Essay

Cahokia: A Pre-Columbian American City

Almost a thousand years ago, American Indians built a city along the Mississippi River in the middle of North America. Located opposite modern-day St. Louis, Missouri, this city is called Cahokia by archaeologists, and it was as large in its day...

Essay

Change and Crisis: North America on the Eve of the European Invasion

It was around the year 1450. A young man was living alone in the dense forest somewhere southeast of Lake Ontario because there was not enough...

Detail from a 1682 map of North America, Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae, by Nichola
Essay

The Columbian Exchange

Millions of years ago, continental drift carried the Old World and New Worlds apart, splitting North and South America from Eurasia and Africa. That...

Essay

The League of the Iroquois

No Native people affected the course of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American history more than the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, of...

Essay

A New Look at the Great Plains

To most Americans the Great Plains are the Great Flyover, or maybe the Great Drivethrough. Viewed from a window seat the plains seem nearly devoid of interest, something to get across enroute to someplace far worthier to explore or live in. Yet...

Essay

England on the Eve of Colonization

When James VI of Scotland and his entourage began his journey south to take up the crown of England in April of 1603, it looked as if the ancient enmity between the two realms had finally been swept away. With England’s aristocratic elite...

Essay

The Discovery of the Americas and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

In the middle of the fifteenth century, Europe, Africa, and the Americas came together, creating—among other things—a new economy. At the center of that economy was the plantation, an enterprise dedicated to the production of exotic commodities—...

Essay

Magellan: Missing in Action

Ferdinand Magellan, celebrated as the first circumnavigator, has long been the orphan of history. Although he did not survive his famous voyage, Magellan became both an icon of exploration and an outcast—disowned by his native Portugal, which he...

Essay

Navigating the Age of Exploration

Two thousand and seven seems a worthy year to reappraise the Age of Exploration, and not merely because a season of anniversaries is upon us. Of course,...

Essay

Perils of the Ocean in the Early Modern Era

A traveler considering an ocean voyage around 1600 had much to contemplate. Voyage by voyage, explorers and colonists alike needed knowledge...

Essay

Conflict and Commerce: The Rise and Fall of New Netherland

In September 1609, when Henry Hudson guided his ship, De Halve Maen, through the narrows dividing present-day Staten and Long Islands,...

Essay

Jamestown and the Founding of English America

Shortly before Christmas 1606, three small ships left London’s Blackwall docks to establish a settlement on Chesapeake Bay, in North America. The largest of the ships, the heavily armed, 120-ton merchantman Susan Constant, carried...

Essay

Native American Discoveries of Europe

Native Americans discovered Europe at the same time Europeans discovered America. As far as we know, no birch bark canoes caught the gulf stream to Glasgow, and no Native American conquistadores planted flags at Florence, but just as Europeans...

Essay

The Impact of Horse Culture

For all the calamities that came in the long run, European contact at first offered American Indian peoples many...

Essay

The Pueblo Revolt

In 1680 the people known collectively as “Pueblos” rebelled against their Spanish overlords in the American Southwest. Spaniards had dominated them, their lives, their land, and their souls for eight decades. The Spanish had established and...

The Works of John Woolman (Philadelphia: Crukshank, 1774) (GLC06191p253)
Essay

Anti-Slavery before the Revolutionary War

Anti-slavery is almost as old as slavery itself. Indeed it could easily be argued that the first enslaved person who jumped overboard or led an on-ship...

 “Taboas geraes de toda a navegação” by João Teixeira Albernaz, 1630. (LOC Maps)
Essay

Iberian Roots of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1640

In its broadest sense, African American history predates the history of the United States, colonial or otherwise; by the time the English colony of Virginia was founded in 1607, Africans and people of African descent had already been present in...

Essay

Indian Slavery in the Americas

The story of European colonialism in the Americas and its victimization of Africans and Indians follows a central paradigm in most textbooks. The African...

GLC04315
Essay

Early America’s Jewish Settlers

If you had the opportunity to create a new society from scratch, to build its institutions and establish its social structure from the ground up, how...

Farewell to England, pamphlet by William Penn, 1682. (GLC)
Essay

The Origins and Legacy of the Pennsylvania Quakers

Enthusiastic religious conviction among rustic Quakers contributed much to what seems civilized and refined about American culture and...

“Landing of Roger Williams,” (New York: Johnson Fry & Col, 1867) (GLC08878.0006)
Essay

The Puritans and Dissent: The Cases of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson

Every society constructs what one scholar has called a “perimeter fence,” which sets the boundary between actions and beliefs that are acceptable and...

The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), by Cotton Mather (GLC00264p1)
Essay

The Years of Magical Thinking: Explaining the Salem Witchcraft Crisis

Most Americans’ knowledge of the seventeenth century comes from semi-mythical events such as the First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Pocahontas purportedly...

Essay

George Washington’s French and Indian War

By the 1580s the French were ahead of the British in reaching into the interior of North America. They had established trading companies...

“A View of the Town of Boston,” by Paul Revere, 1770, detail. (GLC02873)
Essay

History Times: The Colonial Era

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean

Imagine saying goodbye to family, friends, and familiar places to take a dangerous voyage across thousands of...

Essay

The Colonial Virginia Frontier and International Native American Diplomacy

Telling the story of Native Americans and colonial Virginians is a complex challenge clouded by centuries of mythology. The history of early settlement is dominated by the story of a preteen Pocahontas saving the life of a courageous John Smith....

Essay

Lockean Liberalism and the American Revolution

The town of Boston took an important step toward rebellion on November 20, 1772, by adopting a declaration of “the Rights of the Colonists” drafted by Sam...

Recueil des loix constitutives des colonies, 1778 (GLC01720)
Essay

The Declaration of Independence in Global Perspective

No American document has had a greater global impact than the Declaration of Independence. It has been fundamental to American history longer than any...

“Bostonian’s Paying the Excise-man” (London: Philip Dawe, 1774). (GLC04961.01)
Essay

Unruly Americans in the Revolution

Nearly all of the blockbuster biographies of the Founding Fathers—whether the subject is George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or John Adams—portray the...

Benjamin West's unfinished American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negot
Essay

Inventing American Diplomacy

In 1783, the expatriate artist Benjamin West began what became his most memorable painting, “The Peacemakers.” West intended to produce a group portrait of the diplomats whose negotiations resulted in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, but the British...

News of the Battle of Yorktown was published in Boston one week after Cornwallis
Essay

No Way Out: Lord Cornwallis, the Siege of Yorktown, and America’s Victory in the War for Independence

Early on the morning of October 17, 1781, Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, found himself hunkered down in a cave near the southern shoreline...

General Burgoyne Addressing the Indians (GLC04761)
Essay

The Indians’ War of Independence

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson clearly described the role of American Indians in the American Revolution. In...

The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar, 13 September 1782, by John Singleton Copley,
Essay

The Other Theater: The War for American Independence beyond the Colonies

After the British signed the peace treaty that ended the American War for Independence in 1783, the City of London decided to commission a work of art to commemorate the conflict. The city’s representatives approached John Singleton Copley for...

“Entrance of the American Army into New York, Novr. 25th, 1783,” published by Vi
Essay

The Social and Intellectual Legacy of the American Revolution

“We can see with other eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we formerly used. We are now really another people, and cannot again go back to ignorance and prejudice. The mind once enlightened cannot again...

“The Heroine of Monmouth, June 28, 1778,” Currier & Ives, 1876 (LC-USZC2-2573)
Essay

Women and Wagoners: Camp Followers in the American War for Independence

An old tune called “The Girl I Left Behind Me” tells of a lovelorn soldier yearning to return home to his waiting fair maid. Although there is a good chance that this song was fifed during the Revolutionary War, the earliest transcripts only date...

James Madison, by A. Newsam, Philadelphia, 1846. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-30581)
Essay

James Madison and the Constitution

James Madison had just turned twenty-five when he took up his first public office as a delegate to the Virginia provincial convention that endorsed American independence and then adopted a new constitution and an accompanying Declaration of...

Detail from the Preamble to the US Constitution, 1787. (GLC03585)
Essay

Ordinary Americans and the Constitution

The Constitution is so honored today, at home and abroad, that it may seem irreverent to suggest that for a great many ordinary Americans...

The fugitive slave clause in Article 4, Section 2 of the US Constitution. (Gilde
Essay

Race and the American Constitution: A Struggle toward National Ideals

In the summer of 1852 Frederick Douglass took the platform at Rochester, New York’s...

“The Looking Glass for 1787,” a political cartoon. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-17522)
Essay

The Antifederalists: The Other Founders of the American Constitutional Tradition?

The Great Debate

The publication of the Constitution in September 1787 inaugurated one of the most vigorous political campaigns in American history. In the process of arguing over the merits of the new plan of government, Americans not only...

Mercy Otis Warren, by John Singleton Copley, ca. 1763 (Museum of Fine Arts, Bost
Essay

The Righteous Revolution of Mercy Otis Warren

Seven months after British Regulars marched on Lexington and Concord, three months after King George III declared the colonies in a state of rebellion, and a month after British artillery leveled the town of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine), even...

“His Excel: G: Washington,” by C. W. Peale, 1787.(LC-DIG-ppmsca-17515)
Essay

George Washington and the Constitution

George Washington was among the first of America’s statesmen to recognize the flaws in the government under the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation. His experience in the Revolutionary War had convinced him that excessive...

Martha Washington. Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Martha Washington Creates the Role of First Lady

During nearly forty-one years of marriage, Martha and George Washington lived together in harmony and mutual enjoyment. Never did he play the overbearing patriarch nor she the querulous nag. Theirs was a peaceful domestic partnership, surrounded...

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
Essay

The Presidential Election of 1800: A Story of Crisis, Controversy, and Change

Nasty political mud-slinging. Campaign attacks and counterattacks. Personal insults. Outrageous newspaper invective. Dire predictions of...

George Washington to Sir John Sinclair, December 11, 1796. (GLC08095p12)
Essay

Washington Encourages a Prospective Immigrant: The Economic Potential of the States in 1796

During his second presidential term, George Washington enjoyed a lively correspondence with Sir John Sinclair, member of Parliament and...

George Washington, by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1852 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

“No Event Could Have Filled Me with Greater Anxieties”: George Washington and the First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

George Washington’s fame rests not upon his words but upon his deeds. Therefore, his First Inaugural Address is sometimes overlooked. This is unfortunate because the words he delivered on Thursday, April 30, 1789, not only launched the new...

A map from History of the Expedition under the Command of Lewis and Clark. (GLC)
Essay

America the Newcomer: Claiming the Louisiana Purchase

The Lewis and Clark expedition is rightly considered one of the great American stories. In May of...

Essay

Avast! How the US Built a Navy, Sent In the Marines, and Faced Down the Barbary Pirates

In October 1784, an American merchant vessel, the Betsey, was on a trade run from her home port of Boston to Tenerife in the Canary Islands when she was approached by an un-flagged vessel. Suddenly, “sabers grasped between their teeth...

Essay

The Battle for Baltimore

Bitter over the American declaration of war in 1812, when the British Empire had faced the emperor Napoleon at the peak of his power, the British sought payback in 1814. The war erupted over American anger at the British for seizing American...

Essay

The US and Spanish American Revolutions

If one says “American Revolution” in the United States today, it is assumed that what is being referred to is the North American liberation struggles against the British Empire in the late eighteenth century. But the British North Americans were...

Essay

Thomas Jefferson and Deism

Of all the American founders, Thomas Jefferson is most closely associated with deism, the Enlightenment faith in a rational, law-governed world created by a “supreme architect” or cosmic “clockmaker.” For many modern Americans, deist and “...

Abolitionist flag, ca. 1859. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Abolition and Antebellum Reform

When the Boston abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson looked back on the years before the Civil...

Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773
Essay

Abolition and Religion

One verse of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the unofficial anthem of the Northern cause, summarized the Civil War’s idealized meaning:

In the...

Slave leg chain, ca. 1840-1850. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

The Material Culture of Slave Resistance

Artifacts tell stories. Sometimes the tales are unclear or even contradictory, and sometimes artifacts—not unlike a dishonest diarist—can even lead the...

Essay

The Underground Railroad and the Coming of War

The Underground Railroad was a metaphor. Yet many textbooks treat it as an official name for a secret network that once helped...

Sojourner Truth, 1864 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

“Rachel Weeping for Her Children”: Black Women and the Abolition of Slavery

During the period leading up to the Civil War, black women all over the North comprised a stalwart but now largely forgotten abolitionist army. In myriad ways, these race-conscious women worked to bring immediate emancipation to the South. Anti-...

Detail from a Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast, February 26, 1870. (LOC)
Essay

Education Reform in Antebellum America

Education reform is often at the heart of all great reform struggles.[1]

By the 1820s Americans were experiencing exhilarating as well as unsettling social and economic changes. In the...

Sylvester Graham, Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making (Boston, 1837). (Google Bk)
Essay

Sylvester Graham and Antebellum Diet Reform

“Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” So begins Michael Pollan’s 2009 book, In Defense of Food. Pollan has made a career educating Americans about the dangers of our contemporary, industrialized food supply. His book offers a...

“Our Roll of Honor ... July 19–20, 1848.” (1908). (JK1881.N357 sec. XVI, no.3-9)
Essay

The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage

On July 19–20, 1848, about 300 people met for two hot days and candlelit evenings in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, in the first formal women’s rights convention ever held in the United States. Sixty-eight women (supported by...

George Ripley, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Peabody (LOC)
Essay

Transcendentalism and Social Reform

Those Americans who have heard of American Transcendentalism associate it with the writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and his friend Henry David Thoreau. Asked to name things about the group they remember, most mention Emerson’s ringing declaration of...

John Quincy Adams (Philadelphia: P. S. Duval, n.d.) (LOC LC-USZC4-5801)
Essay

Adams v. Jackson: The Election of 1824

James Monroe’s two terms in office as president of the United States (1817–1825) are often called the “Era of Good Feelings.” The country appeared to have entered a period of strength, unity of purpose, and one-party government with the end of...

Essay

Andrew Jackson and the Constitution

In 1860, biographer James Parton concluded that Andrew Jackson was “a most law-defying, law obeying citizen.” Such a statement is obviously contradictory...

Essay

Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy

Of all presidential reputations, Andrew Jackson’s is perhaps the most difficult to summarize or explain. Most Americans recognize his name...

The front of the Alamo, 1922. (LC-USZ62-87798)
Essay

Remembering the Alamo

Just hours before John F. Kennedy was to deliver one of the most important speeches of the 1960 presidential campaign in Houston, Texas, the Massachusetts Democrat stood in front of the Alamo. Here, before some 30,000 San Antonians, Kennedy spoke...

Patent signed by James Buchanan, May 28, 1846. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Technology of the 1800s

In his classic study, Democracy in America (1835–1840), Alexis de Tocqueville titled one of...

Mace in the House Chamber (Office of the Clerk, US House of Representatives)
Essay

The Culture of Congress in the Age of Jackson

During an 1841 debate in the House of Representatives, Edward Stanly of North Carolina said something derogatory about Virginian Henry Wise. A few minutes later, Wise walked over to Stanly’s seat. After some “earnest, and excited conversation ....

William Walker, ca. 1855–1860, by Mathew Brady (LC-USZC4-10802)
Essay

The Filibuster King: The Strange Career of William Walker, the Most Dangerous International Criminal of the Nineteenth Century

On November 8, 1855, on the central plaza of the Nicaraguan city of Granada, a line of riflemen shot General Ponciano Corral, the senior general of the Conservative government. Curiously, the members of the firing squad hailed from the United...

Indian peace medal, 1829. (GLC02772.02)
Essay

The Indian Removal Act

In the early nineteenth century, as European empires and the fledgling United States jockeyed for position in the West, true power was...

Essay

When Myth and Meaning Overshadow History: Remembering the Alamo

Rare are the students who enter US classrooms without some preconceived notions regarding the Alamo. Thanks to more than a dozen films produced at regular intervals over the last...

Essay

Women and the Early Industrial Revolution in the United States

The industrial revolution that transformed western Europe and the United States during the course of the nineteenth century had its origins in the introduction of power-driven machinery in the English and Scottish textile industries in the second...

“Stump Speaking,” by George C. Bingham, 1856. (GLC04075)
Essay

Abraham Lincoln and Jacksonian Democracy

Abraham Lincoln was, for most of his political career, a highly partisan Whig. As long as the Whig Party existed, he never supported the...

Fragment of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, ca. 1857. (GLC02533)
Essay

Lincoln and Abolitionism

Abraham Lincoln immortalized himself in American history by the role that he played in abolishing the institution of slavery, but...

Essay

Lincoln at Cooper Union

In March 1860, just a few weeks after returning home from his triumphant visit to New York to deliver his Cooper Union address, Lincoln went on the road...

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865. (GLC06044)
Essay

Lincoln’s Civil Religion

His long-time law partner William Herndon once described Abraham Lincoln as “the most shut-mouthed man who ever lived.” That phrase...

Abraham Lincoln, by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860. (GLC05136.01)
Essay

Lincoln’s Religion

“Lincoln often, if not wholly, was an atheist,” insisted one of Lincoln’s political associates, James H. Matheny. The young Lincoln had “called Christ a bastard,” “ridiculed the Bible,” and duped pious voters into believing he was “a seeker after...

“National picture: Behold oh! America, your sons . . .” 1865. (LC-DIG-pga-04149)
Essay

Natural Rights, Citizenship Rights, State Rights, and Black Rights: Another Look at Lincoln and Race

Stephen Douglas was the first in a long line of observers frustrated by the inconsistent things Abraham Lincoln had to say about racial equality. In their fifth debate, at Galesburg, Illinois, on October 7, 1858, Douglas complained that when...

Frederick Douglass to Maria Webb, Nov. 30, 1859. (GLC08360)
Essay

Admiration and Ambivalence: Frederick Douglass and John Brown

John Brown did not make it easy for people to love him—until he died on the gallows. Frederick Douglass, from his first meeting with Brown...

John Brown, ca. June 1859, painted photograph. (GLC04447)
Essay

John Brown: Villain or Hero?

In 1856, three years before his celebrated raid on Harpers Ferry, John Brown, with four of his sons and three others, dragged five unarmed men and boys...

Abraham Lincoln, photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860. (GLC05136.01)
Essay

The Making of the President: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1860

Perhaps the most surprising thing to modern Americans about the 1860 presidential campaign—the historic election that sent Abraham Lincoln to the White...

[Dividing the] National [Map]. [Cincinnati], 1860. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-33122)
Essay

The Road to War

‘A house divided against itself can not stand’ I believe this government can not endure permanently, half slave, and half free . . . I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will...

Essay

Field Relief Work at Gettysburg

On Independence Day in 1863, a Saturday, it was raining in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as burial details and medical officers took account of the recent battle. Some 50,000 men had fallen in...

Walt Whitman, 1863 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
Essay

Lincoln and Whitman

The relationship between Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln has long been the stuff of legend. According to one report, in 1857 Lincoln in his Springfield law office picked up a copy of Whitman’s poetry volume Leaves of Grass, began...

Essay

Lincoln’s Interpretation of the Civil War

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office for the second time. The setting itself...

Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was a peerless work of political theology, evoked in the native tongue he had mastered in the same diligent way...

Essay

Lincoln’s “Flat Failure”: The Gettysburg Myth Revisited

A century and a half ago, Abraham Lincoln brought forth at Gettysburg a speech universally remembered as one of the greatest ever written, a gem not only of American political oratory, but...

Essay

Sharing a Civil War Photo with a Million People

A tree falls on a shed and all but destroys it. A passing student notices that from a certain angle the portion of the shed still standing looks just like a man on horseback. It is uncanny; a talented artist could hardly do better. The shed...

Essay

The Battle of Antietam: A Turning Point in the Civil War

Four days after the battle of Antietam, which took place near...

Essay

The Relevance of Gettysburg

Joshua Chamberlain, who earned a Medal of Honor for his leadership and the courageous stand of his regiment, the 20th Maine, on Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg, reflected after the war that, “generations that...

Order to conscript Alabama slaves for the Confederate Army, 1864 (GLC06158.11)
Essay

The Riddles of “Confederate Emancipation”

In July 1861, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, was exulting over the victory of his troops at the first Battle...

Sojourner Truth, 1864. (GLC06391.20)
Essay

Women and the Home Front: New Civil War Scholarship

In the 1960s the image of Scarlett O’Hara standing before a Technicolor-drenched panorama from Gone With the Wind (1939) was still firmly planted...

Rebel prisoners at Gettysburg, [1863]. Photograph by Mathew Brady. (Gilder Lehrm
Essay

“The Brave Men, Living and Dead”: Common Soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg

Midway through his remarks at the Gettysburg National Soldiers’ Cemetery on November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln confided that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here...

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880s. (GLC07926.02)
Essay

Allies for Emancipation? Black Abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was not an original advocate of abolition. In fact we know that his journey to what he called “the central act of my administration, and...

Emancipation Proclamation (Chicago: Rufus Blanchard, ca. 1863–64) (GLC05508.272)
Essay

The Emancipation Proclamation: Bill of Lading or Ticket to Freedom?

Of all the speeches, letters, and state papers he had written, Abraham Lincoln believed that the greatest of them was his Emancipation Proclamation...

Essay

“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln

On March 4, 1865, Frederick Douglass attended President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. Standing in the crowd, Douglass heard Lincoln declare...

Essay

Reconstruction and the Battle for Woman Suffrage

The origins of the American women’s suffrage movement are commonly dated from the public protest meeting held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. At...

Photograph of American Indians by William Hicks Jackson, 1871. (GLC03095.97)
Essay

The Civil War and Reconstruction in the American West

The histories of the Civil War and of the emerging West were tangled together from their beginnings. Although the war was fought mostly in the East, the...

“The Florida Case before the Electoral Commission,” Cornelia Fassett (US Senate)
Essay

The Contentious Election of 1876

The presidential election of 1876 is better known for its controversial aftermath than for the campaign that preceded it. The basic outline of events after Election Day, November 7, 1876, is familiar. The Democratic candidate, Governor Samuel J....

Lawmakers Who Voted Aye for the 13th Amendment, ca. 1865 (GLC01230)
Essay

The Reconstruction Amendments: Official Documents as Social History

On June 13, 1866, Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican floor leader in the House of Representatives and the nation’s most prominent Radical Republican, rose...

Horace Greeley to R. L. Sanderson, November 15, 1871. (GLC00608)
Essay

Born Modern: An Overview of the West

The present American West is a creation of history rather than geography. There has never been a single West; American Wests come and go....

Joining of the rails, May 10, 1869, by Andrew Russell (GLC04481.04)
Essay

Transcontinental Railroads: Compressing Time and Space

Many of our modern clichés about the impact of technology, particularly about the consequences of the Internet and telecommunications, first appeared as...

Justice of the Plains: The Movement Westward, John S. Curry (LC-DIG-highsm-02850
Essay

Women of the West

Women are like water to Western history. Both have flowed through the terrain we have come to call the West, long before the inhabitants conceived of themselves as part of an expanding United States. Both have been represented as scarce...

Ford Local 600 of the CIO in the Labor Day parade in Detroit MI, 1942. (LOC P&P)
Essay

Labor Day: From Protest to Picnics

In the 1880s a surge in growth of the American labor movement led to the creation of two workers’ holidays, Labor Day and May Day. May Day soon spread abroad, as European unions and socialist groups adopted it as an occasion to display their...

Photograph of Edison Machine Works in New York City, 1881. (GLC07616.05)
Essay

Edison’s Laboratory

Thomas Edison’s death in October 1931 seemed to mark the passing of an era. Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Waldemar...

The Empire Builders, by Bernarda Bryson, the Resettlement Administration (LOC)
Essay

Entrepreneurs and Bankers: The Evolution of Corporate Empires

James J. Hill enjoyed being called “the Empire Builder,” taking it as a compliment for his work as president of the Great Northern Railway. Hill’s railway company, which ran through the northern Great Plains and Pacific Northwest, worked at...

Teenager operating machinery, 1913, by Lewis Hine. (LC-DIG-nclc-04898)
Essay

History Times: The Industrial Revolution

A Changing Nation

The second half of the nineteenth century can be described as a time of innovation, invention, and rapid growth—a period known as the “Industrial Revolution.” Many inventions from this period never caught on or have since become...

Cornelius Vanderbilt, ca. 1865. (GLC05151)
Essay

Robber Barons or Captains of Industry?

On February 9, 1859, Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times, said something strange about Cornelius Vanderbilt. Raymond...

West from Ha-Ta-Men Gate, Peking, 1901. (LC-USZ62-137101)
Essay

The Open Door Policy and the Boxer War: The US and China

By 1899, the United States had become a world power. It was not only the world’s greatest industrial nation, but in the war with Spain it had demonstrated a willingness to use its power militarily. It had acquired possessions near and far and the...

United Fruit Company banana conveyors in New Orleans, LA, ca. 1910 (LC-D4-39636)
Essay

The United States and the Caribbean, 1877–1920

Between 1877 and 1920, the United States’ relationship with the Caribbean region underwent a profound change, which was closely tied to the transformation of the United States to an industrial and imperial power. Although the Civil War had ended...

Essay

The War against Spain in the Philippines in 1898

Before learning of Commodore George Dewey’s destruction of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on the morning of May 1, 1898, few Americans knew anything about the Philippine Islands. In her Pulitzer Prize–winning In the Days of McKinley,...

Landing at Ellis Island, ca. 1902 (LC-USZ62-12595)
Essay

Coming to America: Ellis Island and New York City

New York City is a kind of archipelago, a Philippines on the Hudson River. Only one borough—the Bronx—is actually attached to the American mainland. There are some forty islands in the city beyond Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island. These...

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1870 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

“Hidden Practices”: Frederick Douglass on Segregation and Black Achievement, 1887

Frederick Douglass recalled his feelings when slavery came to an end, after so much work and so many...

Jim Thorpe in New York, ca. 1913 (Library of Congress P&P)
Essay

Amateurism and Jim Thorpe at the Fifth Olympiad

Thorpe’s deception and subsequent confession deals amateur sport in America the hardest blow it has ever had to take and disarranges the scheme of amateur athletics the world over.

New York...

Essay

Modern Women Persuading Modern Men: The Nineteenth Amendment and the Movement for Woman Suffrage, 1916–1920

Today we take women’s suffrage for granted, but many activists of the nineteenth century, including Susan B. Anthony...

Assembly room for chassis and motors, Detroit, MI, 1929 (LOC, P&P)
Essay

Motor City: The Story of Detroit

“You can see here, as it is impossible to do in a more varied and complex city, the whole structure of an industrial society.” So wrote essayist Edmund Wilson, reporting on a visit to the Motor City in the 1930s. As the capital of America’s most...

Proclamation by the Mayor, San Francisco, CA, April 18, 1906 (GLC 04967.01)
Essay

San Francisco and the Great Earthquake of 1906

At the beginning of the twentieth century, San Francisco still reigned as the major seaport on the Pacific coast. The city traced its...

Essay

Sisters of Suffrage: British and American Women Fight for the Vote

The dominant narrative of the entire women’s suffrage movement begins and ends with the United States and Britain. Hundreds of thousands of women petitioned, canvassed, lobbied, demonstrated, engaged in mass civil disobedience, went to jail, and...

Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1903. (LC-USZ62-51793)
Essay

The Jungle and the Progressive Era

The publication of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle produced an immediate and powerful effect on Americans and on federal policy, but Sinclair had hoped to achieve a very different result. At the time he began working on the novel...

Sample ballot card for the 1912 Republican National Convention. (GLC01487)
Essay

The Spectacles of 1912

The presidential election year of 1912 began with one unprecedented spectacle, ended with another, and sandwiched a few more in...

Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech in Waterville, Maine, 1902. (GLC06449.22)
Essay

The Square Deal: Theodore Roosevelt and the Themes of Progressive Reform

Progressivism arrived at a moment of crisis for the United States. As the nineteenth century came to a close, just decades after the Civil...

Panorama of Chicago, ca. 1906, Universale View Co., Philadelphia, PA (LOC)
Essay

The Transnational Nature of the Progressive Era

In teaching the era of progressive reforms, it is hard to resist the temptation to focus on the two progressive presidents. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, figures of enormous power and striking failings, are the sorts of historical...

Jane Addams,Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York, 1910). (Gilder Lehrman Coll.)
Essay

Women and the Progressive Movement

At the end of the nineteenth century, American politicians, journalists, professionals, and...

"Colored Man Is No Slacker," WWI poster, 1918 (GLC06134)
Essay

From These Honored Dead: Memorial Day and Veterans Day in American History

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil...

Zimmermann Telegram, January 19, 1917. (National Archives)
Essay

The Zimmermann Telegram and American Entry into World War I

The fact that the telegram before him bore Arthur Zimmermann’s name made its contents that much harder for Walter Hines Page to believe. Page was the American ambassador to Great Britain and on a cold London morning in late February 1917 the...

Official US Bulletin, January 29, 1919. (GLC01668)
Essay

Prohibition and Its Effects

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in January 1919 and enacted in January 1920, outlawed the “manufacture, sale, or...

Boulder (later, Hoover) Dam on the Colorado River, 1941. (Library of Congress)
Essay

The Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II in the American West

The Great Depression and World War II, far and away the worst economic calamity and the costliest foreign war in American history, profoundly affected every part of the United States. Changes in the West were especially obvious. From one...

An Oklahoma migrant family in California, 1935, by Dorothea Lange. (LOC)
Essay

Women and the Great Depression

In 1933 Eleanor Roosevelt’s It’s Up to the Women exhorted American women to help pull the country through its current economic crisis, the gravest it had ever faced: “The women know that life must go on and that the needs of life must be...

Coit Tower murals, San Francisco, CA (Carol Highsmith Archive, Lib. of Congress)
Essay

Are Artists “Workers”? Art and the New Deal

As I write this essay in February 2009, the nation is engaged in a great discussion about how to restore confidence during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. One contentious issue is whether and how cultural initiatives...

Photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, July 20, 1933. (Library of Congress Prints and
Essay

Eleanor Roosevelt as First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), one of the most admired women in American history, acted as first lady from 1933 until 1945, longer than any other presidential spouse, and put that position on the nation’s political map. Yet, ironically, Eleanor...

Franklin D. Roosevelt, c. December 27, 1933. (Library of Congress Prints and Pho
Essay

FDR’s First Inaugural Address

Several years ago when I was researching a very different subject at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, I happened across several archival documents related to FDR’s first inaugural address. As a very famous...

Supreme Court Justices, ca. 1940. Photograph by Harris & Ewing. (GLC)
Essay

FDR’s Court-Packing Plan: A Study in Irony

The Great Depression of the 1930s was the nation’s grimmest economic crisis since the founding of the American republic. After the 1932...

Franklin D. Roosevelt to Henry T. Rainey, June 10, 1933. (GLC)
Essay

The Hundred Days and Beyond: What Did the New Deal Accomplish?

There wasn’t anybody in that entire Brains Trust apparently that had given any thought—they had absolutely no plans—or any real...

Restaurant display supporting National Recovery Administration, ca. 1934. (NARA)
Essay

The New Deal, Then and Now

Well before Barack Obama’s election in 2008, the New Deal was emerging as an instructive model for those trying to understand, and address, what is now known as the “worst financial crisis since the 1930s.” But is the New Deal in fact a useful...

Poster for an exhibition in Chicago, detail. (Library of Congress P&P)
Essay

The WPA: Antidote to the Great Depression?

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933, estimates of the number of jobless workers in the United States ranged from thirteen million to as high as fifteen million—a quarter of the working population. Every class of worker...

Omaha Beach, France, by Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944. (US Army)
Essay

D-Day or Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion fleet became visible crossing the choppy waters of the English Channel to France. None of those who took part in D-Day, whether soldier, sailor, or airman, would...

Essay

Every Citizen a Soldier: World War II Posters on the American Home Front

World War II posters helped to mobilize a nation. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, the poster was an ideal agent for making victory the personal mission of every citizen. Government agencies, businesses, and private organizations issued...

Adolf Hitler, n.d. (LOC) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (GLC)
Essay

FDR and Hitler: A Study in Contrasts

The Great Depression and World War II were events in world history, but they touched different countries in sometimes dramatically different ways. To paraphrase Tolstoy, many peoples suffered, but every unhappy people was unhappy in its own way—...

Franklin Roosevelt addressing Congress, March 1, 1945. (NARA 196081)
Essay

Franklin Delano Roosevelt—Four-Term President—and the Election of 1944

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to seek a fourth term in 1944, his campaign would come to mark a major moment in the history of presidential elections for several reasons. No president had run for a fourth term prior to Roosevelt...

Notice of relocation for Persons of Japanese Ancestry, 1942. (Gilder Lehrman C
Essay

From Citizen to Enemy: The Tragedy of Japanese Internment

Although World War II is covered in most school curricula, the story of American citizens...

Battery B, 338th Antiaircraft Artillery, ca. 1943. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Patriotism Crosses the Color Line: African Americans in World War II

Although African Americans have been the victims of racial oppression throughout the...

Music Inspires, 1941 - 1945
Essay

The Forties and the Music of World War II

The 1940s were the apotheosis of American popular music. Swing, blues and country were all popular styles but, above all, it was the heyday of the seventeen-piece big band. Names like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington...

Essay

The History of Women’s Baseball

From 1943 to 1954, “America’s pastime” was a game played in skirts. At its peak in 1948, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) fielded ten teams in midwestern towns like Rockford, Illinois (Peaches); South Bend, Indiana (...

Soldiers without Guns poster, Office of War Information, ca. 1944. (NARA)
Essay

The World War II Home Front

World War II had a profound impact on the United States. Although no battles occurred on the American mainland, the war affected all phases of American life. It required unprecedented efforts to coordinate strategy and tactics with other members...

Essay

The Korean War

The Korean War was three different conflicts from the perspective of the disparate groups who fought in it. For North and South Korea, the conflict was a civil war, a struggle with no possible compromise between two competing visions for Korea’s...

Essay

Truman and His Doctrine: Revolutionary, Unprecedented, and Bipartisan

In February 1947, the British government privately told the United States that it would no longer be...

is Communism Un-American, by Eugene Dennis (1947). (National Archives)
Essay

Anti-Communism in the 1950s

In 1950, fewer than 50,000 Americans out of a total US population of 150 million were members of the Communist Party. Yet in the late 1940s and early 1950s, American fears of internal communist subversion reached a nearly hysterical pitch....

Field of rye (Alan Tattersall, Creative Commons 2.0)
Essay

The Catcher in the Rye: The Voice of Alienation

One of the most widely taught novels in the United States, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) opens with the sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield’s disillusioned departure from what may be the last in a series of schools that...

Chuck Berry - Collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Essay

“Fun, Fun Rock ’n’ Roll High School”

With his tongue halfway in his cheek, Ambrose Bierce defined history as “an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” Well, we’ve come a long way in a...

Integrated class at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC, 1957. (Library of C
Essay

A Local and National Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Postwar Washington, DC

The history of the Civil Rights Movement is the story of numerous grassroots campaigns loosely coordinated and assisted by a small number of national organizations. Every local struggle had its own actors, issues, and nuances, and all of them...

Sympathy strike in New York City against segregation in southern lunch counters,
Essay

African American Religious Leadership and the Civil Rights Movement

The modern Civil Rights Movement was the most important social protest movement of the twentieth century. People who were locked out of the formal political process due to racial barriers were able to mount numerous campaigns over three decades...

Essay

Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement

In 1984 Jimmy Carter reflected on growing up in the segregated South. He recalled that as a young child, he, like many white children, had had an African American child as his closest friend. The two children spent all their play time together....

Essay

The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies

From the earliest years of European settlement in North America, whites enslaved and oppressed black people. Although the Civil War finally brought about the abolition of slavery, a harsh system of white supremacy persisted thereafter. In the...

Muhammad Ali in Chicago, Illinois, March 1974. (NARA)
Essay

The Importance of Muhammad Ali

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., as Muhammad Ali was once known, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942—a time when blacks were the servant class in Louisville. They held jobs such as tending the backstretch at Churchill Downs (...

Odetta performs at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963 (
Essay

“People Get Ready”: Music and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s

Few sights or sounds conjure up the passion and purposefulness of the Southern Civil Rights Movement as powerfully as the freedom songs that provided a stirring musical accompaniment to the campaign for racial justice and equality in the region...

Photograph of President John F. Kennedy, 1961. (Library of Congress Prints and P
Essay

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

On January 20, 1961, as on most presidential inauguration days, the nation was governed by one president until noon and by another afterward. The contrast between outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his incoming successor, John F. Kennedy...

Essay

The Great Debate: Kennedy, Nixon, and Television in the 1960 Race for the Presidency

Imagine the setting. Since soon after the close of World War II, the United States had been engaged in a heated Cold War with the Communist Soviet Union. Within the previous four years, Soviet tanks and troops had crushed a democratic revolt in...

Corwin, Robert, photographer. Phil Ochs, Newport Folk Festival, 1966. Photograph
Essay

The Sixties and Protest Music

Music has always kept company with American wars. During the Revolutionary War, “Yankee Doodle” and many other songs set to reels and dances were sung to keep spirits alive during dark hours. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Lincoln’s favorite...

Photograph of Betty Ford, 1974. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Divi
Essay

Betty Ford: A New Kind of First Lady

Americans never elected Gerald R. Ford president or even vice president—Richard Nixon appointed him after Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973. Today, Ford’s brief presidency is often forgotten. Yet during Ford’s two-and-a-half...

Essay

Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy

Henry Kissinger is one of the most controversial figures to emerge from the Cold War. He participated as a soldier, scholar, and statesman in many of the most significant policy debates of the period. He acted as an intellectual, diplomat, and...

“Woman and Man Playing Tennis,” by Edward Penfield, 1902. (LC-USZC4-2922)
Essay

The Battle of the Sexes

It’s hard to explain, if you weren’t there at the time, why the “Battle of the Sexes”—the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs—was so important. The most enduring image from the event was the picture of Billie Jean in her...

President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam, 1966. (NARA)
Essay

The Consequences of Defeat in Vietnam

As historians of the Vietnam War know all too well, the amount of documentation about the conflict available in US archives—to say nothing of foreign repositories—can be overwhelming. To master even a small slice of this material is a herculean...

Western High School Girls’ Basketball, Washington, DC, 1899. (Courtesy Library o
Essay

The Impact of Title IX

One of the great achievements of the women’s movement was the enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the...

The Nixons at the Great Wall of China, February 1972. (NARA)
Essay

The United States and China during the Cold War

The Cold War Comes to Asia

In the closing years of World War II, American military and diplomatic representatives in China recognized that civil war was likely to erupt between the Nationalist-controlled government headed by Chiang Kai-shek and...

Richard Nixon on the day of his resignation, August 9, 1974. (NARA)
Essay

To Understand a Scandal: Watergate beyond Nixon

In the early hours of June 17, 1972, police officers arrested five men suspected of breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC’s Watergate office building. This building would lend its name to the...

Essay

Women and the Music Industry in the 1970s

The 1970s gets a bad rap. Rarely revered as a glorious—or even particularly memorable—time in contemporary American history, the seventies is more often seen as the sad stepchild to the 1960s, which is celebrated as a decade of peace, love, and...

The Shah of Iran welcomed by the Carters, 1977. (Jimmy Carter Library)
Essay

Iran and the United States in the Cold War

As the latest wave of revolutionary uncertainty sweeps across the Middle East, Iran remains one of the region’s biggest question marks. The Islamic regime that temporarily crushed the Green Movement after Iran’s controversial presidential...

Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)
Essay

Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War: The Debate Continues

For a British professor with more than a passing interest in US foreign policy and the role of the United States in ending the Cold War, it is indeed fascinating to observe how deeply divided opinion still remains over the part played in the...

Sandra Day O'Connor, ca. 1982. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Div.)
Essay

Sandra Day O’Connor: A Life of Action

Sandra Day O’Connor still has a lot of work to do. The first woman on the United States Supreme Court who recently described herself as “a retired cowgirl” continues to break new ground as an advocate for judicial independence and better...

Barack Obama, January 13, 2009, one week before his inauguration as President of
Essay

A More Perfect Union? Barack Obama and the Politics of Unity

A New York Times headline in January 2009 captured the essence of Barack Obama’s inauguration for many Americans: “A Civil Rights Victory Party on the Mall.” An estimated 1.8 million people gathered to celebrate. Many heroes of the black...

Florida Certificate of Ascertainment 2000 (NARA)
Essay

Hanging by a Chad—or Not: The 2000 Presidential Election

When Vice President Albert Gore Jr. and George W. Bush, governor of Texas, squared off in the 2000 presidential election, people predicted it was going to be a historic election. The November results would determine not only which party occupied...

Essay

Pop Music and the Spatialization of Race in the 1990s

In September 1990, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air debuted on NBC. The show starred Will Smith, also known as the Fresh Prince, of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, portraying a character, “Will...

Essay

September 11, 2001

“9/11” has emerged as shorthand for the four coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. That morning, nineteen terrorists from the Islamist extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four commercial...

First American edition of the Koran, 1806 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

Teaching American History to Muslim Exchange Students

Everyone knows that the election of 2004 marked a pivotal turning point for the American people. That point was brought home forcefully by the experience of teaching American history that summer to a group of twenty-one young Muslim students from...

Live Fire Exercise. Courtesy of the US Army Center of Military History
Essay

Technology in the Persian Gulf War of 1991

In August 1990, the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait. Five short months later, a powerful coalition led by the United States would launch Operation Desert Storm, one of the most rapid, decisive, and bloodless victories of all time. In just over four...

Martin Luther King Memorial March, April 4, 1998. (GLC08359)
Essay

A Place in History: Historical Perspective on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In the late fall of 1983, the US Congress passed a bill declaring the third Monday of January each year as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law on November 2, 1983, fifteen years after King’s assassination...

Monticello, Charlottesville, VA, ca. 1978. (Library of Congress, P&P, HABS)
Essay

When the Past Speaks to the Present: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in, and historical scholarship about, American slavery. Both in the academy and outside of it, Americans have come to realize that part of our national consciousness was shaped between 1619 and...

Million Native American March, 2003, Washington, DC. (Carol Highsmith, LOC)
Essay

A New Era of American Indian Autonomy

The American West is home to the majority of America’s Indian Nations, and, within the past generation, many of these groups have achieved unprecedented political and economic gains. Numerous reservation communities now manage diversified...

Essay

Indian Removal

In 1828 pressure was building among white Americans for the relocation of American Indians from...

Abigail Adams, engraving by John Sartain, n.d. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
Essay

First Ladies’ Contributions to Political Issues and the National Welfare

The US Constitution assigns no duties or responsibilities to the president’s spouse. Every woman had to define for herself the role she wanted to play. From the blank slate that Martha Washington encountered in 1789, the job gradually grew, as...

Conference of Republican National Committee Women, 1927. (LOC, P&P)
Essay

Women in American Politics in the Twentieth Century

At the beginning of the twentieth century, women were outsiders to the formal structures of political life—voting, serving on juries, holding elective office—and they were subject to wide-ranging discrimination that marked them as...

“The Life and Age of Woman,” by A. Alden, Barre, MA, ca. 1835. (LC-DIG-pga-0350)
Essay

The Legal Status of Women, 1776–1830

State law rather than federal law governed women’s rights in the early republic. The authority of state law meant that much depended upon where a woman lived and the particular social circumstances in her region of the country. The disparity in...

Letterhead from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, 1910, detail. (GLC)
Essay

The Myth of the Frontier: Progress or Lost Freedom

For two centuries the frontier West was the setting for America’s most enduring form of popular...

Essay

Photography in Nineteenth-Century America

During the mid-nineteenth century, American commentators pronounced that new technological innovations in transportation and communications represented nothing less than the “annihilation of space and time.” On steamships and railroads, travelers...

Louis Armstrong, 1953 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
Essay

New Orleans and the History of Jazz

New Orleans is a city built in a location that was by any measure a mistake.North American settlers needed a way to import and export goods via the Mississippi River, so a city was created atop swamps. By virtue of its location and its role in...

Essay

9/11 and Springsteen

The transformation of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, into a seemingly foreordained historical narrative began almost as soon as the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. I was teaching an 8 a.m. class at the...

Bank note from the Bank of the United States dated December 13, 1840. (GLC01994)
Essay

Getting Ready to Lead a World Economy: Enterprise in Nineteenth-Century America

When Jefferson won the presidency in 1801, his victory had an economic impact as...

Commissioner of Labor Statistics explains loss of wages since 1929. (LOC, P&P)
Essay

Economic Policy through the Lens of History

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite...

Essay

The Rise of an American Institution: The Stock Market

On nearly every workday in the United States, if you watch cable news or browse an Internet news...

Note of 1 shilling, 6 pence, printed in the colony of New Jersey, 1776. (GLC)
Essay

The US Banking System: Origin, Development, and Regulation

Banks are among the oldest businesses in American history—the Bank of New York, for example, was founded in 1784, and as the recently renamed Bank of New York Mellon it had its 225th anniversary in 2009. The banking system is one of the oldest,...

Essay

Two Revolutions in the Atlantic World: Connections between the American Revolution and the Haitian Revolution

The late eighteenth century saw two successful anti-colonial revolutions unfold in the Americas. The first was in the United States, culminating in 1783. The second was in Haiti, then the French colony of Saint-Domingue. That revolution began...

“Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge,” by Brown & Bigelow, 1907. (LOC)
Essay

Advice (Not Taken) for the French Revolution from America

“I come as a friend to offer my help to this very interesting republic,” wrote the nineteen-year-old Marquis de Lafayette from aboard the Victoire as it sailed from France across the ocean to the rebellious British colonies in the spring...

John Marshall and Roger B. Taney (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs)
Essay

The Marshall and Taney Courts: Continuities and Changes

Though the first holders of the job thought it more a burden than a position of honor or power, the office of chief justice of the United States has a pivotal role in the American constitutional system, thanks mainly to John Marshall (1755–1835...

Cover of Puck, November 25, 1903. (Library of Congress)
Essay

A History of the Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving stands as one of the most American of holidays, an autumnal ritual fixed in the imagination as honoring the piety and perseverance of the nation’s earliest arrivals during colonial days. But what were the origins of this...

The County Election, based on a painting by George C. Bingham, 1854. (Gilder Leh
Essay

Winning the Vote: A History of Voting Rights

Voting Rights on the Eve of the Revolution

The basic principle that governed voting in colonial America was that voters should have a “stake in society.” Leading colonists associated democracy with disorder and mob rule, and believed that the vote...

Detail of a broadside promoting women’s suffrage. (GLC08963)
Essay

Why We the People? Citizens as Agents of Constitutional Change

“We the People?” asked Patrick Henry at the Virginia convention to ratify the new Constitution in 1788. “Who authorized them to speak the language of ‘We...

Destruction of the statue of George III in New York, 1776. (GLC)
Essay

The Invention of the Fourth of July

The Fourth of...

Detail from a World War I poster. (GLC09522)
Essay

Why Immigration Matters

It is difficult today to recapture the iconoclasm signaled by Oscar Handlin’s opening words to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Uprooted more than...

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1846. (GLC05117)
Essay

The Slave Narratives: A Genre and a Source

The autobiographies of ex-slaves in America are the foundation of an African American literary tradition, as well as unique glimpses into...

Essay

Rethinking Huck

A classic, Mark Twain quipped, is “a book which people praise and don't read.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the rare classic that is highly praised and widely read. Following World War II, it became required reading in most of...

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ca. 1890. (Library of Congress P&P)
Essay

Nineteenth-Century Feminist Writings

Contemporaries sometimes called the nineteenth century “The Woman’s Century.” Certainly it is true that there were dramatic changes in the status and rights of women between the 1790s and 1900, foreshadowing even greater changes in the twentieth...

Nathaniel Hawthorne, ca. 1860–1865. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs)
Essay

The Scarlet Letter and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s America

Nathaniel Hawthorne is the strange American author who has never been out of fashion; since his death in 1864, his stories and novels have resisted the tides of taste, canon reformation, and critical vicissitude. Herman Melville had to be “...

Athletic Sports, 1887. (Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.)
Essay

Why Sports History Is American History

In the classroom, examples from sports can explain key events in American history and help explore how people in American society have grappled with racial, ethnic, and regional differences in our very diverse nation. Whether it is assigning a...

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My History Lesson Toolbox Help

One of the benefits of Affiliate membership is the ability to create custom resource lists through the History Toolbox.

My Lesson Toolbox helps you easily gather and organize essays, primary sources, multimedia, and related materials found on the...

“Across the Continent,” Currier and Ives, 1868. (Library of Congress)
Essay

American Indians and the Transcontinental Railroad

“Across the Continent” is among the most familiar lithographs of Currier and Ives. It features a locomotive chugging from the foreground toward a far...

“Scene near Deeth; Mount Halleck in distance,” by Alfred Hart, ca. 1867 (LOC)
Essay

Photographing the Transcontinental Railroad

On a brisk May afternoon, in the high desert of Utah, the shrill tap of the telegraph key simultaneously announced the completion of North...

Advertisement for shares in the Union Pacific Railroad, Harper’s Weekly, August
Essay

Financing the Transcontinental Railroad

The first transcontinental railroad, built between 1864 and 1869, was the greatest construction project of its era. It involved building a line from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, across a vast, largely unmapped territory. To most...

Pullman porter car from Scribner’s Magazine, September 1888
Essay

Home Adrift: Women and Domesticated Rail Travel

In the summer of 1869 Godey’s Lady’s Book published an editorial marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The author praised the new “wonder of the world” and then clarified that “this great work was begun, carried on and...

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