Johann Neem appointed co-editor of *The Journal of the Early Republic*

If you read The Way of Improvement Leads Home regularly you know the work of Johann Neem. Listen to our conversation about the meaning of college in Episode 54 of the podcast. Read our posts featuring Neem’s work here.

I am glad to see the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) appoint Neem as the new co-editor of The Journal of the Early Republic.

Here is co-editor Andrew Shankman:

Dear SHEAR friends,

I’m writing to let you know about some changes at the JER. When David Waldstreicher and I formed our partnership as co-editors, David’s plan was to get things off to a good start and help me and the rest of our editorial team with his considerable experience as a journal editor.  David’s planned stint will be coming to an end on November 1 and he will be stepping down as Co-Editor.  David put his book on Phillis Wheatly on hold when SHEAR and the journal really needed him, and over the past three years I’ve benefitted enormously from seeing his process and editorial integrity up close.  Working with David, our editorial team has been able to maintain the high standards of excellent scholarship that we inherited from our predecessors.  David has been a leader in articulating a vision for the journal that ensures that it reflects the true diversity of the field while paying closer attention to the conversation between past and present historiographies.  Two examples especially stand out, which David saw through to publication: the recent forum “Africa in the Early Republic and the Early Republic in Africa” and the essay by Harvey R. Neptune, “Throwin’ Scholarly Shade: Eric Williams in the New Histories of Capitalism and Slavery,” which is one of the most downloaded pieces the JER has ever published.  Together, in their expansiveness of vision and geographical conception, as well as their engagement with conversation across scholarly generations, these two pieces exemplify what David has been all about as Co-Editor. I take great pleasure in having this opportunity to express my tremendous gratitude to David for generously volunteering his time and for his devotion to helping and mentoring the scholars who entrusted their work to the JER.

David’s departure provides us with the opportunity to welcome a new co-editor, and with great delight and excitement it’s my pleasure to announce that, with his appointment by President Greenberg and the SHEAR Advisory Council, Johann Neem will be joining the JER editorial team as co-editor with me beginning on January 1, 2021.  Johann is well known to many of us as a devoted and conscientious SHEAR citizen and member of the JER editorial board.  He is both a prolific scholar and a thoughtful public intellectual whose publications include Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts, Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, and, as co-editor with Joanne B. Freeman, Jeffersonians in Power: The Rhetoric of Opposition Meets the Realities of Governing as well as What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  Johann reads widely, deeply, and thoughtfully and has for years provided those submitting to the JER some of the most valuable readers reports our authors have received.  The journal and its authors will benefit enormously from Johann’s erudition, kindness, and boundless intellectual curiosity and generosity, and it is a true pleasure to welcome him to our editorial team.

Andrew Shankman

Co-Editor, Journal of the Early Republic

Was Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy genocidal?

Indian Removal

Some of you have been following the Dan Feller controversy at SHEAR. Get up to speed with Episode 72 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. You can also read my posts on this controversy here.

After Feller delivered his paper “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump,” Feller was criticized for saying that the word “genocide” should not be used to describe Jackson’s policy of Indian removal. Over at The Panorama, the blog of The Journal of the Early Republic (SHEAR’s official academic journal), University of Oregon historian Jeffrey Ostler provides a thoughtful discussion of this issue.

Here is a taste of his piece “Was Indian Removal Genocidal?”:

In his paper, “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump,” the centerpiece of the much-discussed SHEAR2020 plenary session, Daniel Feller dismissed the perspective that Andrew Jackson’s “Indian removal policy was deliberately vicious and inhuman, if not overtly genocidal.” Several historians, commenting on Twitter, pushed back against Feller’s contention, claiming that Indian removal was indeed a genocidal policy. Interestingly, however, most recent scholarship on Indian removal, while supporting the view that the policy was vicious and inhuman, has not addressed the question of genocide. Historians have indicted the policy as “ethnic cleansing,” a serious allegation since ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity under current international law. They have also called for replacing “removal” with terms like “expulsion” and “deportation” on the theory that these terms more accurately convey the coerciveness of the policy. But specialists have not argued that the policy was genocidal. Was it?

Addressing this question requires considering the intent of Indian removal and its consequences. The stated intention of the policy was the opposite of genocide—to save Native people from an otherwise inevitable extinction. Speaking before Congress, President Jackson asserted that instead of “utter annihilation” should Indians remain in the East, removal “kindly offers . . . a new home.”2 To the extent that U.S. presidents are capable of inflicting catastrophic destruction while claiming to be benevolent, however, we should be cautious about accepting Jackson’s claims at face value. A more realistic assessment of the policy’s intentions requires an evaluation of its consequences and Jackson’s response to these consequences.

Read the rest here.

When an organization of historians (SHEAR) abandons historical perspective

Congressional Pugilists Painting; Congressional Pugilists Art Print for sale

“I respect your work, but I disagree with what you wrote about the SHEAR plenary session.”

I have received several e-mails and tweets of this nature over the past 48 hours. (Here I am writing to the folks who actually wanted to have a conversation about this).

So now let me give this a try with the SHEAR advisory and nominating committee:

“I respect your work, but I disagree about the way you have handled this entire Dan Feller mess.”

Let me begin by saying that I am not progressive by temperament. For example, when it comes to monuments, I prefer to take a little time to think about which ones should go and which ones should stay. I would rather see monuments removed through official channels after conversations with historians and other experts. These conversations should take a little time.

So needless to say, I was really surprised how quickly SHEAR moved to remove Douglas Egerton from the presidency.  Egerton, one of our best historians of the African American experience in the early republic, admitted that he made some mistakes with this “plenary.” But were these mistakes enough to oust him from office in less than 72 hours?

SHEAR is an organization of historians. Where was the prudence that we value in our work as historians? Where was the detached perspective that historians bring to the human experience? (I admit that I was probably guilty of this as well. As I have told many of you privately in our e-mail exchanges, I stand by my original piece but I might have changed my tone in a few places). When did we start to treat Twitter as kind of political poll?

The SHEAR debacle has very little to do with history and a whole lot to do about politics. This is why many Americans–including the thousands of people I engage with on a daily basis– don’t trust us and our scholarship.

Hamilton Mania returns to America. Here are some resources.

Hamilton logo

I have yet to see the Hamilton movie on Disney+.  We are hoping to watch it as a family next week. This weekend I have been getting flashbacks as I watch historians taking to Twitter to place the musical in historical context.

I saw “Hamilton” on Broadway last December, but I am eager to watch it performed with the original cast. I love everything about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece, but after teaching a course titled “The Age of Hamilton” in Fall 2019, reading multiple books on the life of the first Treasury Secretary, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months, I grew a little tired of all the Hamilton mania. (An editor even asked me if I was interested in writing a religious biography of Hamilton).

So I am not going to write anything original here at the blog. But if you are interested in digging deeper into the life of Alexander Hamilton, here are some resources from previous posts. They are filled with links. Enjoy!

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s AP U.S. History masterclass

The Hamilton Education Program (EduHam) is available through the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History until August.

This was a fun quarantine video from the cast.

Annie cried at the end of the “Age of Hamilton.”

And here is Annie at the start of the semester.

Ron Chernow, the author of the Hamilton biography that inspired the musical, spoke at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Julianne Johnson wrote for us about a session on the musical at the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

Reeve Hutson offers some suggestions for how to build a course around the musical.

I posted this during hurricane season in 2017.

A comparison of “Hamilton” and “1776”

The Journal of the Early Republic put together a roundtable of historians to reflect on “Hamilton.”

Joe Adelman writes about how he brought the soundtrack to his classroom.

Annette Gordon-Reed reviews the musical.

Peter Manseau discusses the role of religion in “Hamilton”

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski and his daughter saw the musical on Broadway.

Hamilton tourism

How the musical spurred a renewed interest in the first Secretary of the Treasury.

Abigail Adams was not a big Alexander Hamilton fan.

Karen Wulf considers “Hamilton” as part of the genre of “founding histories.”

Hamilton scholar Joanne Freeman reviews the musical.

A group of historians attended Hamilton on Broadway in the summer of 2015.

Thomas Jefferson as the villain.

Ben Carp reviews the musical.

In Episode 68 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, historian Lindsay Chervinsky talked about Hamilton’s role in the first presidential cabinet.

Alexander Hamilton’s writings and ideas played an important role in the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. And here.

Ron Chernow thought that Alexander Hamilton would have endorsed the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Annie’s research paper in my “Age of Hamilton” course dealt with his deathbed conversion.

I also brought the musical into my U.S. history survey course.

Thanks to Kyra Yoder for making this poster for my “Age of Hamilton” class.

Kate Brown, an expert on Hamilton’s legal career, visited the Author’s Corner.

Andrew Shankman, an expert on Hamilton’s view of the U.S. Constitution, visited the Author’s Corner.

Did “Hamilton” make “founders chic” acceptable?

Lin-Manuel Miranda gave the plenary address at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.

Here is what happened to me on the first day of my “Age of Hamilton” class. (Hint: It has nothing to do with Alexander Hamilton).

Broadway expert Seth Rudesky deconstructs “The Schuyler Sisters.”

How African Americans in the early republic celebrated July 4th

frederickdouglass01

Many of us are familiar with Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” If you are serious about understanding the plight of African Americans in this country, Douglass’s speech is a good place to start. Take some time and read it over the holiday weekend.

Over at the blog of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History & Culture, Derrick Spires has a nice piece on how African-Americans in the early republic celebrated July 4.

Here is a taste:

When they did observe the Fourth, Black citizens confronted a national double-speak in which many white Americans celebrated their freedom from political oppression while continuing to support and participate in the enslavement of African-descended people. Frederick Douglass famously made this tension between citizenship and national belonging the backbone of his July 5, 1852, oration before the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. He addressed his largely white audience as “fellow citizens,” even as he asked them, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence” when that “high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us?” Martin R. Delany similarly described Black citizens as a “nation within a nation” in his Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People in the United States (1852); yet, he dedicated the volume “to the American People, North and South. By Their Most Devout, and Patriotic Fellow Citizen, the Author.” For both Douglass and Delany, the “fellow citizen” invoked an imperative and an indictment: an imperative to the United States to recognize their share in the project of self-governance and an indictment of their white fellow citizens’ refusal to abide by their own professed creeds.

In addition to the Fourth of July, Black citizens celebrated other days and other revolutions, including the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade (January 1, 1808, observed on July 14 in Boston), New York Emancipation Day (July 5, 1827, often observed on July 5) and British emancipation (August 1, 1834). In the early nineteenth-century, Black collectives celebrated January 1, 1808, as one step towards universal emancipation and republican citizenship, a promise certified by God, but as yet unfulfilled. “Let the first of January,” Absalom Jones proclaimed before his congregation at St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church in 1808, “be set apart in every year, as a day of publick thanksgiving for that mercy.” Jones, one of the founders of the Free African Society (1787), a precursor to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, knew well that the abolition of the transatlantic trade was but a start, yet he expressed thanks to white supporters and hope that the nation was turning towards abolition.

Even as the larger nation was still defining the parameters of citizenship, Black organizers seized on these celebrations to define for themselves what U.S. citizenship would become and to use public displays of black organizing and print as vectors for impressing that vision onto the public eye. Speaking in 1809 before the Wilberforce Philanthropic Association of New York City, Joseph Sidney would address himself to “Friends, Countrymen, and Fellow Citizens,” beg their “pardon for intruding on your joy” to speak about ongoing enslavement, and make an impassioned argument that “among the most valuable of our newly acquired rights, is that of suffrage.” Sidney’s appeal went past promoting voting as an abstract good. He called on Black citizens to reject Thomas Jefferson and his party in favor of the Federalists, who, he argued, set “the standard of liberty.” Black citizens were not begging for inclusion; and while they acknowledged the work of white abolitionists and the New York Manumission Society, they would not concede to assumptions that their rights were a matter of white sufferance. They were members of the body politic who, as Jones would argue in a 1799 petition to the “President, Senate, and House of Representatives,” were “guardians of our rights, and patriots of equal and national liberties.” Sidney’s speech, the description of the day’s parade and other festivities, and commentary on the crowds were printed and distributed as a pamphlet, both marking the moment in history and amplifying it as a public practice of Black citizenship.

Read the entire piece here.

The History Behind the Insurrection Act of 1807

Burr Insurrection

Donald Trump said yesterday that he would use this act to take military action in U.S. cities for the purpose of quelling violence.  Here is the text of the act:

An Act authorizing the employment of the land and naval forces of the United States, in cases of insurrections

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in that respect.

APPROVED, March 3, 1807.

The act has been used several times in U.S. history, most recently by George H.W. Bush during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

The act was born out of president Thomas Jefferson’s concern that Aaron Burr was plotting an insurrection against the United States government. After his term as Vice-President had come to an end in early 1805, Burr headed to Ohio and started recruited frontier settlers with the goal of capturing New Orleans and the Spanish territory west of the Mississippi River for the purpose of creating a separate western country.

But the notorious General James Wilkinson, the governor of Louisiana Territory and a co-conspirator with Burr, eventually turned on the former Vice-President. In October 21, 1806 and October 26, 1806 letters, Wilkinson informed the president about the conspiracy. Somewhere around this time, Jefferson must have talked with or wrote to Secretary of State James Madison about the legality of using federal troops to stop Burr. On 30 October, 1806, Madison wrote to Jefferson to tell him that “it does not appear that regular Troops can be employed, under any legal provision agst. insurrections–but only agst. expeditions having foreign Countries for the object.”

On November 27, two days after he received Wilkinson’s October 21, 1806 letter, Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Burr and the conspirators to turn themselves in. Since he did not believe he had the constitutional authority to use federal troops to stop Burr, he had to settle for a strongly-worded message.

Here is Jefferson’s  December 2, 1806 message to Congress:

Having recieved information that in another part of the US. a great number of private individuals, were combining together, arming & organising themselves contrary to law to carry on a military expedition against the territories of Spain I thought it necessary by proclamation, as well as by special orders, to take measures for preventing & suppressing this enterprize, for siezing the vessels, arms & other means provided for it, & for arresting & bringing to justice it’s authors & abettors. these measures are now in operation. it was due to the good faith which ought ever to be the rule of action in public as well as in private transactions, it was due to good order & regular govmt. that while the public force was acting strictly on the defensive, and merely to cover our citizens from aggression, the criminal attempts of private individuals to decide for their country the question of Peace or War, & by commencg active & unauthorised hostilities, should be promptly & effectually suppressed.

Jefferson’s opponents, the Federalists, mocked the proclamation and the message to Congress. Here is James Lewis, author of The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis:

The proclamation and the annual message quickly came under attack. After reading the proclamation, even some Republicans quietly suggested that “the People ought not to have been alarmed or more [energetic] measures taken.” Federalists openly denounced “proclamation-warfare” as an inadequate response to the western crisis. Rather than sending copies of the proclamation west with one express rider, the editor of New York’s People’s Friend argued, Jefferson “had better sent them by one thousand expresses,” with orders to deliver them from the mouths of their muskets.” Federalist concern that Jefferson would fail to take energetic action in time shaped a savage parody of a Republican defense of the annual message. Appearing in a number of Federalist newspapers in early January 1807, “A Speck of War: or, The Good Sense of the People of the Western Country” rooted Jefferson’s policies in his belief “THAT THE GREAT SECRET OF GOVERNMENT IS TO LET EVERYTHING TAKE ITS OWN COURSE.” The likely outcome the satirist suggested, was that Burr would seize New Orleans, fortify it, and make it the capital of a new western empire that would soon “be as strong as ourselves.”

Federalists reserved their greatest contempt for Jefferson’s suggestion that he could not arrest the organizers of a military enterprise against the United States….”It is a self evident truth,” a writer in the New-England Evening Post remarked, “that every nation is under a moral obligation to provide for its self preservation, and as a consequence, that it has a right to make use of all proper means necessary to that end.” Even without a specific law, Federalists insisted, the government had “the power & of course the means [for] preventing any insurrection or enterprize on the public peace or safety. In fact, Jefferson and most Republicans believed otherwise, rejecting the common-law view that the United States’s mere existence as a country sufficed to make some acts illegal. They argued, instead, that the Constitution granted only limited and specific powers to the federal government. It defined treason, for example, but did not make either conspiring to commit treason or preparing to commit treason a crime.

In the end, the Jefferson got his act of Congress, but it was really too late to use it in the Burr conspiracy.

On December 19, 1806, Jefferson enclosed a copy of a bill on insurrections in a letter to John Dawson. It read:

A Bill authorising the emploiment of the land or Naval forces of the US. in cases of insurrection.

Be it enacted &c.    that in all cases of insurrection & of obstruction to the laws of the US. or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the Presidt. of the US. to call forth militia to suppress such insurrection, or to cause the laws to be duly executed, it shall also be lawful for him to employ for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval forces of the US as shall be judged necessary, under the same restrictions & conditions as are by law provided & required on the emploiment of militia in the same case.

On January 22, 1807, Jefferson again updated Congress on attempts to capture Burr.

The insurrection bill became law on March 3, 1807, eleven days after Burr was arrested in Alabama on February 19.

Read more about the Burr Conspiracy here.

Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic

2nd GA

Ralph Keen is writing for us this week from the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City.  Keen is Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair of Catholic Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2018 he was president of the ASCH.

In a session on Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic, Samuel Dodge (Lehigh) described the paradox of religious freedom as it affected Pennsylvania Quakers in the call-up before the Revolution—the conflict being over the absoluteness of their pacifist convictions and the demand to sacrifice personal liberties for the common good. Elizabeth Georgian (Univ of SC) presented the case of itinerant Lorenzo Dow, the subject of several disciplinary proceedings for slander and who sought vindication in the court of public opinion through his published Journal and favorable attention in newspapers. Daniel Gullotta (Stanford) elucidated some of the differences between Whig and Jacksonian attitudes toward Christianity and its appropriate role in public life. While the Whigs accused Jacksonian Democrats of godlessness (and everything implied by that), Gullotta argued that the latter saw themselves as having a religious character just as firm as that of the sanctimonious Whigs.

Religion in the Early Republic at *The Panorama*

2ndGA

Mary Kupiec Cayton of Ohio State and Will Mackintosh of Mary Washington University will be editing a series on religion in the early republic at The Panorama, the blog of The Journal of the Early Republic.  This looks great.

Here is Cayton:

When The Panorama’s editor, Will Mackintosh, asked me late last spring whether I might be interested in working with him to put together a digital roundtable on Religion in the Early American Republic, I found the idea intriguing. I had long thought that it made sense for religion-related topics to have more visibility among scholars of our period.

We also live in very curious times as far as religion is concerned. Over one-third of younger Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, report that they have no religion. At the same time, religion’s role in the public square has seldom been more consequential. What are the topics of interest that this dissonance generates among scholars of religion in the early American republic? How do contemporary attitudes that we bring to the secular study of religion change, disrupt, or complicate the stories we’ve inherited? I was excited by the opportunity to use the Panorama’s digital platform to try to get a better fix on how scholars who are currently working in this area are answering these questions.

We began by compiling a list of the scholars currently working on religion-related topics in the early American republic. We looked for early- and mid-career and senior scholars, as well as scholars who write about diverse faith traditions and identity positions. We looked for those exploring the connections between religious beliefs, groups, institutions, or values on the one hand, and other aspects of life in our period on the other—politics, foreign affairs, social structures and movements, families, business and economics, gender identities and roles, racial and ethnic identities, regional and class cultures. We asked all who agreed to participate the following questions:

  • How does your most recent scholarship (or current scholarly project) involving religion in the early American republic speak to contemporary questions of religion in the public sphere? OR
  • How does that scholarship speak to important dimensions of the American past that have been overlooked or neglected in mainstream narratives of the period?

Read the entire post here.

Slavery and the Nation’s Capital

Early Washington D.C.

Over at website of The White House Historical Association, public historian Lina Mann explains why slavery flourished in Washington D.C. 

Here is a taste:

For the first seventy-two years of its existence, the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., harbored one of America’s most difficult historical truths and greatest contradictions: slavery. The city’s placement along the Potomac River, in between the slave states of Maryland and Virginia, ensured that slavery was ingrained into every aspect of life, including the buildings, institutions, and social fabric of Washington, D.C. Enslaved workers contributed to public building projects, were bought and sold within the boundaries of the city, and served many of the men who founded the nation. Slavery was alive and well in the President’s Neighborhood.

In June 1790, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson sat down to dinner with Virginia Congressman James Madison and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. By the end of the evening, these men had agreed upon a new location for the United States capital. Prior to this dinner, a debate on its location divided members of the fledgling government. Hamilton and his supporters believed the capital should be in New York City, while others preferred Philadelphia or a location along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Southerners like Jefferson and Madison favored a location along the Potomac River, fearing that a northern capital would diminish southern power, undermine slavery, and encourage corruption among bankers, merchants, and creditors. That night, according to Jefferson’s recollections, the three agreed to place the capital along the Potomac in exchange for the federal assumption of states’ war debts from the American Revolution.

On July 16, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, moving the capital from New York to Philadelphia for ten years’ time and then permanently to the “river Potomack.”

By placing the seat of government firmly in the South, this legislation allowed slavery to flourish in the new capital. After President George Washington signed the Residence Act into law, he took an active role overseeing the construction of the Federal City. Working with French-born engineer Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant, he selected a building site near his Mount Vernon estate at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

To establish this new Federal City, Maryland ceded about seventy square miles, while Virginia contributed around twenty.

President Washington also appointed three commissioners in January 1791 to manage city construction: Thomas Johnson, David Stuart, and Daniel Carroll.

All three men owned slaves.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner With Matthew Clavin

ClavinMatthew Clavin is Professor of History at the University of Houston.  This interview is based on his new book The Battle of Negro Fort: The Rise and Fall of a Fugitive Slave Community (New York University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: I am captivated by stories of extraordinary slave resistance that have for a variety of reasons been largely forgotten. Historians have known about Negro Fort for a long time, but I wanted to bring the story of its rise and fall to a wide audience. More than ever, it is vitally important for professional historians to communicate directly with the general public, especially regarding the long and complicated history of race and racism both in the United States and the world.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: The Battle of Negro Fort marked a significant moment in early American history. By destroying a fugitive slave community in a foreign territory for the first and only time in its history, the United States government accelerated its transformation into a white republic, which served both the interests and the ideology of an emerging Slave Power.

JF: Why do we need to read The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: The demonization of people of color on the opposite side of the United States’ southern border is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, American citizens and officials have long referred to these people as murderers, savages, and the like to score political points and secure what they considered important public policy. Following the War of 1812, slavery’s proponents depicted Negro Fort as an existential threat to the southern frontier. Eventually, they were able to convince the federal government to launch an illegal invasion of Spanish Florida to kill or capture the fort’s black inhabitants. The Battle of Negro Fort illuminates how—and why—in the four decades since the Declaration of Independence, much of the American republic’s ambivalence over the institution of slavery had disappeared.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MC: Since I was little, I have always been fascinated with the history of race and racism. While writing my senior thesis in college on nonviolent direct action and the Civil Rights Movement, I first considered the idea of research and writing history professionally. It wasn’t long after turning in that paper that I decided that I had to become an historian. A lot of people told me that I could never be a historian. I am so glad I did not listen to them.  

JF: What is your next project?

MC: I am currently writing a book that examines the intersection of slavery, anti-slavery, and nationalism in the United States in the decades before the Civil War. The goal is to show just how much love of the American nation justified and inspired revolutionary slave resistance.

JF: Thanks, Matthew!

Papers of Martin Van Buren Project Publishes 327 New Documents

Van Buren

Here is the press release from Cumberland University:

The Papers of Martin Van Buren project at Cumberland University recently published 327 documents as part of Series 7, which covers the period of Van Buren’s vice presidency under Andrew Jackson from March 4, 1833 to March 3, 1837.

The newly published documents include correspondence related to Van Buren’s participation in the Bank War and his presidential campaign to succeed Andrew Jackson. Van Buren also received correspondence related to foreign affairs, including the growing friction between the United States and Mexico as Americans settled in Texas.

“These documents shed light on a number of important issues that consumed Jackson’s second presidential term and of necessity drew in Van Buren,” project director Mark Cheathem said. “Van Buren was also looking ahead to the 1836 presidential election. His correspondence with American voters who wanted to know his opinion on a number of issues gives insight into his political principles on issues such as slavery and religion.”

The digital edition of the Van Buren papers will make accessible approximately 13,000 documents that belonged to the eighth president. Over 1,000 of these documents are now available at vanburenpapers.org.

The Papers of Martin Van Buren project is sponsored by Cumberland University and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and is produced in partnership with the Center for Digital Editing at the University of Virginia.

For more information about the Papers of Martin Van Buren project at Cumberland University, visit http://vanburenpapers.org.

Mark Cheatham and his team are doing some great work here.

The Author’s Corner with David Dzurec

DzurecDavid J. Dzurec is Chair and Associate Professor of History at the University of Scranton  This interview is based on his new book Our Suffering Brethren: Foreign Captivity and Nationalism in the Early United States (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Our Suffering Brethren?

DDThis project began when I came across the captivity narrative of Revolutionary prisoner of war John Dodge.  Initially I had planned to write about the experience of captivity during the American Revolution, but as my researched progressed it became clear to me that the impact of these Revolutionary captivity narratives stretched well beyond the 1780s and ultimately played a role in shaping American politics and culture in the first decades of the nineteenth century.  In addition to expanding chronologically, my research also broadened geographically ultimately including narratives from captive Americans in both Africa and Europe.  In examining these narratives, I was struck by how stories of captivity, even at a great distance, still had an impact on the politics and culture of the early United States.  It was an attempt to understand what role these stories played in shaping American political culture that led me to write this book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Our Suffering Brethren?

DDThe threat of foreign captivity in the decades following Independence simultaneously served to bring the American people together in defense of their fellow countrymen while dividing them along partisan lines.  Ultimately, the efforts of both Federalists and Republicans to claim the mantle of defender of American liberty abroad, while playing on fears of American insecurity, helped to create a language of American nationalism that would define American political culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Our Suffering Brethren?

DD: American nationalism (and nationalism more broadly) is often associated with bellicosity and empire.  Our Suffering Brethren demonstrates how the roots of American nationalism and the political culture that goes with it, sprang from a profound sense of insecurity in the early existence of the United States.  While a number of historians have examined how Cold War fears of the Soviet threat shaped American political culture in the 20th Century, I demonstrate that the exploitation of American insecurity abroad was present in the earliest days of American politics—and that it was employed across the political spectrum to advance political agendas.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DD: While there wasn’t one “aha” moment, I have been fortunate to have a number of great history teachers over the years who have helped me to develop a love of both the subject and the process of historical research.  The first “research paper” I ever wrote was on Thomas Jefferson when I was in fifth grade.  Thirty years later, I’m still essentially researching the same thing.  My high school history teacher, Mr. Cowan, brought an irreverence and energy to the study of the past that was infectious and inspired me to become a history major when I went off to college.  As both an undergraduate and graduate student I was fortunate to work with outstanding faculty who helped me become the historian I am today.

JF: What is your next project?

DD: Growing out of the research for this book, I’ve become interested in how the Federalists dealt with not only losing political power, but how they responded to the ultimate collapse of their party.  I’ve made an initial foray into this topic with my article “Of Salt Mountains, Prairie Dogs, and Horned Frogs: The Louisiana Purchase and the Evolution of the Federalist Party 1803-1812” and I’m excited to see where this project goes. 

JF: Thanks, David!

Mapping Early American Elections

County-Election

This looks like a really useful website from Lincoln Mullen, Rosemarie Zagarri, and the folks at George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media:

Mapping Early American Elections offers a window into the formative era of American politics by producing interactive maps and visualizations of Congressional elections from 1787 to 1825. The project makes available the electoral returns and spatial data underlying those maps, along with topical essays on the political history of the period and tutorials to encourage users to use the datasets to create their own maps.

If you use this project, please use the following citation or something like it:

Mapping Early American Elections project team, Mapping Early American Elections, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University (2019): http://earlyamericanelections.orghttps://doi.org/10.31835/meae.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2016 to offer enhanced access to the early American election returns in the New Nation Votes collection at Tufts University. The New Nation Votes dataset is the only comprehensive record of elections in existence for the early American republic. Scattered in newspapers, state archives, and local repositories around the country, the election returns have been painstakingly gathered over the past forty-five years by Philip J. Lampi of the American Antiquarian Society.

You can find the data we have released in our GitHub repository, along with the other codeproduced by the project.

For more about the project, please read our introductory essay and the other essays on early American politics.

Learn more here.

SHEAR 2019

a934c-shear_002_000

On July 17, 2019 I will be in Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.  You can check out the program here.

I will be part of a roundtable titled “Early American History on the Opinion Page: Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Media.”  Jill Lepore (Harvard) will be presiding and my fellow panelists are Yoni Appelbaum (The Atlantic), Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Rutgers), and Gautham Rao (American University).

Here are a few other panels that caught my eye:

  • A “Presidential Plenary” on the United States in the wake of revolution that includes Annette Gordon-Reed, Frank Cogliano, Sarah Pearsall, Kathleen DuVal, and Rob Parkinson
  • A session on Federalist New York that includes a paper on Angelical (Schuyler) Church by Tom Cutterham
  • A session on religious disestablishment that features Jonathan Den Hartog, Brian Franklin, Rebecca Brenner, Elise Neal, and Johann Neem.
  • A session on the scholarship of the late Jan Lewis that includes talks by Carolyn Eastman, Peter Onuf, David Waldstreicher, and Nicole Eustace.
  • A session on “singular careers” in the new nation that includes papers by Seth Perry on Lorenzo Dow’s “eccentricity,” Steve Bullock on Parson Weems, and Jennifer Brady on “dramatic reading.”
  • A session on Joanne Freeman’s new book The Field of Blood.
  • A session on teaching “major topics to non-history students.”
  • A roundtable on politics in the 1790s that includes Rosemarie Zagarri, Sara Georgini, and Barbara Oberg.
  • A session on “telling the republic’s founding story in its moments of peril” that includes Seth Cotlar, Rob Parkinson, Honor Sachs, and Serena Zabin.
  • A session titled “Religiously Remembering the American Revolution” featuring Kate Carte, Tara Strauch, Adam Jortner, and J.L. Tomlin.

See you in Boston!

Benjamin Vaughan to Thomas Jefferson on Days of Thanksgiving

Vaughan

Benjamin Vaughan

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell introduces us to Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835), a British radical politician who wrote to Thomas Jefferson about religion in 1801.

Here is a taste of Vaughan’s March 15, 1801 letter to the new President of the United States:

I trust that your administration will have few difficulties in these parts, provided it steers clear of religion. You are too wise & just to think of any official attacks upon religion, & too sincere to make any affected overtures in favor of it. You know where you are thought to be in this respect; & there it may be wise to stand.—

If a ruler however at times acts with a view to accommodate himself to the feelings, in which many of the citizens for whom he takes thought, participate; this can neither be considered as a violation of truth or of dignity; and is not likely to prove unacceptable, if done avowedly with this view.—

For example, it is not in, & is perhaps without the constitution, to recommend fasts & thanksgivings from the federal chair, at the seasons respectively when the New Englanders look for those things; & therefore you will not think it perhaps needful for you to meddle with such matters. But, if you did, this example will serve my purpose. You may then I presume safely & acceptably interfere with a view to name a time, when a large proportion of your constituents may be enabled to do the thing in question consentingly & cotemporarily. You certainly may make yourself in this an organ of the general convenience, without departing from any of your own principles; especially as you will take due care to use decorous language, should the occasion be used. 

Read the rest of the letter, and Bell’s commentary, here.

The Problem of “Reconciling Irreconcilable Values”

FugitiveAndrew Delbanco‘s new book is titled The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War.  While I was on the road last week I listened to Delbanco’s interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio.  I recommend it.

Over at The Atlantic, Delbanco explains what the 19th-century debate over slavery can teach us about our own contentious political moment.  Here is a taste:

With the united states starkly divided and with many Americans asking what kind of nation we are, it seems a good moment to look back to November 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when Abraham Lincoln tried to answer the same question. Consecrating a Civil War battlefield where thousands of young men and boys had died four months before, he spoke of a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” For most Americans since, and for much of the world, those words have at­tained the status of scripture. We draw our sense of collective identity from them. They were, however, not strictly true, and Lincoln knew it.

Five years earlier, he had been more candid. Speaking in Chicago in the summer of 1858, Lincoln noted that when the republic was founded, “we had slavery among us,” and that “we could not get our Constitution unless we permitted” slavery to persist in those parts of the nation where it was already entrenched. “We could not secure the good we did secure,” he said, “if we grasped for more.” The United States, in other words, could not have been created if the eradication of human bondage had been a condition of its creation. Had Lincoln said at Gettysburg that the nation was con­ceived not in liberty but in compromise, the phrase would have been less memorable but more accurate.

The hard truth is that the United States was founded in an act of accommodation between two fundamentally different societies. As one Southern-born antislavery activist wrote, it was a “sad satire to call [the] States ‘United,’” because in one-half of the country slavery was basic to its way of life, while in the other it was fading or already gone. The Founding Fathers tried to stitch these two nations together with no idea how long the stitching would hold.

Read the rest here.

Partisanship and Publishing the Declaration of Independence

babb4-declaration

Over at Age of Revolution blog, Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project writes about the partisan fights over the publication of the Declaration of Independence in the early republic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The tradition of publishing the Declaration annually on July 4 dates much further back, however. In fact, it appears that the first printer to republish the Declaration of Independence on July 4 with the intention of marking the anniversary was also the first printer ever to publish the Declaration: John Dunlap. He and David C. Claypoole included the text on the front page of The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA) on July 4, 1786, the tenth anniversary. By 1801, republishing the Declaration of Independence in newspapers on or around July 4 was a trend on the verge of becoming a tradition and an expectation. The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD), for example, first included the Declaration by request on July 4, 1799, and republished the text annually through 1806. Before 1801, only a handful of newspapers printed the Declaration in any given year. In 1801, at least twelve newspapers printed the text in late June or early July; by 1806, that number more than doubled. As the individual who requested that the Telegraphe print the Declaration in 1799 wrote to the printer, “you have it in your power to gratify all without displeasing any, by giving it a place…” But, as last year’s tweets proved, even a text as intrinsic to our national identity as the Declaration can become polarizing. The 1801 uptick in July 4 newspaper printings, for example, coincided with a tense moment of political transition, and crystallized in part because of the association between the new President and the Declaration.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner With Christopher Grasso

GrassoChristopher Grasso is Professor of History at the College of William & Mary.  This interview is based on his recent book Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: An archival question.  In about 1990, when working on my dissertation, I was reading the Ezra Stiles papers at Yale.  A young college tutor in mid-eighteenth-century New England intending to become a minister, Stiles began to doubt Christianity.  He passed through the valley of religious skepticism and stood on the precipice of deism, as he later put it.  But he was afraid to confess these doubts to anyone, even when sick on what he thought might be his deathbed.  He eventually recovered his faith.  But in the wake of the American Revolution, in his most famous publication, he worried about the broader social and political implications of other closeted deists and skeptics, such as the war hero Ethan Allen, who were suddenly coming out of the closet.  Skeptical unbelief was the “other” against which Christian America defined itself.  He got me asking questions about the personal and political dimensions of the relation between religious skepticism and faith.

JF: What is the argument of Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the dialogue of religious skepticism and faith shaped struggles over the place of religion in politics; it produced different visions of knowledge and education in an “enlightened” society; it fueled social reform in an era of economic transformation, territorial expansion, and social change; and it molded the making and eventual unmaking of American nationalism.

JF: Why do we need to read Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: Most histories of the period, if they pay attention to religion at all, sweep away most of the doubters with the so-called “Second Great Awakening” in the early nineteenth century.  Or they posit some version of “secularization” happening behind people’s backs.  This book looks at American religion not as an inheritance from the Puritan past, or as the product of the a “democratization” of Christianity, or as the outcome of denominational competition in a religious “free market” after the separation of church and state, but as a form of cultural power that is produced and reproduced in ways both intimate and structural.

Many Americans wrestled with the questions and the answers that religion, loudly and persistently, offered to them.  They struggled to believe, against the whispered scoffing they heard in taverns or the arguments they read in books like Tom Paine’s Age of Reason.  Or they struggled to doubt, against the powerful authorities promoting a patriotic Christian common sense that stigmatized and tried to silence skepticism.  But this book isn’t just about a contest of ideas.  It looks at the “lived religion,” and “lived irreligion,” of people—ministers, merchants, and mystics; physicians, schoolteachers, and feminists; self-help writers, slaveholders, shoemakers, and soldiers—trying to make sense of their world.  They lived in a different era, though as appeals to “Christian America” continue to reverberate, their experience could be instructive as we try to make sense of our own.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

CG: The key insight was about how history shapes texts and texts shape history.  But my story has a rather tangled plot, from phys. ed. major to political cartoonist to journalist to writing teacher as an undergraduate and then from English to American Studies to History in grad school.  Key scenes would include a young guy mowing lawns being invited by an elderly woman to borrow books from her extensive library; the gym-rat-turned-political-cartoonist stumbling into an astonishing class on biblical hermeneutics; and a grad student somehow getting two terrific mentors, historians of early American religious history who had come to very different conclusions about the same material.

JF: What is your next project?

CG: John R. Kelso (1831-1891) is character featured in the last half of the last chapter of Skepticism and American Faith.  He’s a former Methodist minister who lost his faith and became a local hero fighting Confederate guerillas in Missouri during the Civil War.  I came upon his papers soon after the Huntington Library had purchased them: 800 manuscript pages of poems, speeches, lectures and a partial autobiography.  So drawn into his story, I published an edited and annotated version of the twelve Civil War chapters of his memoir as Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War for Yale University Press in 2017.  When that book was in page proofs, I was contacted by a direct descendant of Kelso’s who had the missing second half of Kelso’s autobiography—another 80,000 words.  This remarkable nineteenth-century figure offers an extraordinary vantage upon important dimensions of American culture. Kelso was many things: teacher, preacher, soldier, spy; congressman, scholar, lecturer, author; Methodist, atheist, spiritualist, anarchist.  He was also a strong-willed son, a passionate husband, and a loving and grieving father.  In the center of his life was the thrill and the trauma of the Civil War, which challenged his notions of manhood and honor, his ideals of liberty and equality, and his beliefs about politics, religion, morality, and human nature.  Throughout his life, too, he fought his own private civil wars—against former friends and alienated family members, rebellious students and disaffected church congregations, political opponents and religious critics, but also against the warring impulses in his own complex character.  Based on the rich archive of little-known and unknown material, my biography for Yale University Press, Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Spy: The Civil Wars of John R. Kelso, will bring together people and subjects–essential to the iconic nineteenth century but usually treated separately—that become more significant and explicable when treated together: religious revivalism and political anarchism; freethinking and the Wild West; sex, divorce, and Civil War battles.

JF:  Sounds fascinating.  Thanks, Chris.

The Author’s Corner with Victoria Johnson

AmericanEden+Final+Cover+DesignVictoria Johnson is Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  This interview is based on her new book American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright, a division of W.W Norton, 2018).

JF: What led you to write American Eden?

VJEight years ago, in the course of research for a journal article on contemporary American botanical gardens, I came across David Hosack (1769-1835) for the first time (in Peter Mickulas’s Britton’s Botanical Empire). I love New York City, and I was floored to learn that Rockefeller Center had once been a botanical garden—the first founded in and for the young United States. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a book about Hosack. He was a polymath and involved in several dozen organizations (quite a few of which he helped found) and he was not famous enough to have had a critical edition of his papers published. Following his trail as I reconstructed his life eventually took me to about thirty archives in the US and Europe.

JFIn 2 sentences, what is the argument of American Eden?

VJ: There is a botanical garden two centuries old buried under one of the most iconic urban spaces in the world. The man who created it, David Hosack, is a forgotten architect of New York’s rise to civic primacy in the nineteenth-century United States, and his life story thrusts us into the post-Revolutionary generation’s battles over what kinds of institutions make cities and nations truly great and stable.

JF: Why do we need to read American Eden?

VJMany, many historians have written eloquently and rigorously on politics and natural history in the early Republic, and I’m deeply indebted to them for their scholarship. Because American Eden is a biography, we get to see through David Hosack’s eyes the very fraught political relationships all around him and to feel the excitement and heartbreak of institution-building and scientific inquiry. In the process, certain figures from the Founding era take on new complexity: not only the shadowy Hosack, long known simply as the attending physician at the Hamilton-Burr duel, but also Hamilton and Burr themselves, both of whom loved botany and horticulture. New York City likewise comes into clearer focus in American Eden. We don’t usually think of nature, agriculture, and natural history when we think of New York in the early Republic, but Hosack botanized right in the city as well as on Manhattan’s beaches and farms and in its meadows and woodlands. Finally, I’d add that while history is a field of intellectual inquiry that matters regardless of any explicit links we make to our present circumstances, I’ve found Hosack’s struggles enlightening as I try to make sense of contemporary American political culture and our divided views on science and nature.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

VJ:  I’ll answer the “historian” part first and then the “American” part. My PhD is in sociology, with a specialty in organizational sociology, but I was drawn to historical research early. One of my dissertation advisors in Columbia’s sociology department was Charles Tilly, who had a huge influence on my choice of dissertation topic: political relations between the French government and the Paris Opera from Louis XIV to Napoleon. That became Backstage at the Revolution (Chicago, 2008). For my second book, American Eden, I crossed the Atlantic and began studying American history because of my fascination with David Hosack and his enormous, unacknowledged contributions to New York, his young country, and translantic scientific networks.

JF: What is your next project?

VJ: Book tour! I will be sharing Hosack’s story of intense civic engagement and devotion to science with as broad an audience as wants to listen, in both the US and the UK; I have talks lined up running through 2020. In the meantime, I’m slowly starting to think about what comes next (to quote a certain king).

JF:  Thanks, Victoria!

An Interview with the Editors of the *Journal of the Early Republic*

JEROver at The Panorama, Will Mackintosh interviews Andy Shankman and David Waldstreicher, the new editors of the Journal of the Early Republic.

Here is a taste:

Will: What are some of your plans for your editorial tenure at the Journal of the Early Republic?

Andy: Above all stewardship (which is an idea I’ve stolen from David) because I think the journal is in such great shape and has had such an impressive run of editors. So above all, I hope to do no harm. I’d like to involve the SHEAR community in helping us to think about special issues on topics that a large portion of our readers would like to see. For me, the core mission of the journal is to publish excellent original research drawn primarily from primary sources. But I also feel that we’ve never produced more high-quality scholarship at a greater (even overwhelming) rate than we are right now. I want to think about ways the JER might help us to attempt some broad, synthetic thinking, and perhaps get scholars of different generations and scholarly focuses talking to each other. So many people are asking so many critical questions now about the nation’s origins—about race and slavery, gender relations, the role and nature of the state at all levels, about how all of that relates to capitalism and political economy, about the need to bring together historiographies about institutions, cultural and social relations and constructions, political though,t etc., scholarships that haven’t always engaged with each other as much as they might—it’s a tremendously exciting time to be a student of the early American republic, and I want to think about ways in which the JER can continue to capture and convey that excitement.

David: Doug Bradburn buttonholed me with this same question at SHEAR in Baltimore when I took over in 2012 and I answered in one word: stewardship. (I’m still wondering if he was disappointed.) The job of the editor is to get the best possible work in all subfields into the journal. Articles should be timely in the sense of speaking to matters of current interest to historians, but it is even more important that articles should be built to last a long time, to be resources for historians in all fields and for others who will be interested in we know not what in 10 or 20 or 50 years (witness the renewed fascination with aspects of economic and diplomatic history, utterly unpredicted when I was in grad school). Sooner or later, anything may become timely again. Journal editing is about creating and spreading brand new discoveries and interpretations but also about archiving original research it so it is there to be more easily found later when it is needed. But perhaps most of all, regardless of whether one focuses on the short or long term of scholarship in our field, the number one job of the editors is to draw on whatever expertise we can muster, including especially the readers who graciously review manuscripts for us, to make every piece that passes through our hands (or now, screens) better whether we publish it or not.

Read the entire interview here.