OTD in History… June 24, 1795, the Senate ratifies Jay’s Treaty establishing trade between America and Great Britain

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OTD in History… June 24, 1795, the Senate ratifies Jay’s Treaty establishing trade between America and Great Britain

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this in history June 24, 1795, the Senate ratified Jay’s Treaty, negotiated by Chief Justice of the United States John Jay for President George Washington to resolve the outstanding issues between the United States and Great Britain after the Revolutionary War. The treaty avoided war and established preferential trade with Britain, alienating France, America’s ally in their war for independence. Although residue issues were resolved with Britain, it contributed to tensions over trade between the US, Britain and France that would contribute to the War of 1812. Additionally, the treaty was divisive between the two emerging political parties, the Federalists, who supported the treaty and Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson, who distrusted the British and supported loyalties to France.

The Senate passed “The Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America” with a vote of 20–10, the two-thirds majority necessary to pass. In 1794, President Washington sent Chief Justice Jay to London to negotiate the outstanding issues from the Revolutionary War that were continually causing tensions between the two nations. The issues involved tariff and trade restriction on American exports, the British refusing to vacate their Northwestern forts although it was party of the 1783 Paris Peace Treaty, which Americans believed were contributing to attacks by natives on American settlers, and the impressments of American ships, sailors and naval supplies, although America was considered neutral on trade.

The issues were putting the two nations at the “brink of war,” and President Washington listened to his Secretary of the Treasury and Federalist Alexander Hamilton about resolving the problems with Britain. Washington sent the pro-British Chief Justice to negotiate. Jay had negotiated on America’s part in 1783. Hamilton advised Jay to use a threat to bargain with Britain, that the US would join the Scandinavians, the Danish and Swedish and would fight against impressments. Hamilton, however, betrayed Jay and told the British that America would not use military force or form the alliance. Jay was left without any advantages in his negotiations. Virginia Senator James Monroe later joined the mission to watch over the Democratic-Republican interests.

Among Washington’s demands, he wanted the British to vacate their army from forts in the Northwest Territories, compensate slaveholders for slaves abducted and ship owners, whose ships were confiscated. Washington also wanted free trade with the British West Indies.

The British were refusing to comply because the US was breaking two articles of the 1783 Paris Peace Treaty, refusing to pay debts to British creditors and keeping loyalists’ confiscated properties from the war.

The agreement Jay negotiated with British Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville in the fall of 1794, hardly favored the US but it would avoid war. In the agreement, Britain would vacate the Northwestern forts, and grant the US “most favored nation” status with trade but severely restrict trade in the British West Indies. The remainder would be resolved by arbitration including the “Canadian-Maine boundary, compensation for pre-revolutionary debts, and British seizures of American ships.” In return, the US would grant Britain preferential trade rights including trade access with the British West Indies, and the US would adhere to Britain’s “anti-French maritime policies” including allowing the British to seize American goods to be traded with France with pay and French goods without pay. The US would also ensure that private British war debts were all repaid. Britain’s King George III signed the treaty on November 19, 1794.

Britain favored Hamilton and the Federalists and that was the reason they negotiated at all with the US. Historian John C. Miller writing in his 1964 biography, Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation noted, “The fact that the British were willing to make a treaty with the United States in 1794 was partly owing to their recognition that the strengthening of the ‘well-intentioned Party in America’ led by Hamilton was Great Britain’s best hope of stemming the tide of Jacobinism in the United States and upholding neutrality against the ‘French faction’ headed by Jefferson and Madison.” (Miller, 421)

Jay’s Treaty might have prevented war but it was a failure in American diplomacy, an observation made at the time and by historians. Historian Raymond Walters Jr. in his 1957 biography Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat writes, “The treaty Jay sent home represented a complete triumph for British diplomacy. The United States won modest concessions at a humiliating price.” More recently, historian Richard Norton Smith remarked, “Indeed, a first reading of the twenty-eight articles suggested that Washington’s experiment in secret diplomacy had blown up in his face. Instructed to secure American rights and open British markets; the chief justice did neither. Although agreeing to evacuate the northwestern posts no later than June 1, 1796, the British retained a share of the lucrative fur trade on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian boundary. In exchange for this concession, no more than a belated promise to carry out the terms of the old peace treaty, Jay had bargained away his country’s wartime rights as a neutral power.”

Historians, however, noted that Jay’s Treaty accomplished what it was supposed to in avoiding war with Britain. Historian Richard Brookhiser in his 1996 book, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington observed, “In the day time, your path through the woods is ambushed; the darkness of midnight … The ratification of Jay’s Treaty also assured that the country would not be tugged by sympathies with France into a showdown with Britain it could not afford.” (Brookhiser, 100) While historian Joseph J. Ellis concurred in his 2004 book, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Jay’s Treaty “bet, in effect, on England rather than France as the hegemonic European power of the future, which proved prophetic. It recognized the massive dependence of the American economy on trade with England [and] it linked American security and economic development to the British fleet, which provided a protective shield of incalculable value throughout the nineteenth century.” (Ellis, 136)

The treaty divided the nation, with Hamilton’s Federalists supporting the pro-British deal and the Democratic-Republicans led by Jefferson and James Madison in opposition. Jefferson and Madison found that is favored Britain and put America’s trade interests at risk. With former Secretary of State Jefferson between posts, Madison as a Virginia Congressman was the official voice in opposition. After Washington signed the treaty, Jefferson wrote to Monroe on September 6, 1795, about the public opposition, “So general a burst of dissatisfaction never before appeared against any transaction. Those who understand the particular articles of it, condemn these articles. Those who do not understand them minutely, condemn it generally as wearing a hostile face to France.”

Neither was Washington satisfied with the treaty but he thought it was the country’s best chance to avoid another war with Britain, and opened up trade with Britain. Congress also opposed the treaty, and it was uncertain it would be ratified but the Senate passed it on June 24, and Washington signed it into law on August 18, 1795. Over the next year, Congress would remain divided as they worked on the appropriations bills to fulfill the treaty, and on April 30, 1796, the House passed with a vote of 51–48 the appropriations bills to fund the treaty.

In addition to keeping the nation out of war and increasing trade, it helped form the party-system in American politics. Historians Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg in The Growth of the American Republic, concluded, “The fight over appropriations for the Jay Treaty in the House marked the crystallization of the party system.” (Morison, Commager and Leuchtenburg, 308) Jay’s treaty staved off war as Washington hoped but was not a solution as Jefferson and Madison foresaw. The agreement threatened America’s trade neutrality, with Britain consumed in the Napoleonic Wars; America was caught in the middle. British impressments and blockades would only increase when Jefferson assumed the presidency and again put the country on the brink of war. Finally, Madison would take a stronger nation to war in 1812, to resolve finally British continual trade blockade and impressments.

Over 220 years later, the US is again confronted and divided by party over trade. Republican President Donald Trump’s protectionist and anti-trade America First policies, have his administration renegotiating or pulling out of the country’s free-trade agreements with its allies. Recently, Trump has taken his trade wars further imposing tariffs on trade partners unless they negotiate fair deals with the US. His policies contrast with the Democrats pro-free-trade ideology. Although the Democrats and the news media are treating Trump’s approach to trade as an abbreviation in American history, Jay’s Treaty and the uproar and opposition it caused proves trade agreements have always been controversial for the nation.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Brookhiser, Richard. Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Miller, John C. Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

Walters, Raymond. Albert Gallatin, Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969.

Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. New York [etc.: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

British-American Diplomacy
Jay Treaty : Senate Resolution June 24, 1795

Resolved, (two-thirds of the Senate concurring therein,) That they do consent to, and advise the President of the United States, to ratify the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, concluded at London, the 19th day of November, 1794, on condition that there be added to the said treaty an article, whereby it shall be agreed to suspend the operation of so much of the 12th article, as respects the trade which his said Majesty thereby consents may be carried on, between the United States and his islands in the West Indies, in the manner, and on the terms and conditions therein specified.

And the Senate recommend to the President to proceed, without delay, to further friendly negotiations with his Majesty, on the subject of the said trade, and of the terms and conditions in question.

Source:
Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America.
Edited by Hunter Miller
Volume 2
Documents 1-40 : 1776-1818
Washington : Government Printing Office, 1931.

OTD in history… June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified becomes law

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OTD in history… June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified becomes law

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified after New Hampshire became the ninth out of thirteen states to ratify it, making the Constitution “the law of the land.” After the Revolutionary War, the loose Articles of Confederation did not give the government enough power to govern the new nation. Congress agreed they needed to be revised to create a new constitution. The Constitutional Convention met beginning on May 25, 1787, at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia now known as Independence Hall. Three months later on September 17, 1787, the Congress completed their task of creating a Constitution, which dictated the new federal government with checks and balances, and three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial. The document created and ratified only 10 months later is still 231 years later up for interpretation and has grown with 27 additional amendments to fit the country’s changing needs.

The Articles of Confederation gave the unicameral Congress with one representative from each state very little power, for anything to get accomplished nine states had to vote in favor. As Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling write in their book “Events that changed the world in the eighteenth century,” “Congress was given authority to control foreign affairs, declare war and make peace, coin money, borrow money, requisition states for money, settle interstate disputes, govern the western territory and admit new states, run the postal service, and handle Indian affairs.” (Thackeray and Findling, 133) However, the major problems facing Congress was that they not “authorized to levy taxes or regulate interstate commerce,” and they had “no powers of enforcement.” In 1786, George Washington remarked, “I predict the worst consequences from a half-starved limping government, always moving upon crutches and tottering at every step,” and in 1787, Alexander Hamilton declared the country had “almost the last stage of national humiliation.” (Thackeray and Findling 134)

When the 55 delegates with George Washington as the president met for the Constitutional Convention, they thought they would mostly being amending the Articles of Confederation; however, most wanted a new document. The main points they had to resolve were “representation in Congress, separation of powers, and division of power between the states and the national government.” (Thackeray and Findling, 134) They created two houses a lower House of Representatives, based on population taking into account slaves voted by the people, and an “equally represented” upper house, the Senate was chosen by the state legislatures. Three branches of government were created, legislative, executive and judicial, with “an elaborate set of checks and balances,” which included, “a presidential veto, Congressional authority over money matters, and lifetime tenure for judges.” As for the division of powers, the central government would be able “to levy taxes, regulate foreign and interstate commerce, and pass laws” to implement their powers. (Thackeray and Findling, 135)

In total, there were seven articles to the Constitution. The Constitution began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In September 1787, at the conclusion of the convention 38 out of the 41 delegates signed the new Constitution. To become law, Article VII stipulated nine out of the thirteen states had to ratify it. The Constitution became a subject of much debate, which those supporting called Federalists and those that opposed called anti-Federalists, the factions ended up led by the philosophies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson respectively. The main concerns were the lack of guarantees for “fundamental liberties” and the issue of states’ rights stemming from the fear of “authoritarian central government.” (Thackeray and Findling, 136)

Each state held a ratification convention. Right off, the smaller states starting on December 7, which included “Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut” ratified the Constitution quickly in December and January. Massachusetts, however, put up a fight concerned about the lack of guarantees for “basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.” In February 1888, the state promised that a Bill of Rights would be amended to the Constitution and then the state narrowly ratified it. Then in April and May Maryland and South Carolina ratified the constitution, however, it failed to pass in Rhode Island in March. On June 21, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution passing it into law.

The two largest states Virginia and New York were on the fence, and although nine states ratified the Constitution, it was necessary for the two states to pass it as well for governing. In Virginia, Washington used his “influence” to ensure ratification in June. In New York it was more complicated the two factions Federalists led by Hamilton and anti-Federalists by Governor George Clinton were dueling it out at the convention, Clinton popularity was preventing ratification. To sway the delegates, Hamilton joined James Madison and John Jay where they wrote a series of commentary in favor of the Constitution called the Federalist Papers. The 85 essays were able to persuade the delegates to ratify the Constitution in July.

Elections were set for December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789, and the government would convene on March 4, 1789, with George Washington elected the first president and John Adams as Vice President. Six months later on September 25, 1789, Congress with Madison added 12 amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which were then sent to the states to ratify. In November 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution. All that was left was holder over Rhode Island, who found fault with the federal government controlling the currency and slavery, when the government “threatened” to cut “commercial ties,” Rhode Island narrowly ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1890, becoming the 13th state to do so. It took over a year later on December 15, 1791, for all the states to ratify the Bill of Rights.

The United States Constitution is the oldest working and most successful in history. The Founding Fathers created a document that had the forethought to grow and expand as the nation, its territories did and times changed. Historian Pauline Maier in her book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 concludes, “The Constitution they gave us proved more successful than its most devoted advocated imagined: It has guided the United States as its boundaries expanded from the Mississippi to the Pacific and its influence spread over the world… Without the Constitution’s critics determined opposition, however, the first ten amendments would not have become a part of the Constitution for later generations to transform into a powerful instrument for the defense of American freedom.” (Maier, 467, 468) Whatever crisis the country has faced or will and whoever becomes the president and whether they abuse their power or not, the Constitution is a living document that protects the nation and its people and their future guaranteeing freedom and the continuation of the oldest and most successful democratic experiment.

SOURCES & READ MORE

Klarman, Michael J. The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2016.

Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

OTD in History… June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution

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OTD in History… June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in History June 15, 1775, the Second Continental Congress unanimously votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. The Congress chose Virginia delegate Washington because in 1754 he served as “Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty’s Colony” for the British army during the French and Indian War. Washington would accept this central post in America’s fight for independence from Great Britain. Thirteen years later in 1789, again the country would unanimously vote Washington the first President of the United States.

Washington served in the first Continental Congress in the fall of 1774, and in March 1775, was again chosen by Virginia as one of their delegates. This time the colonies were inching closer to war. As Virginia delegate, Patrick Henry declared, “We must fight! Give me liberty or give me death!” War and eventually independence would be on the Second Continental Congress’ agenda when they reconvened on May 10, 1775.

At this point, only militia forces were fighting the British, but they needed a leader after victories against the British with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19. Besides a leader, the militias were lacking “guns, ammunition, and training.” On June 14, the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army, and Samuel and John Adams nominated Washington as commander. New England’s delegates wanted a leader from their area, while others thought having a commander from the South would make the army a “Continental” one representative of the all 13 of the American colonies.

With Washington from Virginia, he became the consensus candidate. The army needed rich and populous Virginia’s involvement. Washington had the military experience, and at 43-years-old was young enough for the rigors of the war, and he was dedicated to the colonies’ patriotic cause. One New England delegate observed, “He seems discrete and virtuous, no harum-scarum, ranting swearing fellow, but sober, steady, and calm.” After his nomination, Washington recused himself from the voting and the Congress unanimously chose him.

On June 16, Washington delivered an acceptance speech, telling the Congress, “I am truly sensible of the high Honor done me in this Appointment… lest some unlucky event should happen unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every Gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honoured with.” Unlike the soldiers, Washington refused to take a salary; instead, he asked to be for having his expenses paid at the war’s end.

John Adams wrote his wife Abigail about the Congress choosing Washington on June 17, saying, “I can now inform you that the Congress have made Choice of the modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington Esqr., to be the General of the American Army and that he is to repair as soon as possible to the Camp before Boston.”

The next day, Washington wrote a letter to his wife Martha informing her of his new post. Washington expressed, “It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defense of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it. You may believe me my dear Patsy, when I assure you in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it.” Washington admitted, he had no choice to accept the command, writing, “It was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon myself, and given pain to my friends.”

The Congress drafted Washington’s commission on June 17; they officially commissioned Washington as commander on June 19, and he assumed command on June 3, two weeks after the army floundered at the Battle of Bunker Hill outside of Boston, Massachusetts on June 17. Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms also on July 3, explaining the reasons behind the colonies military actions and Revolutionary War against Britain.

As historian James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn in their biography, George Washington noted, “From now on, he promised, he would devote himself solely to ‘American Union and Patriotism.’ All smaller and partial considerations would ‘give way to the great and general Interest.’” Washington would serve as the commander leading the newly formed United States to independence and victory against the British, resigning on December 23, 1783. Five years later in 1789, Washington would lead the new nation again, when he was elected the first President of the United States. His two-term presidency would be the model followed throughout American history.

SOURCES

Burns, James M. G, and Susan Dunn. George Washington. New York: Times Books, 2004.

Findling, John E, and Frank W. Thackeray. Events That Changed America in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, Conn Greenwood Press Birmingham, AL, USA EBSCO Industries, Inc., 1998.

READ MORE

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin, 2010.

Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency George Washington. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. New York: Random House, 2005.

History Buzz February 17, 2012: George Washington still tops as most favorable President in Presidents’ Day Public Policy Polling survey

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Poll: George Washington still tops

This undated file photo of a 1796 Gilbert Stuart oil on canvas painting portrays George Washington, founding father and first president of the United States. | AP Photo

Eighty-nine percent of Americans say they see George Washington favorably. | AP Photo

Source: Politico, 2-17-12

George Washington still ranks as Americans’ number one president, according to a new poll out Friday.

A whopping 89 percent of Americans say they see the United States’ first president favorably, according to a Public Policy Polling survey. The nation’s most other popular presidents offer few surprises, with Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, John Adams, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt rounding out the top ten.

Lincoln, with 85 percent favorability, just missed taking the top stop from Washington. Only two other presidents have a favorability rating over 70 percent — Jefferson at 74 percent and Kennedy at 70 percent.

Richard Nixon is by far the least popular, with 59 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the scandal-ridden former commander in chief. Just 27 percent say they see Nixon positively. Ten other former presidents hit negative numbers in the poll: Lyndon B. Johnson, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Barack Obama, Chester Arthur, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan and George W. Bush.

Obama comes in with 46 percent saying they see him favorably and 49 percent unfavorably. His predecessor, George W. Bush, gets similar support, with 45 percent positive and 46 percent negative ratings. Americans see other recent presidents in a more positive light — Ronald Reagan is the 14th most popular president, Gerald Ford the 16th and Bill Clinton ranks 17th….READ MORE

History Buzz February 7, 2012: Barry Landau: History expert pleads guilty to stealing documents

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History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History expert pleads guilty to stealing documents

Source: AP, 2-7-12

Historian Barry Landau walks out of federal court Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 in Baltimore. Landau plead guilty to stealing thousands of documents from historical societies and libraries stretching from Baltimore up the East Coast..(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

A memorabilia collector and self-styled expert on presidential history pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to steal thousands of documents signed by leaders throughout U.S. history.

Barry Landau, whose knowledge of the White House earned him network morning show appearances, acknowledged in the plea to taking documents from the Maryland Historical Society and conspiring with his assistant to steal historical documents from several institutions with the intent of selling them.

Thousands of documents were seized from Landau’s artifact-filled Manhattan apartment. Prosecutors say he schemed for years, if not decades, to steal valuable documents signed by historical figures from both sides of the Atlantic including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Antoinette, and Charles Dickens. The oldest document listed in the plea was dated 1479.

The assistant pleaded guilty in October to the same charges: theft of major artwork and conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork. The pleas capped a case that was a wake-up call for archives and historical institutions nationwide to strengthen their security, prompting checks for visits by the pair and whether anything from historical collections was missing.

David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States, said in a statement Tuesday evening that, “I am outraged that Mr. Landau who fashioned himself as a Presidential historian violated the public trust at many of our nation’s greatest historical repositories.”...READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: Solving the Mystery of Washington’s Famous Letter

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History Buzz

Source: Jewish Daily Forward, 6-15-11

It started as a mystery.

During a lecture in England last December, Jonathan Sarna, America’s foremost scholar of American Jewish history, said he did not know the whereabouts of one of American Jewry’s most important documents: George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation, in Newport, R.I.

Upon this yellowed piece of 18th-century rag paper, composed in 1790, is a short but powerful statement from the first president of the United States reassuring one of the original colonial congregations that his nascent government guaranteed religious liberty for all.

“For, happily,” Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, “the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

More than a vital piece of American Jewish history, the letter is one of the primary documents guaranteeing religious tolerance in America, its famous words still quoted by community leaders and politicians whenever they want to underline America’s commitment to religious liberty.

But where is the letter?

After months of searching, the Forward has found the elusive letter in an art storage facility in a squat, nondescript building in an industrial park in Maryland, a stone’s throw from the home of the Washington Redskins, at FedExField. The letter is owned by the Morris Morgenstern Foundation and has been on loan to the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum for more than 50 years….READ MORE

History Buzz Special: President’s Day 2011

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History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

IN FOCUS: PRESIDENT’S DAY

  • Americans Say Reagan Is Greatest President, Poll Finds: Number 40 is No. 1. Just in time for Presidents Day, Ronald Reagan tops a list of the nation’s greatest chief executives, ahead of Abraham Lincoln, according to a new survey out Friday.
    The Gallup Poll puts Reagan, with 19 percent, in the top spot for the third time. Reagan also occupied the position in 2001 and 2005 — and he has been in the top three eight times since Gallup started asking the “greatest president” question 12 years ago.
    Lincoln garnered 14 percent, followed very closely by Bill Clinton, with 13 percent.
    John F. Kennedy, who was on top in 2000 and tied with Lincoln in 2003, came in fourth this year.
    The country’s first president, George Washington, is fifth on the list.
    Gallup said respondents are more likely to mention recent office-holders because “the average American constantly hears about and from presidents in office during their lifetime, and comparatively little about historical presidents long dead.”…. – Politics Daily, 2-18-11
  • Top 10 presidents: In 2010, Siena College asked 238 presidential scholars to rank the 43 commanders in chief:
    1. Franklin Roosevelt
    2. Teddy Roosevelt
    3. Abraham Lincoln
    4. George Washington
    5. Thomas Jefferson
    6. James Madison
    7. James Monroe
    8. Woodrow Wilson
    9. Harry Truman
    10. Dwight Eisenhower
  • Presidents Day history, facts and info: Presidents Day officially falls on the third Monday in February. It was borne out of a combination of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday Feb. 12 and George Washington’s birthday Feb. 22. The federal holiday is officially dubbed “Washington’s Birthday,” but is more commonly known as Presidents Day.
    Washington’s Birthday: Washington’s birthday was originally Feb. 11, 1731, by the Julian calendar. When Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar the date was changed to Feb. 22, 1732. Celebrating the birthday America’s first president goes back to when he was still in office.
    Observing Washington’s Birthday: After Washington’s death in 1799, Congress chose to honor our first president in many ways. In 1832, Congress adjourned Feb. 22 to observe the centennial of Washington’s birth. In 1862, Washington’s farewell address to the nation was read aloud on the floor of the House and Senate on the day of his birth. The tradition still holds in the U.S. Senate today.
    Official Holiday: In the late 1870s, Washington’s Birthday joined New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day as the five observed holidays by banks and by federal employees in Washington, D.C. In 1885, Washington’s birthday was extended to all federal employees.
    Uniform Monday Holiday Law: In 1968, Congress considered the Uniform Monday Holiday Law in order to standardize days (not dates) of certain holidays on calendars. Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Veterans Day all became holidays observed on a Monday. Columbus Day was created with the same legislation and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was added in 1983.
    Third Monday in February: The third Monday in February was chosen as the day for Presidents Day because it falls on neither Washington’s nor Lincoln’s actual birthday. The third Monday in February occurs from Feb. 15 to Feb. 21 in any given year.
    Lincoln’s Birthday: Lincoln’s birthday was never an official federal holiday although many northern states observed Feb. 12 as a holiday. In 2011, only three states officially close their offices to observe Lincoln’s birthday–Connecticut, Illinois and Missouri. California and New Jersey used to close state offices, but in 2011 employees are reporting for work in both of those states.
    Presidents Day Celebrations: In the official Public Law, the third Monday of February is designated “Washington’s Birthday” even though Congress set the date in order to honor Lincoln as well. The name morphed into Presidents Day when businesses wanted to market big sales during the three-day weekend. Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George Washington on the Potomac River, celebrates the third Monday in February with free admission to the site along with other celebrations. – Yahoo News, 2-17-11
  • Presidents Day — Listing the best and worst: Presidents Day is a combined holiday fusing what were once the separate observations of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays (fused by Richard Nixon and set on the third Monday in February) They are generally regarded as our best presidents and are two of the four faces on Mount Rushmore. How do the ones who are implied by the holiday of Presidents Day (if not specifically mentioned) come out?
    Listing presidents from best to worst can be problematic when dealing with arguably the most polarizing tenants of the White House as well as with the most recent ones (as their administrations haven’t receded far enough into the past to be completely called history). Both aspects of that came to the fore in 2006 when historian Sean Wilentz held George W. Bush to be the worst U.S. President in history, citing a 2004 survey in which a sizable majority reached the same verdict. The potential problems with such a judgment being made in the middle of Bush’s term in office should be obvious….
    There have been a great many polls with Siena’s 2010 survey being its fifth. Lincoln, Washington, and FDR generally occupy the top three slots (with Jefferson and T. Roosevelt occasionally stepping in) and Buchanan, Pierce, and Harding generally occupy the bottom three slot (with a couple of entries by Andrew Johnson and William Henry Harrison — but see my cavil about the latter)…. – Gather, 2-21-11
  • President’s Day History: February 21st marks the celebration of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, more commonly known as President’s Day.
    Washington, known as “The father of our country” is remembered for playing a significant role in drafting the Declaration of Independence.
    Lincoln, or “Honest Abe” was known as the “Great Emancipator” for signing into law the Emanciption Proclamation that freed the slaves… – Newsmax, 2-18-11
  • Presidents Day: A Time to Remember the Greats: Presidents Day is ostensibly a time to celebrate the great men who helped shape the nation. It’s an oddly named holiday, if for no other reason than few would hold the presidents with equal reverence. Once upon a time, we celebrated the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln separately, an honor befitting their outsized legacies. It’s universally accepted that their accomplishments merit unequal treatment in that regard.
    It was Richard Nixon, of all people, who decided to replace Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays for the more generic Presidents Day, which takes place on the third Monday in February. The intent was to pay respect to all the previous office holders, though the unintended consequence has been just the opposite. For younger generations, the holiday represents little more than a chance to score some deals at the local mall; it’s doubtful that shoppers are giving thought to our greatest presidents as they troll the discount bins.
    And that’s a shame. Presidents Day should be a chance for Americans to reconnect with the past — both distant and near — and the giants of the office who transformed the country. There’s certainly no shortage of men and moments to appreciate…. – Fox News, 2-21-11
  • Presidents Day 2011 – Remembering Ronald Reagan: While Presidents Day has traditionally been a day to remember two of America’s greatest presidents—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln; in recent years it has become a day to reflect upon all of the great presidents of the United States and their accomplishments. In that spirit, this Presidents Day seems to be the perfect occasion to reflect upon the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 100 on February 6.
    While Ronald Reagan has certainly become an icon among conservative Americans, he was also quite popular among most independent voters and even a good number of “Reagan-democrats.”
    The tribute video linked to this page does a good job of celebrating the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan. It is worth watching for anyone who is a Reagan fan. Though I certainly do consider Ronald Reagan one of our greatest presidents, I do not mean to suggest that I would rank him above the likes of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Our nation’s history has been marked by many great presidents (and many not so great presidents)…. – Examiner, 2-21-11
  • Presidents Day: Scandals that created celebrities: In honor of Presidents Day, we take a look at a few folks who’ve achieved fame — or at least notoriety — by having their names linked to the leader of the free world…. – LAT
  • Presidents Day: Celebrating Monica Lewinsky, Judith Exner and other man-made celebs: On Presidents Day we should, in theory, spend some time thinking about what our presidents have done to give us the country we have today, right? And yes, we thought about it. And then we decided that we were less interested in presidential achievements than we were in regular folks who achieved fame, or infamy, thanks to an association with a leader of the free world. In that spirit, the Ministry has compiled a Presidents Day photo gallery of average Joes — or, more often, average Janes — whose names we know thanks to high-level improprieties. CIA agent Valerie Plame, (whose relationship, admittedly, was more with the White House in general than with a president in particular) and take a trip down memory lane with the likes of Monica Lewinsky, Judith Exner, Sally Hemings and more…. – LAT, 2-21-11
  • Harold Holzer: Five myths about Abraham Lincoln: No American hero, with the possible exception of George “I Cannot Tell a Lie” Washington, has been more encrusted with myth than Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did boast virtues that required little embellishment. He rose from obscurity through hard work, self-education and honesty. He endured venomous criticism to save the Union and end slavery. He died shortly after his greatest triumph at the hands of an assassin. But tall-tale-tellers have never hesitated to rewrite Lincoln’s biography. On Presidents’ Day, it’s well worth dispelling some perennial misconceptions about the man on the $5 bill….
    1. Lincoln was a simple country lawyer….
    2. Lincoln was gay….
    3. Lincoln was depressed…
    4. Lincoln was too compassionate…
    5. Lincoln was mortally ill… –
    WaPo, 2-17-11
  • Another President’s Day — for Jefferson Davis: While a few Yankees will nationally celebrate Presidents’ Day Monday as the combined birthdays of notorious good guy George Washington and an early Illinois president named Abraham Lincoln. But a real celebration occurs Saturday.
    That’s actually a day late for the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as head of the Confederate States of America. The celebratory day has fallen into considerable disuse since roughly Appomattox Court House.
    Born in Kentucky, Davis was a U.S. Senator from Mississippi both before and after he was, appropriately enough, Secretary of War in the Democratic administration of New Hampshire’s only native-born president, Franklin Pierce (1853-57). Pierce, a lifelong alcoholic, is widely considered one of the worst presidents in American history.
    Davis actually argued against secession, though he never questioned a state’s right to depart the Union.
    On Feb. 18, 1861, Davis began a six-year term as president of the Confederate States. Like Jimmy Carter from Georgia some years later, Davis was a one-termer; actually, a less-than-one-termer, as he was arrested for treason by Union troops on May 10, 1865, a day that passes now without notice…. – LAT, 2-18-11
  • Presidential party Madame Tussauds’ wax exhibit features all of America’s leaders, from Washington to Obama: What better way to celebrate Presidents Day weekend than getting up close and personal with all 43 presidents — well, their lifelike wax figures, that is.
    The Presidents Gallery at Madame Tussauds Washington opens this week with an unveiling of the museum’s new $2 million exhibit featuring wax figures of the U.S. leaders, from No. 1, George Washington, to No. 44, Barack Obama. (Grover Cleveland, for those counting, was No. 22 and No. 24.)
    “This is the only place in the world where you are able to stand next to them, put your arms around them and interact with all 44 presidents in three-dimensional fashion,” said Dan Rogoski, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington…. – Baltimore Sun, 2-17-11
  • President’s Day in New Jersey: Remembering the Roosevelts: February has morphed into Presidents’ Month. First there were Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday. Then came President’s Day, which provided for a three-day weekend. Before long, stores and advertisers expanded the three-day weekend to a week, and now it has become a full month’s merchandising affair.
    Similarly, the focus on Presidents, to the extent that there is one, has expanded to Presidents beyond Washington and Lincoln. Over time, the month has come to consider things “Presidential”, including our more obscure Presidents. In this spirit, our Presidential story for this month involves the name Roosevelt. Of course, we have had two Presidents Roosevelt — fifth cousins we are told.
    One was a Republican, the other a Democrat. One presided over the nation in the early part of the 20th century in the midst of rapidly changing times marked by an era attempting to reign in corporate power. The other led the nation in the later part of the 20th century, and faced daunting, monumental challenges — the Great Depression and World War II.
    Both Roosevelts were popular, but with very different constituencies. Both have had their names honored and memorialized — but in different ways with very interesting stories behind these honors…. – New Jersey Newsroom, 2-21-11
  • Remember Your Other 5 Black Presidents: It has been said that this year was the first time a major political party in the United States nominated a woman or a Black person as its presidential candidate. For women, that is true, but some historians say Barack Obama will not be the nation’s first Black president. They say he certainly won’t be the first president with Black ancestors–just the first to acknowledge his Blackness.
    Which other presidents hid their African ancestry? Well, it’s not Bill Clinton, even though the Congressional Black Caucus honored him as the nation’s “first Black president” at its 2001 annual awards dinner. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all had Black ancestors they kept in their genealogical closets, according to historians…. – 2-15-08
  • Virtual president’s desk enlivens JFK’s 1800s desk: A new online feature called The President’s Desk is giving people a chance to learn more about John F. Kennedy’s life and administration. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is introducing its latest project on Monday morning at the library’s museum in Boston…. – AP, 2-22-11
  • WHITE HOUSE RECIPES FOR President’s Day: In honor of President’s Day I share some presidential recipes I rustled up. Apparently the Obama’s don’t cook their chili for hours and hours. The Fords liked blueberries in their banana bread. Lyndon Johnson preferred his barbeque sauce just so. Jackie Kennedy was not above opening a can. And Franklin Roosevelt had a favorite chicken dish with a nebulous history. Hometown Focus, 2-18-11
  • This Presidents Day, A Lesson In Greatness: Presidents Day is a good time to reflect both on the accomplishments of presidents past and on the lessons of history.
    It’s also a time to honor our truly great presidents: George Washington, the father of our country; Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator; and Ronald Reagan, the great communicator.
    Reagan, the greatest president of modern times, provides all of us a lesson in presidential leadership. True, it was his oratorical skill that made Reagan such a potent force. But it was his ideas and his unwavering belief in America’s greatness that made him great…. – Investors, 2-18-11
  • ‘Today’ features long-lost Thomas Jefferson books on President’s Day ’11 (video): ‘Today’ features long-lost Thomas Jefferson books on President’s Day ’11 (video) — Appropriate for President’s Day, NBC’s Today Show featured a story Monday morning about a group of recently discovered books once thought lost from the library of Thomas Jefferson. The books have been determined to be authentically Jefferson’s, and the specific titles and notes associated with them will aid scholars and historians in filling in gaps in the history of the nation’s third president.
    Ann Lucas from the International Center for Jefferson Studies appeared on Today along with Shirley Baker, Dean of Libraries at Washington University of St. Louis. Ms. Lucas explained her scholarly search that set her on the trail of the books…. – Examiner, 2-21-11
  • ‘A Great and Mighty President’ Three historians discuss the “splendid misery” that is the presidency: Patrick Henry opposed the Constitution as vehemently as he opposed tyranny. Indeed, at the Virginia ratifying convention in June 1788, he argued they were the same thing. “Besides the expenses of maintaining the Senate and other house in as much splendor as they please,” he railed, “there is to be a great and mighty president, with very extensive powers — the powers of a king.”
    Three months before, Alexander Hamilton, writing as “Publius” in the New York Packet, had defended the proposed presidency. “The executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate,” he wrote. “If, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the Grand Seignior, to the khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains, or to the governor of New York.”
    Both men were right. The president assumed very extensive powers. But even with them, no occupant of the office has yet resembled a king — at least not considerably. For this good fortune, we owe a large debt to the men who have held the office.
    No man had a greater influence on the presidency than its original occupant. “The office of the presidency was not only forged by George Washington,” says historian Ron Chernow, who recently published a one-volume biography of the first president. “One can make the argument that the office was forged for George Washington.” At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, most delegates assumed he would be the first executive, and they outlined the president’s responsibilities in the Constitution with him in mind — that is to say, rather vaguely. Unlike the lengthy Article I, which enumerates the legislature’s tasks, Article II is short and vague.
    “That was extremely important,” Chernow adds, “because we had just fought a war against the abuse of executive power. Washington’s presence at the Constitutional Convention and this assumption emboldened the delegates to create a very powerful office, one so powerful that Thomas Jefferson and others were alarmed by its scope.”
    Washington wielded that power effectively: creating a national bank, negotiating an unpopular treaty with Great Britain, and extinguishing the Whisky Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. But he also answered a fundamental question — one whose answer we take for granted today: How is a president supposed to act? “Washington decides that, basically, the president won’t stop by your house for dinner,” Chernow quips. “The office would have a certain dignity and detachment.” Americans still afford their presidents that dignity. Notice last year’s kerfuffle over comedian Jon Stewart’s calling President Obama “dude.”… – NRO Online, 2-19-11Download
  • Jimmy Carter recounts his presidency: The 39th U.S. president celebrates Presidents Day before a large crowd in his hometown. Former President Jimmy Carter gave a standing-room-only crowd the ultimate civics lesson Monday at the Plains High School Museum. What better way to celebrate Presidents Day than hearing from a former American president? With the auditorium packed full of students from across the state of Georgia and tourists from Florida, Alabama and South Carolina, the nation’s 39th president recalled the highs and lows of his four-year administration….
    “I know this might sound strange, but this is the first time since 1981 that we’ve been back home that the park services has allowed me to speak from this stage,” Carter said. “Presidents Day has always been special to me because I proposed to Rosalynn on Presidents Day 65 years ago.”
    “I said then that the days of racial division of America were over, that no black child would ever again be denied the opportunity to succeed and thrive in America,” Carter said. “I’ve always said Harry Truman was my role model, and when he ended racial discrimination in the military you have to remember that was eight years before anyone had ever heard of Rosa Parks.” “That decision took a great deal of courage, and I am convinced that if it were not for Harry Truman and Martin Luther King Jr., I would have never been president.”
    “Foreign policy was always my favorite part of the job because I did not need permission to invite (Egyptian President) Anwar Sadat and (Israeli Prime Minister) Menachem Begin to Camp David,” he said. “It was a difficult time. Israel had already been in four recent wars with its neighbors, and all four were led by Egypt.” “Anwar Sadat is my favorite foreign leader of all-time,” said Carter.
    “Those 444 days were the biggest burden ever placed on me,” Carter said. “From Nov. 3, 1979 until the moment I left office, it was with me. Some said I should have bombed Iran, but that would have resulted in the loss of hundreds of innocent lives, and they would have executed our people. I wouldn’t risk that. “At 10 a.m. the day I was to leave office, I was told that our people were sitting in a plane on a runway waiting to take off, but (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini would not authorize it to leave as long as I was in office. The plane took off five minutes after (Ronald) Reagan was sworn in.”
    “Being President of the greatest country in the world was a wonderful honor and a public and private privilege,” Carter said. “I’d like to say thank you to the American people for giving me this wonderful honor.” – Albany Herald, 2-22-11

    QUOTES

  • “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.” – George Washington
  • “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know.” – John Adams
  • “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. ” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison
  • “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. ” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.” – John F Kennedy
  • “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

History Headlines June 17, 2010: Gordon S. Wood: Was Washington ‘Mad for Glory’?

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Gordon S. Wood: Was Washington ‘Mad for Glory’?

An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson
by Andro Linklater
Walker, 392 pp., $27.00

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon
by John Ferling
Bloomsbury, 464 pp., $20.00 (paper)

Washington-Custis-Lee Collection/Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA

George Washington as Colonel of the Virginia Regiment; painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1772

No two generals in the era of the early Republic appear to differ from one another more than George Washington and James Wilkinson. Although each man possessed considerable personal, political, and military skills and each at different times became commander in chief of the United States Army, the two generals seem to have little else in common. Washington was a revered figure in his own lifetime, someone who appeared to transcend the petty interests of ordinary men—a man of character, self-controlled, incorruptible, the epitome of selfless disinterestedness, and the savior of the new and fragile Union.

By contrast, Wilkinson, who was twenty-five years younger than Washington, was always a controversial figure, vain, flamboyant, and widely criticized for his selfishness and his lack of moral character. Throughout most of his career in the US Army, even as its commander in chief, he remained a paid secret agent of the Spanish government, a devious, untrustworthy, and corrupt creature who, far from endeavoring to preserve the Union, threatened several times to break it up. While Washington is rightly celebrated as one of America’s greatest heroes, Wilkinson may be the most unscrupulous character in all of American history.

But are the two men as opposite as they seem? Juxtaposing these two books suggests that Wilkinson and Washington may not be as different from one another as we have thought, or at least one of the authors wants us to think so.

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