Don't Know Much

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (5th in a series)

[Post updated 6/23/2021]

Now that Juneteenth has become a national holiday observed as the other “Independence Day,” it is time to look back on the first Independence Day –July 4th, 1776. As the nation is going through an examination of the role slavery played in American History, it is important to recognize its role at Philadelphia. You cannot teach American History without acknowledging the role slavery played. And talking about the men who signed the Declaration is one way to do that.

This is the fifth in a series of posts about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and what became of them. The series begins here.

Or follow the series here.

 

Jefferson’s Desk on which he drafted the Declaration (Image: American Museum of History/Smithsonian)

Slave trader turned early abolitionist. Flag designer. “First President.” Member of a Virginia dynasty. And the Author.

-Stephen Hopkins (Rhode Island) Second oldest delegate after Franklin, Hopkins was 69-years-old at the signing. A merchant, he had been Rhode Island’s colonial governor but was an outspoken advocate of independence having written a document entitled, The Rights of the Colonies Examined in 1764.

“Rights of the Colonies Examined” (1765 :Source Wikimedia Commons

A partner of the wealthy Brown brothers who were involved in the slave trade –Newport was a key northern slavery port– he enslaved several people. The role of Stephen Hopkins, his brother Esek -captain of a slave ship- and the Brown brothers as enslavers and the founding of what became Brown University is detailed in a report commissioned by Brown called Slavery and Justice.

But in 1774, he secured passage of law prohibiting the slave trade in Rhode Island, one of the first anti-slavery laws in the colonies and he began freeing some but not all of the people he enslaved. In ill health, he retired from politics and public life and died in 1785 at age 78. YES

-Francis Hopkinson (New Jersey) Like Franklin and Jefferson, Hopkinson was a man of many talents, a 38-year-old attorney and musician at the time of the signing. He was the son of the founder –with Franklin– of the University of Pennsylvania and was among the school’s first graduates. Though long overlooked, he has more recently gotten his due as the designer of the “Stars and Stripes.” The claim is based on Hopkinson submitting a bill for his work on the flag and requesting “a quarter cask of the public wine” in payment. He was already on the Congressional payroll so the request was refused. While his home was ransacked during the war, he emerged relatively unscathed and later became a Federal judge before his death in 1791 at 53. YES

-Samuel Huntington (Connecticut) An apprenticed barrel-maker who became a successful attorney, he was a 45-year-old politician at the time of the signing, having resigned his post as “King’s Attorney.” His true distinction is serving as “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” when the Articles of Confederation were adopted –making him the “First President,” sort of. Others have staked that claim as well. He served in a variety of national and state posts, including being the sitting governor of Connecticut at his death in 1796 at age 64. NO

Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) 33-year-old planter, scientist, writer, and lawyer. You know most of the rest. But Jefferson’s wartime service as Virginia’s governor is sometimes overlooked. In 1781, he was Virginia’s governor when the British attacked the state, including forces led by Benedict Arnold. Jefferson fled and was later investigated by the state legislature but no charges were filed. People enslaved by Jefferson were captured by the British and were being held in Yorktown during the siege in September-October 1781 and were later returned to Jefferson by George Washington.

Monticello

Thomas Jefferson’s Grave Marker at Monticello (Author photo)

He died, like John Adams, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption –July 4, 1826. See the Monticello site for more information. YES

Francis Lightfoot Lee  (Virginia) A member of the state’s prominent planter family, he was 41 years old at the signing, the quiet brother of Richard Henry Lee, who offered the first resolution calling for independence in June 1776. After the war, he was a prominent advocate of the new Constitution, unlike his more visible older brother. He left the national scene and died at age 62 in 1797. YES

 

 

 

 

Whatever Became of 56 Signers? (4th in a series)

[Post revised 6/23/2021]

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and what became of them. The series begins here.

Or follow the series here in the blog.

Now that Juneteenth has become a national holiday observed as the other “Independence Day,” it is time to look back on the first Independence Day –July 4th, 1776. As the nation is going through an examination of the role slavery played in American History, it is important to recognize its role at Philadelphia.

You cannot teach American History without acknowledging the role slavery played. And talking about the men who signed the Declaration is one way to do that. Slavery existed in all thirteen of the future states and at least 40 of the 56 signers enslaved people or were involved in the slave trade. One focus of the series is to show which of these men enslaved people or otherwise participated in the slave trade.

Father and great-grandfather of presidents. A simple farmer. A Quaker workaholic. More lawyers. The next five signers, in alphabetical order. (“Yes” following the entry means slaveholder; “No” means not a slaveholder.)

-Benjamin Harrison V (Virginia) A member of the Virginia aristocracy, he was a well-to-do planter, around 50-years-old at the the signing.

On June 7, 1776, Benjamin Harrison was chosen to introduce fellow Virginian Richard Henry Lee whose resolution called for independence from England. He was selected to read Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence to the assembled delegates on July 1… [Source: Berkeley Plantation]

Besides his role in the July 2 and 4 votes in Philadelphia, he is mostly distinguished as being the father of 9th president William Henry Harrison and great-grandfather of namesake Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president.

Although his famed Berkeley Plantation on the James River was attacked and partially burned by British forces led by the traitor Benedict Arnold, it clearly survived the war. So did Harrison, who went on to serve three terms as governor of Virginia before his death in 1791 at age 65.    YES

-John Hart (New Jersey) Described as a well-meaning “Jersey” farmer with little education, Hart was a 65-year-old planter at the time of the signing, and devoted to the patriot cause. Although supposedly hounded by the British during the war, he was later able to entertain General Washington and allow 12,000 troops to camp in his fields in 1778. He died of kidney stones in 1779, aged 68. YES

Joseph Hewes (North Carolina) Born in New Jersey, he moved to North Carolina and was a 46-year-old Quaker merchant at the signing. At first a reluctant patriot, he broke with the Quakers over the possibility  of a violent rebellion and was considered a key influence in Congress by John Adams. His shipping experience was significant enough for him to be described as the first “secretary of the Navy,” responsible for getting his friend John Paul Jones a commission. Working relentlessly for the Congress, Hewes fell sick and died in 1779 at age 49 and was deeply mourned by his Congressional colleagues. YES

-Thomas Heyward, Jr. (South Carolina) Son of a wealthy planter, he was a 30-year-old lawyer at the signing. Heyward counts as one of the few signers actually captured by the British, who then took his enslaved people, apparently shipping them to bondage in the West Indies. Initially paroled –released under an agreement– he was later taken aboard a prison ship and held in St. Augustine, Florida under a form of house arrest until released in a prisoner exchange. While a hostage, he is credited with writing verses to a song called “God Save the Thirteen States.” He dabbled in politics after the war, but focused on rebuilding his family plantation where he died at 63 in 1809. YES

-William Hooper (North Carolina) Born in Boston, he was a 34-year-old attorney who had moved South at the signing. He missed the key July vote but returned to sign the Declaration in August. Hooper was one of the signers who suffered losses during the war when the British invaders evacuating the Wilmington, North Carolina area destroyed his home. He later pressed for ratification of the Constitution but lacked popularity in his adopted state and, suffering from a variety of illnesses, including malaria, died in 1790 at age 48. YES

 

Whatever Became Of…56 Signers? (3d in series)

[Post revised June 22, 2021]

Now that Juneteenth has become a national holiday observed as the other “Independence Day,” it is time to look back on the first Independence Day –July 4th, 1776. As the nation is going through an examination of the role slavery played in American History, it is important to recognize its role at Philadelphia. You cannot teach American History without acknowledging the role slavery played. And talking about the men who signed the Declaration is one way to do that.

This is the third in a series of posts about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and what became of them. The series begins here.

Or follow the series here.

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

 

A printer, a politician with a notable name, a duelist, a Connecticut Yankee, and the most famous signature in U.S. history. 

A “Yes” after their names means they enslaved people; “No” means they did not.

-Benjamin Franklin  (Pennsylvania) America’s most famous man in 1776, Franklin was 70 years old at the time of the signing. Printer, publisher, writer, scientist, diplomat, philosopher –he was the embodiment of the Enlightenment ideal. A member of the draft committee that produced the Declaration, Franklin was a central figure in the independence vote and then helped the war effort by winning crucial French support for the America cause.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.87.43?destination=portraits

But he lost no Fortune, reportedly tripling his wealth during the conflict. Franklin returned to the scene of the Declaration’s passage in 1787 to help draft the Constitution. When he died at age 84 in 1790, his funeral was attended by a crowd equal to Philadelphia’s population at the time. Read more on Franklin at this National Park Service site. YES

Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts) A 32-year-old merchant from Marblehead, Gerry (pronounced with a hard G like Gary) is much more famous for later dividing Massachusetts into oddly-shaped voting districts as the state’s governor. A cartoonist compared the districts to a salamander and the word “gerry-mandering” was born.

“The Gerry-mander,” political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale, Boston Gazette, 1812. © North Wind Picture Archives via Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/gerrymandering#ref25820

Though he voted for independence, Gerry was not present to sign in August, signing later in the fall of 1776. He profited from the war and later joined the Massachusetts delegation to the Constitutional convention in 1787, although he refused to sign the Constitution. He became James Madison’s second vice president in 1813, but died in office in 1814 at age 70. NO

Button Gwinnett (Georgia) An English-born plantation owner and merchant, he was 41-years-old at the time of the signing. And didn’t last much longer. A political argument with a Georgia general led to a duel in which Gwinnett was mortally wounded. He died in 1777 at age 42, the second of the signers to die. (John Morton of Pennsylvania was first.) YES

Lyman Hall (Georgia) A Connecticut Yankee Congregational minister and physician transplanted to Georgia plantation owner, Hall  was 52 years old at the signing. A vocal patriot when Georgia was far more hesitant about independence, he first came to Philadelphia as a nonvoting delegate. Hall’s plantation was destroyed during the war during the punishing British campaigns in the South. He later served as Georgia’s governor, dying at age 66 in 1790. YES

John Hancock (Massachusetts) Born into a poor parson’s family in Lexington (National Parks Service site), Hancock was sent to live with a wealthy uncle when his father died. He inherited his uncle’s shipping business and was one of America’s wealthiest men by the time he was thirty. A patriot leader in Boston, it was Hancock and Samuel Adams who the British sought to capture on that April 1775 night when the war began.

Cropped from Image:Us_declaration_independence.jpg and enhanced slightly by Tim Packer   Image:John_Hancock_Signature_DOI.PNG. Source: Wikimedia Commons

President of the Continental Congress when independence was declared, he was 39 at the time of the signing. The out-sized signature on the document cemented his fame in American lore. Elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1780,

Hancock lived a conspicuously opulent life in his mansion crowning Beacon Hill. The citizenry still had weapons and were accustomed to fighting the taxes of remote governments. Recognizing the stirrings of revolution and suffering from reoccurring gout, Hancock resigned the governorship until the resistance, which took the form of Shay’s Rebellion, was put down.

(Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

After the war,

Governor Hancock continued to be reelected annually with victory margins frequently well above eighty percent. He died in office in 1793 and was succeeded by his friend, Lieutenant Governor Samuel Adams. (Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

YES

 

 

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition

Whatever Became Of…56 Signers? (2d in a series)

(Post revised and updated 6-21-2021) Second in a series that begins here.

Follow the series here.

Now that Juneteenth has become a national holiday observed as the other “Independence Day,” it is time to look back on the first Independence Day –July 4th, 1776. As the nation is going through an examination of the role slavery played in American History, it is important to recognize its role at Philadelphia. You cannot teach American History without acknowledging the role slavery played. And talking about the men who signed the Declaration is one way to do that.

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

Fair Copy of the Draft of the Declaration of Independence (Source New York Public Library)

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

(A YES” denotes an enslaver or slave trader; NO” means the person did not enslave people.)

Here are the next five Signers of the Declaration, continuing in alphabetical order:

Samuel Chase (Maryland) A 35-year-old attorney, Chase is among those signers who did not vote on July 4; he signed the later printed version in August. Accused of wartime profiteering but never tried or convicted, he later went broke from business speculating and settled into law practice. President George Washington appointed him to the Supreme Court, and Chase became the first justice to be impeached –although he was acquitted in 1805 by the Senate in a trial presided over by Vice President Aaron Burr.

The failure of the Senate to convict allowed Chase to return to the Supreme Court and serve 6 more years as an associate justice. More importantly, the acquittal deterred the House of Representatives from using impeachment as a partisan political tool.

Chase returned to the Supreme Court and died of a heart attack in 1811 at age 70. YES Learn more about Impeachment history here.

-Abraham Clark (New Jersey) An attorney, 50 years old at the signing, Clark had two sons who were captured and imprisoned during the war; one on the notorious British prison ship Jersey and the other in a New York jail cell. Clark served in Congress on and off and opposed the Constitution’s ratification until the Bill of Rights was added. He died in 1794 at age 68. YES

George Clymer (Pennsylvania) A 37-year-old merchant the time of the signing, Clymer was a well-heeled patriot leader who helped fund the American war effort. He was also elected to Congress after the July 2 independence vote, signing the Declaration on August 2. He belongs to an elite group who signed both the Declaration and the Constitution.  (The others were Roger Sherman of Conn,; George Read of Del.; and Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris and James Wilson, all of PA.) He continued to prosper after the war and died in 1813 at age 74. NO

-William Ellery (Rhode Island) A modestly successful merchant turned attorney, aged 48 at the signing, Ellery replaced an earlier Rhode Island delegate who died of smallpox in Philadelphia. (Smallpox killed more Americans than the war did during the Revolution.) A dedicated member of Congress during the war years, Ellery saw his home burned by the British although it is thought unlikely they knew it was the home of a Signer. An abolitionist, he was rewarded after the war by President Washington with the lucrative post of collector for the port of Newport which he held for three decades. He died in 1829, aged 92, second in longevity among signers after Carroll.   NO

-William Floyd (New York) At the signing, a 41-year-old land speculator born on Long Island, New York, Floyd abstained from the July 2 independence vote with the rest of the New York delegation. But he is thought to be the first New Yorker to sign the Declaration on August 2. Reports that his home on Fire Island was destroyed by the British were exaggerated, although it was used as a stable and barracks by the occupying Redcoats. (It is now part of a Fire Island National Park.)  Floyd served in the first Congress before moving to western New York where he owned massive land tracts and where he died at age 86 in 1821. YES

 

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives

Don’t Know Much About® History: Anniversary Edition

“Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor:” Whatever Became Of 56 Signers? (1st in a series)

(Post updated 7/1/2021)

Now that Juneteenth has become a national holiday observed as the other “Independence Day,” it is time to look back on the first Independence Day –July 4th, 1776. As the nation is going through an examination of the role slavery played in American History, it is important to recognize its role at Philadelphia. You cannot teach American History without acknowledging the role slavery played. And talking about the men who signed the Declaration is one way to do that.

This is the first in a series of posts about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and what became of them. Most of these men are obscure to many Americans and they have also been mythologized in some online forums. Many of them played a significant role in the early republic before, during, and after July 4, 1776.

(Read through all eleven posts in this website’s Blog Category)

Slavery existed in all thirteen of the future states and at least 40 of the 56 signers enslaved people or were involved in the slave trade. One focus of the series is to show which of these men enslaved people or otherwise participated in the slave trade. A “YES” after their listing means they enslaved people; a “NO” means they did not.

They pledged:

... our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”

Then what happened?

The Grand Flag of the Union, first raised in 1775 and by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the "American flag" until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

The Grand Flag of the Union, the “first American flag,” originally raised in 1775 and later by George Washington in early 1776 in Boston. The Stars and Stripes did not become the “American flag” until June 14, 1777. (Author photo © Kenneth C. Davis)

 

…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.

Those strong words concluded the Declaration of Independence when it was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

There is little question that men who signed that document were putting their lives at risk. The identity and fates of a handful of those Signers is well-known. Two future presidents — Adams and Jefferson— and America’s most famous man, Benjamin Franklin, were on the Committee that drafted the document.

But the names and fortunes of many of the  other signers, including the most visible, John Hancock, are more obscure. In the days leading up to Independence Day, I will offer a thumbnail sketch of each of the Signers in alphabetical order. Some prospered and thrived; some did not: How many of those Signers actually paid with their Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor?

John Adams (Massachusetts) Aged 40 when he signed, he went on to become the first vice president and second president of the United States. By 1790, Adams was convinced that his place in the history to be written would be diminished.

“The history of our Revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other,” he wrote fellow Founder Benjamin Rush in 1790.

“The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod –and thenceforward these two conducted all the policies, negotiations, legislatures, and war.”

Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration in 1826 at age 90. (Jefferson died that same day) NO

Samuel Adams (Mass.) Older cousin to John, Samuel Adams was 53 at the signing. He went on to a career in state politics, initially refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights, and was governor of Massachusetts. He died in 1803 at 81. NO

Josiah Bartlett (New Hampshire) Inspiring the name of the fictional president of West Wing fame on TV, Bartlett was a physician, aged 46 at the time of the signing. He helped ratify the Constitution in his home state, giving the document the necessary nine states to become the law of the land. Elected senator he chose to remain in New Hampshire as governor. Three of his sons and other descendants also became physicians. He died in 1795 at age 65. YES

Carter Braxton (Virginia) A 39-year-old plantation owner, Braxton was looking to invest in the slave trade before the Revolution. Initially reluctant about independence, he helped fund the rebellion and lost a considerable  fortune during the war — not because he was a signer, but because of shipping losses suffered during the war itself. He later served in the Virginia legislature and died in 1797 at age 61, far less wealthy than he had been, but also far from impoverished. YES

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Maryland) A plantation owner, 38 years old and one of America’s wealthiest men at the signing, Carroll was the only Roman Catholic signer and the last signer to die. With hundreds of enslaved people on his properties, Carroll considered freeing some of them before his death and later introduced a bill for gradual abolition in Maryland, which had no chance of passage.  At age ninety-one, he laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a member of its board of directors. He died in 1832 at age 95. YES 

Update: Carroll’s cousin was John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States, and a founder of Georgetown College. The New York Times has reported how, in 1838, Georgetown sold 272 enslaved people to keep the college financially afloat.

 

Juneteenth: The “Other” Independence Day

(Revise of a post first published June 2015)

On Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a Juneteenth holiday into law.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…” –General Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865

Each year, JUNE 19 is a day to mark “Juneteenth” –a holiday celebrating emancipation at the end of the Civil War.

“SOME two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger steamed into the port of Galveston, Tex. With 1,800 Union soldiers, including a contingent of United States Colored Troops, Granger was there to establish martial law over the westernmost state in the defeated Confederacy.

On June 19, two days after his arrival and 150 years ago today, Granger stood on the balcony of a building in downtown Galveston and read General Order No. 3 to the assembled crowd below. “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” he pronounced.” (New York Times June 19, 2015)

Read more of the complete story of Juneteenth in my New York Times Op-ed, “Juneteenth is for Everyone”.

TO the emancipated people of Texas, the day would be celebrated as “Juneteenth,” a festive holiday marking liberation. It would become a widely shared day of picnics, barbecue, singing, and joy in the African-American community, gradually spreading across the former Confederacy and eventually moving north.

I believe that we have two histories in this country — one white, one black — and they have largely been separate and unequal. The story of Juneteenth is a perfect example of how one of these histories has largely been hidden when we teach American history.

Now more than ever, it is time to fix that.

 

The official Juneteenth Committee in East Woods Park, Austin, Texas on June 19, 1900. (Courtesy Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)

For centuries, slavery was the dark stain on America’s soul, the deep contradiction to the nation’s founding ideals of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “All men are created equal.”

When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he took a huge step toward erasing that stain. But the full force of his proclamation would not be realized until June 19, 1865—Juneteenth, as it was called by enslaved people in Texas freed that day.

“Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day” My article in Smithsonian (June 15, 2011)

Foods on the Juneteenth altar include beets, strawberries, watermelon, yams and hibiscus tea, as well as a plate of black-eyed peas and cornbread. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The celebration of the  the holiday and its traditions of foods is highlighted in this New York Times article, “Hot Links and Red Drinks”

The question of how we teach and talk about enslavement is also the subject of my recent article in Social Education, the Journal of the National Council for the Social Studies. (NCSS). Read: The American Contradiction: Conceived in Liberty, Born in Shackles.

Don’t Know Much About® D-Day

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “D-Day Prayer” in an announcement to the nation of the invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944)

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933

Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

Franklin Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum

“Into the Jaws of Death – U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire” by Robert F. Sergeant (National Archives)

In the largest amphibian assault in history, Allied armies crossed the English Channel to land on five beaches in Normandy in northern France. The invasion force involved 700 ships, 4,000 landing craft, 10,000 planes, and some 176,000 Allied troops from twelve countries. The allied forces were commanded by future President, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The day was chaotic, brutal and bloody.

Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan, brought the reality of combat home to millions, but many moviegoers did not know which battle the film depicted, or when and why it happened. The assault, code-named Operation Overlord, occurred June 6, 1944, against Hitler’s Germany.

By the of the day on June 6, 1944, the allies had taken all five beaches that had been targeted. The combined allied losses on that day have been recently stated at 4,415 dead, according to the National D-Day Memorial.

The German army did not formally surrender until May 7, 1945. May 8, 1945 was declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day.

More D-Day resources can be found at the FDR Library and Museum

Read more about FDR’s life and administration and World War II in Don’t Know Much About® History and  Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents

Don’t Know Much About ® the “Marshall Plan”

(Originally posted in 2012)

“Foreign aid” is not just “do-gooder” national policy. It is an effective means to influence future outcomes. There is no better example than the program that came to be called the “Marshall Plan.”

On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave Harvard’s commencement address, introducing and justifying the European Recovery Program, which became known as the Marshall Plan.

Marshall (born December 31, 1880) had been the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during World War II and Winston Churchill hailed him as the “true organizer of victory.” The plan, part of the Cold War program of “Containment” championed by George F. Kennan, and put forth by President Harry S. Truman, is credited with restoring the economies of post-World War II western Europe. At Harvard, Marshall said:

The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products—principally from America—are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character. …Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.

Conceived by Undersecretary of State Will Clayton and first proposed by Secretary of State Dean Acheson, the Marshall Plan pumped more than $12 billion into selected war torn European countries during the next four years. (The countries participating were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.)

It provided the economic side of President Truman’s policy of “Containment” by removing the economic dislocation that might have fostered Communism in Western Europe. It also set up a Displaced Persons Plan under which some 300,000 Europeans, many of them Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, were granted American citizenship. By most accounts, the Marshall Plan was the most successful undertaking of the United States in the post-war era and is often cited as the most compelling argument in favor of foreign aid.

By most measures, the Marshall Plan must be considered an enormously successful undertaking that helped return a devastated Europe to health. allowing free market democracies to flourish while Eastern Europe, hunkered down under repressive Soviet controlled regimes, stagnated socially and economically.

Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 before his death on October 16, 1959. For more about Marshall, here is a link to the nonprofit Marshall Foundation.

You can read more about the Marshall Plan and the Cold War era in the newly revised and updated edition of Don’t Know Much About History.

The Divisive & Partisan History of “Memorial Day”

MEMORIAL DAY -MONDAY MAY  31, 2021

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Photo: Arlington National Cemetery) This memorial was created after the great losses of World War I.

(Revise of 2015 post)

Do we need to rethink Memorial Day? Is this Memorial Day unlike the others?  Has the holiday’s meaning changed with the pandemic?

If we have been at war with Covid, should a holiday honoring the war dead include the grievous losses of the pandemic?

As happened last year, many traditional public celebrations and family gatherings will be curtailed again.

But a debate over Memorial Day –and more specifically what it means and who it honors? America’s most solemn holiday should be free of rancor. But it never has been.

The heated arguments over removing the Confederate flag and monuments to heroes and soldiers of the Confederacy in New Orleans and St. Louis provide examples and reminders of the birth of Memorial Day.

In the Korean War, the U.S. military was integrated. (Source: Library of Congress)

Waterloo, New York claimed that the holiday originated there with a parade and decoration of the graves of fallen soldiers in 1866. But according to the Veterans Administration, at least 25 places stake a claim to the birth of Memorial Day. Among the pack are Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which says it was first in 1864.( “Many Claim to Be Memorial Day Birthplace” )

And Charleston, South Carolina, according to historian David Blight, points to a parade of emancipated children in May 1865 who decorated the graves of fallen Union soldiers whose remains were moved from a racetrack to a proper cemetery.

Born out of the Civil War’s catastrophic death toll as “Decoration Day,” Memorial Day is a day for honoring our nation’s war dead. A veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, John A. Logan, a Congressman and leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, established the first somber commemoration on May 30, 1868, in Arlington Cemetery, the sacred space wrested from property once belonging to Robert E. Lee’s family.( When Memorial Day was No Picnic by James M. McPherson.) The Grand Army of the Republic was a powerful fraternal organization formed of Civil War Union veterans and Logan issued  “General Order N.11” calling for a day to decorate the graves of the fallen Union soldiers with flowers.

What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.

Abraham Lincoln (November 1863) Photo by Alexander Gardner

From its inception, Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) was linked to  “Yankee” losses in the cause of emancipation. Calling for the first formal Decoration Day, Union General John Logan wrote,  “Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains…”

In other words, Logan’s first Decoration Day was divisive— a partisan affair, organized by northerners.

In 1871, Frederick Douglass gave a Memorial Day speech in Arlington that focused on this division:

We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.

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But the question remains: what inspired Logan to call for this rite of decorating soldier’s graves with fresh flowers?

The simple answer is—his wife.

While visiting Petersburg, Virginia – which fell to General Grant in 1865 after a deadly, year-long  siege – Mary Logan learned about the city’s women who had formed a Ladies’ Memorial Association. Their aim was to show admiration  “…for those who died defending homes and loved ones.”

Choosing June 9th, the anniversary of “The Battle of the Old Men and the Young Boys” in 1864, a teacher had taken her students to the city’s cemetery to decorate the graves of the fallen. General Logan’s wife wrote to him about the practice. Soon after, he ordered a day of remembrance.

The teacher and her students, it is worth noting, had placed flowers and flags on both Union and Confederate graves.

As America wages its partisan wars at full pitch, this may be a lesson for us all.

More resources at the New York Times Topics archive of Memorial Day articles

The story of “The Battle of the Old Men and the Young Boys” is told in  THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR (Now in paperback)

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Now In paperback THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah

Don’t Know Much About® Memorial Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= (This video was originally posted May 2012. It was produced, edited and directed by Colin Davis.)

Memorial Day brings thoughts of duty, honor, courage, sacrifice and loss. The holiday, the most somber date on the American national calendar, was born in the ashes of the Civil War as “Decoration Day,” when General John S. Logan –a-veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, a prominent Illinois politician and leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union fraternal organization –called for May 30, 1868 as the day on which the graves of fallen Union soldiers would be decorated with fresh flowers in his “General Orders No. 11.”

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds.”

Pointedly, Logan’s order was seen as a day to honor those who died in the cause of ending slavery and opposing the “rebellion.”

Every year at this time, I spend a lot of time talking about the roots and traditions of Memorial Day.

It’s not about the barbecue or the Mattress Sales. Obscured by the holiday atmosphere around Memorial Day is the fact that it is the most solemn day on the national calendar. This video tells a bit about the history behind the holiday.

Soldiers of the 146th Infantry, 37th Division, crossing the Scheldt River at Nederzwalm under fire. Image courtesy of The National Archives.

Soldiers of the 146th Infantry, 37th Division, crossing the Scheldt River at Nederzwalm under fire. Image courtesy of The National Archives.

One of the most famous symbols of the loss on Memorial Day is the Poppy, inspired by this World War I poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Source: The poem is in the public domain courtesy of Poets.org

Have a memorable Memorial Day!

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs offers more resources on the history and traditions of Memorial Day.

(Images in video: Courtesy of the Library of Congress and Flanders Cemetery image Courtesy of the American Battle Monuments Commission)

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