- Historic Sites
101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History
This is not a test. It’s the real thing.
December 1986 | Volume 38, Issue 1
—because his ten-volume History of the United States (published 1834–74) was the first detailed account from the discovery to the end of the Revolution, based on archives in America and Europe. Bancroft was also secretary of the Navy and minister to Great Britain in the Polk administration and minister to Prussia after the Civil War.
—because his multivolume history (1851–92) of France’s exploration and colonization of North America and of the Franco-British struggle for control of the continent is one of the most gripping narrative histories in the English language. Although Parkman had many prejudices (he considered Indians untrustworthy savages and Catholics undemocratic), his enormous work, completed despite years of fragile health and near-blindness, is both beautifully written and factually accurate.
(one of the Adamses, see item 28)—because his History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison (1889–91) is still a major source for the period. In addition Adams taught at Harvard, where he sponsored the first history Ph.D.’s granted by the university, and wrote other important works of history, two novels, and his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918).
—because his essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (1893), which stressed the way the frontier experience had affected American development, was a major influence on the writing of all American history for more than half a century.
—tbecause his controversial An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913) put an end to the view of the Founding Fathers as demigods by emphasizing that the Constitution they created benefited them financially. Beard is also important because his The Rise of American Civilization (1927–42), written with his wife, Mary, provided a gripping narrative account of American development that stressed economic, intellectual, and social aspects.
—because, besides training more than a hundred Ph.D.’s and writing dozens of excellent historical works on subjects ranging from the Civil War to Henry Ford, which won him two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, and numerous other honors, he was a lifelong advocate of the writing of good popular history, and one of the founders of American Heritage.
(1796), in which he stressed the importance of national unity as the “main pillar” of the nation’s independence, peace, and prosperity.
(1801), which contains his famous reference to the United States as “the world’s best hope” and his praise of “wise and frugal Government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, [and] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits.” At the time, the fact that Jefferson’s election marked the first real change of party control of the government made his promise to respect the rights of the Federalist minority seem the most important point in the address.
(1830), in which he called the American flag “the gorgeous ensign of the republic” and concluded with the sentence. “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Webster’s grandiloquence was much admired by contemporaries, but the speech was actually important because of its powerful refutation of the passionate but confused argument of South Carolina’s senator Robert Y. Hayne that the separate states were the ultimate source of sovereignty in the American political system.
(1858), delivered on the occasion of his nomination as the Republican candidate for senator from Illinois. This was probably Lincoln’s most radical statement about the implications of the slavery issue, the one in which he predicted that “this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” It got him in some trouble with Northern conservatives, especially when opponents quoted the remark out of context in order to suggest that Lincoln was an abolitionist. Lincoln did not, in this speech or on any other occasion before the war, call for the abolition of slavery.
at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. Bryan, arguing for a plank in the party platform calling for the free coinage of silver, ended with the sentence “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” “You” were the Gold Democrats, the supporters of the incumbent President, Grover Cleveland, who opposed the unlimited coinage of silver. The speech made a national figure of the thirty-six-year-old Bryan and led to his nomination for the Presidency by the convention.