Author Archives: James S. Kaplan

James S. Kaplan

About James S. Kaplan

James S. Kaplan is a lawyer, writer and walking tour historian who is the President and one of the founders of the Lower Manhattan Historical Association. The Association annually celebrates July 4 Weekend with a parade through Lower Manhattan and the Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Achievement Awards ceremony recognizing contributions to New York City by prominent individuals born outside the United States. It also is responsible for naming Evacuation Day Plaza at Bowling Green and efforts to revive the ancient New York City holiday of Evacuation Day and for the Saratoga/Yorktown celebration in Trinity Churchyard annually held in October. Mr. Kaplan is also the founding partner of Greenberg & Kaplan, where his a practicing Tax, Estate and Guardianship lawyer.

Tammany and NYC’s Fourth of July Celebrations

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In 1776 John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about July 4:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

242 years after John Adams’ exhortation, people in the city of New York are still struggling with how to celebrate July 4, and its meaning.  In the City of New York July 4 celebrations held after the enactment of the U.S. Constitution were anything but nonpartisan. Continue reading

Marking Lower Manhattan History: Saratoga, Yorktown Commemorations

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Trinity Church CemeteryThis year on Sunday October 15, 2017at 2:30 pm in Trinity Churchyard, the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA) with other groups will celebrate the Fourth Annual Commemoration of the American victories at the Battles of Saratoga (October 17, 1777) and Yorktown (October 19, 1781).

Whereas the Battle of Bunker Hill has been celebrated with a parade in Boston since 1786, New York perhaps because of its status as a City of immigrants has been somewhat slower in recognizing its very rich Revolutionary War history. Thus it is perhaps not completely surprising that it is 225 years behind Boston in commemorating these two most important battles in the Revolutionary War which are directly connected with sites in Lower Manhattan. Continue reading

The Erie Canal, New York City, and Democratic Government

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Erie Canal

Along the Erie Canal, Buffalo, N.Y. (No. M 71, Buffalo News Co., Buffalo, N.Y.) courtesy

On July 4, 1817, at Rome, New York on a site now occupied by the Worthington Industries Steel plant, there was a ceremony allegedly turning the first spade of earth on the construction of the Erie Canal, one of the most important public works projects in history.

As we approach the Bicentennial of the Canal’s construction, we would do well to better understand this history and its importance. On July 2, 2017 there will be a march through Lower Manhattan sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association celebrating this event. Continue reading

The Fight To Make Evacuation Day A NYC Holiday

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city-of-new-york-councilmember-margaret-chin-and-lower-manhattan-historical-society-co-founder-james-kaplan-unveiled-an-evacuation-day-plaza-signOn November 25, 1783, George Washington marched down Broadway in New York City retaking the last British stronghold in the United States. By prearrangement, the British and their many Tory supporters were to leave the City by 12 pm. The American flag was to be raised at the flagpole at the north end of what is today Bowling Green park, officially ending the American Revolution. There was, however, one minor snag. When the American advance guard sought to put up the 13-star American flag, they discovered the British had greased the pole, so that the British flag could not be brought down. Washington said he would not enter the lower part of the City until the American flag was flying. A young sailor John Van Arsdale then bought cleats from a local hardware store and shimmied up the flagpole to raise the American flag, and Washington’s triumphant march to Lower Manhattan continued. 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

A NY Woman Who Belongs On The $20 Bill

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800px-Frances_Perkins_cph.3a04983Recently the Treasury Department has announced its intent to place a prominent woman of historical importance on the U.S. currency. There is no one who is more deserving of this honor than Frances Perkins, a New York woman, who was probably the most significant and important female government official of the 20th century.

As Secretary of Labor throughout President Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms and the first woman ever to hold a cabinet position, Frances Perkins designed most of the New Deal Social Welfare and Labor Policies, such as social security, the minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and protections for unions, and reshaped America. Continue reading

New York City’s ‘Evacuation Day’ Planned

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Evacuation_of_New_York_by_the_BritishOn November 25, 1783 George Washington’s Continental army marched into New York City officially ending the Revolutionary War. Like much else about the war, the ceremonies that day were marked by controversy, but also triumph.

More than two and a half years after the joint French/American victory at Yorktown in 1781, after much wrangling over issues such as the status of New York’s numerous Tories and runaway slaves fighting for the British, Washington and British Governor Guy Carleton had agreed on arrangements for the British to turn over New York City, their last enclave in North America to the Continental army. By prearrangement, on the morning of November 25, 1783, Washington was to march down Broadway and take control of the City, just after the British and their supporters completed their withdrawal. Continue reading

Celebrating The End Of The American Revolution

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Washington and Clinton Enter New York City after the American RevolutionOctober 17, 2015 marks the 238th anniversary of the British surrender at the Battle of Saratoga and October 19, 2015 marks the 234th anniversary of the British surrender at the Battle of Yorktown.

Although one would assume these two most important American Victories in the Revolutionary War might be widely celebrated in the City of New York, where the winning generals are buried, until recently they were not celebrated at all. Continue reading

July 4th Parade Returns to Lower Manhattan

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Fourth of July NYC paradeThe Lower Manhattan Historical Society (LMHS), a group formed just last August, sponsored the first Independence Day parade in almost forty years in Lower Manhattan on July 3rd.

The parade included marchers from patriotic groups such as the New York Veteran Corps of the Artillery, the Sons of the Revolution of the State of New York Color Guard,, the Color guard of various chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Colonial Dames of America, the French Air Force Reserves, the Chinatown partnership, and native New Yorkers. Continue reading

From Brooklyn Two Men Fought Against Slavery

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Motto_henry_highland_garnet_originalOne hundred fifty years ago this week, in an elaborate ceremony, the American flag was raised over Fort Sumter in South Carolina marking a milestone in the Union victory in the Civil War. Two months earlier the U.S. Congress had adopted the 13th Amendment forever abolishing slavery.

Two longtime Brooklyn clergymen – Henry Ward Beecher and Henry Highland Garnet – were central to the ceremonies marking these events. Beecher (1813-1887) is described as the most famous man in America at the time of the Civil War, while Garnet (1815-1882) was well-known in the free blacks, but prior to the Civil War, was known to relatively few outside that community. Continue reading