Tag Archives: Political History

Baby McKee: Early American Child Celebrity


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The McKee children, printed in Harpers Round Table in 1895Caroline Scott Harrison, the wife of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, died in the fall of 1892, after a trip to the Adirondacks failed to cure her tuberculosis. Her death left the White House without a first lady. Harrison’s daughter, Mary Scott McKee, filled that role for the last few months of Harrison’s term (he lost his bid for re-election that November). In those days, presidential terms ended in March, so Mrs. McKee carried on as first lady for about five months.

She and her husband, James Robert McKee, and their two children Benjamin Harrison McKee and Mary Lodge McKee had been living at the White House during her father’s term. The presidential grandchildren – especially Benjamin, who got labeled as “Baby McKee” – were media sensations. (Though it was often stated that he had been born in the White House, both he and his sister were actually born in Indiana.) Continue reading

The DePeyster Family: From Loyalists to Loyal Citizens


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from loyalists to loyal citizensAuthor Valerie H. McKito’s new book, From Loyalists to Loyal Citizens: The DePeyster Family of New York (2015 SUNY Press) takes a look at the DePeyster family, one of the first families of New Amsterdam. The family ranked among the wealthiest of New York during the early days of the American Republic. The DePeysters were also unapologetic Loyalists, serving in the King’s forces during the American Revolution.

After the war, the four sons left the United States for Canada and Great Britain. Ten years later, one son, Frederick DePeyster, returned to New York, embraced his Loyalist past, and utilized his British connections to become a prominent and successful merchant. The DePeysters went on to become true Patriots, zealously supporting US interests in the War of 1812. Continue reading

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel


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the remarkable rise of Eliza JumelThe Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights was built in 1765, and is Manhattan’s oldest surviving house. George Washington made it his headquarters during parts of the Revolutionary War, and today it is a not-for-profit museum open to all, yet the mansion flies mostly under the radar of even the most erudite of New Yorkers.

Margaret A. Oppenheimer sheds light on the mansion and its most notorious occupant in her new book, The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic (2015 Chicago Review Press). Continue reading

Sumner Lark’s Putnam County African-American Projects


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sumner h larkAlthough his father was said to have been born as a slave, and was later a junk dealer in the Augusta, Georgia area,  Sumner H. Lark came to be a trend-breaking black leader in New York State who worked to establish an African-American community in Putnam County.

Sumner Lark was born in in 1874 to a father later described as “a pioneer race business man in his home town and accumulated a considerable fortune at one time.” He grew up in the Augusta area, and attended the Haines Institute before attending Howard University, graduating in 1897. He then returned to Georgia, taught Chemistry and Physics at Haines and ran a local newspaper for about a year, having edited a student-run newspaper in college.  After marrying he relocated to Brooklyn, New York just after the start of the 20th century. There, he ran his own printing business, and started The Eye, a newspaper which reported information of interest to African Americans. Continue reading

Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln


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ben_franklins_worldAbraham Lincoln grew up as the son of a poor farmer. Yet, he became the 16th President of the United States.

How did the son of a poor farmer achieve election to the presidency?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we investigate the life of Abraham Lincoln and his journey to the presidency with Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln (Basic Books, 2014). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/068

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The Amazing Career Of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler


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nicholas miraculousIn Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler (Columbia Univ. Press, 2015), Michael Rosenthal explores the life of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler (1862–1947).

To some, like Teddy Roosevelt, he was “Nicholas Miraculous,” the fabled educator who had a hand in everything; to others, like Upton Sinclair, he was “the intellectual leader of the American plutocracy,” a champion of “false and cruel ideals.” Ezra Pound branded him “one of the more loathsome figures” of the age. Whether celebrated or despised, Nicholas Murray Butler was undeniably an irresistible force who helped shape American history. Continue reading

3 Important NYS Constitutional Conventions


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1777 New York State ConstitutionThe next referendum to decide whether to hold a New York State Constitutional Convention will be held on November 7, 2017.  During the last two referenda in 1997 and 1977 (they are held every 20 years) voters declined to hold such a convention. In fact the last time a convention to revise the New York State Constitution was held was almost 50 years ago in 1967, and despite the hard work of its delegates, voters rejected the revised Constitution in its entirety.

Although amendments to the New York State Constitution occur with some regularity (including several last November), the last time the Constitution was changed through the Convention process was in 1938, almost eighty years ago.

Nevertheless, the history of Constitutional Conventions in New York State is not as bleak as this recent history would suggest. In fact, three New York State Constitutional Conventions — those of 1777, 1821 and 1938 — helped shape the State’s political history. Continue reading

The Bill of Rights on the Ben Franklin’s World podcast


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ben_franklins_worldDid you know that when James Madison originally proposed the Bill of Rights, it consisted of 36 amendments and that the House of Representatives did not want to consider or debate Madison’s proposed amendments to the Constitution?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore the Bill of Rights and its ratification with Carol Berkin, author of The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties (Simon and Schuster, 2015). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/062

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George Washington in Retirement


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ben_franklins_worldIf you had only six years to enjoy retirement what would you do?

Would you improve your plantation? Build canals? Or work behind-the-scenes to unite your country by framing a new central government?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, we explore George Washington’s brief retirement from public service with Edward Larson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History and author of The Return of George Washington, 1783-1789 (William Morrow, 2014). You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/061

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