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[…]

Daniel Webster and the Dazzling 1830 Defense of a Strong Federal Government

New England statesman Daniel Webster believed in strong, centralized power when it served his region’s interests. For generations, school children memorized the ending to Daniel Webster’s “Second Reply to Hayne,” delivered during the famous Webster-Hayne debate of January 1830. This most-famous-of-debates began in a modest fashion, with an argument over westward expansion and morphed into[…]

America Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents

The committee delegated Thomas Jefferson to undertake the task, and he worked diligently in private for days to compose a document. Draft and Prints Jefferson’s letter to Weightman is considered one of the sublime exaltations of individual and national liberty — Jefferson’s vision of the Declaration of Independence and the American nation as signals to[…]

A History of Feminist Movements in the United States in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Feminist movements have generated, made possible, and nurtured feminist theories and feminist academic knowledge. Introduction “History is also everybody talking at once, multiple rhythms being played simultaneously. The events and people we write about did not occur in isolation but in dialogue with a myriad of other people and events. In fact, at any given[…]

Vast Early America: Three Simple Words for a Complex Reality

Teaching early American history needs to be expansive and accurate, not mythologized. American history courses usually begin with the peopling of the Americas, then move on to European colonization and the crisis of the British colonies. Tethered to the East Coast, historical attention turns west again as the United States expands its territorial claims in[…]

A Brief History of the United States Senate

The U.S. Senate was designed to be a more deliberative body than the U.S. House. Introduction The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, which along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States. Like its counterpart, the[…]

History Passing before Their Eyes: The Last Hours of John Quincy Adams

Adams had become widely revered in his last years. The morning of February 21, 1848, was bright and clear. Representative John Quincy Adams left his house on F Street for the Capitol, for the last time. Age had made him gnome-like: bald, frail, and a little hunched over in the sparkling winter air, but still[…]

The American People and the New Deal

The idea of the “people” as a united force suffused the imagery of the New Deal era. By Dr. Michael KazinProfessor of HistoryGeorgetown University In 1941, director Frank Capra and scriptwriter Robert Riskin, a passionate New Dealer, created Meet John Doe, an allegory of a failed fascist takeover of the United States. The film concludes[…]

Jefferson’s Delayed Credit as Author of the Declaration of Independence

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Thomas Jefferson was not then credited with its authorship. By Matthew Wills / 07.02.2016 The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We now credit Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration’s authorship, but that was not the case[…]

“Columbia’s Noblest Sons”: Washington and Lincoln in Popular Prints

The admiration of these two former presidents has risen to the level of a posthumous apotheosis in artistic representation. By Harold Holzer Historian, Lincoln Scholar “I venture to claim for Abraham Lincoln the place next to George Washington.” So wrote George S. Boutwell, the Civil War congressman from Massachusetts who went on to serve under[…]

Deifying the First President in ‘The Apotheosis of Washington’

The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi, 1865 / United States Capitol rotunda, Wikimedia Commons The Apotheosis of Washington depicts George Washington sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner, or in literal terms, ascending and becoming a god (apotheosis). Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 12.06.2018 Public Historian Brewminate Editor-in-Chief Introduction The Apotheosis of Washington is the fresco painted by Greek-Italian artist[…]