We the Teachers

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/

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.

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