The indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges is the latest manifestation of corruption in the New York State legislature. Since 2000, about 25 state lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues. U. S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, who brought the charges against Silver, says the legislature is a “cauldron of corruption.” Governor Andrew Cuomo established a controversial, short-lived Moreland Commission to deal with corruption and has inserted an ethics package in his proposed budget to force the legislative reform.
Bhahara’s sweeping characterization of the legislature is exaggerated. Over the years, the New York’s legislature has been one of the most important in the nation, usually keeping our state at the forefront of minority rights, social reform, and progressive policies. Throughout history, though, there have always been a few corrupt legislators who violate the laws and public trust. But legislative wrongdoing is probably no worse today than it was many times in our history. Continue reading
Do you know who authored the Declaration of Independence?
If you answered “Thomas Jefferson,” you would be wrong. Jefferson merely wrote the first draft of a document others created.
In this episode of the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast, Danielle Allen, Foundation Professor at the Institute of Advanced Study and author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Liveright, 2014), leads us on an exploration of the Declaration of Independence. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/018
The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, NY has suspended its two year cycle of inductions and commemorations in 2015 in order to address President Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator.
During this Sesquicentennial year of Lincoln’s death, the end of the Civil War, and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, NAHOF and its Peterboro heritage partners will provide public programs on Lincoln from March to October 2015. Continue reading
As the newest addition to the America in the Twentieth Century series, America in the Thirties (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2015) explores the complexity of America in what is considered its darkest era of the century.
The decade stood in stark contrast to the carefree, happy-go-lucky days of the Roaring Twenties when prosperity appeared endless. The Stock Market Crash in October 1929 and the economic collapse it unleashed threatened the very foundations of America’s economic, political, and social institutions. The ecological disaster produced by the Dust Bowl ravaging the Great Plains only added to the suffering and misery. Continue reading
A compelling story about three murders in Brooklyn between 1872 and 1873 and the young women charged with the crimes is told in a new book by Robert E. Murphy, Three Graces Of Raymond Street: Murder, Madness, Sex, and Politics in 1870s Brooklyn (SUNY Press, 2015).
Between January 1872 and September 1873, the city of Brooklyn was gripped by accounts of three murders allegedly committed by young women: a factory girl shot her employer and seducer, an evidently peculiar woman shot a philandering member of a prominent Brooklyn family, and a former nun was arrested on suspicion of having hanged her best friend and onetime convent mate. Continue reading
Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr (American Graphic Press, 2015), edited by Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr. , honors a prominent New York attorney and woman suffrage leader who died of pernicious anemia at age 30 while campaigning for votes for women.
The book includes intimate first-person accounts, stirring speeches, and heartfelt memorials that appeared in 1916 issues of The Suffragist, the weekly publication of the National Woman’s Party in Washington D.C. Continue reading
On April 14, 1865, the night of President Lincoln’s assassination, Booth’s conspirator Lewis Powell attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward in his home just blocks from Ford’s Theatre.
The attack, which left Seward and his son seriously wounded, is recounted in poignant detail in Fanny Seward’s diary. Fanny, the beloved only daughter of Seward, was a keen observer, and her diary entries from 1858 to 1866 are the foundation of Trudy Krisher’s Fanny Seward: A LIfe (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2014), a vivid portrait of the young girl who was an eyewitness to one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. Continue reading
Often celebrated as a masterpiece of civic architecture and decorative design, the New York State Capitol sits majestically at the head of Albany’s State Street. The story behind the most expensive capitol building ever to be constructed is a fascinating one.
Built between 1867 and 1899, the Capitol was the work of four different architects, who each worked under exasperating conditions – geological, structural, and political – with hundreds of highly skilled masons and exceptional stone carvers. After completion, the building attracted controversy – seen by some as an atrocity of jumbled architecture and by others as a successful blending of architectural forms. Continue reading
This week “The Historians” podcast features an interview with Richard Norton Smith who has spent 14 years writing On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller (Random House, 2014).
Rockefeller was Republican governor of New York State from 1959 to 1973, vice president of the United States from 1974 to 1977, and part of one of America’s most wealthy and influential families. In this interview Smith discusses Rockefeller’s role in destruction of Albany neighborhoods and creation of the Empire State Plaza. He describes Rockefeller’s service as an adviser to three Presidents (two Democrats), his expansion of the state university, his dyslexia, his love of modern art, his failed Presidential bids, the Attica prison uprising and the cover-up surrounding Rockefeller’s death while alone with a female intern. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
January 29th is the birthday of Albert Gallatin. The Lower Manhattan Historical Society will hold a brief ceremony at 4:30 pm in which students from New York University will lay a wreath on Gallatin’s grave in Trinity Church Cemetery. The ceremony will be followed by a lecture on Gallatin at 5:30 at the Museum of American Finance at 48 Wall Street in Manhattan.
Although not as well known as some of the more famous residents of Trinity’s cemetery, Albert Gallatin, was an important figure who fought for regular Americans and a more democratic society. Continue reading
This week on “The Historians” podcast, Barry Wygel of Time Warner Cable TV News and I talk about the legacy of Mario Cuomo, an interview recorded January 1, the night that former Governor Cuomo died. Then it’s on to the Fonda Reformed Church where I gave a history talk January 5 to the Glen-Mohawk Senior Citizens. Stories are told about Elizabeth Luciano, known as Queen Libby of Fonda; a Perth, N.Y. valedictorian whose name may be inscribed on a plaque on the Moon and Washington Frothingham, a preacher and syndicated newspaper columnist who lived in Fonda. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s eloquent eulogy last week for his father, Mario M. Cuomo, echoed both Abraham Lincoln and former New York Gov. William Seward, one of the leading abolitionists in political life.
“Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels,” Andrew Cuomo said at the funeral on Wednesday, invoking the memory of his father’s famous San Francisco Democratic National Convention speech and, at the same time, recalling the historic closing lines of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. Continue reading
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December to ban the use of hydrofracking in New York State was politically astute. The governor asserted he is merely following the recommendations in a new report from the State Health Department, A Public Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.
That report, based on four years of research, is also politically judicious. It avoids condemning hydrofracking or sensationalizing its potential health risks. Instead, it concludes that “the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information” studied for the report demonstrates that there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF [High Volume Hydraulic Fracking], the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impact which could adversely affect public health.” The 184-page report is buttressed by 74 references, mostly well-documented studies and reports from the past few years. Continue reading
Among those to rise from humble Adirondack roots and pursue life in the big city was Charles P. Shaw, a native of Jay, New York, where he was born in 1836. “Humble,” meaning relative poverty, aptly described most North Country citizens in those early days. Shaw may have had an advantage since there were two doctors in the family: his father, Daniel, and his grandfather, Joshua Bartlett. As schooled professionals, they were more likely to emphasize among their family the importance of education.
For whatever reason, Charles was an excellent and precocious student. There survives in old newspapers an anecdote suggesting he was indeed an unusually bright pupil. Continue reading
Among the folks who played an important role in Northern New York regional history and personified the traditional Christmas spirit was Willis Wells of Lake Placid.
Long before Willis gained attention, his father, Duran, a native of Peru, New York, had become a North Country fixture, operating a peddler’s cart in the post-Civil War years. From the shores of Lake Champlain to the Paul Smith’s area, he supplied homes and farms with the daily needs of life, an important function in those early days when stores visited many of their customers. Continue reading
Through the night of December 31, 1862, people of the North and South waited through the night to see if President Abraham Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the states of rebellion.
On Wednesday, December 31, 2014, Retired Navy Commander Owen Corpin, a member of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum and a descendant of 19th Century freedom seekers who came to Peterboro, will prepare the watch fire and provide the program for the Watch Night commemoration. Continue reading
One hundred years after the Declaration of Sentiments was discussed and ratified at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, Eleanor Roosevelt and others were adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a charter document for the new United Nations. The global proclamation was signed on December 10, 1948 now celebrated as Human Rights Day.
A new exhibit “A Declaration” is now open at Women’s Rights National Historical Park to highlight this and sixteen other Declarations from around the world from 1776 through 2014. Continue reading
A film called “Mohawk” premiered in Amsterdam in 1956 and used some footage from the 1939 movie “Drums Along the Mohawk.” The 1956 movie was distributed by 20th Century Fox.
The movie tells the story of an artist assigned to the Mohawk Valley to paint frontier scenes. The artist is involved romantically with three women. There is a vengeful settler in the film trying to start a war with local Indian people. The film was directed by Kurt Neumann and starred Scott Brady and Rita Gam. Continue reading
For about a week in 1871, New Yorkers were in a quandary about Thanksgiving. On October 25, New York Governor John T. Hoffman designated Thursday, November 23 as Thanksgiving Day for the state. In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, the Tammany Hall Democrat urged New Yorkers to spend time on that day to declare “their gratitude to God for all his mercies” and to “remember especially the poor.”
On October 28, President Ulysses S. Grant recommended that the nation observe Thanksgiving a week after the New York Thanksgiving, on Thursday November 30. In his proclamation, the Republican chief executive called for Americans to “make the usual acknowledgments to Almighty God for the blessings he has conferred on them” and ask “His protection and kindness for their less fortunate brethren.”
What was a conscientious, holiday-minded New Yorker supposed to do? Observe the Democratic Thanksgiving on November 23, or the Republican Thanksgiving on November 30, or both? Continue reading
Meeting in the same Central New York church that hosted the state’s first Anti-Slavery convention in 1835, a group of Underground Railroad-related organizations (museums, churches, and associations) assembled on November 13th to formalize a statewide network to better promote this key part of New York’s heritage.
Twenty different vetted organizations were represented, from Long Island to Jamestown, and Elmira to the northern shores of Lake Champlain. Hosted by Dot Willsey, president of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, located in the Peterboro church were the NYS Anti-Slavery Society met 179 years ago, this month’s conference resolved on the need for a statewide consortium to share programs and projects, enhance efforts to publicize resources available around the state, and communicate with educators, public officials and the traveling public. Continue reading