Tag Archives: Political History

NYS Museum Exhibit: Franklin Roosevelt’s First New Deal


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NYSM-bustsFDR_EleanorAn exhibition on President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the “First New Deal” in New York has opened at the New York State Museum. On display through May 4, “New York and the First New Deal” will feature bronze bust sculptures of Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as other images and artifacts from Roosevelt’s economic revitalization efforts in New York.

The bronze busts are by sculptor Caroline Palmer of Montgomery, New York. Palmer originally created a set of Roosevelt busts for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. She created another set which is currently on loan to the State Museum. Continue reading

New Book Challanges Vermont’s Abolitionist Reputation


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Vermont slaveryVermonters have always been proud that their state was the first to outlaw slavery in its constitution—but is that what really happened?

In a new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 (Vermont Historical Society, 2014), historian Harvey Amani Whitfield challenges this myth by showing that the enslavement of African Americans continued in Vermont for another 30 years, even as anti-slavery sentiment continued to swell.

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 will be enlightening to Vermont teachers and students, scholars of the early national and antebellum periods of U.S. history, and anyone interested in the history of Vermont.  The book can be purchased at the website of the Vermont Historical Society. Continue reading

Saratoga County:
A Future Black Congressman Faces Discrimination


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langstonportraitJohn W. Fowler’s law school, called the State and National Law School, was ahead of its time in the field of legal education in the 19th Century. He founded the school in Cherry Valley, New York, in 1847, and moved it to Ballston Spa a few years later, where it was housed in the former Sans Souci Hotel.

Contrary to the normal practice, at that time, of lawyers being trained by “reading law,” Fowler’s school offered courses in extemporaneous speaking and debating, and utilized mock trials to allow students to hone their courtroom skills. The school received much positive attention from the legal community, including South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. Continue reading

How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America


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Supreme CityThis spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.

As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s. Continue reading

John Hay and John Nicolay:
Gatekeepers of Lincoln’s Legacy


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9781101638071_p0_v4_s260x420Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image (Viking, 2014) by Joshua Zeitz is an intimate look into Abraham Lincoln’s White House through the lives of two men. But more than that, it tells the story of the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, and how we have to come receive the idea of who Lincoln was that we have today.

Zeitz argues that Lincoln’s official secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, enjoyed more access, witnessed more history, and knew Lincoln better than anyone outside of the president’s immediate family, in short, they were Lincoln’s closest confidantes. They read poetry and attended the theater with the President, commiserated with him over Union army setbacks, and plotted electoral strategy in the darkest and loneliest days of the war. They were present at every seminal event, from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address. After his death, they took control of his papers, his biography, and his image. Hay and Nicolay were the gatekeepers of the Lincoln’s legacy. Continue reading

Environmental History:
The Great Atlantic River Fish Migrations


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Running SilverEver wonder what pristine runs of migratory fish in Atlantic rivers looked like to early colonists? Some saw so many salmon, shad, alewives and other species that they said the waters “ran silver” with fish as they swam upstream to spawn.

John Waldman’s Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations (Lyons Press, 2013) covers the biology, history, and conservation of shad, salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, eels and the others that complete grand migrations between fresh and salt waters. Continue reading

Annual Susan B. Anthony Birthday Luncheon Planned


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Susan B. Anthony HouseThe National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House’s annual major event, the Annual Susan B. Anthony Birthday Luncheon, will be held Wednesday, February 12, 2014, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

The keynote speaker is Louise W. Knight, author, lecturer, and historian. The theme for this year’s luncheon is “Up and Doing,” inspired by a statement Susan B. Anthony once made as she called people into leadership and active citizenship: “We woman must be up and doing. I can hardly sit still when I think of the great work waiting to be done…” We may well include a surprise or two in the program this year to help the audience understand what Miss Anthony meant by “Up and Doing.” Continue reading

NYC’s Water Supply:
An Environmental and Political History


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Empire of Water  - History of NYC Water SupplySupplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.

Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading

Reprint of ‘A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger’ Issued


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Stripe of Tammany's TigerIn A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger (Cornell University Press, 1966, 2013 Reprint), Louis Eisenstein, a Tammany precinct captain from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sets out with his coauthor Elliot Rosenberg to chronicle the evolution—or rather devolution—of New York City politics through the first seven decades of the twentieth century.

Eisenstein imbues his lively narrative with an overarching theme: that personal interactions and good faith between those at all levels of power are of paramount importance both for sustained political success and for competent municipal administration. Continue reading

The History, Sea Life, and Environment of NY Harbor


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Heartbeats in the MuckThe award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.

First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading

Joan of Arc’s Birthday: Reflections On NY Suffrage History


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Inez MilhollandPosterJanuary 6 is Joan of Arc’s 602nd birthday. Not many historical figures, very few of them women, are celebrated 600 years after their birth. But the French teenager who led her country to victory after a century of war, changed its history, and was captured and killed by her enemies is an exception. Inspired by angels and saints, she has become an inspiration to many others, and New Yorkers are no exception.

When New York suffragist Inez Milholland, for example, led the women’s March for the Vote in Washington, DC in March 1913, clad all in white and astride a white horse, she didn’t overtly claim to be impersonating Joan of Arc. The electrifying figure she presented was called “the Herald” or simply “the Woman on a Horse,” an evocation of women in the West who already had the vote or a nod to the moral purity of American temperance leaders who frequently dressed in white. But everyone knew who she really was.  Continue reading

Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws:
Prohibition and New York City


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Smugglers BootleggersUsing previously unstudied Coast Guard records from 1920 to 1933 for New York City and environs, Ellen NicKenzie Lawson’s Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press, 2013) examines the development of Rum Row and smuggling via the coasts of Long Island, the Long Island Sound, the Jersey shore, and along the Hudson and East Rivers.

With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, “drying up” New York City promised to be the greatest triumph of the proponents of Prohibition. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market. Continue reading

New York History and the Birth of the Nation


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A portion of the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty line showing the boundary in New YorkScholars divide time into periods in an effort to make history comprehensible, but when to draw the diving line can be problematical and historians often disagree where one period ends and another begins.

For the birth of the nation, I am using the end of the colonial period, roughly from the French and Indian War to the end of the War of 1812. The colonial era for me was the time of the settlement of the 13 colonies which would become the United States. That process began in Jamestown and ended approximately 130 years later in Georgia. Up until then individual colonies, notably New York, Massachusetts / New England, and Virginia, dominate the curriculum, scholarship, and tourism, with only passing references to the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Dutch in New York. Continue reading

Plans For The United Nations in Northern New York


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Ogdensburg UN headline FRDuring the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.

The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading

New Political Biography: The Kennedy Half-Century


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The Kennedy Half-CenturyThe Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy (Bloomsbury, 2013) is an an original and illuminating narrative revealing John F. Kennedy’s lasting influence on America, by the acclaimed political analyst Larry J. Sabato.

John F. Kennedy died almost half a century ago — yet because of his extraordinary promise and untimely death, his star still resonates strongly. On the anniversary of his assassination, celebrated political scientist and analyst Larry J. Sabato — himself a teenager in the early 1960s and inspired by JFK and his presidency — explores the fascinating and powerful influence he has had over five decades on the media, the general public, and especially on each of his nine presidential successors. Continue reading

1878: The Vice President, First Lady Go Fishing


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3a22497rNews in 1878 that Vice President William Almon Wheeler of Malone, a recent widower, would be taking First Lady Lucy Hayes fishing in the Adirondacks without her husband, gave New Yorkers something else to talk about besides President Rutherford B. Hayes’s latest feud with New York’s U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling.

Wheeler had been disappearing into the Adirondacks to fish since he was a poor boy growing up in Malone, the county seat for Franklin County, located on the Canadian border. By the time he became a lawyer, state legislator, bank executive and railroad president, his annual fishing trips became newsworthy. As early as 1864, newspapers reported that Wheeler was heading into “the South Woods” or “the great Southern Wilderness” with a group of his political and business friends for a week of fishing. Continue reading

Votes for Women Trail: Federal Legislation Needed Now


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Appeal to Santa for a women's trailWhen we visited the national park in Seneca Falls, NY this year we asked Noemi “Ami” Ghazala, superintendent of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, about the significance of the feds reaching the “stakeholder” phase in the Votes for Women trail process. “We really don’t know what it means,” she said. “The criteria may sit there for a short time or remain there for years.”

This was alarming enough. Then we checked into the statistical probability of Congressional approval for funding the Votes for Women federal trail in the Finger Lakes region. We consulted the tracking web site for Congress and stumbled on the prediction that we might find coal in our stockings this year if we’re expecting a reauthorization of a bill that includes a Votes for Women federal trail. This is complicated by the fact that federal funding must be delivered separately. Continue reading

William Almon Wheeler: North Country Political Star


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Wheeler cover designA new biography is shedding light on an overshadowed North Country political figure, the Nineteenth Vice President of the United States. In William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country (2013, SUNY Press), author Herbert C. Hallas leaves no doubt that Wheeler was a more significant political figure than the existing literature may lead one to believe.

The book is the first and only complete biography of Wheeler, a man referred to as “the New York Lincoln,” who helped to found the Republican Party and build it into a formidable political force during the Gilded Age. Wheeler’s life is an American success story about how a poor boy from Malone achieved fame and fortune as a lawyer, banker, railroad president, state legislator, five-time congressman, and vice president of the United States. Continue reading

William Lloyd Garrison: Radical Friend to New York Women


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William Lloyd GarrisonThese days, no one likes a radical, especially one who makes unpopular statements or questions the government. The same can be said for our 19th-century counterparts. They, too, did not like a trouble-maker, particularly William Lloyd Garrison, who was born 208 years ago today, on December 12, 1805. A familiar figure to the women’s rights leaders and daughters I have studied, this Newburyport, Massachusetts native became the most outspoken abolitionist in America. At a time when North and South alike still tolerated the great evil of slavery, he called for immediate and complete abolition.

What is less known about Garrison is his staunch defense of women’s rights. He became the inspiration that led many New Yorkers to insist on women’s as well as slaves’ rights. We could view four periods of Garrison’s life through four New York women, each of whom saw him from a different vantage point. Continue reading

Women’s Rights: Lessons from Motherhood


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Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1857As we anticipate the February, 2017 centennial of women winning the vote in New York it’s a perfect time to focus on New York State’s women’s rights leaders as mothers. Some may ask: Why examine the woman’s rights leaders as mothers rather than speakers and writers? Or, why picture them at the hearth rather than the podium?

Years ago, I began researching the private lives of these women as a matter of survival in the classroom. After teaching women’s history at various colleges in New York through the 1990s and 2000’s, I became dismayed by the dry texts available to my students. Continue reading