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After eleven days of dialogue and contemplation at the presidential retreat Camp David, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation on television the evening of July 15, 1979. With unusual candor for an American politician, the president laid out what he called the national “crisis of confidence” that had developed in the midst of energy and economic problems in the years after the Vietnam War. Carter’s address became known as the “malaise” speech, even though he did not use the word. The address would be remembered as another unpopular act of a supposedly failed president, even though the national audience responded positively to it.
Source: Jimmy Carter, Address to the Nation on Energy and National Goals: “The Malaise Speech,” July 15, 1979.
Jean Jaques Rosseau
François-Marie Arouet (who published under the pen name Voltaire) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were two of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Both somewhat cynical about the limits of human goodness, Voltaire, however, believed in progress only if the lower orders were firmly directed by a political and intellectual elite. For commoners—rural and urban alike—he had nothing but disdain. Voltaire was known for throwing literary punches and was imprisoned twice, beaten up by hired thugs, and spent several years in exile (in England) for his troubles. On his return he published his Philosophical Letters on the English (1733) which made him famous. Rousseau, apart from sharing a giant ego with Voltaire, was in every way his opposite. A commoner by birth, Rousseau came from Geneva and was almost entirely self-educated. Although he was a morally suspect misanthrope himself, in his writings he proposed that goodness is an inherent human capability. It is society that corrupts people, he believed, imposing false inequalities on them. In On the Origin of Inequality Rousseau discusses two types of inequality, natural (based on physical attributes) and moral (based on political or social circumstances). His main concern, however, is with the latter, what he calls civil society, which allows man to enslave man. Voltaire’s letter to Rousseau, acknowledging his essay, illustrates the former’s style and his flippant dismissal of Rousseau’s critique of civilization, suggesting that it made him want to “walk on all fours.”
From J. J. Rousseau, “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.” In The Social Contract. Trans. G. D. H. Cole, Everyman’s ed. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., n.d., pp. 236–8.
In this excerpt from an article in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1919), the British Zionist Harry Sacher (1882–1971) explains to an American audience why the issue of a Jewish homeland is such a necessary part of the then-ongoing Paris Peace Talks, at the end of World War I.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
From The Atlantic Monthly, July 1919
In 1630, Puritan dissidents, believing England under the Stuarts to be too wicked for good Christians to endure, began to migrate to settlements along the shores of Massachusetts Bay. John Winthrop (1587–1649), the colony’s governor, used the occasion of the arrival of the first wave of settlers to sketch out his vision of how a Christian community should be organized and conduct its affairs. Winthrop hoped New England would be as “a city upon a hill”—a model for all Christian communities around the world.
Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco, eds., The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985), 82–92.
Born on the Golden Horn and raised in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul, Çelebi traveled throughout Ottoman domains between 1640 and 1680. He published an account of his travels and experiences as the Seyahatname, or Book of Travels. In the first of his ten books in the document, Çelebi provides a lengthy description of Istanbul around the year 1638, including a panoramic view of 1,100 artisan and craft guilds. The numbers and diversity of trades represented underscore the extent of Ottoman commerce—as well as the pride of place each of the city’s working people claimed as their due.
Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi, 2nd ed. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 86–89.
Benjamin Franklin tirelessly promoted the growth of civic sphere in his native Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and worked to create a colony-wide society (akin to the Royal Society of London) that could promote science and learning throughout the colonies. In 1743 Franklin published A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America in order to facilitate his plan. Franklin’s efforts led to the creation of the American Philosophical Society and eventually to the creation of the College of Philadelphia.
Jared Sparks, ed., The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts not included in any former Edition, and Many Letters Official and Private not Hither to Published, with notes and a Life of the Author (Boston: Tappan & Whittemore, 1838), VI: 14–17.
Shortly after Great Britain imposed the Intolerable Acts Thomas Jefferson wrote this pamphlet to provide guidance for the Virginian delegates to the Continental Congress in 1774. Jefferson was reacting not only to stricter imperial control over his own colony (including the royal governor’s dissolution of Virginia’s assembly) but also to new imperial policies that jeopardized local control in the Massachusetts colony. Jefferson’s Summary View, which was distributed widely at the Continental Congress, helped elevate his status as a national leader and provided a broad intellectual foundation for the colonists’ impending separation from Great Britain.
Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America: Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Inspection of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia, Now in Convention (Virginia: Clementina Rind, 1774. Reprinted in London for G. Kearsly, 1774).
Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi
Born in Timbuktu in 1596, Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi wrote, in Arabic, a chronicle entitled Tarikh al-Sudan (History of the Sudan). The document addresses the political, cultural, and religious history of the Songhay state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and it also offers detailed accounts of various states in the Niger River valley into al-Saadi’s own day. Al-Saadi was particularly interested in the impact of Islamic thought and culture on the African kingdoms, as the following excerpt demonstrates. The document was discovered by a German explorer in the 1850s during his visit to Timbuktu.
Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire, trans. John Hunwick (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 38–40.
The defeat of Russia in the Crimean War (1853–1856) convinced the newly enthroned Alexander II (r. 1855–1881) of the need for fundamental reforms in his country. The first institution he tackled was serfdom, and his Emancipation Edict (1861) ostensibly freed peasants from their bondage to the landowning aristocracy. Although the edict affected some 50 million serfs, it was not fully implemented. Peasants were not given land titles per se; the land was turned over to the control of local communities (mirs), which then allocated parcels to individual serfs. Moreover, they were forced to make annual payments to the government in the form of loans that would compensate the former landowners; the loan amounts were often higher than the dues aristocrats had demanded before emancipation.
On March 4, 1865, at the start of his second term, President Lincoln gave what remains the shortest inaugural address in history. In it, he strove to explain how a merciful God could have allowed so cruel a war and how, from the first, the saving of the Union had been bound up with the destruction of slavery.
Source: Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address,” from Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 8: 332–333.
In 1964, actor and television personality Roland Reagan (1911–2004) presented “A Time for Choosing,” a televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president that year. Goldwater lost, but the speech helped launch Reagan’s political career. In 1966, Reagan was elected Governor of California. In 1968 and 1976, he was a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Finally, in 1980, the Republican Party nominated Ragan to run against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Through all these years, Reagan presented a consistent, conservative critique of social and cultural changes in the United States. Unlike many conservative social critics, Reagan was optimistic about America’s future.
Ronald Reagan, “Acceptance Speech,” Vital Speeches of the Day 46 (August 15, 1980), 642–646.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson was a formidable candidate for reelection. Few national Republican leaders were willing to risk their careers in a futile effort to unseat a popular incumbent, so Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was able to win the Republican nomination. Goldwater represented a new breed of conservative, Western Republicans who were deeply suspicious of the political establishment in Washington and who rejected federal social programs as threats to American freedom and independence. Goldwater’s acceptance speech called for a return to traditional American liberties protected by limited government. Goldwater suffered a crushing defeat in 1964, but his ideals helped spark a conservative Republican resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s.
Barry Goldwater, Where I Stand. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 9–16.
Thomas Preston was a British military officer present at the Boston Massacre in 1770. John Adams represented Preston during his trial in a Boston court for his alleged role in the Boston Massacre. Preston was acquitted of all charges. The British Public Record Office published Preston’s recounting of the Boston Massacre.
Merrill Jensen, ed., English Historical Documents, vol. IX (Londong, 1964), 750–53
The fullest account we have of the Paxton Boys’ attacks on the Conestoga Indians comes from Benjamin Franklin, who joined with other civic leaders to persuade a force of 250 boys to turn back when they began marching on Philadelphia. Franklin’s sympathy for the Natives, who were Christian converts, is evident, as is his contempt for the men who attacked them. Shehaes, mentioned below, was an elderly Conestoga who had been present in 1701 when William Penn entered into a treaty with the Indians “and ever since continued a faithful and affectionate Friend to the English.”
Source: “A Narrative of the Late Massacres, [30 January 1764],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01%e2%80%9311-02%e2%80%930012, ver. 2014–05-09). Source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 11, January 1, through December 31, 1764, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967, p. 42ff.
Ibn Fadlan was a tenth-century Arab chronicler. In 921 C.E., the Caliph of Baghdad sent Ibn Fadlan on an embassy to the King of the Bulgars of the Middle Volga (present-day Russia). Ibn Fadlan wrote an account of his journey: the Risala. During the course of his journey, Ibn Fadlan met a people called the Rus, acting as traders in the Bulgar capital.
Smyser, H.M. "Ibn Fadlan's Account of the Rus with Some Commentary and Some Allusions to Beowulf." Franciplegius: Medieval and Linguistic Studies in Honor of Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. eds. Jess B. Bessinger Jr. and Robert P. Creed. New York: New York University Press. 1925, pp. 92-119.
The Stono Rebellion - the largest slave revolt in the American colonies before the American Revolution—took place on September 9, 1739 near the Stono River in St. Paul’s Parish, South Carolina. A limited number of primary sources about the rebellion exist. Below is an account from the perspective of a white South Carolinian.
“An Account of the Negroe Insurrection in South Carolina,” Allen D. Candler ed., The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, vol. 22, part 2 (Atlanta: Charles P. Byrd, 1913), 232–236.
Russell H. Conwell
A Baptist pastor from Philadelphia, Russell H. Conwell’s most widely-known work was his sermon “Acres of Diamonds,” first prepared in 1861 when he was eighteen, and added to and improved upon years later. Over a half century, he would deliver it more than six thousand times, earning some $8 million from lecture fees. It expressed the faith of the age that any enterprising person could succeed and that individual effort was sure to be rewarded.
Source: Russell H.Conwell, Acres of Diamonds. Foreword by Russell F. Weigley (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 23–42
When Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) left the White House in 1909, he hoped his successor, William Howard Taft, would continue his reform and conservation policies. While Taft continued to initiate anti-trust suits, his natural conservatism led him to side with the Senate Republican leadership against the so-called “insurgents” led by Robert LaFollette. In 1910, Roosevelt returned from a prolonged trip to Africa and Europe to find the Republican Party on the verge of civil war. Roosevelt used the occasion of the dedication of the John Brown Memorial Park at Osawatomie, Kansas, to articulate a detailed reform program which he hoped would be adopted by Republican candidates in the 1910 congressional elections. Roosevelt later used this call for a “New Nationalism” as the basis for his candidacy in the 1912 presidential election.
Source: Ted Widmer, ed., American Speeches: Political Oratory from Lincoln to Bill Clinton (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2006), 216–228.
On May 22, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in place of the late President John F. Kennedy, who had been originally invited to speak. Johnson used the occasion to outline his vision of the American promise, which he labeled the Great Society. Building on the accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, Johnson hoped to recruit the youth of America—especially its growing number of college graduates—into his campaign against poverty and want in America. Johnson’s fervor to fulfill the promise of America was not shared by many Congressional leaders, and the success of his anti-poverty programs largely depended on the president’s personal popularity.
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–1964, Book 1, November 22, 1963-June 30, 1964. (Washington, DC: United States General Printing Office, 1965): 704–707.
On May 4, 1886, as protestors and police faced off against each other in Chicago, an unknown person threw a bomb, killing seven policemen and wounding others. The police fired on the crowd, killing and injuring many more. Blaming anarchists for the bomb, newspapers clamored for arrests. Among the eight put on trial was August Spies. Nobody pretended that he had thrown the bomb, nor could anyone prove that the perpetrator had read the inflammatory circular that Spies had published beforehand. Despite this, all the defendants were convicted. Four, Spies among them, went to the gallows; a fifth man killed himself. The others were sent to prison. In 1893, it was recognized that the defendants had not received a fair trial and pardons were issued to the survivors.
Source: The Famous Speeches of the Eight Chicago Anarchists in Court (Chicago: Lucy E. Parsons, 1910), 16–26.