Tag Archives: Political History

FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern NYC


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City of AmbitionCity of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) by urban politics historian Mason B. Williams is a loving exploration of the history of the New Deal and its role in the making of modern New York City.

The story of a remarkable collaboration between Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia, this is a case study in creative political leadership in the midst of a devastating depression. Roosevelt and La Guardia were an odd couple: patrician president and immigrant mayor, fireside chat and tabloid cartoon, pragmatic Democrat and reform Republican. But together, as leaders of America’s two largest governments in the depths of the Great Depression, they fashioned a route to recovery for the nation and the master plan for a great city. Continue reading

Harriet Tubman and the Projected National Park


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Tubman HospitalEach week day there’s a consistent flow of visitors at the Harriet Tubman Home, with people anxious to find out more about Tubman, her life story, and see for themselves where Tubman lived and operated a haven for the aged at 180 South Street in Auburn.

Visitors pull into the parking lot to visit the property, museum exhibit, and take advantage of guided tours from the moment the doors open in the morning until closing at the end of the day. License plates on the travelers’ vehicles are from New York State and beyond. Continue reading

Clinton County Election Fraud: A Short History


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18781115 Plattsburgh newspaper EDElection fraud! It makes headlines, and it has many faces. When I was a young boy growing up in Clinton County near the Canadian border, I overheard stories from adults talking about election fraud in nearby towns. With a wink, it was mentioned that so-and-so, an annual candidate, would once again be standing by the door at the polls all day long to greet the electorate―that’s just how dedicated he was to representing the interests of locals. He was, it was said, “greeting” them with $5 bills.

I never forgot the image that placed in my head―votes for sale at five bucks a pop. Years later, when I neared voting age, I assumed those stories were exaggerations, but as it turned out, they were right on the money (an excellent choice of terms, as we’ll see). Continue reading

The Politics of Harriet Tubman and Barack Obama


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Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, NYIt’s the centennial year of abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Tubman’s death in 1913. Her Auburn, NY house, the home for the aged she founded on the property, and the museum attract considerable attention in upstate New York. We visited the Tubman historic site on the fifth day of our fall 2013 blogging tour of the “Cradle of the women’s rights movement in the US.” Continue reading

No Country for Peter Stuyvesant: Loss Across Time


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15114The nation or country, what entity is of more importance to modern society? What about capitalistic economy, secularization, democracy, and progress as normative American values. All hold sway, for better or worse, on our perceptions of the world and our place within it. And it is from this vantage point in modernity that we look towards the actions of those who lived before us, reaching back through time to filter the past through the eyes of the present. This is history, and this is why the practice of history is an art and not a science. It is imperfect, an extension of the historian and the times in which they live.

But how then, asks Donna Merwick in Stuyvesant Bound: An Essay on Loss Across Time (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), can we better understand Peter Stuyvesant from our vantage point in the modern world, back to one that was premodern and existed between the post-Reformation and pre-Enlightenment periods. A world in which the United States of America cannot be predicted or imagined, though the history written about Colonial America often chooses a narrative that fits into a story of nationalistic genesis. Continue reading

Wall Street Panics and Crashes: A Walking Tour Nov 2


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Across from Fraunces Tavern (5:51 a.m.)The annual guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan featuring the Great Crash of 1929, sponsored by the Museum of American Finance, will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 1 pm, (no tour in inclement weather).

This is the 26th anniversary of this unique tour, the only regularly-scheduled event that commemorates the Great Crash of 1929, the Panic of 1907 and the 1987 stock market collapse. It delves into the political, financial, real estate and architectural history of Wall Street and New York City. Continue reading

‘Do it for the Children’: History’s Long Running Argument


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Headline Passing the Buck 3 x 1-JILLA popular way for politicians to demonstrate their altruistic intentions is to invoke “our children and our grandchildren.” The phrase should be worn out by now, but politicians see it differently: if it worked before, it’ll work again, no matter how long it’s been around. Their concern for the future is much more poignant and meaningful when it’s “for the kids.” The term is used so often, it should be considered child-phrase abuse.

It always sounds well intentioned to be against spending with impunity, but history suggests it’s merely the position of the party not currently in control of the nation’s purse strings. The party in power rarely expresses any worry about “our children and grandchildren.” Continue reading

CFP: James Fenimore Cooper and Politics


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James Fenimore CooperThe James Fenimore Cooper Society is seeking papers for a panel on James Fenimore Cooper and Politics at the 25rd Annual Conference of the American Literature Association, to be held in Washington DC at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill from May 22-25th, 2014.

Throughout his full range of writings, James Fenimore Cooper was a keen observer of national politics and government. The panel will consider issues of government, governance, and/or politics in Cooper’s fictional and non-fictional writings and/or Cooper’s own engagement with the political. Continue reading

George Chahoon and the Richmond Disaster


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GeorgeChahoonGeorge Chahoon, a man who lived in the North Country for 60 years, mostly in Ausable Forks, was the focus of two of the most remarkable incidents in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.

When the South seceded, it had named Richmond, Virginia, as its capital city. During the post-war years, appointees chosen by the military were placed in power to guide the recovery. Then in 1868 George Chahoon, a native of Chenango County, but a Virginia resident for most of his 28 years, was installed as mayor of Richmond, replacing a popular leader who had served in the position for 15 years. Continue reading

NY Political History: The 1863 U.S. Senate election


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200px-Preston_King_-_Brady-HandyBefore 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment requiring the direct election of U.S. Senators went into effect, the state legislature elected them. In the pre-Seventeenth Amendment era, 150 years ago, one of the most tangled and acrimonious U.S. Senate elections took place.

The term of the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, Preston King of Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, was set to expire on March 3, 1863. King sought reelection but powerful forces within the Republican Party led by the aging party boss Thurlow Weed and former U.S. Senator William H. Seward opposed King, as did the Democratic Party. King’s political fate would be decided by the newly elected 1863 legislature after it organized itself for business on January 6, 1863. Continue reading

A New Academic Conference at Jay Heritage Center


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constitution week 016This past September 18 – 20, in launching the first of what it hopes to be many academic conferences at its site, the Jay Heritage Center (JHC) faced a welcome challenge: to select a topic, a keynote speaker, and partner institutions sure to generate vigorous, enlightened and thought provoking discussions.

As a member site of NY’s Path Through History for its themes on Civil Rights and suitably inspired by our nation’s observation of Constitution Week each fall, JHC asked acclaimed scholar, author and Yale Law School Professor, Akhil Reed Amar to speak “On the Nature of Constitutions.” Continue reading

The Hillary Clinton Presidential Library:
Where Would You Build It?


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hillaryrushmoreThis summer New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni wrote: “NBC recently announced plans for a mini-series about Hillary Clinton, whose current exaltation seems bound to end with her visage on Mount Rushmore. The network would do as well to consider a docudrama devoted to Weiner.”

While there is no doubt that her presidential campaign train has left the station (soon to approach warp speed), his mention of Mount Rushmore got me thinking. The well-known dictum: “If you build it they will come” is the goal of visitor centers at all tourist sites. But where would you build it? Where should her presidential library be? Continue reading

Watertown’s Leonard Farwell: A Short Political History


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Leonard J Farwell 01A few weeks ago, I wrote here about Joel Aldrich Matteson, a Watertown native who became governor of Illinois―and among other things, established a level of corruption perhaps matched by recent governor/inmate Rod Blagojevich.

To balance the scale, here’s a look at another Watertown native who, during Matteson’s tenure, served as governor of Illinois’ neighbor to the north, Wisconsin. Though there was plenty of corruption in Wisconsin’s government during that time, the governor was not believed to be directly involved.

At worst, the wrongdoings of others may have soiled his good reputation, but he left plenty of accomplishments behind as well. He also became tied to a pair of signature events in American history. Continue reading

Event to Mark 1960s “Battle of Newburgh”


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Battle of NewburghThe Historical Society of Newburgh Bay & the Highlands will host a fifty-year retrospective recalling the 1960’s conflict over a plan to curb welfare costs to help meet the city’s financial struggles. The decision sparked a national debate that became known as the “Battle of Newburgh.”

In August 1961 a national Gallup poll revealed 85% support for the Newburgh City Council’s 13 point plan to balance the city budget by reforming requirements for individuals to receive payments from the welfare relief program.  Two months later, the State of New York ordered a permanent injunction, effectively ending the City of Newburgh’s attempts to curb welfare costs. Continue reading

New York’s Contribution to Illinois Political Corruption


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JA MattesonIf one were researching the careers of highly accomplished New York natives, you might encounter the glowing, capsulized review of Joel Aldrich Matteson’s life as offered on a website titled, “National Governors Association: The Collective Voice of the Nation’s Governors.” Matteson was born in Watertown, New York, in 1803. As the website notes, he “taught school in New York, and built railroads in the South.”

After moving to Illinois, he “established a career as a heavy contractor on the Illinois and Michigan Canal [the canal connection will be key to this story], and opened a successful woolen mill.”

After attaining financial success through business endeavors and the sale of land to the state, Matteson became an Illinois state senator in 1842. After a decade in the senate, he took office as governor in 1853. Continue reading

In North Creek Theodore Roosevelt Rides Again


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tedd-rides-again-450pxTeddy Roosevelt is not available to recreate his historic 1901 ride from the North Creek Train Depot, but nationally recognized Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand will be on hand to fill those famous shoes.

On September 14-15 the Saratoga/North Creek Railway (SNCRR) is providing historic train rides, recreations and special excursions surrounding the theme of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed ride from Tahawus to North Creek. Continue reading

An Unlikely Witness to the Suffrage Movement in Rochester


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SBAHouseTreeImageThe only living witness to Susan B. Anthony’s life is a 150 year-old Horse Chestnut Tree that still shades her family’s front yard in Rochester, N.Y.  It personifies the gutsy woman people called Aunt Susan who loved her home and devoted her life to fighting for women’s rights and suffrage. The Tree has received a “Hero of Horticulture” award from The Cultural Landscape Foundation (http://tclf.org). “Hero” Trees are associated with great people and significant moments in American history.

Back when the vision of women voting seemed an impossible dream, Susan B. Anthony endured hardship and ridicule while waging a tireless campaign for gender equality. Her heart stayed home, however, along with her roots. Anthony personally defended the Horse Chestnut Tree against threats from a road project. Now its rustling leaves resonate in the hearts of visitors to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House. (www.susanbanthonyhouse.org) Continue reading

Journal Features Two Row Wampum Treaty Debate


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13220774-largeThe Journal of Early American History (JEAH) has published a special free issue that focuses on the Two Row Wampum treaty, a historical agreement between the Dutch and the Iroquois that purportedly took place on April 21, 1613 – a date that is based on an allegedly forged document. The treaty has been the subject of most discussion in recent months.

During the month of July and the first week of August supporters of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign paddled from Onondaga Lake, and down the Mohawk and Hudson rivers to New York City to draw attention to environmental concerns and native sovereignty rights on Two Row Wampum treaty anniversary date. Continue reading

Suffragist Charlotte Smith of St. Lawrence County (Part Two)


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01 Charlotte Smith 1896Charlotte Smith of St. Lawrence County was a women’s rights activist with few equals. From the 1870s through the turn of the century, she was among the most famous and visible women in America, battling endlessly for anything and everything that might improve the status of women. No matter what the issue―unemployment, unfair treatment in hiring, deadbeat dads, the plight of single mothers―Charlotte was on the front lines, fearlessly facing down politicians at all levels.

In the 1890s, she also staked out some positions that appeared difficult to defend, but Smith’s single-mindedness gave her the impetus to continue. The bane of women in America held her attention for years, but in modern times, it’s unlikely that any of us would guess its identity based on Charlotte’s description. Continue reading

Louis Marshall: The Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America


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louisIn Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America: A Biography (Syracuse University Press, 2013) M. M. Silver provides the first scholarly treatment of a the sweeping influence of Louis Marshall’s career through the 1920s. A tireless advocate for and leader of an array of notable American Jewish organizations and institutions, Marshall also spearheaded civil rights campaigns for other ethnic groups, blazing the trail for the NAACP, Native American groups, and environmental protection causes in the early twentieth century. Continue reading