We the Teachers

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.

Bill of Rights Day resources

BRI DuelBill of Rights Day, the day on which the first ten amendments to the constitution went into effect upon their ratification, is December 15th. In addition to TeachingAmericanHistory.org’s own interactive resources on the Bill of Rights, our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have a plethora of related interactive and documentary resources designed for use in secondary school classrooms.  Among these are animated games and exercises, quizzes, videos, SMARTboard activities, and lesson plans.

Learn more at the at BRI’s Bill of Rights Day page.

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day

Sunday, December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, being the anniversary of the day in 1791 on which the document became an official part of our Constitution. When Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the document, these first ten amendments to the Constitution took effect. For a detailed exploration of the philosophical origins of the Bill of Rights and the political process by which they came to be adopted, visit the exhibit Gordon Lloyd prepared for our site, as a companion to exhibits on the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist-Antifederalist Debates, and the Ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights completed the design for our government given us by the Founders, since it provided additional restraints on the federal government thought to be needed by those who were hesitant to ratify the Constitution.

631px-James_MadisonJames Madison, who played a pivotal role in insuring the ratification of the Constitution, also took the lead in calling for the Constitution’s first set of amendments. Madison outlined the need for a Bill of Rights in a speech before the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789. We reprint below Professor Christopher Burkett’s comment on Madison’s “Speech on Amendments to the Constitution.” It is part of a new collection of primary documents in American history edited by Burkett and published by the Ashbrook Center, 50 Core Documents: Required Reading for Students, Teachers and Citizens.

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The End of Reconstruction in South Carolina

Grant_President_LoCThe difficulties undermining the project of Reconstruction are suggested in this letter of President Ulysses S. Grant to South Carolina Governor D. H. Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a Republican who had been elected Governor in 1874 on a reform platform; he had won support from Democratic “fusionists” for his election by promising to fight excessive spending and patronage under the existing Republican and Reconstruction government of the state. But he also intended to defend the civil rights of freedmen.  During his tenure the Democratic party laid plans to regain power in the 1876 elections, in part through the targeted use of violence against black officeholders. In July 1876, the local militia in the town of Hamlet, which was made up of freedmen, were attacked by “Rifle” and “Sabre” clubs made up of white men, and five freedmen were murdered. Governor Chamberlain appealed to President Grant for federal troops to secure the peace. Grant would send the requested help, but President Hayes, succeeding him in office the next year, would withdraw the troops after a disputed gubernatorial election in which both Chamberlain and Democrat Wade Hampton claimed victory (Hampton’s majority was inflated by fraud, especially in two counties where the numbers voting for him exceeded the number of registered voters.) When federal troops withdrew, Chamberlain resigned the governorship, aware he could not hold it without federal protection. He left the state and Reconstruction in South Carolina effectively ended.

A Winter Weekend at James Madison’s Montpelier

This past weekend, the Ashbrook Center was pleased to host 16 outstanding social studies teachers for a weekend colloquium at James Madison’s Montpelier.

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Participants read from primary source documents including Madison’s pre-Constitutional Convention working paper,  ”Vices of the Political System of the U.S.,” several of his contributions to the Federalist series, his “Report on the Virginia Resolutions,” his introduction of amendments to the Constitution in the First Congress, and some of his personal correspondence. (Explore more of Madison’s writings in our online document library here.) With guidance from the accomplished historian of the Early Republican era, Dr. Todd Estes (Oakland University), we discussed key themes in Madison’s thought and career, including his critique of the government under the Articles of Confederation, his blueprint for an extended representative republic designed to break the hold of faction, his shifting political alliances (if not necessarily his shifting principles), and his argument in favor of the power of states to “interpose” their constitutional interpretations while not endorsing nullification of acts of the federal government.

 

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During one of our evening receptions, we were fortunate enough to have been joined by the Madisons themselves, who were hosting visitors for a holiday tour of the mansion. Mr. Madison kindly agreed to pose for photographs with some of our participants. Thanks to all of the teachers who joined us, and thanks to our co-sponsor for this program, Liberty Fund.

Bill of Rights Institute Founders Fellowship

The Bill of Rights Institute will present a pair of programs for teachers in July 2014. The Founders Fellowship program features two programs:

  • Civil Liberty, Commerce, and the Constitution, to be held July 14 to 18 in Washington, DC
  • Liberty and Security, to be held July 21 to 24 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Open to all secondary social studies teachers, the programs are offered at no cost to participants (program costs, lodging, and most meals are included, as is a $400 travel stipend). Learn more about the program or apply today. The application deadline is March 31, 2014.

The Monroe Doctrine, 190 Years Later

JamesMonroe_LoCOn December 2, 1823, during his annual message to Congress, President James Monroe articulated a foreign policy stance for our nation that would become known as the Monroe Doctrine. He proclaimed a policy of non-interference in the affairs of foreign nations, except in cases when European powers interfered in the Western hemisphere. To communicate the US intention to continue a stance of neutrality in the wars of Europe, he stated:

Our policy in regard to Europe . . . is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.

However, he now warned that the US would not remain neutral when European governments attempted to overthrow newly independent states in the Americas:

It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected . . . . We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers [ie., European monarchies] to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. Continue reading

Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian David Hackett Fischer on the American Revolution

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer joined the Ashbrook Center’s 2006 Presidential Academy program to deliver a lecture on The Revolutionary Era. He explored questions including: How did the American colonists define liberty and freedom as they sought to secure their independence from mother England? During the Revolutionary War, what difficulties did the Americans face in fighting for liberty while maintaining the supremacy of civilian over military authority?

To listen to his lecture, click here.

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