IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF SLAVERY, FOUR PRESIDENTS, AND FIVE BLACK LIVES was a finalist for the 2017 Award for Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction by YALSA –the Young Adult Library Service Association of the American Library Association.
YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year.
The nomination reads:
In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis, and published by Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
“In a clear-eyed, well-researched work, Davis looks at the relationship between five enslaved persons and the former presidents who considered them property. In weaving together the story of these lives, Davis explains the contradiction between America’s founding ideals and the harsh reality of human bondage. Utilizing personal narratives, census data, images, and other primary source material, this book explains a heartbreaking chapter in American history that is both fascinating and deeply disturbing.”
(This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared on March 17, 2012)
A reminder once more that the “dangerous, dirty, job-stealing” immigrants were once Irish and Catholic.
It is the day for the “wearing of the green,” parades and an unfortunate connection between being Irish and imbibing. For the day, everybody feels “a little Irish.”
But it was not always a happy go lucky virtue to be Irish in America. Once upon a time, the Irish –and specifically Irish Catholics– were vilified by the majority in White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America. The Irish were considered the dregs by “Nativist” Americans who leveled at Irish immigrants all of the insults and charges typically aimed at every hated immigrant group: they were lazy, uneducated, dirty, disease-ridden, a criminal class who stole jobs from Americans. And dangerous. The Irish were said to be plotting to overturn the U.S. government and install the Pope in a new Vatican.
One notorious chapter in the hidden history of Irish-Americans is left out of most textbook– the violently anti-Catholic, anti-Irish “Bible Riots” of 1844.
In May 1844, Philadelphia –the City of Brotherly Love– was torn apart by a series of bloody riots. Known as the “Bible Riots,” they grew out of the vicious anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that was so widespread in 19th century America. Families were burned out of their homes. Churches were destroyed. And more than two dozen people died in one of the worst urban riots in American History.
You can read more about America’s history of intolerance –religious and otherwise– in this Smithsonian essay, “America’s True History of Religious Tolerance.”
As New York prepares for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, here is another reminder of the past view of the Irish–especially Irish Catholics– in America: the Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871.
Long before the nation’s birth, anti-Catholic venom was an accepted American truism –a deep divide with roots in Europe’s deadly wars between Catholic and Protestant. The hatred of all things Roman Catholic was part of America’s Puritan and Protestant roots. In 1844, Philadelphia had been raked by anti-Catholic violence known as the “Bible Riots,” subject of a previous post.
By the middle of the 19th century, waves of Irish immigrants had magnified the hatred and transformed New York’s politics. Political boss William Tweed used their votes to secure power for Tammany Hall and himself. But the growth of Irish Catholic power in New York only deepened ancient animosities.
New York’s virulent anti-Catholic sentiment peaked with the largely overlooked “Orange Riots” of 1870 and 1871. In the first of these, Irish Protestants marched in celebration of the July 12, 1690 victory of the Protestant King William III over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Taunting Irish Catholic workmen as they paraded up Eighth Avenue, the Protestant “Orangemen” went to a park where a pitched battle ensued.
Eight people died.
Another “Orange Day” march planned in 1871 was nearly banned for public safety reasons. But prominent businessmen and cartoonist Thomas Nast objected vehemently to this affront to Protestant rights. With Boss Tweed guaranteeing protection for the marchers, the 1871 parade stepped off, guarded by some 5,000 policemen and National Guard militia units.
Almost immediately, the marchers were pelted with bottles, bricks, shoes and stones. Pitched battles continued along the parade route. When it was over, the rioting and street-fighting left sixty people dead, most of them Irish Catholic laborers as well as three Guardsmen.
The bloodshed of these “Orange Riots” and Tweed’s failure to secure the parade were crucial factors in breaking his stranglehold on New York politics and government. The city’s newspapers and largely Protestant-controlled business and financial world turned on him. Tweed was deposed, eventually arrested, and later convicted of corruption.
Anti-Irish sentiment in New York and elsewhere continued for decades.
March 16 marks the anniversary of the birth of America’s fourth President, James Madison, also known as “The Father of the Constitution.”
While small in stature, and sometimes overshadowed by his more famous Virginian predecessors, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Madison is generally considered one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers for the breadth and influence of his contributions. Like many of the Founders, Madison had reservations about slavery as a contradiction to this ideals, but did little to end the institution. He hoped that slavery would end after the foreign trade was abolished and thought that enslaved African-Americans should be emancipated and returned to Africa.
James Madison was born on March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia. The son of a tobacco planter, he chose the unusual course of going north to study at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). There he came under the influence of the college President, John Witherspoon, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence, and made a friend of fellow student, young Aaron Burr, son of the College’s founder.
Returning to Virginia, Madison became involved in patriot politics and became a close colleague of his neighbor Thomas Jefferson, serving as Jefferson’s adviser and confidant during the war years while Jefferson was Governor of Virginia.
In 1794, he married the widow Dolley Payne Todd, having been formally introduced by his college friend Aaron Burr.
A few Madison Highlights–
•Secured passage of the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), an act that is a cornerstone of religious freedom in America. As part of that effort, he wrote the influential Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. (I discuss the “Remonstrance” in my article “America’s True History of Religious Tolerance” in the October 2010 Smithsonian.)
•Was the moving force behind the Constitutional Convention and was one of the principal authors of the Constitution. Madison’s support of the electoral system is laid out in this essay by Yale professor Akhil Reed Amar “The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists.”
•With Alexander Hamilton and John Jay was one of the authors of The Federalist Papers, arguments in favor of the ratification of the Constitution
•Was principal author of the Bill of Rights, which he originally thought unnecessary
Following ratification of the Constitution, Madison was a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia and a powerful Congressional ally of George Washington.
•Drafted the first version of Washington’s Farewell Address
•Supervised the Louisiana Purchase as Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State
•Presided over the ill-prepared nation during the War of 1812, the “second war of independence”
I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. –June 16, 1788
Madison died on June 28, 1836 at Montpelier, at age 85. He is buried at Montpelier.
The story of Paul Jennings, who was enslaved by Madison and wrote a memoir of working as a servant in the White House, is told in my recent book IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY.
The White House brief biography of James Madison
The Library of Congress Resource Collection on James Madison.
Madison’s Major Papers and Inaugural Addresses can be found at the Avalon Project of the Yale Law School.
(Revision of original post of March 15, 2014. Video created and directed by Colin Davis.)
Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, was born on March 15, 1767 on the border of both South and North Carolina (the precise location is uncertain).
In his day and ever since, Andrew Jackson has inspired high emotions and sharp opinions. Thomas Jefferson once called him, “A dangerous man. ”
His predecessor as president, John Quincy Adams, a bitter political rival, said Jackson was,
“A barbarian who could not even write a sentence of grammar and could hardly spell his own name.”
His place and reputation as an Indian fighter began with a somewhat overlooked fight against the Creek nation led by a half-Creek, half-Scot warrior named William Weatherford, or Red Eagle following an attack on an outpost known as Fort Mims north of Mobile, Alabama. Like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, it was an event that shocked the nation. Soon, Red Eagle and his Creek warriors were at war with Andrew Jackson, the Nashville lawyer turned politician, who had no love for the British or Native Americans.
You know the name of Andrew Jackson. But you probably don’t know the name William Weatherford. You should. He was a charismatic leader of his people who wanted freedom and to protect his land. Just like “Braveheart,” or William Wallace, of Mel Gibson fame. Only William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, wasn’t fighting a cruel King. He was at war with the United States government. And Andrew Jackson. This video offers a quick overview of Weatherford’s war with Jackson that ultimately led the demise of the Creek nation.
Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845. He was surrounded by many of the household servants he had enslaved. He told them:
“I want all to prepare to meet me in heaven….Christ has no respect to color.”
The story of one of those people, Alfred Jackson, is told in my recent book, In the Shadow of Liberty. Alfred Jackson is buried in the garden at the Hermitage, near Andrew Jackson’s gravesite.
You can also read more about William Weatherford, Andrew Jackson, and Jackson’s role in American history in A NATION RISING. Andrew Jackson’s life and presidency are also covered in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents.
On March 14, 1794, Eli Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin. This Ted Ed lesson explains what happened next.
The cotton gin helped spur demand for cotton and the enslaved labor needed to plant, harvest, and clean it.
Read more in
On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. Just 701 words long, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address took only six or seven minutes to deliver. And yes, it is the greatest American speech.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.
Source and Complete Text: The Avalon Project
At a White House reception, President Lincoln encountered Frederick Douglass. “I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address,” the president remarked. “How did you like it?” “Mr. Lincoln,” Douglass answered, “that was a sacred effort.” (Source: Gilder Lehman Institute of American History)
In the Shadow of Liberty has been named to the “Best of the Best” list for Older Readers by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) of the American Library Association (ALA)
“Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children’s books. According to the Notables Criteria, ‘notable’ is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.”
—Notable Children’s Books –2017 Association for Library Services to Children
This is a great honor. The complete list can be found here.
It’s that time of year. Time once again to explain that the upcoming national holiday is not “Presidents Day.”
Yes, I cannot tell a lie. The day we celebrate on the third Monday in February is really called “George Washington’s Birthday.” Ask the National Archives.
Want to learn a little more?
Here is the website for the National Park Service’s Birthplace of Washington site.
And here is the National Park Service website for Fort Necessity, scene of Washington’s surrender and “confession.”
(Revision of post originally published in 2012)
Born today –February 20 in 1902– a man who changed how we see the world, Ansel Adams.
It was the photography that launched a thousand calendars, posters, and greeting cards. You have seen his ethereal outdoor photography –maybe even if you did not know it.
But his birthdate follows by one day the anniversary of one of his most important subjects, the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II –the policy created on February 19, 1942 by FDR’s Executive Order 9066.
In 1943, Adams photographed Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp. The Library of Congress offers an online exhibit of Adams’ wartime photos of Japanese Americans.
Of the photographs, Adams wrote, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment…
Adams died at age 82 on April 22, 1984. Here is his New York Times obituary.