On March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act to help pay for British troops stationed in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War. The act required the colonists to pay a tax, represented by a stamp, on various forms of papers, documents, and playing cards. Colonists’ anger over the new tax was heightened by the fact that it had been passed by Parliament without the approval of colonial legislatures. Reactions ranged from boycotts of British goods to more violent protests, including riots and attacks on tax collectors. In an August 19, 1765, letter, Archibald Hinshelwood of Nova Scotia describes Bostonians’ reactions to the Stamp Act:
There is a violent spirit of opposition raised on the Continent against the execution of the Stamp Act, the mob in Boston have carried it very high against Mr. Oliver the Secry (a Town born child) for his acceptance of an office in consequence of that act. They have even proceeded to some violence, and burnt him in Effigy &c. They threaten to pull down & burn the Stamp Office now building.
He ends his account rather forebodingly by pondering, “what the consequences may be in the Colonies who have no military force to keep the rabble in order, I cannot pretend to say.”
Follow the Road to Revolution in an essay by Northwestern University professor T. H. Breen.
On March 13 and 14, 1855, the firm of J. A. Beard & May placed on the auction block 178 enslaved men, women, and children at the Banks Arcade in New Orleans, Louisiana. They were part of the estate of William M. Lambeth, who had died in 1853. To settle the estate, Judge J. N. Lea had ordered the sale of 127 slaves from the Waverly plantation and 51 from the Meredith plantation, both in Avoyelles Parish.
The catalog from this auction includes the business aspects of the slave trade, listing the purchase terms as "one-third cash, and the remainder at 12 months’ credit, for approved city paper, bearing vendor’s lien and mortgage on the Slaves, and eventual interest of 8 per cent."
However, the catalog also personalizes the slaves by providing details about specific individuals and family relationships. The document stipulates that “the slaves will be sold singly, and when in families, together.” The catalog, which can be read in its entirety here, opens a small window onto the lives of individuals who might otherwise have been lost to history.
On Wednesday, February 22, 1,900 Chicago public school students packed The PrivateBank Theatre for the Hamilton Education Program’s first Chicago student matinee! Thirty schools participated in the inaugural matinee. Twenty-six students—some in groups, others alone—performed their original rap, instrumental pieces, and poetry, based on the innovative Founding Era curriculum developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The day also included a Q&A with the cast, led by the director, Thomas Kail.
A president’s inaugural address often reflects the contemporary political, social, and economic climate of the nation. For President’s Day, explore eight presidential inaugural speeches, from George Washington to Barack Obama. How do these speeches reveal the historical era in which they were delivered?
George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, 1789
“And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861
“You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it . . . There needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority.”
Herbert Hoover’s Inaugural Address, 1929
“Ours is a land rich in resources; stimulating in its glorious beauty; filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity. In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced . . . No country is more loved by its people. I have an abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address, 1933
“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself . . . In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. . . . The Nation asks for action, and action now.”
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty . . . And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, 1981
“From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.”
Barack Obama’s First Inaugural Address, 2009
“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
During the Civil War, Creed A. Lay, serving in the 40th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, sent this elaborately cut letter to his wife Sarah. Lay filled in the hearts with short, amusing rhymes about love and friendship, commonly written by friends in autograph albums:
Let not your friendship be like the rose to sever: But, like the evergreen, may it last forever!
Except (sic) my friend these lines from me they show that I remember thee and hope some thought they will retain till you and I shall meet again.
Long may you live happy may you be when you get married come and see me.
There is a small and simple flower that twines around the humble cot and in the sad and lonely hour it whispers low forget me not.
Lay’s letter created some lighthearted amusement in the midst of war. Inside one heart he wrote, “pleas (sic) forgive me for writing so much nonsense here.”
On Tuesday, January 31, Jeff Forret, Professor of History, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, received the 2016 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South, in a ceremony at the Yale Club. The prize, awarded by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, honors the best scholarly book on the subject of slavery or abolition. Slave Against Slave explores violence among enslaved people in the South prior to the Civil War and how these physical conflicts were affected by hierarchies within the slave community. In his remarks, Forret spoke of the importance of digging into historical documents with an open mind. “Ask uncomfortable questions,” he advised budding historians. “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty in archives.”
Click through the slideshow below to see photos from the event!
Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756. In many ways his career paralleled that of his rival Alexander Hamilton. They both served in the Continental Army, became lawyers and practiced in Albany and New York City, and had rising political careers in the 1790s. Burr suffered a defeat in his bid for the presidency in 1800 and his bid for governor of New York in 1804, for which he blamed Hamilton. Their rivalry ended in the infamous 1804 duel. What became of Burr in the aftermath of the duel in which he fatally wounded Hamilton?
On July 20, 1804, nine days after the duel, Burr wrote a cryptic letter to his son-in-law, Joseph Alston. In a time of uncertainty, Burr was weighing his options. Both a grand jury in New Jersey and the coroner’s jury in New York City were considering charges against him, and “the result will determine my movements,” Burr wrote. Burr enclosed with his brief letter a mysterious message to Charles Biddle, written in cipher. The message is most likely regarding Burr’s plot with General James Wilkinson to form a separate country in the western part of the United States.
National Freedom Day commemorates the date on which President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional resolution proposing a Thirteenth Amendment—February 1, 1865. The amendment, ratified by the states on December 6 of that year, permanently abolished slavery in America. The road to abolishing slavery in America was a long and arduous one. In commemoration of the day, click the icons below to read about some of the men and women who contributed to the abolitionist movement:
|Frederick Douglass &
|Sojourner Truth &
Black Female Abolitionists
|Sarah & Angelina Grimke
On January 24, 1801, President John Adams responded to two abolitionists who had sent him an anti-slavery pamphlet by Quaker reformer Warner Mifflin (1745–1798). Adams writes that he is personally against slavery, noting that “never in my Life did I own a Slave”—but that abolition should be “gradual and accomplished with much caution and Circumspection.” In this his vision aligned with that of George Washington, who wrote privately to a fellow Virginia planter in 1786 that it was “among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in the Country may be abolished by slow, sure, & imperceptable degrees.”
President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1961. Elected in the midst of the Cold War, Kennedy focused his inaugural address on international politics and America’s place in the world. Kennedy appealed to both American citizens and people of other nations to come together in a struggle against “the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” He closed his speech with the now famous words:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
For more on presidential address throughout American history, check out History Now 36: “Great Inaugural Addresses.”
Middle and high school students with a passion for the Civil War can flex their writing and research skills by submitting an entry to the Civil War Essay Contest. Students have the opportunity to explore a Civil War topic of their choice and use secondary and primary sources (including letters, speeches, songs, photographs, newspapers, and military orders) to create an original scholarly essay.
In addition to prizes for the winning entries, the top essay writer from each school will receive a Gilder Lehrman publication, and both the school with the highest average judges’ score (minimum 10 entries) and the school with the greatest number of entries will receive a special certificate and a pack of materials. The deadline for submissions is February 27, 2017.
Today we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immense contributions to civil rights and social justice. One of the most enduring images of the civil rights movement is Dr. King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In this video, join Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson as he recalls the events of August 28, 1963, and explores the legacy of that iconic gathering:
Read more about the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Major Events and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1622, colonist Sebastian Brandt wrote a letter to a merchant in London, seeking supplies and assistance. Brandt had arrived in Jamestown intending to scour the land for precious minerals such as gold, silver, and copper. But he was impeded by the deaths of his wife and brother, his own illness, and a lack of supplies. He asks Henry Hovener to send him a long list of necessities. including a bed, clothing, shoes, cutlery, cheese, spices, “cullerd beads” to trade with Native Americans, and a strong young man to assist him in mining. Though he lacks money and gold, he assures Hovener that he can pay the Virginia Company back with “Tobacco Bevor and Otterskins.”
The letter stands as eyewitness testimony to the many hardships facing migrants who traveled to Virginia to seek their fortunes. Brandt most likely never found his fortune. He does not appear in any known existing official records, and he likely died not long after writing this letter.
Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11—in 1755 or 1757—in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean. Hamilton left an immense legacy as the first secretary of the treasury and architect of the American financial system. But what of Hamilton the man?
Hamilton’s amorous side is revealed in an intimate letter to his fiancée, Elizabeth Schuyler.
Writing in the midst of the American Revolution, while serving as George Washington’s aide, Hamilton declares, “I meet you in every dream . . . ’Tis a pretty story indeed that I am to be thus monopolized, by a little nut-brown maid like you and from a statesman and a soldier metamorphosed into a puny lover.”
The two were married on December 14, 1780. With this marriage, Hamilton joined one of the wealthiest, most socially prominent families in New York, and Elizabeth Schuyler became to wife of a man widely recognized as a brilliant and patriotic rising star.
Read the full transcript of the letter here.
You can explore other Gilder Lehrman resources on Alexander Hamilton here.
On January 4, 1865, the New York Stock Exchange opened for business in its first permanent headquarters on Broad Street.
The Exchange had formally existed since 1792, but had operated out of a series of packed Wall Street coffee-houses and rented offices. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the need for a more permanent exchange became clear: the opening of the Erie Canal saw New York City rise to prominence as the nation’s financial center, while a surge in American enterprise and the invention of telegraphs, tickers, and transatlantic cables greatly increased trading capacity. After the opening of the first building, the NYSE would only continue to grow—by 1886, more than a million shares a day were being traded!
To learn more about the history of America’s economic system, explore History Now 24: Shaping the American Economy.
On December 29, 1777, badly in need of more supplies and troops, George Washington wrote to the New Hampshire legislature pleading for assistance. He describes the desperate state of the 9,000 Continental Army troops camped for the winter in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, counting many ill or wounded and noting that least one-third were braving the cold barefoot and without proper clothing. Washington sent a version of this letter to every state legislature, with the exception of Georgia.
In the six months the Continental Army was camped in Valley Forge, two thousand died from cold, hunger, and disease, while the survivors emerged as hardened and disciplined soldiers.
Read a transcript of Washington’s letter here.
The deadline for the WWI and America Project is January 13, 2017, in just three weeks!
Public, academic, and community college libraries have the opportunity to join institutions across the country in commemorating the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I by receiving a programming grant and a dynamic Gilder Lehrman traveling exhibition.
We’re excited to announce that the Gilder Lehrman Institute is now a registered provider of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) in Texas!
We are currently in the process of becoming a registered professional development provider in all 50 states in order to make it easier for teachers to obtain professional development credit for our programs. If you would be interested in seeing the Gilder Lehrman Institute become an official provider in your state, or have any insight, comments, or experience with statewide professional development approval, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union. Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 set the wheels of secession in motion. Many Southerners were convinced that the new president and his Republican Party would take federal action against slavery.
This broadside, printed by the Charleston Mercury, announced that South Carolina, by unanimous vote, would repeal the US Constitution and that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America,’ is hereby dissolved.”
Eventually, ten other states would follow South Carolina’s example and form the Confederacy. Read about the conflicts that culminated in secession and war, and view a talk by University of Richmond professor Edward L. Ayers on the bitter divide between neighbors that led to the Civil War.