Tag Archives: History: American

The Federalist Papers

"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren … should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties." So wrote John Jay, one of the revolutionary authors of The Federalist Papers, arguing that if the United States was truly to be a single nation, its leaders would have to agree on universally binding rules of governance–in short, a constitution. In a brilliant set of essays, Jay and his colleagues Alexander Hamilton and James Madison explored in minute detail the implications of establishing a kind of rule that would engage as many citizens as possible and that would include a system of checks and balances. Their arguments proved successful in the end, and The Federalist Papers stand as key documents in the founding of the United States.

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War

When Thomas Jefferson wrote his epitaph, he listed as his accomplishments his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and his founding of the University of Virginia. He did not mention his presidency or that he was second governor of the state of Virginia, in the most trying hours of the Revolution. Dumas Malone, author of the epic six-volume biography, wrote that the events of this time explain Jefferson's "character as a man of action in a serious emergency." Joseph Ellis, author of American Sphinx, focuses on other parts of Jefferson's life but wrote that his actions as governor "toughened him on the inside." It is this period, when Jefferson was literally tested under fire, that Michael Kranish illuminates in Flight from Monticello.

Filled with vivid, precisely observed scenes, this book is a sweeping narrative of clashing armies–of spies, intrigue, desperate moments, and harrowing battles. The story opens with the first murmurs of resistance to Britain, as the colonies struggled under an onerous tax burden and colonial leaders–including Jefferson–fomented opposition to British rule. Kranish captures the tumultuous outbreak of war, the local politics behind Jefferson's actions in the Continental Congress (and his famous Declaration), and his rise to the governorship. Jefferson's life-long belief in the corrupting influence of a powerful executive led him to advocate for a weak governorship, one that lacked the necessary powers to raise an army. Thus, Virginia was woefully unprepared for the invading British troops who sailed up the James under the direction of a recently turned Benedict Arnold. Facing rag-tag resistance, the British force took the colony with very little trouble. The legislature fled the capital, and Jefferson himself narrowly eluded capture twice.
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George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal

No history of racism in America can be considered complete without taking into account the role that George Washington—the principal founding father—played in helping to mold the racist cast of the new nation. Because General Washington—the universally acknowledged hero of the Revolutionary War—in the postwar period uniquely combined the moral authority, personal prestige, and political power to influence significantly the course and the outcome of the slavery debate, his opinions on the subject of slaves and slavery are of crucial importance to understanding how racism succeeded in becoming an integral and official part of the national fabric during its formative stages.

The successful end of the War for Independence in 1783 brought George Washington face-to-face with a fundamental dilemma: how to reconcile the proclaimed ideals of the revolution with the established institution of slavery. So long as black human beings in America could legally be considered the chattel property of whites, the rhetoric of equality and individual freedom was hollow. Progressive voices urged immediate emancipation as the only way to resolve the contradiction; the Southern slaveowners, of course, stood firm for the status quo. Washington was caught squarely in the middle.
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George Washington Slept Here: Colonial Revivals and American Culture, 1876-1986

In her quest for the unhistorical George Washington, Marling has examined the subculture of American life–magazine fiction, historical romances, movies, and journalism. She traces the descent of high art into such popular forms as posters, billboards, and advertising packages. 224 halftones.

Thomas Paine : Collected Writings : Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters (Library of America)

Paine was the impassioned democratic voice of the Age of Revolution, and this volume brings together his best-known works–"Common Sense," "The American Crisis," "Rights of Man," "The Age of Reason," along with a selection of letters, articles and pamphlets that emphasizes Paine's American years.

Jefferson’s Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men behind the Louisiana Purchase

Jefferson's Great Gamble tells the incredible story of how four leaders of an upstart nation–Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Livingston–risked the future of their country and their own careers; outwitted Napoleon Bonaparte, the world's most powerful ruler; and secured a new future for the United States of America.

For two years before the Louisiana Purchase, the nine principal players in the deal watched France and the United States approach the brink of war over the most coveted spot on the planet: a bustling port known as New Orleans. And until the breakthrough moment when a deal was secured, the men who steered their countries through the tense and often beguiling negotiations knew only that the futures of both nations were being questioned, and that the answer was uncertain.
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Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side

In the most controversial analysis ever written of the apostle of American liberty, the distinguished constitutional historian Leonard W. Levy examines Jefferson’s record on civil liberties and finds it strikingly wanting. Clearing away the saintliness that surrounds the hero, Mr. Levy tries to understand why the “unfamiliar” Jefferson supported loyalty oaths; countenanced internment camps for political suspects; drafted a bill of attainder; urged prosecutions for seditious libel; condoned military despotism; used the Army to enforce laws in time of peace; censored reading; chose professors for their political opinions; and endorsed the doctrine that means, however odious, are justified by ends. "Implicitly," Mr. Levy writes, "this book is a study of libertarian leadership in time of power and time of danger…Jefferson should be seen [by his biographers] as a whole man in the perspective of his times, but my task is to determine the validity of his historical reputation as the apostle of liberty." "Blunt words and blunt facts…an indispensable book."—Commentary.

Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny

Native America, Discovered and Conquered takes a fresh look at American history through the lens of the Doctrine of Discovery—the legal basis that Europeans and Americans used to lay claim to the land of the indigenous peoples they “discovered.” Robert J. Miller illustrates how the American colonies used the Doctrine of Discovery against the Indian nations from 1606 forward. Thomas Jefferson used the doctrine to exert American authority in the Louisiana Territory, to win the Pacific Northwest from European rivals, and to “conquer” the Indian nations. In the broader sense, these efforts began with the Founding Fathers and with Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery, and eventually the Doctrine of Discovery became part of American law, as it still is today.

Miller shows how Manifest Destiny grew directly out of the legal elements and policies of the Doctrine of Discovery and how Native peoples, whose rights stood in the way of this destiny, were “discovered” and then “conquered.” Miller’s analysis of the principles of discovery brings a new perspective and valuable insights to the study of Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, the Louisiana Purchase, the Pacific Northwest, American expansionism, and U.S. Indian policy. This Bison Books edition includes a new afterword by the author.

In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal

The belief that Thomas Jefferson had an affair and fathered a child (or children) with slave Sally Hemings—and that such an allegation was proven by DNA testing—has become so pervasive in American popular culture that it is not only widely accepted but taught to students as historical fact. But as William G. Hyland Jr. demonstrates, this “fact” is nothing more than the accumulation of salacious rumors and irresponsible scholarship over the years, much of it inspired by political grudges, academic opportunism, and the trend of historical revisionism that seeks to drag the reputation of the Founding Fathers through the mud. In this startling and revelatory argument, Hyland shows not only that the evidence against Jefferson is lacking, but that in fact he is entirely innocent of the charge of having sexual relations with Hemings.

Historians have the wrong Jefferson. Hyland, an experienced trial lawyer, presents the most reliable historical evidence while dissecting the unreliable, and in doing so he cuts through centuries of unsubstantiated charges. The author reminds us that the DNA tests identified Eston Hemings, Sally’s youngest child, as being merely the descendant of a “Jefferson male.” Randolph Jefferson, the president’s wayward, younger brother with a reputation for socializing among the Monticello slaves, emerges as the most likely of several possible candidates. Meanwhile, the author traces the evolution of this rumor about Thomas Jefferson back to the allegation made by one James Callendar, a “drunken ruffian” who carried a grudge after unsuccessfully lobbying the president for a postmaster appointment—and who then openly bragged of ruining Jefferson’s reputation. Hyland also delves into Hemings family oral histories that go against the popular rumor, as well as the ways in which the Jefferson rumors were advanced by less-than-historical dramas and by flawed scholarly research often shaped by political agendas.
Reflecting both a layperson’s curiosity and a lawyer’s precision, Hyland definitively puts to rest the allegation of the thirty-eight-year liaison between Jefferson and Hemings. In doing so, he reclaims the nation’s third president from the arena of Hollywood-style myth and melodrama and gives his readers a unique opportunity to serve as jurors on this enduringly fascinating episode in American history.

George Washington and the Final British Campaign for the Hudson River, 1779

In late May 1779, British Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton launched an offensive to eliminate the rebellion in New York, wreck the commerce of New England, and destroy General George Washington's Continental Army in battle. A key element of Clinton's offensive was a push to control the Hudson River, the most strategically important, and heavily fortified, river in America at the time. The events that played out over the next three months comprised the little-known campaign of 1779 and typified combat in the middle of the American Revolution – brutal civil war raged in the counties around New York City, the British unleashed devastating raids on the Connecticut coast with methods their commander called "Desolation Warfare," and elite units of American Continental infantry stunned the British with skillfull night bayonet attacks at the fortified posts of Stony Point and Paulus Hook. Through it all, shadowy networks of spies and scouts on both sides fed information to their commanders while they operated in secret, always fearing discovery, trial, and hanging. This book reveals the soldiers, officers, commanders, militiamen, and civilians that fought this under-appreciated campaign, which helped set the stage for America's final victory in the Revolution.