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.”
(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).
Does he deserve his place on the $20 bill?
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.
Here are some Jackson facts via the National Constitution Center.
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.
I am thrilled to introduce the Advance Reader’s Edition of my forthcoming book:
IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY — The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives
Set for release on September 20, 2016, the book will be published by Holt Books for Young Readers. The book offers narrative accounts of five enslaved people who were the legal property of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson.
Contact Holt Books for Young Readers for review copies and publicity requests.
Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Company
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
To request an author for an interview, please email: email@example.com.
If you would like to receive a catalog or a review copy of a book, please fax the request on your letterhead to 646-307-5247.
On March 14, 1793, Eli Whitney received a patent for the machine known as the Cotton Gin. Here is a short video about the Connecticut-born inventor’s most famous “invention,” the Cotton Gin. This was created as my first contribution to Ted-Ed: “Lessons Worth Sharing.”
This portrait of the inventor is by another inventor– Samuel F.B. Morse who was a well-known painter and art teacher before he gained fame for the development of the telegraph and the Morse Code.
The cotton gin changed history for good and bad. By allowing one field hand to do the work of 10, it powered a new industry that brought wealth and power to the American South — but, tragically, it also multiplied and prolonged the use of slave labor. In this video, I discuss innovation, while warning of unintended consequences.
Eli Whitney died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 8, 1825. You can learn more about Whitney and his inventions at the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop.
Read more about the history and impact of American slavery in Don’t Know Much About History and Don’t Know Much About the Civil War and my forthcoming book In The Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Five Black Lives. (Holt Books, Sept. 20, 2016)
Abraham Lincoln, “Letter to Joshua Speed” (August 24, 1855)
“When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.'”
Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed met in Springfield, Illinois, during the 1830s. Although Speed returned to his native Kentucky, they remained friends throughout life. In this letter, Lincoln expresses his thinking about slavery, which contrasted with Speed, who grew up on a plantation and owned slaves. The year before Lincoln wrote this letter, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed Congress, repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and opened the territories to slavery. The passage of this bill proved a turning point in Lincoln’s career. As he observed, “I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again.”
Source and Complete Text: Abraham Lincoln Online