The Cantankerous Mr. Maclay

William Maclay, elected by the Pennsylvania Legislature to the Senate of the United States, left his farm near Harrisburg early in March, 1789, and journeyed to New York to attend the first session of the First Congress. He took board and lodging for two dollars a week at a Mr. Vandolsom’s near the Bear Market, and for the next month he waited for the two houses to form a quorum, meeting informally each morning with other members at Federal Hall on Wall Street.Read more »

As Well As The Art Of Diplomacy, There Are Also The Arts Of Diplomacy

On any list of events that have altered the course of history the opening of Japan to foreign trade in 1854 must surely rank high. While the United States was pushing its boundaries westward to the Pacific and reaching the early stages of industrialization, Japan lay cradled in the tight shell of its own seventeenth century. Under an absolute ban on intercourse with the rest of the world imposed in 1638, Japanese citizens could not leave the islands, and foreigners could not enter them.Read more »

Vanishing Heritage

A careless America has lost or ignored most of its priceless collection of patent models. Sometimes exquisite,sometimes little more than toys, those that remain display in the inventors’ own handiwork the history of our technology

The engaging artifacts on the preceding page are, for all their quiet simplicity, survivors of an extraordinarily harrowing career. More important, they are part of a national treasure that is now threatened and dwindling almost daily. They are patent models, and each of them is a small monument to the native genius for invention that has put its stamp on all our national development. Read more »

A Dearth Of Heroes

In America the status of hero—durable, full-fledged hero—has been awarded to few men. The subtle, complex factors that have led us to be so selective were brilliantly described three decades ago m a book, The Hero in America , by historian Dixon Weder. For a reissue of this book, which will be published later this month by Charles Scribner’s Sons, novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren has written an introduction examining Mr. Wecter’s categories for glorification and speculating about who today—in this present age.Read more »

The Great Jefferson Taboo

Did Thomas Jefferson, widowed at thirty-nine, take as a mistress Sally Hemings, the beautiful quadroon half sister of his late wife? This careful study of the known facts and of the long, bitter argument on the subject is the work of a seasoned scholar. Fawn Brodie, professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles, has published widely acclaimed biographies of Joseph Smith, Thaddeus Stevens, and Sir Richard Burton. The material she presents here is the basis, in part, of a forthcoming longer study.Read more »

Science, Learning, And The Claims Of Nationalism

We have come a long way from the philosophy of the Enlightenment...a shift that represents a retreat rather than an advance, argues the noted historian.

We think of our own time as an Age of Enlightenment, but it flouts and even repudiates two essential principles of the Enlightenment: first the priority of the claims of science and culture over those of politics, and second the cosmopolitan and even universal nature of science and culture. Read more »

American Gothic

The revival in the nineteenth century of medieval motifs in architecture extended from villas and furniture to farmhouses and vineries

Many of the visitors who admire the classic calm of Monticello would be startled if they knew of the original intentions of Thomas Jefferson. In 1771, after he had begun work on the estate, he seriously contemplated building a battlemented tower on a neighboring mountain; and he also planned, though he did not actually erect, “a small Gothic temple of antique appearance” for the graves of his family and retainers. As usual, the master of Monticello was ahead of the times.Read more »

Thomas Jefferson And Maria Cosway

It was a romance in which the statesman found his Head at war with his Heart

Why is it that American history books contain so few romantic episodes? Aside from occasional references to John Rolfe and Pocahontas, or to Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, general histories have little to say about the love affairs experienced by our famous forefathers, or about the effect of such affairs on the course of the nation’s history. Read more »

"Consensus Politics,” 1800–1805

The idea goes back to the very beginnings of our national history. Then as now, it was built upon human relationships, and these—as Mr. Jefferson found to his sorrow—make a fragile foundation.

We hear a great deal these days, during an intensely political Presidency, about “consensus politics,” but it is no novelty of modern times. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson was its inventor and master practitioner. Time has all but canonized this Founding Father, so that few associate him with either guile, ruthlessness, or skill in political maneuver. Yet he had all three, and he knew how to use them.