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 »

The Harrison Bandwagon

Our forebears were much given to singing. They sang themselves through revolution with “The Liberty Song” and “Yankee Doodle,” and afterward each struggle of the young nation inspired songsters to extol in music and lyric the virtues of freedom. Political songs were also common, so perhaps it is not surprising that the Presidential campaign of 1840 turned into a songfest— at least for the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison. Read more »

“I Was Once a Great Warrior”

The tragedy of Black Hawk, who became the eponym of a war he tried to avoid

On July 4, 1838, the people of Fort Madison, in the Iowa Territory, invited an old Sauk war chief named Black Hawk to be guest of honor at their Independence Day celebration. A wrinkled and feeble old man, he sat at their banquet table under the trees on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and listened dourly while the white men bestowed honor and friendship upon him. When his turn came Black Hawk, too, spoke of friendship, but he could not forget the past as easily as the whites. They, after all, had gained by it; he had lost.Read more »

How to Get Elected

The American system of choosing a President has not worked out badly, far as it may be from the Founding Fathers’ vision of a natural aristocracy

“Elections, my dear Sir,” wrote John Adams to Thomas Jefferson after perusing a copy of the new Constitution, “Elections to offices which are great objects of Ambition, I look at with terror.” One can imagine the shudder with which both men, could they stand amid the bustle of a modern presidential campaign, would regard that quadrennial “carnival of buncombe.”

“These Lands Are Ours …”

Only Tecumseh came close to uniting the warring tribes, but his British allies and his less visionary people failed him

In its issue of December 2, 1820, the Indiana Centinel of Vincennes, Indiana, published a letter praising a late and much-hated enemy, “Every schoolboy in the Union now knows that Tecumseh was a great man,” it read. “He was truly great—and his greatness was his own, unassisted by science or the aids of education. As a statesman, a warrior and a patriot, take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.”

Read more »

The Harrisons Of Berkeley Hundred

Five successive Benjamin Harrisons created a private empire of tobacco and trade and a great Virginia plantation


Berkeley Hundred, as a working plantation still in operation after more than three centuries, is older than any English-speaking settlement in America outside Virginia. In fact, a Thanksgiving was celebrated on its river front and an experiment made there with corn whiskey before the Puritans, setting sail in one of the boats bound for Virginia, were blown off their course and landed in New England.

Read more »