the seventeenth President of the United States, succeeding to the presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Introduction Johnson was a United States Senator from Tennessee at the time of the secession of the southern states. He was the only Southern Senator not to quit his post upon secession. Though a slave owner[…]

Jewish Immigration to America: Three Waves

Sephardic, German, and Eastern European immigrants each contributed to the formation of American Jewry. By Dr. Joellyn ZollmanJewish Historian Introduction America’s Jewish community is largely c, meaning it is made up of Jews who trace their ancestry to Germany and Eastern Europe. However, the first Jews to arrive in what would become the United States[…]

The History and Mythology of the Mayflower Arrival in 1620

Today that potent myth is enshrined (literally) on the sea shore under its classically-inspired canopy. By Martyn Whittock The Mayflower and its ‘Pilgrims’ reminds us of an event which has entered into the cultural DNA of the United States. This is so, despite the fact that those who sailed and settled did so as English[…]

Jacob Riis and “How the Other Half Lives”: Poverty in 19th-Century America

Riis as a writer, photographer, lecturer, advocate, and ally for reform to address the poverty many ignored. Biography Overview Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914) was born in Ribe, Denmark. He immigrated to America at age twenty with hopes of one day marrying his teenage love, Elisabeth Nielsen [Gjørtz]. Riis wandered through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New[…]

Social Class in the American Colonies

Social class was prevalent and largely property-based in the colonies. The Colonial Elite Overview In New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies, the elite were wealthy farmers or urban merchants; in the South, they were wealthy planters. British Americans’ reliance on indentured servitude and slavery to meet the demand for colonial labor helped give rise to[…]

The Marquis de Lafayette’s Great American Love Affair

Why a 19-year-old Frenchman traded Versailles for Valley Forge. The 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette had met only a handful of Americans when he signed up to join General George Washington’s army, but he felt certain that the people of the United States were as honorable as the cause of freedom for which they fought. Their[…]

Early Moments in American Printing

Beginning with a small psalm book that filled a basic need in the devotional lives of colonists, landmark printings across the colonies captured moments in American thought. Introduction With a bit of verve, luck, and ingenuity, printing was brought to British North America in 1638. Stephen Daye, a locksmith by trade, was under contract to[…]

Franklin, the American State that Wasn’t

Franklin was the 14th state of America. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because it only lasted for four years. By Matthew Wills In 1784, white settlers in what was nominally western North Carolina (and is now eastern Tennessee) organized the State of Franklin. As historian Jason Farr writes, the separatist state, named after Ben Franklin,[…]

1936, When FDR Was Bent on Creating a ‘New Political Order’

True or False? Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to be a conservative defender of the nation’s founding ideals. True or False? Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to be a conservative defender of the nation’s founding ideals. If you answered “both,” you’d be correct. We don’t tend to think of FDR as a conservative today, and at certain[…]

A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in America

From Nathaniel Hawthorne to Disneyland, the concept has represented both the experimental and the conventional. In the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself. It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in[…]

How Vain, Stubborn, Thin-Skinned George Washington Grew Up

Through the trauma of war, and by learning from his mistakes, the first president gained empathy and gravitas. At 21 years of age, George Washington was a very different man than the one we know and hold sacred, different from the stately commander, the selfless first president, the unblemished father of our country staring off[…]

George Washington’s Deep Self-Doubt

The first president was indispensable to our early republic, precisely because he didn’t see himself as indispensable. By Dr. Robert L. MiddlekauffHotchkis Professor Emeritus of American HistoryUniversity of California, Berkeley Revolutions tend to get hijacked, going from being about the people to being about the triumphant revolutionary leaders. And so the French Revolution begat Napoleon,[…]

Exploring a Wild West Ghost Town That Emerged from a Watery Grave

Founded in 1865, St. Thomas, Nevada, was initially settled by Mormons drawn by Muddy Creek, a tributary that flows into the Colorado River. By Dora Mekouar Drought conditions in the Western part of the United States have allowed an old Nevada town once submerged deep beneath Lake Mead to emerge from its watery grave. Founded[…]

Washington Irving Was the Original City Slicker. Here’s What Happened When He Went West.

Washington Irving leaves Gotham to explore the frontier. As he entered New York City on May 21, 1832, Washington Irving, the acclaimed author of “Rip Van Winkle,” was having a Rip Van Winkle moment of his own. Irving had charmed thousands of readers with the story of Rip, a henpecked husband who falls asleep for[…]

Anti-Spanish Bias and American Expansionism in the 19th Century

Poet-politician Joel Barlow personified an ideology borne of religious antipathy and economic rivalry. No sooner had the U.S. Revolution ended than U.S. expansionists began looking south and southwest toward lands controlled by Spain. The personification of this complicated project was the American poet-politician Joel Barlow. As a poet, he worked on creating public sentiment to[…]

Does the British Empire Still Have a Grip on America?

From the coins we count to the democracy we practice, the mother country’s influence is holding strong in our demographic whirlpool. Introduction In 1776, on the brink of his first battle with British troops after America declared independence, George Washington gave a spirited defense of breaking from British rule. “The fate of unborn millions will[…]

Other Americans and the American Revolution

Who identified as “American” during the Revolution? To what extent did the American Revolution serve the interests of all inhabitants of the emerging nation? By Carolyn LatshawNational Society of Daughters of the American Revolution–Chicago Chapter Introduction When we think of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, we think George Washington, John Adams, Paul Revere—the Patriots.[…]

Representing the American Revolution, 1768–1893

Exploring the changing meaning and significance of the American Revolution during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Introduction Did people in the late eighteenth century understand the events of the American Revolution as we understand them now? How did people write the history of the Revolution as the war was occurring? Did people write that history[…]

Immigration and National Security in George Washington’s Day

Presuming that immigration was a boon to national security, U.S. borders remained mostly open for the first century of the nation’s existence. By Livia Gershon To many Americans today, immigration looks like a safety risk. Some debates over the issue pit idealistic, humanitarian support for more open borders against devotion to national security. But back when[…]

How Alexander Hamilton Fought the Tyranny of the Majority

By shielding British loyalists from persecution, the founder elevated principles over prejudice. The struggles of America’s cultural outsiders to be included in the country—in the face of disparagement, exclusion, or punishment—are as old as the nation. And, as Alexander Hamilton discovered in the 1770s and 1780s, they cut to the core of what it means[…]

74-Year Cycles of American History

America has had four major crisis turning points, each 74 years apart, from the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to today. A century ago, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. argued that history occurs in cycles. His son, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., furthered this theory in his own scholarship. As I reflect on Schlesinger’s work and the history of the[…]

Inventing ‘America’: The Engravings of Theodore de Bry

Introduction In the center of this image we see a finely-dressed Christopher Columbus with two soldiers. Columbus stands confidently, his left foot forward with his pike planted firmly in the ground, signaling his claim over the land. Behind him to the left, three Spaniards raise a cross in the landscape, symbolizing a declaration of the[…]

George Mason: Lost Founder

George Mason’s intellectual potency had a decisive role in shaping and producing our founding documents. America was woven together by three revered pieces of political paper: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. George Mason’s intellectual potency had a decisive role in shaping and producing all three documents, and leaves one[…]