Tag Archives: Political History

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Part 3)


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x3A NYHWRMerriamThe Cleveland Plain Dealer indeed dealt with it plainly: “It has been generally agreed that the conduct of the last census was a national scandal, and the president was determined that the present one should not be likewise if he could prevent it. The utter ignorance of many of the employees of the last census is even yet not properly appreciated by the country at large. Literally dozens of men and women carried on the rolls as high-grade clerks were not fit to sweep out an office—clerks who could neither spell, nor calculate, nor even write the English language with any degree of accuracy…. It was a shameful condition of affairs.”

Worse yet, a bureau of 70 clerks had been appointed to deal with the resulting mess, and their work was so incompetent that much of it had to be redone. President McKinley needed a director of the 1900 census who, said the Plain Dealer, “Would not have his work clogged by deadwood. He found just the man he wanted in [William] Merriam.” Continue reading

The Albany Connections of Burr, Hamilton, and Schuyler


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Hamilton-burr-duelDuring the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton served as an artillery captain and later a colonel and trusted aid to General George Washington. Colonel Aaron Burr also served in the Colonial Army and accompanied Benedict Arnold on his march through the Maine wilderness and his failed attempt to capture Quebec. Burr had been with General Richard Montgomery when Montgomery was shot and killed in Quebec. Later in the war, Burr was placed in charge of a regiment and his troops were stationed in Westchester County, New York. Continue reading

NYS Museum Acquires Franklin Co Suffrage Petitions


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Franklin County Suffrage PetitionsThe New York State Museum in Albany recently acquired a series of 1917 Franklin County women’s suffrage petitions from Jean Kubaryk, a teacher at North Warren Central School District. Ms. Kubaryk had been displaying the petitions in her classroom for years, but decided to donate the petitions to the Museum so they can be preserved for future generations.

After the petitions were officially acquired by the Museum, staff sent copies of the petitions to Ms. Kubaryk so her students can assist in researching the women who signed the petitions. Continue reading

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Part 2)


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x2A NYHMerriamMansIn November 1890, William Merriam ran again and won a second term as Minnesota’s governor, serving until January 1893.

Through the 1880s, as his status had grown from business and political successes, Merriam’s social position had elevated as well. Laura, already very well-connected, had become the leading socialite in Minnesota’s capital city. The Merriam mansion, next door to an even grander home owned by his father, John, became the hub of social activity. Extravagant parties were hosted frequently, and there was no more valued honor for visiting dignitaries than an invitation to the Merriam mansion. At three stories high, it held a vast library, artwork from the world’s masters, and featured multiple balconies, fireplaces, and porches. Continue reading

Ben Affleck and Credit Mobilier: Hidden Secrets Revealed


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1280px-Keppler_Credit_Mobilier_Hari-KariThe media was all abuzz recently over the revelation that actor Ben Affleck requested that producers of the PBS show ‘Finding Your Roots’, hide the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves (going back six generations). When the news was leaked, Affleck responded by posting to one of his social media sites: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors…”

I agree with him. But what I find more intriguing is his eagerness to hide the information from the public to begin with. Why hide the family skeletons? If anything, isn’t he impressed that the producers were able to uncover so much information about his ancestors? Continue reading

Political History: Essex County’s William Rush Merriam


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x1A NYHWRMerriamFrom humble North Country beginnings in a pioneer settlement, a local man rose to play an important government role on a national level. Work performed at the height of his career still affects every facet of our government today. It is also highly valued by researchers, genealogists, and historians as a great repository of important historical records.

William Rush Merriam was born in 1849 in the small community of Wadham’s Mills in Essex County, just a few miles northwest of Westport. Many members of the Merriam families in that vicinity played important roles in regional history. Continue reading

George Washington’s Revolution


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ben_franklins_worldWhat drove George Washington to become a Patriot during the American Revolution?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, Robert Middlekauff, Professor Emeritus of colonial and early United States History at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader (Knopf, 2015), reveals the answer as we explore George Washington the man and leader. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/026

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Crises, Problems and Historical Insights


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Dorthrea Lange california migrants escaping the dust bowlHow useful are historical insights in addressing a state’s problems?

California is experiencing a historic drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered a 25% reduction in the use of water with some exceptions, e.g., certain types of agriculture. As California endures this crisis, how helpful is historical insight in both understanding it and charting a way forward? So far, the results are mixed. Continue reading

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Bicentennial


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Elizabeth Cady Stanton circa 1880It’s not too early to start planning for New York State History Month in November. One of the themes that the state’s history community might consider this year is reform in New York State. There are few better examples of a New York reform leader than Elizabeth Cady Stanton and November 15 is the bicentennial of her birth.

She was born Elizabeth Cady in Johnstown on November 15, 1815. She observed how the law treated women as subordinate to men through observing the work of her father, an attorney and judge. She derived a hatred of slavery and confidence in political change from her cousin, Gerrit Smith, who lived in nearby Peterboro. She married a leading abolitionist, Henry Stanton, in 1840, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton was always independent, opinionated, determined, sometimes headstrong, never resting. Continue reading

John C. Fremont: Rockland County’s Forgotten Hero


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John_Charles_FrémontIn a cemetery overlooking the Hudson River just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, lies John C. Fremont, who’s contribution to the end of slavery and the Union victory in the Civil War was tremendous, though he is little-remembered today.

Most generally associate Fremont with the State of California. He is the namesake of Fremont, California, and in 1846 was court-martialed for leading a revolt of American settlers there against the Mexican government. He lived most of the latter part of his life in New York State however, in New York City, and Westchester and Rockland counties. He also played a critical role in shifting the focus of Abraham Lincoln’s efforts in the Civil War from a sectional constitutional conflict to a crusade to abolish slavery. Continue reading

The Hamilton Musical and America’s Future (Part II)


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Hamilton MusicalLast week, I described what I think is a significant perilous trend facing history and the American culture through the process of hypehnization. I argued that identity in a society nominally based on We the People and e pluribus unum was being replaced by one where people self-identify as hyphenated Americans, with  corresponding history classes and museums to reflect these differences.

Diversity resonates in New York history. Take William Johnson, the the British royal agent in the 18th century, and an Irishman. His European world consisted of Dutch, French, English, and German (Palatines), all of whom were distinct from each other, as demonstrated for example, by the French and Indian War. Continue reading

Votes For Women: A Call For Artifacts, Stories


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Votes For Women call for artifactsThe New York State Museum in Albany has issued a call for artifacts, images and stories for its upcoming exhibit “Votes for Women Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial”, planned for the Fall of 2017.

November 2017 will mark the centennial of women winning the right to vote in New York State. Women in the state played a pivotal role in the struggle for women’s suffrage and equal rights beginning in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention through the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and beyond. Continue reading

The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886


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Theodore Roosevelt DiariesA Most Glorious Ride: The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886 (SUNY Press, 2015) covers the formative years of TR’s life, and show the transformation of a sickly and solitary Harvard freshman into a confident and increasingly robust young adult. He writes about his grief over the premature death of his father, his courtship and marriage to his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and later the death of Alice and his mother on the same day.

The diaries also chronicle his burgeoning political career in New York City and his election to the New York State Assembly. With his descriptions of balls, dinner parties, and nights at the opera, they offer a glimpse into life among the Gilded Age elite in Boston and New York. Continue reading

Corruption in the Legislature: A Sense of Déjà Vu?


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nycapitolThe 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

Who Really Wrote The Declaration of Independence?


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ben_franklins_worldDo 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

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Lincoln Featured in 2015 Peterboro Programs


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Lincoln Rhodes 1-6-14 2crpThe 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

New Book Traces America in the 1930s


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america-thirtiesAs 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

Three Graces Of Raymond Street, Brooklyn


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Three GRaces of Raymond StreetA 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