President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1961. Elected in the midst of the Cold War, Kennedy focused his inaugural address on international politics and America’s place in the world. Kennedy appealed to both American citizens and people of other nations to come together in a struggle against “the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” He closed his speech with the now famous words:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
For more on presidential address throughout American history, check out History Now 36: “Great Inaugural Addresses.”
Middle and high school students with a passion for the Civil War can flex their writing and research skills by submitting an entry to the Civil War Essay Contest. Students have the opportunity to explore a Civil War topic of their choice and use secondary and primary sources (including letters, speeches, songs, photographs, newspapers, and military orders) to create an original scholarly essay.
In addition to prizes for the winning entries, the top essay writer from each school will receive a Gilder Lehrman publication, and both the school with the highest average judges’ score (minimum 10 entries) and the school with the greatest number of entries will receive a special certificate and a pack of materials. The deadline for submissions is February 27, 2017.
Today we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immense contributions to civil rights and social justice. One of the most enduring images of the civil rights movement is Dr. King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In this video, join Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson as he recalls the events of August 28, 1963, and explores the legacy of that iconic gathering:
Read more about the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Major Events and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1622, colonist Sebastian Brandt wrote a letter to a merchant in London, seeking supplies and assistance. Brandt had arrived in Jamestown intending to scour the land for precious minerals such as gold, silver, and copper. But he was impeded by the deaths of his wife and brother, his own illness, and a lack of supplies. He asks Henry Hovener to send him a long list of necessities. including a bed, clothing, shoes, cutlery, cheese, spices, “cullerd beads” to trade with Native Americans, and a strong young man to assist him in mining. Though he lacks money and gold, he assures Hovener that he can pay the Virginia Company back with “Tobacco Bevor and Otterskins.”
The letter stands as eyewitness testimony to the many hardships facing migrants who traveled to Virginia to seek their fortunes. Brandt most likely never found his fortune. He does not appear in any known existing official records, and he likely died not long after writing this letter.
Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11—in 1755 or 1757—in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean. Hamilton left an immense legacy as the first secretary of the treasury and architect of the American financial system. But what of Hamilton the man?
Hamilton’s amorous side is revealed in an intimate letter to his fiancée, Elizabeth Schuyler.
Writing in the midst of the American Revolution, while serving as George Washington’s aide, Hamilton declares, “I meet you in every dream . . . ’Tis a pretty story indeed that I am to be thus monopolized, by a little nut-brown maid like you and from a statesman and a soldier metamorphosed into a puny lover.”
The two were married on December 14, 1780. With this marriage, Hamilton joined one of the wealthiest, most socially prominent families in New York, and Elizabeth Schuyler became to wife of a man widely recognized as a brilliant and patriotic rising star.
Read the full transcript of the letter here.
You can explore other Gilder Lehrman resources on Alexander Hamilton here.
On January 4, 1865, the New York Stock Exchange opened for business in its first permanent headquarters on Broad Street.
The Exchange had formally existed since 1792, but had operated out of a series of packed Wall Street coffee-houses and rented offices. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the need for a more permanent exchange became clear: the opening of the Erie Canal saw New York City rise to prominence as the nation’s financial center, while a surge in American enterprise and the invention of telegraphs, tickers, and transatlantic cables greatly increased trading capacity. After the opening of the first building, the NYSE would only continue to grow—by 1886, more than a million shares a day were being traded!
To learn more about the history of America’s economic system, explore History Now 24: Shaping the American Economy.
On December 29, 1777, badly in need of more supplies and troops, George Washington wrote to the New Hampshire legislature pleading for assistance. He describes the desperate state of the 9,000 Continental Army troops camped for the winter in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, counting many ill or wounded and noting that least one-third were braving the cold barefoot and without proper clothing. Washington sent a version of this letter to every state legislature, with the exception of Georgia.
In the six months the Continental Army was camped in Valley Forge, two thousand died from cold, hunger, and disease, while the survivors emerged as hardened and disciplined soldiers.
Read a transcript of Washington’s letter here.
The deadline for the WWI and America Project is January 13, 2017, in just three weeks!
Public, academic, and community college libraries have the opportunity to join institutions across the country in commemorating the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I by receiving a programming grant and a dynamic Gilder Lehrman traveling exhibition.
We’re excited to announce that the Gilder Lehrman Institute is now a registered provider of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) in Texas!
We are currently in the process of becoming a registered professional development provider in all 50 states in order to make it easier for teachers to obtain professional development credit for our programs. If you would be interested in seeing the Gilder Lehrman Institute become an official provider in your state, or have any insight, comments, or experience with statewide professional development approval, please let us know by emailing [email protected].
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union. Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 set the wheels of secession in motion. Many Southerners were convinced that the new president and his Republican Party would take federal action against slavery.
This broadside, printed by the Charleston Mercury, announced that South Carolina, by unanimous vote, would repeal the US Constitution and that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America,’ is hereby dissolved.”
Eventually, ten other states would follow South Carolina’s example and form the Confederacy. Read about the conflicts that culminated in secession and war, and view a talk by University of Richmond professor Edward L. Ayers on the bitter divide between neighbors that led to the Civil War.
Passed by Congress in September 1789, the Bill of Rights was officially ratified on December 15, 1791, when Virginia became the tenth state (out of fourteen) to approve ten of the twelve proposed amendments. These ten amendments to the Constitution protect individual liberties from the power of the federal government; guarantee freedom of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly; and specify the rights of the accused in criminal and civil cases.
Explore some of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s teaching resources for introducing the Bill of Rights in the classroom:
The first Battle of Fredericksburg, fought December 11–15, 1862, has the distinction of being the largest Civil War battle, with a staggering total of 173,000 combatants. On December 11, Union troops came under heavy fire as they built bridges across the Rappahannock River. They crossed into the town of Fredericksburg the next day and clashed with Confederate troops, making this the first urban battle of the war. On December 13, 1862, Union troops led by General Ambrose Burnside faced off against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces at Marye’s Heights on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. After two days of fighting, the battle ended in a Confederate victory. Union forces would return in May 1863, defeating the Confederates and gaining control of the town in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg.
Read “Fredericksburg, Then and Now,” to learn how a student who grew up in Fredericksburg learned to appreciate her community’s place in history and, below, take a peek at several Gilder Lehrman Collection photographs and documents from the First and Second Battles of Fredericksburg.
Do you know a student with a passion for the Civil War? Gilder Lehrman is currently accepting entries for the Civil War Essay Contest from students in grades 6–12.
Seventy-five years ago, shortly before 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack against US armed forces in Hawaii. Japanese pilots targeted Army, Navy, and Marine airfields, followed by naval ships at Pearl Harbor, with the aim of devastating the entire US Pacific fleet.
The two-hour attack left 2,403 Americans dead and 1,178 injured, and was followed by a formal declaration of war against the United States. On December 8, after a nearly unanimous vote by Congress, the US formally declared war on Japan.
This interactive story map uses a timeline and photographs, documents, and letters to provide a full visual of the attack from both an American and Japanese perspective. Launch a larger version of the storymap in a new window here.
Click here to learn how to create your own interactive storymap, and discover more Gilder Lehrman resources related to the attack on Pearl Harbor and US involvement in World War II here.
Congratulations to Lamar University history professor Jeff Forret, who has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book Slave Against Slave: Plantation Violence in the Old South (Louisiana State University Press). Forret’s book explores the physical conflicts between enslaved people in the American South prior to the Civil War. Using a variety of historical documents, Forret sheds light on the complex dynamics, value systems, and social relationships that existed among enslaved people. Forret will recieve a $25,000 prize at a ceremony in his honor on January 31, 2017. Learn more about Forret’s book and the 2016 book prize here.
The Frederick Douglass Book Prize, created jointly by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University’s MacMillan Center, is awarded annually for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition.
On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
As a constitutional amendment, it was more permanent—and farther reaching—than the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that applied solely to those states in rebellion.
The US Senate had initially passed the amendment in April 1864, but it failed in the House of Representatives. On December 6, 1864, in his annual message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln threw his support behind the amendment. “In a great national crisis like ours,” Lincoln explained, “unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable. . . . In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union.”
The Thirteenth Amendment was approved by Congress on January 31, 1865, and formally ratified on December 6, when Georgia became the 27th state (out of 36) to approve it.
On December 2, 1823, President James Monroe delivered his annual message to Congress. In one portion, now known as the Monroe Doctrine, he declared that the United States would not meddle in European affairs, and warned European powers not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere. From then on, a European attempt to assert control over any territory in the Western Hemisphere, through attack, colonization, or puppet monarchs, would be viewed as a threat to America as well.
The doctrine was a response to growing unease about European powers jockeying for control or territory and trade in the Western Hemisphere. These fears were not entirely unfounded: in 1821, Russia gained control of the Pacific Northwest and closed down foreign trade. Meanwhile, rumors of Spanish plans to regain former Latin American colonies worried both the United States and Britain.
Today is Giving Tuesday—a day between Thanksgiving and the rush of the holiday season to give back to the community by volunteering, donating, or speaking out.
Americans have a long history of coming together to make a difference and improve the lives of others, most prominently during the Progressive Era, when people across social classes fought for social, political, and economic reforms. The infographic below highlights the top ten most prominent reform movements of the era. You can view an interactive, clickable version here.
Applications are now being accepted for Summer 2017 Teacher Seminars! Spend an exciting week living among fellow educators at a university campus or historical site and learning from renowned scholars on a variety of historical topics. Explore next summer’s Teacher Seminar offerings and apply here.
Teacher seminars are open to all Affiliate School teachers. If you are a teacher who is not part of the Affiliate School program, you can easily sign up here.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. The Dow Jones News Service ticker tape shown here provides a testimony of the day’s harrowing events as they unfolded, and gives insight into the confusion and panic of the nation as they awaited news of the President’s fate. The reports begin with, “PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT TODAY JUST AS HIS MOTORCADE LEFT DOWNTOWN DALLAS — MRS KENNEDY JUMPED UP AND GRABBED MR KENNEDY — SHE CRIED OH NO — THE MOTORCADE SPED ON.” The ticker news tape continues to follow Kennedy to the hospital, and confirms reports of his death: “KENNEDY DIED OF A GUNSHOT WOUND IN THE BRAIN AT APPROXIMATELY 1 P M.”
Before the Internet, ticker tapes like these were one of the fastest ways to dissemintate information among media outlets across the country, and by extension, the public.
Below, Curator Beth Huffer shows the ticker tape that reported on the assassination:
Read more excerpts here.