July 4 In 1826

As Adams and Jefferson died, America came of age

The approach of the fiftieth birthday of the United States, in 1826, naturally animated the minds of Americans with thoughts of the nation’s past, the heritage they had received from those who had asserted and won independence, and the dwindling number of Revolutionary leaders who survived.

 
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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 »

Winter Crossing

When John Adams set out with his little son on a perilous voyage early in 1778, he was full of misgivings. He had every right to be worried, but the journey turned out to be the adventure of his life—and a revelation of his essential character.

JOHN ADAMS REACHED HIS HOME IN BRAINTREE, MASSA- chusetts, by horseback in the last days of November 1777 and for two weeks did little but relish the comforts of his own fireside. He was home to stay, by preference and of necessity, he said: “It was my intention to decline the next election, and return to my practise at the bar. I had been four years in Congress, left my accounts in a very loose condition. My debtors were failing, the paper money was depreciating. I was daily losing the fruits of seventeen years’ industry.Read more »

Sexual Complications of the Presidential Kind

Did you know that John Quincy Adams pimped for the czar Alexander I of Russia while he was serving as the American minister in St. Petersburg? Some journalists claimed to know that fact during the notably scurrilous campaign of 1824. But historians have tended to remember the even more foul allegations brought against Andrew Jackson by an unscrupulous journalist, Charles Hammond, since there was a kernel of truth in the stream of filth directed at Jackson.

Windows On Another Time

A man who has spent his life helping transform old photos from agreeable curiosities into a vital historical tool explains their magical power to bring the past into the present

“Do you know anything about that wonderful invention of the day, called the Daguerreotype?...Think of a man sitting down in the sun and leaving his facsimile in all its full completion of outline and shadow, steadfast on a plate, at the end of a minute and a half!...It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases—but the association and the sense of nearness...the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever!Read more »

A Few Parchment Pages Two Hundred Years Later

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. It safeguards our liberties and establishes a government of laws, not of men and women. Above all, the Constitution is the mortar that binds the fifty-state edifice under the concept of federalism; it is the symbol that unifies nearly 250 million people of different origins, races, and religions into a single nation. Read more »

“Texas Must Be Ours”

On the 150th anniversary of Texan independence, we trace the fierce negotiations that brought the republic into the Union after ten turbulent years

From the moment he entered the White House in March 1829, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee turned a cold and calculating eye on Texas. Sitting in his study on the second floor of the mansion, maps strewn around the room, the white-haired, sharp-featured, cadaverous President breathed a passion for Texas that was soon shared by other Americans. Read more »

If Tocqueville Could See Us Now

In a new book, the political journalist and columnist Richard Reeves retraces Alexis de Tocqueville’s remarkable 1831-32 journey through America. Reeves's conclusion: Tocqueville not only deserves his reputation as the greatest observer of our democracy—he is an incomparable guide to what is happening in our country now.

When AMERICAN HERITAGE heard that Richard Reeves had undertaken to follow the route, one hundred and fifty years later, of a classic exploration of America’s people, places, and institutions, we assigned his friend and colleague Ken Auletta to ask the kinds of questions our readers might if they had the luck to find themselves sitting next to Reeves on a flight to, say, Buffalo or Memphis.Read more »

America’s First National Cemetery

Buried here, along with hundreds of congressmen and various Indian chiefs, are Mathew Brady, John Philip Sousa, and J. Edgar Hoover

As the truck bearing two coffins rolled out the main cemetery gate onto Potomac Avenue, the spirit of Richard Bland Lee must have sighed, “It’s about time.” In 1980, after 153 years, the brother of LightHorse Harry and uncle of Robert E. was finally going home to Sully Plantation in northern Virginia. Until his remains were disinterred, this little-known Lee, as mild as his middle name, had lain in the District of Columbia’s once-proud Congressional Cemetery. Read more »

Two Cheers For Optimism

One man measures his life-span against the length of recorded history and finds tidings of comfort and hope

At the risk of being sneered at as a NeoVictorian, I hereby admit to a nineteenth-century belief that, allowing for daily relapses Land hourly alarms, the world of man is improving. I am not by nature a Panglossian sort but, like the grandparent of a precocious child, I am overwhelmed by a sense of how far my still sprouting human species has come in so short a time. Read more »