The Peales

‘The ingenious Captain Peale” sired a dynasty of painters and started America’s first great museum.

The aide-de-camp strode into the painting room and handed a message to General Washington, who was sitting for his portrait, a miniature for Mrs. Washington. “Ah,” he remarked alter a mere glance, “Burgoyne is defeated.” And then, supremely honoring his young friend the artist, that imperturbable man put aside the dispatch for later study and resumed the pose.Read more »

The American Christ

He was a capitalist. He was an urban reformer. He was a country boy. He was “Comrade Jesus,” a hardworking socialist. He was the world’s first ad man. For a century and a half, novelists have been trying to recapture the “real” Jesus.

The two most popular novels in nineteenth-century America were Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1896). (In fact, Sheldon’s book remained the dominant twentieth-century best-seller right up until Peyton Place overtook it in the late 1950s.) Although the first of these two books is set in ancient Palestine and the second takes place in the contemporary American Midwest, they are dominated by the same central character, Jesus.Read more »

101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

You Asked for It

When American Heritage suggested last year that I put together the article that became “101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History,” I accepted the assignment eagerly. None of the many articles I have published in this magazine over the years have attracted half so much attention, and I became so absorbed in thinking of items to include that I soon had far more than could fit into an article. I therefore decided to gather still more.Read more »

Ten Books That Shaped The American Character

Walden is here, of course; but so too is Fanny Farmer’s first cookbook

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books—especially contraband books—is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off.Read more »

Commitment To Posterity

WHERE DID IT GO?

As we commemorate the anniversary of the founding of our nation we are conscious of a paradox: we have almost miraculously maintained the continuity of those institutions which the Founding Fathers created, but in large measure we have betrayed the principles that animated them.Read more »

“a Representative Of America”

Vain, snobbish, distinctly upper-class in his libertine social habits, Gouverneur Morris nevertheless saw himself justifiably as

Of all the remarkable men who forgathered in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation, and perhaps to do even more, Gouverneur Morris was certainly the most talkative. Between May and September, when the delegates adjourned, he made a hundred and seventy-three speeches—twelve more than Madison, his nearest competitor.Read more »

Men Of The Revolution—vii

The whole history of America affords examples of men who fitted precisely the needs of a particular moment, only to be cast aside, forgotten or traduced when the tide of events they created or manipulated waned and time passed them by. During and after the Revolution, it happened to James Otis and Samuel Adams, but for no one did ingratitude follow fame quite so cruelly as for Thomas Paine. Read more »

Exit Lines

About to die at the untimely age of forty-four in 1883, Dr. George Miller Beard, a Connecticut physician and pioneer in neurology, remarked: “I should like to record the thoughts of a dying man for the benefit of science, but it is impossible.” And with those words, Dr. Beard passed beyond further speech. Regardless of their inner thoughts, we do at least know what many individuals uttered before giving up the ghost.Read more »

Roofs Over Rivers

Time is taking its toll of the romantic covered bridge, where once you could exchange gossip, argue politics, or court your lady fair.

For a hundred and fifty years, the covered bridge has been an old American landmark. Today it is becoming increasingly difficult to find even one, but only fifty years ago the traveler encountered countless numbers of them—at cities, villages, and country crossings from Maine to Georgia and west to California.