We the Teachers

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/

The Ideas Behind the Progressive Party Platform of 1912

Croly_PromiseAmerLifeToday is the 145th birthday of Herbert Croly, whose book, The Promise of American Life, was a major influence on American progressives in the early 20th century, including Theodore Roosevelt, who derived from Croly his idea of a “new nationalism.” Published in 1909, this book tried to devise a way of infusing Hamilton’s vision for a strong and effective central government with Jefferson’s vision for democratic rule. Croly proposed a synthesis that downplayed individualism and elevated a communalism that, he hoped, would promote the welfare of all citizens. This would require, he thought, the nationalization of large corporations and the strengthening of labor unions. It would require a strong central government headed by a strong leader.

One sees these ideas in the Progressive Party Platform of 1912, which invokes the name of Jefferson in its opening paragraphs. Whether Jefferson would have seen the platform as consistent with his own understanding of democracy remains a subject of debate.

Fellowship Opportunity for Teachers at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Applications are now being accepted for the 2014-2015 Life Guard Teacher Fellows Program at The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. These short-term residential fellowships are intended to help teachers educate America’s students in the history of our founding era – and particularly in the remarkable traits and accomplishments of George Washington.

By living and working on George Washington’s estate, fellows will enjoy the opportunity to connect and collaborate with Mount Vernon’s on-site experts in early American history, preservation, archaeology and other relevant fields, as well as the scholars who frequently visit for lectures, research, educational programs, and other purposes.

These funded research opportunities are available to exceptional classroom teachers (grades 3 – 12), curriculum specialists, media specialists, and to those engaged in university-level teacher training. Fellows will be awarded a stipend of $1,000 a week as well as housing and round-trip airfare or mileage reimbursement for one trip to and from the scholars’ residence.

The application deadline is February 28, 2014. Awardees will be notified by April 30, 2014.

Click here to learn more about research parameters and application process.

The Joining of the Rails: The Transcontinental Railroad

Transcontinental Railroad

The new edition of Gilder Lehrman’s History Now online historical journal is now available.  This issue focuses on a particular interest of mine, the transcontinental railroad.  It features a series of essays from historians exploring the railroad’s impact on American history, particularly on the economy and business, the social impact it has on western settlement, and the changing relationship between government and business that develops in the Age of Enterprise.

Want to learn more about railroads and western settlement? Join us this summer for a new graduate course entitled The West and AmericaThis new course will explore how the west shaped American history from the 19th century through the present. Held at our Ashland, Ohio campus from Sunday, June 29 through Friday July 4th, the course will be taught by Professor David Wrobel of the University of Oklahoma and veteran MAHG professor Gregory Schneider of Emporia State University.  A lifelong rail fan, Professor Schneider is the author of the recently published Rock Island Requiem: The Collapse of a Might Fine Line, which chronicles the rise and fall of the legendary Rock Island Railroad.

Two speeches in Osawatomie, in 1910 and 2011

TheoRoosevelt_waving_hatTheodore Roosevelt announced his progressive vision for America in a speech made in Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910. In the year and a half since leaving the presidency, he had begun to part with the more moderate reformist policies of his successor, President Taft. Now he advocated a “New Nationalism” that would put “the national need before sectional or personal advantage” and that would look to “the executive power as the steward of the public welfare.” Criticizing “the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will,” he called for greater government supervision of interstate business, tariff reforms devised by a commission of experts, a graduated income tax on the wealthy accompanied by a graduated inheritance tax on large fortunes, and labor laws to protect workers.

A century later, when President Obama in December of 2011 traveled to Osawatomie to make a major economic policy speech, he meant to evoke the memory of Theodore Roosevelt’s call for a national progressive agenda. It could be an interesting classroom exercise to compare the two speeches. Obama’s is available at the White House website; Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech is included in our collection of 50 Core American Documents and can also be found here with Professor Christopher Burkett’s introduction.

Ashbrook hosts colloquium on American Exceptionalism

LF New Orleans January 2014Last weekend, the Ashbrook Center hosted 18 teachers from across the country in the exceptional city of New Orleans, Louisiana, for a conversation on the topic of American exceptionalism.

Throughout American history, America has been seen, in many ways, to be distinct as a nation and as a people. Through readings from the colonial era, founding era, Civil War, Progressive era, and from contemporary times, the teachers who gathered with us in New Orleans discussed ways in which America or Americans have been viewed as “exceptional”.

During its youth, America offered the hope of freedom from the limits of the Old World. Participants read from the letters of the French settler to America, John Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, who explained how the European landing in the new world, “is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his contemplation, different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything and of a herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury…. There he sees a parson as simple as his flock, a farmer who does not [live in excess] on the labor of others. We have no princes for whom we toil, starve, and bleed. We are the most perfect society now existing in the world. Here man is free as he ought to be….”

The 19th century saw conflict about whether this freedom should extend to African-Americans as well as Americans of European origin. Participants explored writings from both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, who in his famous Gettysburg Address called America to an exceptional purpose – of dedicating ourselves, after a brutal war fought over the meaning of America’s founding principles, to the proposition that “all men are created equal” and to the task of guaranteeing “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In the 20th century, Americans struggled with the question of whether, with the closing of the American frontier and the rise of the industrial economy, some dramatic change was necessary in American political ideals or institutions. Was it the case, as Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed, that 18th century conceptions of liberty were out of date, and that in the modern age, Americans should embrace the political principle that Woodrow Wilson had borrowed from European political science and admit, “The day of enlightened administration has come”? Or should Americans heed the counsel of Herbert Hoover who argued, “Our country has a political, social, and economic system that is peculiarly our own.  It is the American system.  It grew out of our revolt from European systems and has ripened with our experience and our ideals…. It has been the moving force of our progress.  It has brought us into the leadership of the world.”

As long as American represents Lincoln’s ideal of a government that is of, by, and for the people, America will remain exceptional. Teachers and students of American history and government must continue to ask whether this requires a radical departure from the model of self-government established at America’s founding, or whether there is something exceptional (as Hoover argued) in America’s tradition of decentralized and ordered liberty.

Martin Luther King, Jr, and Nonviolent Resistance

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” So wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 as he served a ten-day jail term for violating a court injunction against any “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing” in Birmingham. He came to Alabama’s largest city to lead an Easter weekend protest and boycott of downtown stores as a way of forcing white city leaders to negotiate a settlement of black citizens’ grievances. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a public statement by eight white clergymen appealing to the local black population to use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. The clergymen counseled “law and order and common sense,” not demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence,” as the most prudent means to promote justice. This criticism of King was elaborated the following year by a fellow Baptist minister, Joseph H. Jackson (president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953–1982), who delivered a speech counseling blacks to reject “direct confrontation” and “stick to law and order.”

By examining King’s famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, along with two significant criticisms of his direct action campaign, this EDSITEment lesson plan will help students assess various alternatives for securing civil rights for black Americans in a self-governing society.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Franklin painted in 1762 by Mason Chamberlain, showing Franklin checking his self-invented "lightning bells" as lightening illuminates the street outside the window of his study.

Portrait of Franklin painted in 1762 by Mason Chamberlain, showing Franklin checking his self-invented “lightning bells” as lightening illuminates the scene outside the window.

Tomorrow is the birthday of Benjamin Franklin. Although an omnipresent player in the Founding generation, the only one to sign all three documents that confirmed us as a nation—Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, and the Constitution—Franklin was not as influential in shaping the design of our government as men such as Madison, Hamilton, or Jefferson. His biographer Edmund Morgan points out that in the service of his country, Franklin sometimes undertook— and brilliantly performed—assignments he himself questioned, such as procuring French financial assistance for the Revolution.  “We cannot really know who Franklin was from the role he played in history,” Morgan writes; but in Franklin’s elegant, often witty prose, “we can recapture . . . someone whose life showed, as few ever have, how much it can mean to be a human being.”

Franklin made his name as a journalist and author, and one can read his own clever compendium of the best of the adages he authored under the pseudonym “Poor Richard” in a piece written shortly before he retired from the printing business, “The Way to Wealth.”

His habit of putting common human behavior to the test of reason and producing a surprising result is well displayed in “Old Mistresses Apologue,” written in the form of advice to a young man seeking the extramarital entertainment of women (Franklin urges the young man to exclusively court older women).

His assessment of the opportunities his newly independent nation offered to its citizens, and the good to which the nation ought to aspire, can be seen in an essay he wrote while Ambassador to Paris: “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America.” Here he articulates an American idea of respectability, based in useful employment, that contrasts with the European idea.

As Peter Schramm puts it, for Franklin, “life and citizenship and virtue were partly obligations, but mostly just fun.  He took pleasure in the world, in freedom, in creating wealth, in shaping the character if his people.  His life was proof that free men could be both prosperous and virtuous.”

 

 

Teddy Roosevelt Signals an Intent to Target Business Trusts

Theodore_RooseveltVice-President Theodore Roosevelt became President after the assassination of President McKinley in September, 1901. Hence his first annual message to Congress, on December 6, 1901, began with comments on this assassination, the third since 1865 to take the life of an elected president, as he ominously noted.

But after condemning the action and political ideology of the anarchist who shot McKinley, Roosevelt proceeded to address a concern that would form a large part of his agenda as President: how to put restraints on the growing power of business trusts. Roosevelt cautioned against rashly enacting anti-business legislation:

Many of those who have made it their vocation to denounce the great industrial combinations . . .  appeal especially to hatred and fear. These are precisely the two emotions, particularly when combined with ignorance, which unfit men for the exercise of cool and steady judgment. In facing new industrial conditions, the whole history of the world shows that legislation will generally be both unwise and ineffective unless undertaken after calm inquiry and with sober self-restraint.

He proposed to use existing law, particularly the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act, to limit combinations of business that were unfair to consumers:

Corporations engaged in interstate commerce should be regulated if they are found to exercise a license working to the public injury. It should be as much the aim of those who seek for social betterment to rid the business world of crimes of cunning as to rid the entire body politic of crimes of violence. Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions.

First of all, Roosevelt said, “Government should have the right to inspect and examine the workings of the great corporations engaged in interstate business;” after gathering the facts, government could then consider what “further remedies are needed in the way of governmental regulation, or taxation.”

In the coming months, Roosevelt would act more aggressively against business trusts than his State of the Union Address might have suggested. In February 1902 Roosevelt’s Attorney General brought suit under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 against J. P. Morgan’s railroad company, Northern Securities.

Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

Woodrow WillsonPresident Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress to declare war against imperial Germany in April of 1917,  after German submarines began attacking merchant ships supplying the Allies. Congress complied, and by January of 1918 the defeat of Germany appeared imminent. On January 8 he spoke to Congress again about the War, outlining peace terms that, he argued, would prevent future wars of aggression. Articulating  “fourteen points” necessary to secure a just and lasting peace, Wilson claimed a role for enlightened American leadership of world affairs. In Wilson’s idealistic vision, “the day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world.” Hence he confidently proposed as his last point “A general association of nations . . . formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike”–his idea of a League of Nations.

Wilson’s “Fourteen Points Message” is included in the new Ashbrook publication, 50 Core American Documents: Required Reading for Students, Teachers, and Citizens. You may read the document with Professor Christopher Burkett’s introduction and questions for consideration and discussion here.

The Prospects for Freedmen After Reconstruction

BookerTWashington-Cheynes.LOCThe prospects for social advancement of black freedmen, especially in the South, were uncertain in the period immediately following Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws did not become nearly universal until after the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. Likewise, measures to disenfranchise black voters through poll taxes and literacy and property qualifications—offset by “understanding” and “grandfather” clauses that allowed poor whites to vote—were not widespread in the South until the 1890s. Reconstruction had been marred by violence that threatened black advancement, but some reformist leaders saw hope for gradual and steady advancement in the economic and social position of American blacks.

Booker T. Washington advocated the advancement of the race through industrial education. His Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded in 1881, provided a powerful model of the kind of education he proposed. In a speech before the National Education Association in July 1884, he explained the work of the Institute and optimistically predicted increasing racial harmony in the South as black citizens learned skills that white citizens valued and would buy. A more shadowed forecast was offered by the aging abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, in an essay published the same month in The North American Review.

Read Booker T. Washington’s 1884 speech, “The Educational Outlook in the South.”

Read Frederick Douglass’ “The Future of the Negro.”

Henry George Poses the Question that Troubled the Progressives

Henry_GeorgeHenry George, a printer and self-taught political economist, gained international attention after publishing his 1879 book, Progress and Poverty. It investigated the reasons why material progress in America’s capitalist society did not bring rising quality of life to all, but rather produced a widening gap between rich and poor. George, whose ideas have been claimed as influences on very different schools of economic thought—both libertarians and socialists—concluded that the problem lay in a complex system of taxation on production; he advocated a single tax on unimproved land. While his prescription for wider prosperity has been disputed by later economists, his isolation of the problem in the introduction to his 1879 book remains compelling, posing in eloquent fashion the question that troubled the progressives of the late 19th century and early 20th century and that continues to perplex us today.

Read “The Paradox of Capitalist Growth,” from the introduction to Progress and Poverty.

Crafting Freedom

CraftingFreedom.org is a new resource exploring the African American experience during the era of slavery. Featuring lesson plans and a variety of classroom resources including  videos, slide shows, and student handouts, Crafting Freedom relates the slave experience through the narratives of those who lived it. Based on these primary source documents, the site is an excellent way to apply Common Core standards in your classroom.

Crafting Freedom grew out of a popular National Endowment for the Humanities workshop, Crafting Freedom: African American Artisans, Entrepreneurs, and Abolitionists of the Upper South. Additional web resources will be released at NEH’s EDSITEMENT website in 2014.

New! Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents in paperback

You’ve likely seen Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents project online at TeachingAmericanHistory.org50core. We’re pleased to release a new paperback book edited by Ashland University professor Christopher Burkett. The book contains all fifty documents, a brief introduction to establish context, and several questions suitable for your own private musing or for classroom discussion.

Looking for a gift for that teacher, student, or history buff in your life? Order a copy today!

Five Questions with… Prof. Todd Estes

Todd-Estes1-e1372615143927Recently, Prof. Todd Estes (Oakland University) joined the Ashbrook Center to serve as Discussion Leader for a weekend colloquium on James Madison, held on the grounds at James Madison’s Montpelier. Todd is the author of the highly regarded The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, And The Evolution Of Early American Political Culture (University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), and is currently working on a book on the ratification debate that occurred in the public press, and he is editing a book of the writings of his Ph.D. advisor, the late Prof. Lance Banning (University of Kentucky).

Todd is a frequent collaborator with the Ashbrook Center, and has taught several courses within our MA Program in American History and Government. He was kind enough to join us for five questions about his work as a historian. Listen to our interview with Todd Estes.

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