“By exploring the humanity of people held in bondage by early American presidents, Kenneth C. Davis once again turns American mythology into history. Read the book and be grateful.”— Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
“The young woman was enslaved, but also privileged. She was part of the household of the nation’s first president. This powerful book tells her story, and others, which are surprising and have been unknown to most of us. They will give you insights into our American heritage that you may not have considered before. I hope In the Shadow of Liberty will be widely read. It is important and timely.”
—Joy Hakim, author, A History of US (Oxford University Press), Freedom: A History of US (Social Studies School Service), and The Story of Science (Smithsonian Books).
The first advance review of my forthcoming book IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives will appear in the June 1, 2016 issue of Book List, the journal of the American Library Association.
BOOK LIST STARRED REVIEW Issue: June 1, 2016
In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives.
Davis, Kenneth C. (Author)
Sep 2016. 304 p. Holt, hardcover, $17.99. (9781627793117). 920.0092.
“This well-researched book offers a chronological history of slavery in America and features five enslaved people and the four U.S. presidents who owned them. George Washington’s trusted valet, Billy Lee, served at his side throughout the Revolutionary War and was freed at his death. Martha Washington’s personal maid and seamstress, Ona Judge, escaped and fled to New Hampshire. Born into slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello, Isaac Granger recalled life there in an oral account, later published. Similarly, Paul Jennings’ reminiscences provide insights into his life with the Madisons in the White House and at Montpelier. Alfred Jackson lived in slavery at Andrew Jackson’s the Hermitage.
Always referring to enslaved people rather than slaves, Davis organizes a great deal of factual material, personal accounts, and quotes into a very readable history book. Ties to familiar historical figures give the information about the five lesser known African Americans a greater sense of context. In turn, the book offers a particularly realistic and nuanced view of these presidents. The illustrations include black-and-white reproductions of paintings, prints, and photos of artifacts and historic sites. A valuable, broad perspective on slavery, paired with close-up views of individuals who benefited from it and those who endured it.”
— Carolyn Phelan
The book will be published by Holt Books for Young Reader on September 20, 2016.
Let me be among the first to say Happy Mother’s Day. Husbands and children everywhere: Don’t forget.
But amidst the brunches, flower-giving and chocolate samplers, there is a story of another “Mother’s Day” that is worth remembering this weekend.
Julia Ward Howe, a prominent abolitionist best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” published what became known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” originally called “An Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.”
In 1870, Howe wrote:
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. . . . From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
Source and Complete Text: Library of Congress
Howe’s international call for mothers to become the voice of pacifism found few takers. Even among like-minded women, there was greater urgency over the suffrage question. Her passionate campaign for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” begun in 1872 fell by the wayside.
Mother’s Day, as we know it, is not the invention of Hallmark; it started in 1912 through the efforts of West Virginia’s Anna Jarvis to create a holiday honoring all mothers for their sacrifice and to assist mothers who needed help.
Today, Mother’s Day is largely a commercial bonanza — flowers, chocolates and greeting cards. Is it possible to truly honor Howe’s version of Mother’s Day and work towards her original vision of Mother’s Day?
If only we remember the history behind the holiday and what she thought it should be.
Harry Truman “Gave’ Em Hell.” I gave him a A. Born on May 8, 1884, the 33rd President of the United States.
It was on his birthday in 1945 that Truman was able to tell Americans that the war in Europe was over with the surrender of Germany.
THIS IS a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe. For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.
Described as “a minor national figure with a pedestrian background,” Truman was a World War I veteran and a Senator from Missouri when Franklin D. Roosevelt chose him to become his running mate in the 1944 election. Truman became vice president when FDR won his fourth term and then took office on April 12, 1945 when FDR died.
When he took office, Truman had been largely left “out of the loop” by Roosevelt as World War II entered its final months. Truman did not know of the existence of the “Manhattan Project” and the development of the atomic bomb until he became president. Then he had to make the decision to use it against the Japanese.
•Truman was a member of the Sons of the Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans
•He wanted to attend West Point but poor eyesight kept him out. He enlisted in the Missouri National Guard and served as the commander of an artillery battery in World War I.
•Before entering politics, he was a farmer, bank clerk, insurance salesman and owner of a failed haberdashery store.
•As president he once threatened to punch the nose of a newspaper critic who had given his daughter a poor review after her debut singing recital. Margaret Truman went on to greater fame as a mystery novelist, beginning with Murder in the White House published in 1980.
After the end of World War II, Truman had to shift America’s attention to the new “Cold War” with the Soviet Union and his policies of “containment” and the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe were hallmarks of his presidency.
Harry S. Truman died on December 26, 1972. This is his New York Times obituary. The Truman Library and Museum is located in Independence, Missouri
Read more about Truman, his life and administration in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents. Truman is also featured in the Berlin Battle chapter of The Hidden History of America at War. (In paperback this month)
On this date, March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York caught fire and 146 people died, most of them women between the ages of 16 and 23. [Post revised from original on 3/25/2011]
“Look for the union label.”
If you are of a certain generation, you may recognize those words instantly. They are the first line of a song that became a 1970s advertising icon.
Sung by a swelling chorus of lovely ladies (and a few men) of all colors, shapes and sizes, it was the anthem of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
Airing as American unions began to confront the long, steady drain of jobs to cheaper foreign labor markets, the song rousingly implored us to look for the union label when shopping for clothes (“When you are buying a coat, dress or blouse”).
Seeing these earnest women, thinking of them at their sewing machines, made us race to the closet and check our clothes for that ILGWU tag. (“It says we’re able to make it in the USA.”)
The International Ladies Garment Worker Union was born in 1900, in the midst of the often-violent period of early 20th century labor organizing when brutal working conditions and child labor were the norm in America’s mines and factories.
One of the companies the union attempted to organize was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory at what is now Greene Street and Washington Place in New York’s Greenwich Village. It employed many poor and mostly immigrant women, most of them Jewish and Italian.
A walkout against the firm in 1909 helped strengthen the union’s rolls and led to a union victory in 1910. But the Triangle Shirtwaist Company –which would chain its doors shut to control its workers— earned infamy when a fire broke out on March 25, 1911 and 146 workers were trapped in the flaming building and died. Some jumped to their deaths.
The two owners of the factory were indicted but found not guilty. The tragedy helped galvanize the trade union movement and especially the ILGWU.
On the 105th anniversary of that dreadful event, it is worth remembering that American prosperity was built on the sweat, tears and blood of working men and women. Immigration and jobs are the issue again today, just as they were more than a century ago.
On February 28, 2011, American Experience on PBS aired a documentary film about the tragedy and the period.
The site is part of New York University and a National Historic Landmark.
On March 23, 1942, the first Japanese-Americans evacuated by the U.S. Army during World War II arrived at the internment camp in Manzanar, Calif.
“We had about one week to dispose of what we owned, except what we could pack and carry for our departure by bus…for Manzanar.” William Hohri
Source: “Japanese Americans at Manzanar,” (National Park Service)
On February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary)of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Without due process, the government gave everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast only days to decide what to do with their houses, farms, businesses, and other possessions.
I have written several posts on this subject including these;
Do the names James Blaine, William Jennings Bryan, and Charles Evan Hughes ring a bell?
All three men had been Secretary of State. All three ran for president. All three lost.
Blaine (“the Man from Maine”) lost to Cleveland in 1884; Bryan lost three times, in 1896 and 1900 to McKinley and in 1908 to Taft; Hughes lost to Wilson in 1916 — the last time a former Secretary of State was a presidential nominee.
If Hillary Clinton is nominated and wins, she will become the first former Secretary of State to become president since James Buchanan was elected the 15th president in 1856.
Once in American history, the office was seen as a stepping stone to the presidency. The post was once considered far more consequential than vice president, whose powers were largely limited to presiding over the Senate. In part, the vice president was also a political party choice but the Secretary of State was hand-picked by the president, sometimes with succession in mind.
Illustrating the prominence of the position, between 1789 and 1856, six of the first fifteen presidents were former Secretaries of State.
They include four of the first six presidents. In order, they are:
•Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, and the third president.
•James Madison, who served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State, and became fourth president.
•James Monroe, unique in that he served as War Secretary and Secretary of State simultaneously; that happened during the War of 1812 in the Madison administration. Monroe became the fifth president.
•John Quincy Adams, who was Monroe’s secretary of State and drafted the “Monroe Doctrine,” became sixth president.
•Martin Van Buren, was Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson before becoming his vice president. He was elected the eighth president.
•James Buchanan, Secretary of State under Polk, but later minister to Great Britain under Pierce, became the fifteenth president and is usually regarded among the worst American presidents.
Smithsonian magazine explored the history of the Secretary of State in August 2014: “Why Do Secretaries of State Make Such Terrible Presidential Candidates?”
On February 24, 1803 Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the unanimous opinion in Marbury v Madison.
Dust off your Civics books.
[UPDATED] President Obama has made his decision and nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
As the fight over Judge Garland as Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court absorbs the country, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block any appointments by President Obama during his last year in office, it might help to look at history.
The simple fact is that the most consequential Supreme Court appointment in American history was made by a true “lame duck” President.
In its original sense, “lame duck” meant a president or other elected official whose successor had already been chosen.
In 1801, after it was certain that president John Adams would not return for a second term, Adams nominated his Secretary of State, John Marshall, to the post to replace ailing Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth.
At the time of this nomination, President Adams was a true “lame duck” president, soon to be replaced by Thomas Jefferson, following a drawn-out vote in the House of Representatives. It was clear that Jefferson’s party would control both the White House and the Senate. But Adams named Marshall, a staunch Federalist of his own party, who was confirmed despite only six-weeks of legal training.
One of Marshall’s first and most significant decisions came in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison which established the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution.
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. . . . Thus the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void. . . .
From Chief Justice Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison
John Marshall went on to become the longest-serving and most influential chief justice in the history of the Supreme Court, hearing more than 1,000 cases and writing 519 decisions.
There have been more election year nominations, as discussed in this New York Times Op-Ed, “In Election Years, a History of Conforming Court Nominees.”
As John Adams himself said during the Boston Massacre Trial (1770)
“Facts are stubborn things.”
Coming in paperback in May 2016
The Hidden History of America At War: Untold Tales From Yorktown To Fallujah
THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah is a unique, myth-shattering, and insightful look at war—why we fight, who fights our wars and what we need to know but perhaps never learned about the growth and development of America’s military forces.Read more about the book and critical praise here
(This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared on March 17, 2012)
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.”