Compromise 2: Missouri, Slave Or Free?

Over the question of whether Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state in 1820, creative moderates brokered an ingenious compromise that averted civil war

On February 13, 1819, 35-year-old Congressman William Cobb unfolded his six-foot frame from his chair in the chamber of the Old Brick Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and locked his gray eyes on James Tallmadge Jr. of New York. There was little love lost between the grandson of Georgia’s most famous patriarch and the accomplished city lawyer. They had tangled on issues before, Cobb eloquently if savagely attacking Andrew Jackson over his campaign in Florida against the Seminoles; Tallmadge had defended the general with equal vigor.Read more »

Abolitionist John Doy

Tempers flare and violence reigns in the pre–Civil War battleground of Kansas

On January 25, 1859, a small wagon expedition of three whites and 13 blacks stole away from Lawrence, Kansas, on the first leg of a journey that would take the African Americans to the free state of Iowa, far from Kansas and the ever-present threat of kidnapping by slave traders. For the three white abolitionists it was a protest against those who would deny their deepest beliefs about freedom and human rights. Read more »

If Lewis And Clark Came Back Today

AFTER THREE TIMES traveling the trail they blazed, the author imagines what the two captains of Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery would make of the civilization we have built on the tremendous promise they offered

 

In the Spring of 1804, in a heavily loaded keelboat and two oversize canoes, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and nearly four dozen men crossed the Mississippi River and started up the Missouri, fighting its muddy, insistent current. Sent by President Thomas Jefferson, they were embarkins on the United States’s first official exploration into unknown territory, launching a legacy that reaches all the way to the modern space program. Read more »

Quantrill’s Bones

Drawn to the story of the fearsome Confederate raider by a modern act of violence, the author finds a strange epic in the Rebel’s restless remains

At approximately 2:30 P.M. on October 30, 1992, two maintenance men lowered a white fiberglass child’s coffin into a shallow grave in the Fourth Street Cemetery, in Dover, Ohio. The coffin contained the skull of a Confederate guerrilla named William Clarke Quantrill. As a drizzling, cold rain fell, they filled in the grave, tamped down the dirt, covered it with sod, and then threw their shovels into the back of their truck and drove away.Read more »

Nicknames On The Land

A small but dependable pleasure of travel is encountering such blazons of civic pride as “Welcome to the City of Cheese, Chairs, Children, and Churches!”

Stephen Vincent Benét confessed that he had fallen in love with American placenames, and George R. Steward, author of the classic Names on the Land, wrote that he was born with rapturous feelings towards the names and cities that “lay thickly over the land.” Read more »

“Yours Ever, Sam’l Clemens”

You had better shove this in the stove,” twenty-nine-year-old Sam Clemens wrote his older brother, Orion, in 1865, “for … I don’t want any absurd ‘literary remains’ & ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain’ published after I am planted.” Read more »

The Youngest Pioneers

For many children who accompanied their parents west across the continent in the 1840s and '50s, the journey was a supreme adventure

The historian Francis Parkman, strolling around Independence, Missouri, in 1846, remarked upon the “multitude of healthy children’s faces … peeping out from under the covers of the wagons.” Two decades later a traveler there wrote of husbands packing up “sunburned women and wild-looking children” along with shovels and flour barrels in preparation for the long journey west. In the goldfields of California in the 1850s, a chronicler met four sisters and sisters-in-law who had just crossed the Plains with thirty-six of their children.Read more »

Letters of a Most Uncommon Common Man

Harry Truman’s lifetime correspondence with his adored Bess opens a window on their time

TWO THINGS ABOUT Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman’s town, strike you immediately as different from what you might expect. It isn’t plain, flat Midwestern. And it isn’t hick.

The surrounding country is high and rolling with lovely, sometimes panoramic, views, which must have been lovelier still in Truman’s youth, before the town turned suburban. The Truman family farm, twenty miles south, was beside a village aptly named Grandview. Read more »

If You’ve Got An Ounce Of Feeling, Hallmark Has A Ton Of Sentiment

How the colossus of the “social expression industry” always manages to say it better than you do

FROM A DISTANCE , it looks like any other factory scene. Women, seated at small tables, hunch over piecework, their hands moving in quick, accustomed ways. Read more »

Maple Leaf Rag

“It is needless,” wrote his publisher, “to say anything of the writer of ‘Maple Leaf,’ ‘Cascades,’ ‘Sunflower’ or ‘Entertainer.’ You know him.” But this black genius died penniless and all but forgotten

Scott Joplin, riding high in the early flush of his success, wrote the jaunty words on the preceding page for a song that he fashioned in 1904 from his sensational piano rag hit of 1899. And “The Maple Leaf Rag” was all that he claimed; it changed his life, and it changed American music. Read more »