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Letter From The Editor

May 2024
3min read

AMERICAN HERITAGE shares with Cornell University and the worlds of literature, scholarship, and humor the great loss occasioned by the death at Ithaca, New York, on November 20, 1973, of Morris Bishop. On his serious side Professor Bishop, who had held the chair in Romance languages, wrote distinguished biographies of Champlain, La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, and Ronsard; he was fluent in six languages. On another side he was one of the few truly great writers of light verse, published in many magazines and books. Our association with this delightful gentleman began ten years ago, when he was seventy and commenced contributing articles to AMERICAN HERITAGE and to HORIZON—many of them growing out of his interest in the history of upstate New York. He wrote about the bloody Sullivan expedition during the Revolution and on John Humphrey Noyes and his bizarre Oneida Community; we shall soon be publishing his article on the fabled party called The Mischianza, which British’officers, led by the illfated John André, gave on the eve of their evacuation of Philadelphia. A master of the Indian witticism, which creeps up on its object with deadly stealth, he also composed the classic essay on usage for The American Heritage Dictionary . In between times Mr. Bishop entertained us with japes on the backs of comic Victorian post cards and with a mock-heroic search for the birthplace in Ithaca of your editor (whose father also once taught at Cornell). Here is some inspiration, perhaps, for those who may be wondering how to keep busy after seventy. He had just finished another biography (on Saint Francis of Assisi) and, at eighty, was starting another when he died. In the respectful mansions of the scholars’ heaven we hope there is room for his brand of genial irreverence.

If Messrs. Samuel Adams, James Otis, and (for that matter) the last royal civil governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, could revisit us today in the midst of that sordid complex of matters that we lump together under the name Watergate, they would have no trouble recognizing the central issue at stake. It is much the same as the one they battled over two hundred years ago. It is the overweening accretion and misuse of power by the executive, whether King or President. It is, and was, the corruption of the Constitution, for England’s unwritten one was as real to Englishmen, at home and overseas, as the one our Founding Fathers wrote out so carefully a few years later. In the fierce arguments between Adams and Otis against Hutchinson and other royal appointees, American born and bred nearly all of them, we find echo after echo of our own troubled times, times in which we have created, almost without meaning to, what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., calls the Imperial Presidency.

The tragic story of Thomas Hutchinson, which we have excerpted from a brilliant new book by Professor Bernard Bailyn of Harvard, leads off a cluster of articles in this issue built around the coming of the Revolution, attempts to avert and settle it, and the ways in which we have looked back at it since. This has allowed us, among other things, to present what we think is an unusual, well-illustrated account of the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 (if only it were to be repeated today!) and a thoughtful article by Professor Irving Kristol of New York University on understanding the true significance —and success—of the political but not social revolution that launched America on its astonishing career. We particularly commend it to those who are worried about the disappointments of the forthcoming Bicentennial and confused about what we should in fact celebrate.

Looking to our other great conflict, (he one that saved the Union, American Heritage, as some of our readers will have noticed in the press, has acquired a truly significant collection of drawings, water colors, and paintings of the Civil War, loosely called the Century Collection. When that eminent but now vanished magazine and hook-publishing company prepared its landmark series of four books of first-person experiences called Rattles and Leaders of the Civil War , it commissioned illustrations from all available sources, including about threescore artists, many of whom, like Alfred R. Waud, Edwin Forbes, Allen C. Redwood, Theodore R. Davis, and William L. Sheppard, were eyewitnesses to the conflict. Still others had performed the arduous job of converting Civil War photographs, lithographs, and amateur sketches into drawings that could be engraved on wood.

As we have notified members of the American Heritage Society, this great assemblage of war art, amounting to 724 individual drawings and thirty maps never “published” before in the modern sense of direct reproduction (and some of it never used in Battles and Leaden or published at all), is going into a new book by this company, to be published this autumn, entitled The American Heritage Century Collection of Civil War Art . Normally, of course, we borrow or rent from institutions and collectors the use of most of the historical art and photographs printed in our magazines and books; in this case we are happy to have had the chance to help preserve and publish such a rare collection. We are deeply obliged to Robert B. Mayo, director of the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia, for making the acquisition possible.

The Century Collection will be the first exhibition at the American Heritage Society Room in New York, which will open on Monday, April 29. The exhibit room is on the second floor of the new McGraw-Hill Building, where we have our editorial and business offices, at 1221 Avenue of the Americas. It will be open weekdays, and we cordially invite all our subscribers and members to visit it.

Oliver Jensen

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