We the Teachers

FDR’s Vision for a Postwar America

U.S. Presidential PortraitsIn early 1944, after the allies had begun to achieve victories in the war against the Axis powers, Franklin Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union Address that would not only address measures needed to bring the war to a successful conclusion; he also laid out his vision for a postwar America. He made clear that he had not retreated from his ideal of the “Four Freedoms” that he had set as goals before America entered the war. These freedoms included not only the civil rights traditionally recognized in the US, but also his own conception of “economic rights”:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not freemen.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Roosevelt Speaks Out on Victims of Nazi Oppression

FDR_GettyImages_RadioHitler’s professed intent to exterminate the Jews living in all areas under Nazi control, and the means he carried out to achieve this end, did not receive much attention in the anti-Nazi rhetoric of the American government during most of World War II. While the US State Department had by late 1942 confirmed that Jews were being murdered in large numbers in Nazi detention camps, it was not until March of 1944 that Franklin Roosevelt issued a statement on this specific issue. When Roosevelt did finally forcefully condemn the genocide, on March 24, 1944, he addressed the people of Europe and Asia as much as American people. He appealed to those who witnessed genocidal actions—directed by the Japanese against the Chinese as well as by Nazis against European Jews—to secretly resist when possible, providing protection and means of escape to those threatened, and to record the evidence of atrocity when resistance was not possible. Foreshadowing the postwar Nuremburg trials, he promised that “none who participate in these acts of savagery shall go unpunished.”

LBJ Asks Congress to Wage War on Poverty

Lyndon_B._Johnson_-_Official_White_House_PortraitThis week marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s request that Congress enact legislation to pursue a “war on poverty.” Johnson had declared this “war” in his January 8, 1964 State of the Union message; now he pushed for the legislation to wage it. In a special message to Congress on March 16, 1964, Johnson proposed an Economic Opportunity Act which, he said, would strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” Johnson’s broad agenda included training opportunities for impoverished youth in the form of a Job Corps and several training and work study programs to be funded largely through a new Office of Economic Opportunity; a volunteer corps of anti-poverty workers that would be called VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America); and loans and guarantees to employers who would hire the unemployed. At the same time, Johnson asked Congress to enact a federal food stamp program and the health insurance program for the elderly that would come to be called Medicare. Johnson likened his broad set of proposals to the actions of other presidents who had “requested from Congress the authority to move against forces which were endangering the well-being of our country.” Much of the legislation he called for was enacted in the following two years.

Today, as pundits note the anniversary of Johnson’s antipoverty initiative, a debate rages over whether the war on poverty has succeeded or failed. What do you and your students think?

The Atlantic Charter

792px-Atlantic_Conference_Between_Prime_Minister_Winston_Churchill_and_President_Franklin_D_Roosevelt_10_August_1941_A4821During the first two years of World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill worked closely together, not only in making American resources available for the British war effort. They also prepared a political strategy that would clarify their joint war aims once events made America’s entry in the war inevitable. In August 1941 the two men met aboard a US Naval vessel off the coast of Newfoundland agreed upon a joint declaration, The Atlantic Charter. In this document one can trace the beginning outlines of the organization that would later become the United Nations. One also finds language Roosevelt had used in his State of the Union Address the previous January, where he described the “four freedoms” he hoped that the war effort would secure for a world-wide community. In fact, the document was shaped more in line with Roosevelt’s Wilsonian idealism than with the interests of Britain, which was still an imperial power. Roosevelt wanted the charter to promise a world that, he thought, Americans would see as worth going to war to secure; and Churchill, who above all wanted to bring the Americans into the Allied war effort, allowed Roosevelt to take the lead.

Prof. Gordon Lloyd presents: The Ratification of the Constitution – April 11, 2014 (Reagan Library, Simi Valley, CA)

Gordon LloydThe Ashbrook Center and The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center at the Reagan Library are pleased to sponsor Professor Gordon Lloyd for a series of presentations on the Ratification of the Constitution, Friday, April 11, 2014. The lectures will be hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.

Dr. Lloyd is Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and he is creator and editor of a series of Online Exhibits on the American Founding hosted at the Ashbrook Center’s TeachingAmericanHistory.org website.

Through extensive study of Madison’s notes and artifacts from the Founding Era, Professor Lloyd has developed an unparalleled understanding of the Framers and the events that took place leading up to the signing and ratification of the Constitution. Professor Lloyd will help audiences navigate through the vast and complex Founding Era and provide an intimate look at the ratification of the Constitution. This lecture series will take the audience back in time to 1787 and offer the audience a glimpse at the debates surrounding ratification through two lenses: “out-of-doors” in newspapers and pamphlets throughout America’s thirteen states and “in-doors” in the state ratifying conventions. Participants will receive complementary admission to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum,  Air Force One, and a special exhibition: Baseball: Celebrating Our Great American Pastime. This free event is open to teachers, students and the general public.

Lecture Schedule:

Session 1 The Six Stages of Ratification: Yes? No? Maybe?
Session 2: The In-Doors Debate: Principle and Compromise
Lunch- Optional Lunch Box (vegetarian option available)
Session 3: The “Out-of-Doors Debate I”: Constitutionalism and Human Nature
Session 4: The “Out-of-Doors Debate II”: Constitutionalism and Institutions

To learn more, or to register, click here.

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.

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