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We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.
The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.
The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.
The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.
What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.
Professors and practitioners of history will tell you that the only way to really understand historical events or historical figures is to read original sources. If you want to know about Luther or Lincoln, your best course of action is to read what they wrote – unfiltered if possible, in the original editions if you can, and in their own handwriting best of all.
Part of my lifelong fascination with Martin Luther came from the marvelous year I spent poking around in the archives of the State of Hesse in Germany, where many of Luther’s letters are preserved. Holding in my hands a stack of letters written by Luther made the Reformation real in a way that nothing else ever could.
Two unique books appeared this year which skillfully incorporate the benefits of tangible, original documents. The first is Lincoln: The Presidential Archives. The second is David McCullough’s 1776: The Illustrated Edition.
The new Lincoln book is the one that came to my attention first. It was published in September of this year. Chuck Wills is an accomplished author and he does an excellent job outlining Lincoln’s life and political career in nine chapters. The text is interspersed with hundreds of photographs and shots of newspaper headlines and front pages. But what really sets this book apart is the inclusion of facsimile reproductions of original documents. About a dozen are included, each on a tinted separate heavy-stock sheet slipped into a translucent pocket at the appropriate place in the books narrative. With the chapter discussing Lincoln’s boyhood and education, there is a reproduction of a page from his “sum book.” In the chapter on his marriage and young family, there is a reproduction of his marriage license to Mary Todd. In each case, holding an original document (even it is only a well-crafted facsimile) makes the historical account richer, nearer, more tangible and provokes a more visceral, emotional response. It makes Lincoln much more real, much less abstract. The text is written on an adult level (though certainly not too advanced for high school students), and many students will need some help in absorbing and understanding the historical documents, but I can’t think of a better way to introduce students to the raw materials of history and historical research. For anyone with a historical sense of who Lincoln was (and the text and photographs will give it to you), seeing a flyer for a play at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 and then seeing the “wanted” poster issued in the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassins produces a profound effect. For anyone with an interest in Lincoln, I highly recommend this book – especially if your students have an interest in understanding how historians conduct their research. Note: 2008 will be the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. I know its a cliche to study Lincoln around President’s Day, but 2008 will be a special year. Here’s a list of the historical, facsimile documents included in the book:
- a leaf from Lincoln’s string-bound childhood sum book
- Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage license, 1842
- Patent application submitted by Lincoln in 1849
- 1860 campaign banner for the Republican ticket
- First letter carried over the plains by the Pony Express with the news “Lincoln elected,” November 8, 1860.
- Letter from Mary Todd to Abraham sent during her tour of New England in the fall of 1862
- Lincoln’s original handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863
- Telegram from New York City to Lincoln with news of the Draft Riot, July 13, 1863
- Telegram from Sherman to Lincoln presenting him with Savannah as a “Christmas gift,” December 25, 1864
- Telegram from Lincoln to Grant encouraging him, February 1, 1865
- Poster advertising “Our American Cousin” to be performed at Ford’s Theater April 14, 1865
- Broadside offering rewards for the capture of Lincoln’s assassins
Click on the books title, Lincoln: The Presidential Archives, here or in the text above to order directly from Greenleaf Press. The price is $40.
The second book of this type is 1776: The Illustrated Edition by David McCullough, just released from the publisher this October. I LOVED this book when it first came out. The narrative focuses on a single year and takes us month by month, week by week, often day by day through the events of the remarkable year. McCullough has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. He’s a brilliant writer and historian. His historical books read almost like novels and are perfect examples of the importance of the maxim, “above all, tell a good story.” With a new introduction by David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition brings 140 powerful images and 37 removable replicas of source documents to this remarkable drama.
In 1776, David McCullough told the story of the greatest defeats, providential fortune, and courageous triumphs of George Washington and his bedraggled army. In 1776: The Illustrated Edition, the efforts of the Continental Army are made even more personal, as an excerpted version of the original book is paired with letters, maps, and seminal artwork. More than three dozen source documents — including a personal letter George Washington penned to Martha about his commission, a note informing the mother of a Continental soldier that her son has been taken prisoner, and a petition signed by Loyalists pledging their allegiance to the King — are re-created in uniquely designed envelopes throughout the book and secured with the congressional seal.
Both a distinctive art book and a collectible archive, 1776: The Illustrated Edition combines a treasury of eighteenth-century paintings, sketches, documents, and maps with storytelling by our nation’s preeminent historian. Like the Lincoln book, the inclusion of facsimile originals makes everything much more real. For your students, the original sources are a way to help them understand the rich reality of the past. For any history buffs among your family and friends, this would make an excellent gift. The hardcover, slipcased edition with source documents is $65, but worth every penny. Click the title anywhere in the review to order direct from Greenleaf.
I just completed the book this month. Took longer than I had thought to finish it, NOT because it lacked interest – just because I had too many distractions over the past six months.
Its a magnificent book. Very well written, and with the focus right where it should be – on the individuals who played major roles in Lincoln’s administration. The book is actually an exercise in multiple biography and it works extremely well.
In 1860, there were four candidates for the Republican nomination for President. The front-runner, who everyone expected would be nominated, was Senator Seward from New York. Also in the running was Governor Chase from Ohio, Judge Bates from Missouri, and a relatively unknown lawyer from Illinois, who had served a single term in Congress fourteen years before – Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln was nominated on the 3rd ballot at the Republican convention of 1860 and went on to win the presidency. Then he did something extraordinary. He appointed all three of the men who had been his rivals to his cabinet. Senator Seward became his Secretary of State. His other cabinet appointments were made with what seemed to his friends as a careless disregard for his own political fortunes.
Goodwin shows how Lincoln suceeded in managing his “team of rivals,” when everyone expected him to be a weak president who would be dominated by the stronger, more experienced politicians he had appointed.
Perhaps the most startling appointment Lincoln made was Edwin Stanton to be Secretary of War after scandal forced his first Secretary of War to resign. Stanton was a high-powered Washington attorney who had served briefly in the Buchannon administration. More significantly, he had been the lead attorney on a famous patent case (the McCormick reaper case) in 1855. Lincoln had been retained as a local attorney when it looked like the case would be tried in Illinois, but when venue was changed to Ohio, Stanton contemptuously dismissed Lincoln from the defense team and then snubbed him. Any attorney other than Lincoln would have held a grudge for life. But Lincoln set aside any resentment he might have harbored and appointed Stanton as his Secretary of War – and over time the two became friends and Stanton completely reversed his opinion of Lincoln.
Goodwin also does an excellent job of explaining the political context, intent, and effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation is usually either elevated to a status alongside the Declaration of Indpendence and the Constitution (if your sympathies are with the Union) or dismissed as a crude and calculated political ploy that freed not a single slave because it was simply a public relations trick (if your sympathies are with the South). Goodwin explains at length Lincoln’s reasoning for the details of the Proclamation and the timing of its signing. It WAS designed for a political purpose – Lincoln hoped it might persuade at least some of the Confederate states to return to the Union. But, it was also a consistent extension of Lincoln’s evolving policy to deal with the issue of slavery.
Goodwin’s book is excellent biography (not just Lincoln, but also Seward, Chase, Bates, and Stanton) with its focus and tone on the human and personal dimensions of Lincoln’s presidency. Its also a study in political wisdom. Lincoln’s magnanimity is what eventually led to his nomination and election as president – and successful conduct of the war. Finally, it is a study in management principles with applications even now to how leaders should choose key lieutenants and manage them.
Director, Schaeffer Study Center