Editor’s Letter

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It happens that three of the most critical and momentous occasions in our nation’s history converge in this issue.

Few events have received more scrutiny than the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Why did Lee Harvey Oswald do it—and did anyone help him? Over the past 45 years, many have weighed in, from the members of the Warren Commission and the congressional investigators to historians and, of course, conspiracy buffs. After so much has been written, how could there be anything new to say?

Investigative reporters Gus Russo and Stephen Molton have spent the last three decades digging into the case, and their insights (“Did Castro OK the JFK Assassination?” p. 20) are shocking. They pull together such a compelling framework for the events in Dallas that you can’t fully appreciate that horrible event if you don’t know these details.

The investigative team gleaned overlooked facts in the National Archives and discovered new ones in the files of the former Soviet KGB, much like archaeologists sifting through piles of rubble for tiny but important clues about an ancient society. Finally, they tracked down former Cuban intelligence operatives and convinced them to talk; these spies confirmed hints left behind by Lyndon Johnson, Fidel Castro, and others that the Cuban government knew all along about Oswald’s plans—and took measures to encourage him.

Another pivotal moment in our past was the fortuitous ascension of an obscure former congressman to the presidency during the nation’s most trying time. With the upcoming 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we felt American Heritage should invite some of our finest historians to take a fresh look at this endlessly fascinating figure. As with the Kennedy assassination, there are still new things to say. We would like to thank Harold Holzer, one of the most respected authorities on Lincoln, for helping us put together this special section (“Lincoln’s Legacy,” p. 30).

Finally, with all the recent financial turmoil, we asked distinguished historian Thomas Fleming to write about the first time the United States encountered a rash of speculation that led to a financial meltdown (“Wall Street’s First Bubble,” p. 55). It occurred in 1792, when our young nation faced economic ruin after wealthy New York bankers bought up “subprime” scrips and caused our first market crash (when stocks were still traded under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street). Credit dried up, and ships wouldn’t unload goods without payment in hard currency. The U.S. government, led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, was forced to bail out the bankers and buy up the debt to keep the system intact. (The firm selected to oversee the current $700 billion bailout fund is the Bank of New York, the very bank started by Hamilton.)

These stories demonstrate not only why history remains relevant today—but that even well-considered subjects should be subject to continued scrutiny.

That is after all, what history is all about.

 

Edwin S. Grosvenor, Editor-in-Chief

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