We the Teachers

FDR Responds to the Outbreak of World War II

509px-FDR_in_1933Two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Franklin Roosevelt gave a radio address to Americans on the same day, deploring the commencement of war while laying the blame on Nazi aggression. In a careful balancing act, he tried to arouse American indignation at Hitler’s effort to dominate Europe while pledging his adherence to the Neutrality Act passed in 1937. That act had given FDR some flexibility in supporting resistance to Nazi Germany, since it had allowed the sale of arms to Great Britain and France on a “cash and carry” basis (purchasing nations would pay immediately for the arms and would arrange for their transport); but the provision had been written to expire after two years, on May 1. When Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia in March of 1939, Roosevelt had tried and failed to get the provision renewed. However, on November 4 of 1939, Congress renewed the “cash and carry” provision in a new Neutrality Act—ending the arms embargo with nations fighting Nazi Germany.

Consider applying for Mount Vernon’s Summer Teacher Institute

The George Washington Summer Residential Teachers’ Institute is a highly competitive program which brings teachers to Mount Vernon, Virginia for an intensive week of study at Washington’s home. Participating teachers immerse themselves in the study and discussion of this critical period of American history and the remarkable role George Washington played in the founding of our nation.

Teachers will have the opportunity to:

  • Examine the character and accomplishments of George Washington while living on his 18th Century estate
  • Engage in active discussion of 18th Century history with top historians
  • Explore Mount Vernon through interactive workshops, tours, and group projects
  • Connect to Common Core and discuss how to integrate teaching history into English and STEM curricula in accordance with current education standards
  • Return to your classroom with new knowledge, teaching materials and enthusiasm to share with your students and colleagues

In 2014, Mount Vernon will host sessions by state to build the foundation for statewide collegial networks of teachers who can share classroom ideas, lesson plans, and resources.

2014 Dates

June 8-13: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia
June 22-27: Nevada, Oregon, Ohio, California
July 13-18: Maryland, Florida, North Carolina
July 27-Aug 1: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York

To learn more, or to apply, visit http://www.mountvernon.org/teacherinstitute.

Churchill Tries to Rouse America

300px-Sir_Winston_S_ChurchillIn the two years before the outbreak of World War II, Winston Churchill twice addressed the American people by radio, hoping to persuade them to throw American weight against Nazi aggression in Europe. Churchill had not yet been elected Prime Minister. When he spoke to the United States on October 16, 1938, he himself was still a minority voice demanding that the government of Neville Chamberlain cease its policy of appeasing Hitler’s demands for expanded territory in Europe. He appealed to American sensibilities in support of liberty:

Has any benefit or progress ever been achieved by the human race by submission to organized and calculated violence? As we look back over the long story of the nations we must see that, on the contrary, their glory has been founded upon the spirit of resistance to tyranny and injustice, especially when these evils seemed to be backed by heavier force.

While he warned that “the stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out,” he insisted “there is still time for those to whom freedom and parliamentary government mean something, to consult together.” He held out hope that an international alliance—joined by the US—that would restrain Hitler.

When he spoke again, less than a month before Hitler invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war, his descriptions of the aggressions of Hitler and Mussolini—and by now, Japan—were more ironic, and his tone was more ominous:

There is a hush over all Europe, nay, over all the world, broken only by the dull thud of Japanese bombs falling on Chinese cities, on Chinese universities or near British and American ships. But then, China is a long way off, so why worry? The Chinese are fighting for what the founders of the American Constitution in their stately language called: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And they seem to be fighting very well. . . . After all, the suffering Chinese are fighting our battle, the battle of democracy. They are defending the soil, the good earth, that has been theirs since the dawn of time against cruel and unprovoked aggression. Give them a cheer across the ocean–no one knows whose turn it may be next.

Ashbrook brings teachers to Mount Vernon for a weekend with George Washington

Ashbrook Center at Mount VernonThis past weekend, the Ashbrook Center brought 18 teachers from around the country to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Teachers enjoyed private tours of the mansion and the grounds, and an audience with the historic re-enactor who portrays Martha Washington.

In addition, participating teachers had the opportunity to explore George Washington’s life and presidency in depth, through his own writings. We explored the “Rules of Civility” which guided the young and ambitious Washington as he shaped his character so as to rise within the Virginia aristocracy. We discussed his surveying career and military service, which gave him an expansive view of the potential of a united America. We discussed his letters on religious liberty, including his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, with its dramatic proclamation, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Finally, we discussed key issues within his presidency that challenged his vision of a united America, including the Whiskey Rebellion, his Proclamation of Neutrality, and the persistence of partisan views and local identities that he challenged in his Farewell Address.

Participants got a fuller view of George Washington as a man, as a precedent setter, and as a leader calling Americans to embrace the full promise of our national experiment in self-government.

Kennedy Establishes the Peace Corps

Kennedy_portrait_LoCOn March 1 in 1961, President Kennedy established the Peace Corps. The idea for a volunteer force of young people sent to work in developing nations around the world, teaching skills that would promote development, had been proposed several times in Congress during the 1950s but had never gained the traction to pass. Kennedy made the proposal a part of his fall 1960 election campaign, after getting an enthusiastic reception to the idea at an impromptu speech at the University of Michigan. Arriving on campus in the early hours of October 14, 1960, he found a large crowd of students waiting for him to speak, and asked:

“How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

With letters from students pouring into his campaign, Kennedy developed the idea into a foreign policy proposal that would counter Soviet efforts to win the developing world for communism, in a speech at Cow Palace in San Francisco, November 2, 1960. When he referred to this plan in his inaugural address, he downplayed the security motive, pledging himself to a loftier goal:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge—and more. . . . To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required, not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

Promises Owed, Beyond Emancipation

Hiram_Rhodes_Revels_-_Brady-Handy-(restored)On this day–February 25–in 1870, the first African American ever elected to the office of Senator was sworn in. Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected by the Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature to fill out the unexpired term of Jefferson Davis. Revels had distinguished himself in a variety of leadership roles from Maryland to Mississippi, working as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a recruiter of black regiments in the Union Army, an army chaplain, and as an organizer of schools for freedmen. Upon his arrival in the Senate on February 23, 1870, a few Senators tried to block the acceptance of his credentials, arguing that he and other African Americans had gained citizenship only four years prior, with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act. (The US Constitution stipulates in Article I, Section 3, clause 3 that “No person shall be a Senator who shall not have . . . been nine years a Citizen of the United States.”) The argument was specious, as Revels’ supporters pointed out; while residing years earlier in Ohio, Revels had exercised his citizen’s right to vote. After two days, Senator Charles Sumner made a forceful speech that brought the debate to an end.

WAR AND CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND: SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISMThe strange argument over Revels’ credentials calls to mind a powerful speech made shortly before the end of the Civil War by Frederick Douglass. Speaking to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society on “What the Black Man Wants,” Douglass insisted on the granting of full civil rights for African Americans at the conclusion of the Civil War. Emancipation had been granted as a war measure, so as to add the strength of African American troops to the Union Army. But full citizenship rights, including suffrage, should follow. To not grant these would not only deny the equality of black men to other Americans; it would impugn the honor of a nation that would soon be working out a system to readmit the rebel states to the Union:

Do you mean to give your enemies the right to vote, and take it away from your friends? Is that wise policy? Is that honorable? Could American honor withstand such a blow? I do not believe you will do it. I think you will see to it that we have the right to vote. There is something too mean in looking upon the Negro, when you are in trouble, as a citizen, and when you are free from trouble, as an alien. When this nation was in trouble, in its early struggles, it looked upon the Negro as a citizen. In 1776 he was a citizen. At the time of the formation of the Constitution the Negro had the right to vote in eleven States out of the old thirteen. In your trouble you have made us citizens. In 1812 Gen. Jackson addressed us as citizens—“fellow-citizens.” He wanted us to fight. We were citizens then! And now, when you come to frame a conscription bill, the Negro is a citizen again. He has been a citizen just three times in the history of this government, and it has always been in time of trouble. In time of trouble we are citizens. Shall we be citizens in war, and aliens in peace? Would that be just?

FDR Explains the New Deal

FDR-300x200_radio-mikeTwo months after assuming office, Franklin Roosevelt delivered a radio address—one of his “fireside chats”–on measures he had so far taken to stabilize the nation’s economy. He recalled the national emergency he faced on entering office: “The country was dying by inches. It was dying because trade and commerce had declined to dangerously low levels; prices for basic commodities were such as to destroy the value of the assets of national institutions such as banks, savings banks, insurance companies, and others.” Under these circumstances, he asserted, strong actions had to be taken without long deliberation over economic principles: “We were faced by a condition and not a theory,” he said. Roosevelt named the measures taken to avert further foreclosures and bankruptcies and to put people back to work, saying that Congress had fully supported them, realizing “that the methods of normal times had to be replaced in the emergency by measures which were suited to the serious and pressing requirements of the moment. There was no actual surrender of power . . . . The only thing that has been happening has been to designate the President as the agency to carry out certain of the purposes of the Congress.” This fireside chat on the scope and purposes of the New Deal well illustrates Roosevelt’s skill in reassuring the many still suffering the effects of the Depression while quelling the objections of those who were more concerned about his assumption of new executive authority.

FDR Speaks to a Nation in Economic Depression at his First Inaugural

Last week we reprinted Professor John Moser‘s comment on Hoover’s letter to FDR of February , 1933, in which he asked the incoming president to make a pre-inaugural statement to reassure a worried public. Roosevelt ignored Hoover’s “cheeky” advice, waiting for his inaugural address to make a statement promising measures that would bring economic recovery.  FDR’s first inaugural speech is famous for his rebuke of the psychological paralysis gripping the nation: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But perhaps the more important announcement of the speech came in the president’s call for “broad executive powers to address the emergency,” the equivalent of powers normally granted to the presidency only during war. Again we reprint a document introduction by Professor John Moser, co-chair of the Master of American History and Government at Ashland University:

Continue reading

Hoover Offers FDR Advice on the Banking Crisis

Bank_Run_c1933_USAToday, we’re reprinting a document introduction written several years ago by John Moser, Professor of history and co-chair of the Master of Arts in History and Government at Ashland University. Moser comments on a letter Herbert Hoover wrote to Franklin Roosevelt three weeks before Roosevelt’s inauguration as president in March 1933:

In early 1933 Americans waited anxiously in the midst of economic crisis for a new president to begin his term of office.  In this light, Herbert Hoover’s letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt of February 18, 1933, makes for fascinating reading.  During the fall of 1932 the economy had shown signs of recovery, but by February overall unemployment stood at 25 percent and the nation’s banking system stood on the brink of collapse.  Hoover believed—not without reason—that uncertainty over Roosevelt’s intended policies was contributing to the general atmosphere of “fear and apprehension.”  He called on the incoming president to issue a public statement giving “prompt assurance that there will be no tampering or inflation of the currency” and “that the budget will be unquestioningly balanced even if further taxation is necessary.”

Roosevelt chose to ignore Hoover’s request, privately calling it “cheeky.”  No doubt he saw little reason to associate himself with the seemingly discredited economic policies of his predecessor.  But Roosevelt’s key economic policy adviser, Rexford G. Tugwell, admitted that same month that he and the president-elect “were wholly aware of the bank situation and that it would undoubtedly collapse in a few days, which would place the responsibility in the lap of President Hoover.”

– Professor John Moser

For Lincoln’s Birthday: An Early Statement of his Principles

Lincoln_Congressman-electTomorrow is Abraham Lincoln’s 205th birthday. It seems a good time to recall a speech in which Lincoln outlined his political principles while still a young man, before leading the nation through the great crisis of our civil war. While a legislator in the Illinois House, Lincoln spoke to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield on “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”

Lincoln was speaking about 50 years after the ratification debate over the Constitution, and at the end of the speech he shows his consciousness that the last survivors of the revolutionary generation had all but departed. He took as his theme, then, the question of how Americans might maintain their dedication to those republican principles the Founders had articulated and enshrined in law. Asserting that the only serious threats to the nation would arise from within, he warned against allowing any disrespect for law to enter American life. He insisted that recently reported instances of mob violence in the nation gave cause for alarm; but he also spoke of a potential successor to such civil unrest, an ambitious leader who might seek his own glory through the destruction of democratic institutions. This portion of the speech has fascinated his biographers, some of whom argue that Lincoln spoke from an awareness of his own ambition and where, if he chose, it might lead.

Hoover Praises “Rugged Individualism”

472px-Herbert_Hoover_-_NARA_-_532049Speaking in New York near the close of the 1928 Presidential campaign, Herbert Hoover presented the choice between himself and his opponent, Democrat Al Smith, as one between “state socialism” and the protection of private enterprise. He reminded his listeners that during its involvement in World War I, the US government had directed energy toward the war effort by assuming unprecedented powers to regulate private industry. He made the case that the country’s recovery from the war effort was due in large part to the government’s relinquishing these powers at the war’s conclusion, contrasting this decision with that of some European powers, whose economies were still struggling.

A little less than halfway through this speech, Hoover introduced his famous characterization of the American economic system as based on “rugged individualism”: Continue reading

Coolidge Expresses Confidence in a Free Press

444px-John_Calvin_Coolidge,_Bain_bw_photo_portraitCalvin Coolidge’s address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in January 1925, shortly following his re-election to the presidency, offers a clear example of his confidence that democracy and laissez-faire capitalism are compatible. He focuses on one node of our economic and political systems that some have seen as problematic: maintaining a free and independent press  when journalism is conducted as a for-profit enterprise—or, as Coolidge puts it, “the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise.”

While this speech is the source of Coolidge’s oft-quoted maxim: “the chief business of the American people is business,” it also expresses another idea in which Coolidge places his ultimate confidence:  “The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. . . . No newspaper can be a success which fails to appeal to that element of our national life.”

Coolidge himself cultivated good relations with the press, holding 520 press conferences during his five and a half years in office.

FDR’s “Forgotten Man”

FDR-300x200_radio-mikeFranklin D. Roosevelt was born on this day in 1882. Among Roosevelt’s many innovations in American politics was his use of the radio address. In fact, Roosevelt began using this medium to significant effect before his election as president and his well-known series of “Fireside Chats.” For example, this campaign speech made on April 7, 1932, helped prepare the public to accept his eventual program as president, when he proposed federal programs to guarantee the economic security of Americans.

Roosevelt here announces what would become his major theme: championing the low-wage worker, so many of whom had been put out of work by the Great Depression. FDR’s “forgotten man” is the worker “at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Ironically, the phrase “forgotten man” had first been used to title a lecture by Yale economics professor William Graham Sumner, to refer to those, primarily in the middle class, who fund government social welfare programs they did not devise.

Civil War Washington Teacher Fellows Program

Ford's Theatre

The Civil War Washington Consortium, which includes Ford’s Theatre, President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, Tudor Place Historic House and Garden, and the National Parks Service, is now accepting applications for the 2014 Catherine B. Reynolds Civil War Washington Teacher Fellows program.  This six day workshop to be held in Washington, DC from Sunday, July 13 through Friday, July 18, will take 25 teachers on a historic tour of Civil War sites in our nation’s capital.  Focused on the lives and ideas of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the program will include instructional visits to Ford’s Theatre, Tudor Place, the Frederick Douglass Home, and Lincoln’s Cottage.

Included in the program cost is six nights hotel accommodations and roundtrip airfare on American Airlines.  Participants may request a double-occupancy room for $600 or a single-occupancy room for $1000.

Learn more about this exciting opportunity at fords.org.  Applications are due by April 4th.

After World War I, Harding Urges Return to Normalcy

460px-Warren_G_Harding-Harris_&_Ewing-cropWarren G. Harding was not yet the Republican candidate for the 1920 election when he first made his “Return to Normalcy” speech. But he was being promoted by key Ohio Republican Party insider Harry Daugherty, and after the Republican convention deadlocked, he emerged as a compromise candidate, winning the nomination. The speech nevertheless represents the major elements of his campaign, which emphasized a retreat from engagement in international affairs and renewed focus on building the domestic economy through the capitalist energy of the American people. Harding’s rhetoric avoids specifics but hints that he intends to roll back the progressive agenda of his predecessors. It also suggests his rejection of the new League of Nations which his predecessor Woodrow Wilson had championed, helped to design and urged the US to join. The Senate had voted against approving the treaty forming the League in March 1920, and although some in Congress, including some Republicans, wanted to reverse this decision, Harding saw his election as a mandate to stay out of the League.

The excerpt in our library of the “Return to Normalcy” speech is brief enough for classroom use, especially as a study in political rhetoric. Probably the most famous portion is this:

“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/return-to-normalcy/

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