Black Lives and the Boston Massacre

12 Dec

On March 5, 1770, at a little after nine o’clock in the evening, men in uniform shot and killed an unarmed black man named Crispus Attucks. They got away with it.

This may seem like a radical way to introduce the Boston Massacre, that seminal episode in American history in which British soldiers fired on a mob, killing five men. But it is not far from how John Adams described the events to jurors while defending those soldiers at trial. The future president would later say that winning their acquittal was “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” He engaged in some excellent lawyering, no doubt about it. The trial cemented Adams’s reputation as the archetypal lawyer-as-hero, a man willing to be hated in order to give individuals the chance to have their cause fairly heard. And it confirmed for Revolutionary British North Americans that theirs was a cause rooted in legal ideals. We have remembered the trial this way ever since: as a triumph of principle over self-interest or impetuous emotionalism. But an honest look at the transcript complicates the story by showing how racial prejudice contributed to the outcome. A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man and his cronies and that they didn’t deserve to hang for it.

So begins Farah Peterson’s masterful and sobering review of John Adams’s defense of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre. You may read the rest of her American Scholar article here.

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Alaska After the Quake

12 Dec

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

HOMER, ALASKA—I rode out last Friday’s earthquake under the dining room table. My sister-in-law had arrived the night before from Philadelphia for a two-week visit. I made her crouch under the table with me. Her eyes were wide. I wondered: How much longer will this go on?

So begins Miranda Weiss’s musings on living in Alaska with earthquakes and climate change. You may read the rest of her American Scholar post here.

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Aftermath of War: A World War I Hero Lost at Sea: The Death of Charles Whittlesey, 1921

11 Dec

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One of the more notable incidents in the combat experience of U.S. troops during World War I is that of the so-called “Lost Battalion.” During the fighting in the Meuse-Argonne in October 1918, over 500 men of the 308th Infantry Regiment advanced farther than the supporting troops on either flank and ended up surrounded by the Germans. At the time of their relief after six days, 107 men were dead and 63 were missing. The leadership of their commander, Lt. Col. Charles Whittlesey, was credited with preventing an even worse outcome. The colonel received great public acclamation and the Medal of Honor.

So begins a post by archivist David Langbart about the tragic suicide of a World War I hero. You may read the rest of the post at the National Archives blog here.

When George H. W. Bush played the religion card: 1988

3 Dec

George H.W. Bush was not one to wear his religion on his sleeve. But to gain the Republican presidential nomination, he felt he had to.

A New England Episcopalian, Bush was raised listening to his devout mother read from the Book of Common Prayer. Like other upper class class WASPS raised in the mid-20th century, he was a regular churchgoer.

But beyond checking a denominational box and invoking the Deity on the appropriate ceremonial occasions, Bush did not make his religion part of his political life.

Until 1988, that is.

So begins Mark Silk’s report at Religion News Service on religion in the late former President Bush’s 1988 campaign. You may read the entire report here.

The Power of American Indian Boarding School Records

14 Nov

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Not only the voices of policy makers and administrators appear in the records of the National Archives, but also those of individual people whose lives were changed by their interactions with the Federal agencies whose historic legacy we manage. Often these individual stories can capture the imagination.

So begins Gwen Granados’ post at the National Archives blog on the records of two American Indian boarding schools. You may read her entire post here.

The Messy “End” of World War I

31 Oct

For millions of soldiers, the First World War meant unimaginable horror: artillery shells that could pulverize a human body into a thousand fragments; immense underground mine explosions that could do the same to hundreds of bodies; attacks by poison gas, tanks, flamethrowers. Shortly after 8 p.m. on November 7, 1918, however, French troops near the town of La Capelle saw something different. From the north, three large automobiles, with the black eagle of Imperial Germany on their sides, approached the front lines with their headlights on. Two German soldiers were perched on the running boards of the lead car, one waving a white flag, the other, with an unusually long silver bugle, blowing the call for ceasefire—a single high tone repeated in rapid succession four times, then four times again, with the last note lingering.

So begins Adam Hochschild’s disturbing account of the “end” of World War I. You may read the entire New Yorker article here.

Papers of President Theodore Roosevelt Now Online

17 Oct

The Library of Congress is announcing that the Theodore Roosevelt Papers are now online. You may read the entire announcement here.

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