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.
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.
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.
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.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political scientist and historian who traveled the United States in 1831–1832, published his observations in a two-volume book, Democracy in America (Volume 1 was published in 1835 and Volume 2 in 1840). Having been involved in political struggle in his own country, Tocqueville paid keen attention to the workings of democracy in American society. In the selection below, he notes the proclivity of Americans to form groups, perhaps based on his observations of the Anti-Slavery Society, the American Temperance Society, and numerous other reform societies founded in the 1820s and 1830s.
Source: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Volume II, 1840.
João José Reis
Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, slave revolts were frequent and remarkable for their ambitions, success, and diversity of participating elements. Two urban revolts of the nineteenth century were especially significant. First, the Tailor’s Rebellion of 1798, in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, drew on the assistance of freedmen, people of mixed race, and even craftspeople of Spanish descent. The second was a Muslim-inspired and Muslim-directed uprising of slaves in Bahia in 1835, organized by African-born freedmen and slaves who had attained an Islamic education in West Africa before enslavement. This Muslim revolt is particularly fascinating because of the role of written documents, here deployed as protective amulets, among the members of the slave resistance. This excerpt from a book by a Brazilian scholar attempts to demonstrate the role of the written word in this rebellion, illustrating another, and less frequently recognized, “power” within historical documents.
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, trans. Arthur Brakel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 99–103.
New York State Legislatures
After the Revolution, a number of northern states began to abolish slavery within their borders. State legislatures found themselves balancing carefully the rights of slave owners to their property with the Revolutionary promise of equality. While Massachusetts enacted general emancipation in 1783, most other northern states, including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey decided upon a “gradual” method that emancipated slaves on a certain future date, or only emancipated slaves born after a given day.
Source: “An Act For The Gradual Abolition of Slavery,” passed March 29,1799, in Laws of the State of New York, 22nd Session http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nycayuga/land/towns/1799abolition.html
John Locke (1632–1704), the noted English philosopher, scientist, and political theorist, was one of the leading intellectuals of his age and one of the most influential architects of the modern western world. Like his French counterpart René Descartes, Locke came from a respected family and did well in school, directing his studies at Oxford University for a career as a physician. But Locke’s interests were much broader than medicine, and with the assistance of influential friends such as Lord Shaftesbury, he was appointed to a series of governmental positions following the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 that brought William of Orange and Mary to the throne. In his Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690), Locke argued against the Divine Right Theory and began to formulate and espouse a liberal political philosophy based on the notions of natural rights, limited government, and the legitimate right of people to rebel against tyranny.
But although Locke may be best known for his political theories, he was also deeply interested in epistemology and the ways in which people acquire knowledge. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1690), Locke expressed frustration with overly abstract forms of thought, which he believed only yielded meaningless and futile discussions of truth and reality. Instead, Locke argued that all knowledge was based on data acquired by the dual process of sensory experience (what he called “sensation”) and subsequent mental thought and analysis (“reflection”). By stressing the importance of observation, the collection of evidence, and inductive reasoning, Locke defined a mode of inquiry called empiricism, which became the foundation for the scientific method so important to the discoveries and technological innovations of the modern world.
In the reading that follows, Locke carefully advances his new theory of human understanding. He begins with his statement of purpose, which he claims is to know and understand the limits of human knowledge. He then proceeds to explain his ideas of “sensation” and “reflection,” as well as his assertion that people are born lacking all innate ideas.
John Locke, The Works of John Locke, a New Edition, Corrected, Vol. 1 (London: Thomas Tegg, 1823): 1–2, 13, 82–84, 86–87, 90–91, 96–98, 99–103, 153–54.
In 1894, New York City reformers drove Tammany Hall from power and installed a Republican coalition. It only lasted a single term. When the new police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, began enforcing the state law forbidding the sale of alcohol on Sunday, his actions split working-class and immigrant voters from middle-class and native-born ones. The man with the “growler” – the bucket in which workers collected beer to consume on the job – narrowed all reform down to the narrow-mindedness of the prohibitionists. Tammany Hall had a winning issue and knew it, as these lyrics show, set to the tune of a popular favorite, “And the Band Played On.”
Source: Tammany Times, November 18, 1895.
Anne Dudley Bradstreet
Anne Dudley Bradstreet, born to a prosperous London family, came to the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630 where first her father and then her husband later served as governor. She was well educated and in 1650, a volume of her poems was published in London under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. It was met with a positive reception. This letter to her children is undated, but was probably written later in her life.
Source: Adelaide Amore, ed., A Woman’s Inner World: Selected Poetry and Pose of Anne Bradstreet. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1982).
When the Massachusetts Bay Colony was still very young, Anne Hutchinson, a merchant’s wife, held meetings in her house for those who wished to discuss religion. She was accused of promoting a schism, or division within the spiritual community, and on November 7, 1637, was brought to trial in Boston. She stonewalled the prosecution by avoiding their questions, arguing that she had not actually been accused of any specific wrongdoing. Nevertheless she was found guilty and banished from the colony. Here is an excerpt from the trial transcript.
Source: David Hall, ed., The Antinomian Controversy, 1636–1638: A Documentary History (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1990).
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Reagan administration’s defense build-up helped spark a mass movement against nuclear weapons. One of the key anti-nuclear documents during this time was “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” issued by the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States in May 1983. Grounding opposition to nuclear armaments and nuclear war in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the bishops’ pastoral letter posed a significant challenge to the Reagan administration’s arms buildup.
Source: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” Copyright © 1983 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Inc.; Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.
Benjamin Franklin began writing his autobiography in 1771 and returned to the task periodically until he died in 1790. In this selection from the first pages, he describes how he came to read and write with the flair that made him one of the eighteenth century’s leading men of letters. The excerpt provides some insight into life in the first half of the eighteenth century in Boston, Massachusetts, despite the fact that it was written at a much later date.
Source: Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Rockville, MD: Arc Manor, 2008), pp. 15–17.
Sansom Occum was a Mohegan Indian from Connecticut. By the eighteenth century, the Mohegans had lost their land and with it their way of life. In the 1740s, Occum was educated at the school that would later become Dartmouth College and became a minister to Indians on Long Island. In 1768, he penned a brief autobiography, revealing that in his experience, hard work did not pay off as well as it had for Benjamin Franklin: when a white friend and ally advocated for him with the society for missionaries, asking for more reasonable pay, he was rebuffed.
Source: Colin Calloway, ed., The World Turned Upside Down: Indian Voices from Early America (New York: Bedford) p. 61.
Big city politics was not just a profession; for its best practitioners, it was more like an art. In downtown New York City, the variety of ethnic groups required an appreciation of diversity and a ready supply of money. In the case of the political machine, Tammany Hall, it had both in state senator Timothy D. Sullivan, a lovable rogue with a talent for making friends and raising money from those for whom he had done favors. In 1895 a reporter followed him around on one of his outings and provided a patronizing portrait of a politician in full swing. It should be noted that Sullivan, unlike the stereotypical boss, neither smoked nor drank.
Source: “Tim Sullivan’s Queer Canvass,” New York Herald, October 22, 1895.
George Steevens, a British journalist, came across the Atlantic in 1896 to collect material for The Land of the Dollar. While visiting Philadelphia, he went to one of the most celebrated department stores in the country, Wanamaker’s. His guess that the owner had been a “rattling good” Cabinet officer was half-right. In terms of efficiency, Wanamaker proved excellent; as a partisan Republican, he willingly saw to the discharge of as many Democratic postmasters as he could manage, and his readiness to forbid mailing materials that he considered indecent stirred outrage among authors.
Source: George Steevens, The Land of the Dollar (New York, 1897), quoted in David Colbert, ed., Eyewitness to America: 500 Years of America in the Words of Those Who Saw It Happen (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997), 305–06.
Robert Lynd and Helen Lynd
Just as Henry Ford’s moving assembly line and system of mass production changed business forever, so too did the product coming off his factory lines: the automobile. Robert and Helen Lynds’ pioneering 1929 study of social and economic life in Muncie, Indiana revealed the influence of new goods and entertainments and the resulting changes to patterns of modern American life. The car, in particular, took people away from the traditional influences of home and church and revealed the new power of media and peer culture.
Source: Robert Lynd and Helen Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture, foreword by Clark Wisster (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1956), 251–261.
Eugene Debs, a leader of the Socialist Party of America, vehemently opposed American involvement in World War I. In June, 1918, after visiting several local Socialist leaders who had been jailed for their opposition to the war, Debs spoke in Canton, Ohio. During his speech, he criticized the war as a capitalist undertaking and charged that those who led the patriotic charge did so for purely financial purposes. He called for the working classes to join the Socialist Party and fight for a socialist republic in America. In the aftermath of his speech, Debs was convicted for sedition under the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to ten years in prison. President Warren Harding commuted his sentence in 1921.
Source: Jean Y. Tussey, ed., Eugene V. Debs Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 243–279.
Charles Dickens, the English writer and speaker, visited New York City in 1842 and made the following notes on his impression of Broadway and the Five Points district. He published them as American Notes. Dickens had already gained fame and fortune as a novelist with such works as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations. This travelogue was part of a long tradition of writers making observations about the great American experiment.
Source: Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation (Paris: Baudry’s European Library, 1842), p. 109 – 111, 113.
In 1775 the political strife between the colonies and Great Britain turned into outright warfare. Nevertheless, many Americans questioned whether the goal of the conflict should be the creation of an independent nation or simply a renegotiation of the colonies’ relationship with Great Britain. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, helped convince the colonists that monarchy was a corrupt and tyrannical system and that they would be better off independent. The document was widely read and helped shift American public opinion toward Revolution.
Source: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.