“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
(This is a revised version of a post originally written for Veterans Day in 2011. The meaning still applies.)
On Veterans Day, a reminder of what the day once meant and what it should still mean.
That was the moment at which World War I –then called THE GREAT WAR– largely came to end in 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
One of the most tragically senseless and destructive periods in all history came to a close in Western Europe with the Armistice –or end of hostilities between Germany and the Allied nations — that began at that moment. Some 20 million people had died in the fighting that raged for more than four years since August 1914. The formal end of the war came with the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.
Besides the war casualties, an estimated 100 million people died during the war of the Spanish flu, a worldwide pandemic that was completely linked to the war and had an impact on its outcome. That is the subject of my forthcoming book, More Deadly Than War:The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War. (May 15, 2018)
The date of November 11th became a national holiday of remembrance in many of the victorious allied nations –a day to commemorate the loss of so many lives in the war. And in the United States, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919. A few years later, in 1926, Congress passed a resolution calling on the President to observe each November 11th as a day of remembrance:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
Of course, the hopes that “the war to end all wars” would bring peace were short-lived. By 1939, Europe was again at war and what was once called “the Great War” would become World War I. With the end of World War II, there was a movement in America to rename Armistice Day and create a holiday that recognized the veterans of all of America’s conflicts. President Eisenhower signed that law in 1954. (In 1971, Veterans Day began to be marked as a Monday holiday on the third Monday in November, but in 1978, the holiday was returned to the traditional November 11th date).
Today, Veterans Day honors the duty, sacrifice and service of America’s nearly 25 million veterans of all wars, unlike Memorial Day, which specifically honors those who died fighting in America’s wars.
We should remember and celebrate all those men and women. But lost in that worthy goal is the forgotten meaning of this day in history –the meaning which Congress gave to Armistice Day in 1926:
to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations …
inviting the people of the United States to observe the day … with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
The Library of Congress offers an extensive Veterans History Project.
The Veterans Administration website offers more resources on teaching about Veterans Day.
Read more about World War I and all of America’s conflicts in Don’t Know Much About History and Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents.
I discuss the role of Americans in battle in more than 240 years of American history in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah (Hachette Books and Random House Audio). My forthcoming book, MORE DEADLY THAN WAR: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War will be published in May 2018.
OK class. Primary Sources time. Here are three documents explaining the reasons behind Confederate secession and one notable speech by the vice president of the Confederacy, known as the “Corner-Stone” speech. They make clear what the war was about.
“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.“
“For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”
“that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator”
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
–Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy
The controversy over the removal of Confederate Monuments has provoked some fine journalism and opinion writing; Here are a few examples of history in the headlines:
Answer: All of the enslaved people in Yorktown who had escaped to the British in hopes of freedom.
When the British forces under Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and his French allies on October 19, 1781, the terms of capitulation included the following phrase
It is understood that any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these States, in the possession of the garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed.
(Article IV, Articles of Capitulation; dated October 18, 1781. Source and Complete Text: Avalon Project-Yale Law School)
Thousands of escaped enslaved people had flocked to the British army during Cornwallis’s campaign in Virginia in what has been called the “largest slave rebellion in American history.”
They had come in the belief that the British would free them. Cornwallis had put them to work on the British defense works around the small tobacco port, and when disease started to spread and supplies ran low, Cornwallis forced hundreds of these people out of Yorktown. Many more died from epidemic diseases and the shelling of American and French artillery during the siege.
The African Americans in Yorktown included at least seventeen people who had left Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation with the British, as well as members of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved community also captured earlier in 1781. They were all returned to bondage, along with thousands of others as Virginian slaveholders came to Yorktown to recover their “property.”
Among them was Isaac Granger Jefferson, a five-year-old boy who was returned to Monticello and later told his story.
The stories of some of the people “reclaimed” by Washington are told in my new book, IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY; The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives.
The Battle of Yorktown and role of African-American soldiers there –as well as the fate of the enslaved people in the besieged town — are featured in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah.
“A fascinating exploration of war and the myths of war. Kenneth C. Davis shows how interesting the truth can be.” –Evan Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of Sea of Thunder and John Paul Jones
Scheduled for publication in May 2018 by Henry Holt, this book recounts the story of the most deadly epidemic in modern times, the Spanish Flu pandemic, which struck the world 100 years ago during the last months of World War I.
Invisible. Incurable. Unstoppable.
From bestselling author Kenneth C. Davis comes a fascinating account of the Spanish influenza pandemic that swept the world from 1918 to 1919.
With 2018 marking the centennial of the worst disease outbreak in modern history, the story of the Spanish flu is more relevant today than ever. This dramatic narrative, told through the stories and voices of the people caught in the deadly maelstrom, explores how this vast, global epidemic was intertwined with the horrors of World War I – and how it could happen again. Complete with photographs, period documents, modern research, and firsthand reports by medical professionals and survivors, this book provides captivating insight into a catastrophe that transformed America in the early twentieth century.
I will be writing more about the book and the subject of the Spanish Flu and the “war to end all wars” as we get closer to publication date. In the meantime, I hope you will also read my previous book IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY.
“Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.”
Following the landmark decision to desegregate public schools (Brown v Board of Education, 1954), there was widespread resistance to the orders. In 1957, the integration crisis came to a head in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Governor Orval Faubus challenged efforts by the school board to institute a gradual school desegregation process. He ordered state National Guard troops to defy Federal law and stop nine African-American students from attending an all-white high school.
On September 4, 100 armed National Guard troops encircled Central High School as a mob of white civilians gathered, shouting racial epithets and threatening the black teenagers. The National Guard troops refused to let the black students pass. One of the nine, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, was surrounded by the mob, which threatened to lynch her. She was finally led to safety by a sympathetic white woman.
Images of the subsequent mob violence directed towards the “Little Rock Nine” were seen around the world. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on September 24, 1957, announced he would send in federal troops to defend the court ruling and protect the children.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock,” (September 24, 1957)
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. To make this talk I have come to the President’s office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again. preventing the carrying out of the Court’s order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President’s responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
Complete text and Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock.,” September 24, 1957. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
Airborne troops escort African American students into Little Rock High School (Source: National Archives)
The National Park Service has a page on the Little Rock High School National Historic Site.
Also recommended is a series on education and race in America today, including “The Resegregation of Jefferson County” in the New York Times Magazine.
Answer: On September 17, Washington signed the parchment copy first, as President of the convention.
On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia, voted to adopt the United States Constitution.
To recap these events:
Working from May 25, when a quorum was established, until September 17, 1787, when the convention voted to endorse the final form of the Constitution, the delegates gathered in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House were actually obligated only to revise or amend the Articles of Confederation. Under those Articles, however, the government was plagued by weaknesses, such as its inability to raise revenues to pay its foreign debts or maintain an army. From the outset, most the convention’s organizers, James Madison chief among them, knew that splints and bandages wouldn’t do the trick for the broken Articles.
The government was broke –literally and figuratively– and they were going to fix it by inventing an entirely new one. James Madison had been studying more than 200 books on constitutions and republican history sent to him by Thomas Jefferson in preparation for the convention. The moving force behind the convention, Madison came prepared with the outline of a new Constitution.
A reluctant George Washington, whose name was placed at the head of list of Virginia’s delegates without his knowledge, was unquestionably spurred by recent events in Massachusetts (Shay’s Rebellion, a violent protest by Massachusetts farmers). Elected president of the convention, he wrote from Philadelphia in June to his close wartime confidant and ally, the Marquis de Lafayette:
I could not resist the call to a convention of the States which is to determine whether we are to have a government of respectability under which life, liberty, and property will be secured to us, or are to submit to one which may be the result of chance or the moment, springing perhaps from anarchy and Confusion, and dictated perhaps by some aspiring demagogue.
On September 17, Washington signed the parchment copy first, as President of the convention. He was followed by the remaining delegates from the twelve states that sent delegates in geographical order, from north to south, beginning with New Hampshire. (Rhode Island was the only state that did not send a delegation.) When the last of the signatures was added –that of Abraham Baldwin of Georgia– Benjamin Franklin gazed at Washington’s chair, on which was painted a bright yellow sun. He then spoke, as James Madison recorded it:
I have, said he, often in the course of a session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell if it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.
In another perhaps more apocryphal tale, Franklin left the building and was confronted by a lady who asked, “Well Doctor, do we have a monarchy or a republic?” The witty sage of Philadelphia replied,
“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
This post is excerpted from America’s Hidden History, which offers fuller account of the Convention and the events that led to it. You can also read more about the Constitutional Convention and the Constitution in Don’t Know Much About History: Anniversary Edition, Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents and In the Shadow of Liberty.
For more about the Constitution, visit these sites:
The National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia and James Madison’s Montpelier
“Why do Americans and Canadians Celebrate Labor Day?”
You can also view it on YouTube:
You can read more about the history and meaning of Labor Day in this piece I wrote for CNN a few years ago:
Read more about the period of labor unrest in Don’t Know Much About® History.
“Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”— Abraham Lincoln, “First Annual Message to Congress” (December 3, 1861)
To most Americans, the first Monday in September means a three-day weekend and the last hurrah of summer, a final outing at the shore before school begins, a family picnic. The federal Labor Day was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland during his second term in 1894.
But Labor Day was born in a time when work was no picnic. As America was moving from farms to factories in the Industrial Age, there was a long, violent, often-deadly struggle for fundamental workers’ rights, a struggle that in many ways was America’s “other civil war.” (From “The Blood and Sweat Behind Labor Day”)
The first American Labor Day is dated to a parade organized by unions in New York City on September 5, 1882, as a celebration of “the strength and spirit of the American worker.” They wanted among, other things, an end to child labor.
In 1861, Lincoln told Congress:
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.
Today, in postindustrial America, Abraham Lincoln’s words ring empty. Labor is far from “superior to capital.” Working people and unions have borne the brunt of the great changes in the globalized economy.
But the facts are clear: In the current “gig economy,” the loss of union jobs and the recent failures of labor to organize workers is one key reason for the decline of America’s middle class.
This excellent essay by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explores the vast inequities existing in America’s economy.
Read the full history of Labor Day in this essay: “The Blood and Sweat Behind Labor Day” (2011)
(Revise of 2013 essay)
All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.
Lyndon B. Johnson, in his first address as President to a joint session of Congress (November 27, 1963)
The 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born on August 27, 1908, in a small farmhouse near Stonewall, Texas on the Pedernales River. Coincidentally, it is also the date on which LBJ accepted the 1964 Democratic nomination for President. (Senator Hubert H. Humphrey was his Vice Presidential nominee.)
In some respects, history and time have been kinder to Lyndon B. Johnson than his tortured Presidency –and certainly the critics of his day—would have possibly suggested. A power broker extraordinaire during his days in Congress, especially during his twelve years in the Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson challenged John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in the 1960 primaries, and then accepted Kennedy’s offer to become his Vice Presidential running mate. Johnson was credited with helping Kennedy win Southern votes and ultimately the election.
On November 22, 1963, history and America changed with Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson became President, taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One with Jacqueline Kennedy, the dead President’s widow standing beside him.
Driven by a rousing sense of social justice, born out of his youth and upbringing in hardscrabble Texas and Depression-era experiences, he had become one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most loyal New Dealers. First in a federal job, then in Congress and later as “Master of the Senate.” As President, Johnson set the country on a quest for what he called the “Great Society,” looking for ways to end the great economic injustice and bitter racial disparity that existed in America in 1963. But his vision for a “Great Society” was counterbalanced, and ultimately overshadowed by his doomed course in pursuing the war in Vietnam.
In the midst of the war, recently released White House tapes reveal Johnson confided–
I can’t win and I can’t get out.
•Johnson was the first Congressman to enlist for duty after Pearl Harbor.
•Johnson was the fourth president to come into office upon the death of a president by assassination. (The others were Andrew Johnson after Lincoln, Chester A. Arthur after Garfield, and Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley.)
•Johnson appointed the first black Supreme Curt Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
Read more about Lyndon B. Johnson, his presidency and the Vietnam War and civil rights movement in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents and Don’t Know Much About® History.
(Revised post originally published on February 29, 2016)
Once again, I find it useful and necessary to repost this piece about the Kerner Commission, formed fifty years ago to address violence in American cities.
On July 27, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was responding to a series of violent outbursts in predominantly black urban neighborhoods in such cities as Detroit and Newark. (New York Times account.)
On July 29, 1967, President Johnson made remarks about the reasons for the commission:
The civil peace has been shattered in a number of cities. The American people are deeply disturbed. They are baffled and dismayed by the wholesale looting and violence that has occurred both in small towns and in great metropolitan centers.
No society can tolerate massive violence, any more than a body can tolerate massive disease. And we in America shall not tolerate it.
But just saying that does not solve the problem. We need to know the answers, I think, to three basic questions about these riots:
–Why did it happen?
–What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?
Source:Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Signing Order Establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.,” July 29, 1967. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, later known as the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, issued a stark warning:
“Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”
The Committee Report went on to identify a set of “deeply held grievances” that it believed had led to the violence.
Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.
Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:
First Level of Intensity
1. Police practices
2. Unemployment and underemployment
3. Inadequate housing
Second Level of Intensity
4. Inadequate education
5. Poor recreation facilities and programs
6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.
Third Level of Intensity
7. Disrespectful white attitudes
8. Discriminatory administration of justice
9. Inadequacy of federal programs
10. Inadequacy of municipal services
11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
12. Inadequate welfare programs
Source: “Our Nation is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”: Excerpts from the Kerner Report; American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY)
and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).
Issued nearly half a century ago, the list of grievances reads as if it could have been written last week.
Read more about the unrest of the Civil Rights era in Don’t Know Much About® History. The crucial role of race in the American military is also treated in The Hidden History of America at War. And the long history of slavery is addressed in the forthcoming In the Shadow of Liberty (Sept. 20, 2016).