The Letter That Bought An Empire

Written in haste, on an April midnight in 1803, the unedited text of the message that led to the Louisiana Purchase is printed for the first time.

AMERICAN HERITAGE herewith publishes one of the most .significant letters in American history—the letter which led to the great Louisiana Purchase. It was written to Secretary of State ,James Madison, in the spring of 1803, by Robert R. Livingston, the American minister to France; of it came the vast continental expansion.Read more »

Chats With Henry Adams

Never before published, Frederic Bancroft’s diary jottings give an intimate picture of a great historian at his leisure

The actual conversations of great men of the past—saving Samuel Johnson, perhaps, and a legendary Socrates—have seldom been recorded. How instructive and interesting would it be now had some posterity-conscious person recorded a conversation of Benjamin Franklin as he talked with friends at the City Tavern or Junto Club in Philadelphia, or Thomas Jefferson’s after-dinner discussions with guests at Monticello, or the conversations of Henry David Thoreau with the thinkers of Concord!Read more »

How Smart Should A President Be?

Smarter than stupid, of course; but does the intellectual tradition that began with the century suggest there is such a thing as being too smart for the country’s good?

The century now ending opened with a political situation that is both unusual and recurring: Intellectuals were somewhat firmly in the saddle. From 1901 to 1921 the White House was occupied by three authors—Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Taft and Wilson were ex-professors to boot. One of the powers of the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, was another author-professor.

 
 
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The Virgin And The Carburetor

When Henry Adams sought the medieval world in an automobile, this stuffiest of prophets became the first American to sing of the liberating force later celebrated by Jack Kerouac and the Beach Boys

Test-driving automobiles, Henry Adams discovered in June 1904, was “shattering to one’s nerves.” Trying out a Hotchkiss for purchase “scared my hair green. Truly it is a new world that I live in,” he continued, “though its spots are old. … The pace we go is quite vertiginous. Only men under forty are fit for it.” He was sixty-six, born in Boston in 1838, when railroads were replacing canals.Read more »

The Hub Of The Solar System

The author walks us through literary Boston at its zenith. But Boston being what it is, we also come across the Revolution, ward politics, and the great fire.

Like three Bostonians out of four, I live on a site that was originally underwater. My house is on River Street, an alleyway that was built for stables at the bottom of Beacon Hill in the middle of the nineteenth century. Until my wife, twenty years ago, redesigned the carriage house we live in, no humans had resided there. Out of the back of the house we see the spire of the Church of the Advent, a late-nineteenth-century Gothic-revival creation that has the best music, and the highest Episcopal service, in Boston.Read more »

Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

American History Is Falling Down

If the historians themselves are no longer interested in defining the structure of the American past, how can the citizenry understand its heritage? The author examines the disrepair in which the professors have left their subject.

In the mid-sixteenth century, a blind and deaf old Spanish soldier named Bernai Díaz del Castillo set out to write an account of what he had seen and done as a follower of Hernando Cortés during the conquest of Mexico. “Unfortunately,” he noted by way of introduction, “I have gained no wealth to leave to my children and descendants except this story, which is a remarkable one.” Read more »

101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

This is not a test. It’s the real thing.

How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Conrad.) But just how well does the average person remember the important facts—the laws, treaties, people, and events that should be familiar to everyone? Read more »

History Still Matters

A distinguished journalist and former presidential adviser says that to find the meaning of any news story, we must dig for its roots in the past

I am fascinated by what I see in the rearview mirror of experience. The future, being a mystery, excites, but the past instructs. When I was a student at the University of Texas, one of the favorite campus legends concerned a professor of anthropology, whose great power was in bringing the past alive through his brilliant lectures on the ascent of the human species.Read more »

William James Finds His Vocation

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one of the streets leading northeast along the Harvard Yard a man in early middle age—he is, in fact, fortyeight years old, of slight build and medium height but vigorous motion—is walking with a pair of students, boy and girl, who have followed him out of his class in experimental psychology. His face is bearded and his eyes bright blue, and his features reflect the rapidity of his thought. He is William James, the scientist and philosopher.Read more »