A Spirit and Power Far Beyond Its Letter

The Emancipation Proclamation opened the door for Pennsylvania's African-American soldiers

The scene was wild and grand.Read more »

The South’s Mighty Gamble On King Cotton

The highly lucrative cotton crop of 1860 emboldened the South to challenge the economic powerhouse of the North

In the mid- to late summer of 1860, billions of soft pink and white Gossypium hirsutum blooms broke out across South Carolina, Georgia, western Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, soon to morph into puffy white bolls. Nearly 3 million black slaves fanned across this flowery inland sea. By season’s end in early winter, their harvest totaled the largest on record: with the seeds ginned out, a crop of 4 million 500-pound bales. Read more »

The First To Secede

South Carolina severed ties with the Union not out of concern for states' rights but because of slavery

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 20, 1860, some 170 men marched through the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, walking from St. Andrews Hall to a new meetinghouse amid the cheers of onlookers. Half of them were more than 50 years old, most well-known. More than 60 percent were planters who owned at least 20 slaves. Five had been state governors, four U.S. senators. Read more »

Eli Whitney: Nemesis Of The South

Having given slavery a new lease on life, he then made Northern triumph inevitable

Any American who ruminates about the origins of the Civil War—and that should mean not only professional historians but everyone in the United States, north and south, who has ever been spellbound by the story of his country—will find himself confronted sooner or later by an ingenious contraption for removing seeds from the cotton boll, known as the cotton gin.Read more »

Compromise 3: Clay and The 1850 Debate

Fistfights broke out in Congress in 1850 over whether the territories just won in the Mexican War should be slave or free—and only a last-minute series of compromises prevented catastrophe

On a raw evening in winter of 1850, a weary-looking, feeble, and desperately ill old man arrived unannounced at the Washington, D.C. residence of Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky had come to seek Webster’s help in his battle to save the Union. He believed that Webster’s legendary eloquence would be essential in preventing what appeared to be a headlong rush by Southern states to secede from the Union and possibly initiate civil war. Read more »

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 »

Compromise - Finding A Way Forward

At five critical junctures in American history, major political compromises have proved that little of lasting consequence can occur without entrenched sides each making serious concessions

Compromise has become a bad word for many in the political sphere. Yet our history shows that it’s the way things get done and how the country moves forward. From our founders who cobbled together the Constitution to the genial dealmaking of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, the will to compromise has proven not only a virtue but our saving grace in times of crisis.

Of course, fierce political disagreement is nothing new in our nation’s capital.Read more »

The Secret Six

Without the material support of a half-dozen prominent northerners known as the Secret Six, John Brown’s attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry 150 years ago may well never have occurred

ON OCTOBER 17, 1909, a small group of former abolitionists quietly gathered in an imposing brick house in Concord, Massachusetts, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Brown’s historic raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, then a part of Virginia. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Franklin B. Sanborn, and Julia Ward Howe, widow of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, did not want their meeting to attract attention despite the fact that Brown and his compatriots were being celebrated across the country.Read more »

1857 - The Dred Scott Decision

On March 6 the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its decision in the case of Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford . Scott was a Missouri slave, and Sanford (whose last name was misspelled in court papers) was a New York businessman who had custody of some family property, including Scott. In 1846 Scott had sued for freedom on the grounds that he and his previous owner, an Army surgeon, had lived in the state of Illinois and the territory of Wisconsin for several years. Slavery was illegal in both places. Read more »

Time Machine

50 Years Ago

March 20, 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of Great Britain meet in Bermuda. The purpose of the meeting is to patch up differences stemming from Britain’s seizure of the Suez Canal the previous year, which the U.S. opposed. Read more »