Discoveries from the Vault

Fighting discrimination during World War II: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “four basic rights,” 1944

In this newly received donation to the Gilder Lehrman Collection, Eleanor Roosevelt responds to a correspondent who was apparently worried about the desegregation of restrooms and forced social interaction between the races in the government’s movement toward racial equality in some spheres. Mrs. Roosevelt enumerates the “four basic rights which I believe every citizen in a democracy must enjoy.

Fredericksburg, Then and Now

by Elena Colón-Marrero, Christopher Newport University Class of 2014

Respected General turns traitor, 1780

Benedict Arnold, whose name is now synonymous with the word “traitor,” was once a well-respected American officer responsible for key victories at Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Fort Stanwix, and Saratoga. Arnold’s contemporaries were shocked when his plot to surrender West Point to the British was discovered in September 1780. Historical records indicate that Arnold’s betrayal had begun in the spring of 1779 when he handed over military intelligence to the British.

Robert E. Lee writes about friends and “the daughters of Eve” at Fort Monroe, 1834

This gossipy and personal letter captures the close friendship between Robert E. Lee and John “Jack” MacKay. It offers an example of letter writing in the days before the instant communication provided by telephones and the Internet. It also demonstrates the camaraderie and easy-going friendship of army officers as well as the relatively carefree life enjoyed by US soldiers prior to the Civil War. It serves as a reminder that even the greatest of historical figures were human and spoke of girls, babies, and “blushing.”

Robert E. Lee’s condolence letter to his son Rooney, 1864

In this beautifully written letter, Confederate general Robert E. Lee attempts to console his son William Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee on the loss of his wife. The letter demonstrates the emotion that Lee felt for his family and offers a glimpse of the strength that carried Lee through the war. His faith in God, his empathy for others’ misfortunes, and his belief in the Confederate cause, all granted Lee the fortitude he needed to endure the war. One can see all of these attributes in this single, short missive.

Playing ball for the troops: Yankees/Dodgers/Giants exhibition benefit game, 1943

There’s no denying the important role that baseball has played in America’s past. It has always been considered more than a game, whether played by professional athletes or kids at the sandlot. This was never more obvious than during World War II. By 1943, the war was raging in Europe and the Pacific. American mothers and fathers sent their sons to war and those who stayed home made whatever sacrifices they could, great or small.

Former slave, Doctor Cuffee Wells, 1781

Sometimes a simple document can open the door to a great story. In this statement dated 1781, Richard Lamb and John Nutter verify that Cuffee Wells enlisted in the Continental Army in May 1777 and earned a bounty of 30 pounds, part of which was given to his master. Likewise, Justice of the Peace Benjamin Huntington confirmed that Cuffee’s commanding officer, Captain Jedediah Hyde of Norwich, “always understood that the money that was given to Wells at his Enlistment Purchased his Freedom.” It is not clear why this document was created.

Martha Washington: First Lady’s grandchildren were her top priority

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as our nation’s first president. His wife, Martha Washington, was not at his side. Washington had only received the election results two weeks earlier, on April 14, when Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson arrived at Mount Vernon to notify Washington. He left for the temporary national capital, New York City, two days later and arrived on April 23. He traveled through six states, attending celebrations in cities and towns along the route and being greeted by thousands of citizens who lined the roads.

New World War II acquisition: Pearl Harbor patriotic poster from 1942

Following the Japanese bombardment of the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and Germany and immediately mobilized the country for war. “Remember Dec. 7th!” is a propaganda poster intended to promote a sense of nationalism and boost support for the war effort.

The Emancipation Proclamation: Raising money for sick and wounded soldiers

The Emancipation Proclamation stands as the single most important accomplishment of Lincoln’s presidency. The preliminary proclamation, announced on September 22, 1862, served as a warning for Southern states that if they did not abandon the war, they would lose their slaves. More important, it was the first step toward the official abolition of slavery in the United States.

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