Join us on January 12th for History Lessons: Working with Original Manuscripts in the Contemporary Classroom.
The day of David Rice Atchison’s presumed US Presidency was March 4, 1849. Who was David Rice Atchison and on what basis could he claim to have been the president of the United States, even if for only one day? Read more at the United States Senate Stories:
The Shapell Manuscript Foundation is happy to announce the release of teacher resources. These new resources, in the form of four lesson plans for middle and high school, are available on our website.
Developed to improve students’ historical thinking skills, the four lesson plans are based on primary sources from the Shapell Manuscript Collection. They provide teachers and students the opportunity to explore meaningful, and sometimes lesser-known scenes from history.
John F. Kennedy and Service (intended for 7th or 8th grade Civics or History) uses the unique example of Kennedy to explore what it means to live a life of service. Designed for 11th grade U.S. History, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews introduces students to the attitude of our 16th president towards various religious minorities; Americans Tourists in the Holy Land explores early tourism with the help of the writing of Mark Twain; and third-party politics during the historic 1912 election are explored in Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Election, which could also be used for 12th grade U.S. Government.
Each lesson plan fits within state and national educational standards, and includes ideas for differentiation, assessment form, and AP History practice questions (when applicable).
These lesson plans were developed in partnership with Nate Sleeter and Kris Stinson, of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
“A new project sheds light on the lives and experiences of Ohio’s Jewish Civil War soldiers, aiming to share stories and history that have likely been forgotten through generations.
“The Shapell Roster: Jewish Service in the American Civil War, is the first comprehensive, national data archive documenting Jewish soldiers who served in the war, according to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s website. A virtual program focusing on Ohio soldiers was presented in conjunction with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Sept. 13, where researchers from Shapell and CJHS shared some interesting findings from their work thus far.
“Adrienne Usher, director of the Shapell Roster, said building the roster started with inspecting a previously created roster by Simon Wolf, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and social justice advocate who published the book, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen in 1895. Wolf, who was born in Germany and immigrated to Ohio, compiled the book about Jewish service in American wars to refute anti-Semitic claims that American Jews are not patriotic.” – read more here.
Harry Truman was “one tough son-of-a-bitch of a man,” according to General Harry Vaughan. Vaughan would know. He served alongside Truman in France during WWI and also in the White House. But Truman had a vulnerable side, too. These seven letters, which span the period between Truman’s final days as president in January 1953 and the domestic and international turmoil of the early 1960s, reveal an unknown personal side to Truman. The letters were all written to Dean Acheson, Truman’s trusted Secretary of State. The two developed a close friendship during their White House years, and maintained a regular correspondence during Truman’s post-presidential years. In May 1971, more than eighteen years and scores of letters later, Acheson wrote his final letter to Truman, wishing his friend a happy eighty-seventh birthday. Truman would pass away the following year.
The modest, straight-talking Harry Truman took on the “terrible responsibilities” of the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. It was baptism by fire for Truman. He had to navigate the final months of WWII and make the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan. After narrowly defeating Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, Truman chose not to run for reelection in 1952. His approval rating was low and he withdrew his candidacy after losing the New Hampshire primary. Truman’s post-presidential years were marked by financial hardship, which inspired Congress to finally pass legislation to provide a pension for past presidents. Truman also faithfully campaigned for Democratic candidates.
These letters clearly communicate one element of Truman’s personal life – his love for history. He found great value in applying the lessons of the past to the problems of the present. He was an expert in presidential history, and referred to past presidents often in these letters. The writer and humorist Mark Twain is usually credited with the clever observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” These Truman letters illustrate the rhyming nature of history. They touch on topics – such as racial tension, conflict on the Korean Peninsula, sour relations with Russia, biased newspaper coverage, and partisan politics – that are still relevant today, though in different contexts.
Truman continually feuded with the Kansas City Star for its pro-Republican coverage and often derided columnists who wrote unflattering accounts of his presidency. He almost certainly would have used the phrase “fake news” if it was popular at the time. Instead, he went as far as to call many in the media “prostitutes of the mind,” in a famous letter from December 1955.
While bemoaning negative newspaper coverage, Truman, less than a year after leaving office in 1953, wrote of recent editorials that “if it weren’t tragic it would be the best comedy in history… I’ve read the press on Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Teddy R., Wilson and F.D.R. and there seems to me to be no parallel” In another letter, Truman reviews his presidency and compares himself to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Grover Cleveland – presidents who took decisive action and employed the full power of the Executive to handle domestic and international crises. He also compliments his good friend Acheson for being an extraordinary secretary of state, and compares Acheson to Thomas Jefferson and William Seward, who served George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively.
Truman wrote in his memoirs, “My debt to history is one which cannot be calculated. I know of no other motivation which so accounts for my awakening interest as a young lad in the principles of leadership and government.” With little formal education, Truman was self-taught from voracious reading: in 1962 he wrote to Acheson about his childhood experiences reading books from the library: “Our public library in Independence had about three or four thousand volumes, including the ten encyclopedias! Believe it or not I read ‘em all… Maybe I was a damphool [damn fool],” Truman noted, “but it served me well when my terrible trial came.”
Read more in this selection of post-presidential correspondence between Truman and Acheson.
What could be more appropriate to read on National Grammar Day (March 4th) than Mark Twain criticizing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grammar? Though Twain was a little harsh writing about Emerson (who had been dead for four years,) Twain did respect Emerson, and had occasion to visit him a few times. Emerson, for his part, found Twain entertaining, and especially enjoyed The Innocents Abroad.
Excerpted from Twain’s original manuscript:
Dear Mrs. Benjamin :
You are right — it is from Emerson, grammar & all : a selection of my wife’s, who has been an Emersonian devotee all her life. I do not mean that the grammar is not correct, I merely mean that in one place it all at once arrests the flow of your serenity for a moment, like gravel in the bread.
To read the complete original manuscript: Mark Twain on Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Grammar is Like Gravel in Bread
More on Twain and Emerson’s history: Mark Twain bombs in history’s first roast
On February 24th, President Abraham Lincoln sent word to his wife Mary’s friend, Senator Charles Sumner, requesting his presence. Mary was inconsolable; only four days earlier, on February 20th, 1862, the Lincolns’ son, Willie Lincoln, age 11, passed away in the White House. The 24th was the day of Willie’s funeral.
While a surprising number of presidential families have suffered the loss of a child, those who went through this tragedy while serving in office is much smaller. This collection explores how presidents and their families endured this pain while serving the country, and after.
Diane Cole describes her experience visiting “the remarkable exhibit ‘ark Twain and the Holy Land, on display at the New-York Historical Society until February 2, 2020. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the 1869 publication of Twain’s second book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, the author’s wry-eyed travelogue of the five-and-a-half-month luxury steamship cruise that would carry him and his fellow shipmates across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea, and on to its ultimate destination, the Holy Land.”
“Although relatively few readers today would rank this volume [Innocents Abroad] as their favorite among Twain’s works—that honor would more likely go to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—it was, in fact, his bestselling book over the course of his lifetime and remains one of the bestselling travel books of all time. In achieving literary fame so early in his career—his only previous book was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches—Twain jumped onto his own trajectory of authorial celebrity, his name (or pen name, his birth name being Samuel Langhorne Clemens) recognized throughout the world.” – Diane Cole, Jewish Review of Books
“The artistic pursuits of Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, and Emma Lazarus, the first important Jewish American poet, are celebrated, respectively, at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) and the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both exhibitions creatively bring archival materials to the public.
While I haven’t been able to verify whether Lazarus and Twain actually met in person, it’s clear they moved in similar 19th-century New York social circles, and they shared an interest in Palestine.” – Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Times
On display until February 2, 2020
The Shapell Manuscript Foundation and the New-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the best-selling travelogues of all time with a new exhibition in New York, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view October 25, 2019 – February 2, 2020. This exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent 1869 book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress—through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.
In 1867, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)—known professionally as Mark Twain—departed New York harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Known at that point for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens had serendipitously discovered a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, and successfully inveigled his way onto the journey with an assignment from the San Francisco newspaper Alta California. Twain was to supply the paper with weekly columns about the trip and his fellow passengers. When he returned to New York and then to Washington, D.C., he began reshaping those columns and other notes made during the trip into a book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was this work that catapulted Twain to national fame, selling more copies during his lifetime than any other book he ever wrote.
Benjamin Shapell, President of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, remarked that “musing about the voyage in a passage later published in Innocents Abroad, Twain so aptly noted: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindednes.’ That his travelogue espoused such a liberal sentiment while at the very same time also exposing the deep closed-mindedness of his fellow shipmates is the very reason why Twain’s biting perspective comes across as so fresh to us even today. We are pleased that the New-York Historical Society has brought together these rare manuscripts and artifacts, bringing Twain’s lively, influential, and singular experience to life.”
It took Mark Twain and his publisher a good two years to bring Innocents to fruition in 1869, but once in print, its success was immediate. Twain’s scabrous humor found an eager and receptive audience, well documented in contemporary reviews on display in the show. Innocents undoubtedly contributed to the vogue for traveling to the Holy Land, and the exhibit features letters by such notables as President Ulysses Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom journeyed to Palestine.
Mark Twain and the Holy Land introduces visitors both to a young Mark Twain on the eve of celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, captured by artists, writers, and photographers.
“Mark Twain and the Holy Land will highlight American humorist Mark Twain’s 1867 voyage to Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land, and his subsequent book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress. The show will introduce visitors to a young Twain on the eve of his celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, according to the New-York Historical Society, which organized it in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.
“Original documents, including manuscripts, journal entries and letters by Twain, will be on view from October 25, 2019 through February 2, 2020.”
Read the full article by Tanya Mohn in Forbes here.
Shapell Manuscript Collection documents, items, and objects from the exhibition will be displayed online with the opening of the exhibition in New York, so check back soon. In the meantime, the Mark Twain Collection can be viewed here.
Director of Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, Presents: Mining Civil War Pension Records for Jewish Soldiers
Director of Shapell Roster Research, Adrienne Usher, will be presenting a selection of beautiful, unique and exciting genealogical treasures her team has discovered in the Civil War Union Pension Records from Jewish soldiers. These include dates and locations for births, marriages, and deaths; addresses, occupations, photographs, maps, drawings, letters, certificates and physical descriptions. Learn how to access these rich resources, find out more about the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s endeavors, and discover how you can participate in the project.
The presentation will take place at Congregation Beth Emeth, Herndon, VA. Click here for more details.
In August 1929, following inflammatory sermons and inciting rumors, pogroms were instigated in which Arabs slaughtered Jews in British Mandate Palestine. The Hebron Riots of 1929 – part of the Palestine Riots of 1929 – sent shock-waves around the world, and ended centuries of continued Jewish presence in Hebron. Americans were particularly aghast as newspapers reported that a number of those massacred were students from New York and Chicago. Americans campaigned for the government to intervene on behalf of the Jewish Americans and their property in Palestine.
This letter from President Herbert Hoover is in answer to one such missive, where he manages to respond, yet says very little.
“…the original deadlines existed in Civil War prisons…. officers would build rough wooden fences 10-20 feet high to contain the prisoners.
But, of course, a healthy man can typically climb a 10-foot fence. And, working as teams, troops could fairly easily clamber over 20-foot fences as well. So prison commanders built positions for sentries to watch the prisoner population, and the sentries typically had orders to kill any man attempting to escape.
Well, to ensure that the sentry would have time to shoot a man or raise the alarm before the prisoner got away, the camps put in something called a ‘deadline.’ This was a line, usually literally made on the ground with fencing or some type of marking, that prisoners would be killed for crossing.”
Read the full article here.
Exactly 100 years ago today, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the primary treaty which officially ended World War I, was signed by Germany and the Allies. President Woodrow Wilson was instrumental in negotiating the treaty, as well as in conceiving of the League of Nations, the intergovernmental organization meant to maintain world peace. The United States Congress, which was growing increasingly isolationist, had no interest in ceding power to join the League of Nations, and ultimately refused to ratify the treaty.
These two letters by Wilson, just a few years apart, are strikingly different in tone. In the first, Wilson is desperately mounting the campaign to garner Republican votes in favor of the treaty. In the second, an ailing former President Wilson, explains that he cannot read or speak too much of the war because he is “too much affected and upset by it.”
This will be an epic week to remember for space and science enthusiasts. In the past 7 days, three monumental events have taken place:
On April 5th, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 dropped explosives on asteroid Ryugu. “Mission scientists plan to execute the final major step of the mission. They will lower the probe right into the crater and collect a sample. This will be the second sample collected from Ryugu: Hayabusa2 already touched down on 22 February, and collected some of its space dirt after kicking it up with a bullet.” (Scientific American)
On Wednesday, Aprill 10, the first images of a black hole were released. The magnificent international coordination and success centered on the “Event Horizon telescope (EHT), a network of eight radio telescopes spanning locations from Antarctica to Spain and Chile, in an effort involving more than 200 scientists.” (The Guardian)
Today, April 11, Israel is expected to join the United States, Russia, and China as one of the only countries to land a spacecraft on the moon. The Beresheet spacecraft is scheduled to land at 10:30pm Jerusalem time. “Once it lands safely on the Moon, the spacecraft will photograph the landing site and snap a selfie. Its key scientific mission, however, is to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science.” (Jerusalem Post)
These inspiring efforts to extend humanity’s reach into space remind us of how far we’ve come. These manuscripts from those brave enough to be sent into space, and the leadership behind them, reveal part of the history and sacrifice that’s been made to come so far.
In October 1898, Theodor Herzl arrived in Jerusalem, to work toward furthering his initiatives to create a Jewish state. While in Palestine, he met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, twice; once near Holon, and a second time in Jerusalem. During his journey, he regularly sent letters and postcards home. The National Library of Israel houses this collection, and highlighted here are the postcards Herzl sent to his daughter, Paulina.
Jaya Saxena describes the experience of tracing her family history as more than just digging up facts – but as uncovering “the myths that are a part of the story of yourself, whether you like them or not. Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.” Teresa Koch-Bostic, the vice president of the National Genealogical Society explains, “I think it appeals to people who love an intellectual pursuit, because that’s really what it is…. It’s solving a puzzle at the highest level, and the benefit is that you get to find out about your family.”
Read more in the New York Times article “Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History – and How to Do It” by Jaya Saxena
People who are interested in history collect manuscripts because they want to know what somebody was really like. When you look at a letter, you’re looking at what was going on in a person’s life – what did this feel like to the person experiencing it at that time – and before you know it, you have a whole world coming alive.
Natural disasters do not discriminate. These letters about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are recalled today on the 25th anniversary of the more recent Northridge earthquake, and following this exceptionally difficult year for Californians.
“We have the dreadful news that an earthquake has almost destroyed San Francisco. The wires are down, and it is difficult to get accurate information…. It is impossible, however, to hear anything, and we are in the dark.” – William Howard Taft, Secretary of War. April 18, 1906.
This shockingly inspirational letter from Alfred Dreyfus was written shortly after he was wrongly convicted of treason and degradated in a public military ceremony. Writing to his sister and brother-in-law, he tells them of his suffering; not of the conditions he is subjected to, but the suffering and pain in being so powerless to prove his innocence. Despite this weighing heavily on him, he tells them his “pure and clean conscience will give [him] superhuman strength,” and he will clean his name “from the stain that has been inflicted upon it unjustly.” He exhorts them to “not bow your head, but to keep it higher than ever” as he will also do.
Not losing faith, he is sure that “with all of our combined efforts, our wills focused into a single one, we will succeed” in revealing the truth and clearing his name. Read the full transcript of this stirring letter and view the original papers here.
Mick McElkenny was a bodyguard to JFK during the president’s visit to Ireland in 1963, just months before his assassination in Dallas, Texas. Mr. McElkenny is the subject of the documentary, “The President’s Bodyguard.”
“Mr McElkenny recalled a story JFK told about how life could have taken a very different path if his Irish ancestors had not set sail for America. ‘He told one about if his grandfather hadn’t left New Ross in Co Wexford that he would have been working over in the factory in New Ross,’ he laughed.” – Read more: http://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2018/12/27/news/john-f-kennedy-and-lord-mountbatten-s-bodyguard-recalls-shock-at-assassinations-1516296/
It is to be supposed that the 2018 mid-term elections will be fraught with controversy, and
some anguish. The recent past will be raked over; accusations lobbed; the word
“unprecedented” exhaled as commonly as breath. None of this, however, is new to American
elections. In 2016, so much candidate verbiage was expelled and expounded
in so many primary and general election debates, that any reasonable person might well have
assumed “Debate” was a weekly television series. Now, with the advent of the Labor Day
holiday, traditionally marking the “official” start of the campaign season, that live program,
after a two year hiatus, is back. But how it came to be made, and become as much a part of
the American election cycle as ballots themselves, is the story told here. It began, humbly, with
It’s hard to keep up these days with who is shouting what. Not gone entirely unnoticed, however, is the disquieting rise of an old contagion thought, in the United States at least, long extinct. Whether chanted in torch-lit marches, argued on college campuses, or broadcast by fringe candidates in local political races, antisemitism is back in the news. That “It Could Happen Here”, and did, is the subject of this letter about the worst blemish in the life of the Union’s greatest commander. When, in an 1862 order, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that all Jews living in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi ,and parts of Southern Illinois, vacate, within 24-hours, their homes and businesses and leave, forever, the area of his command, he promulgated the most sweeping, and shocking, anti-Jewish regulation in American history. Here, writing six years later – and eagerly pursuing the presidency – Grant sought to explain his notorious “Jew Order” to the man, in fact, who inspired it: his father.
U.S. presence and diplomacy in the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, goes back much farther than you’d expect. You can listen to curator Nirit Shalev Khalifa and Dr. Ron Bartour discuss this topic with Gilad Halpern. Discover more on this topic at our online exhibition, Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land: American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th Century.
Mary Benjamin is known as perhaps the most famous manuscript dealer of the twentieth century. That she’s the only woman on (and at the top of) the list of foremost autograph dealers is dwarfed by her widely respected authority. For decades, Benjamin practically singularly set the market value of autographs of presidents, poets, and prominent figures. Famously, she once snorted with disdain when a supposed autograph of George Washington was announced at an auction. With her photographic memory, she could tell instantly if a signature was real or forged. The auctioneer wasted no time and immediately withdrew the item from the sale. Mary Benjamin, who died in 1998, is certainly a personality worth reading more about for those interested in collecting. For her detailed obituary in the New York Times, click here.
Lincoln and the Jews: A History illustrates how President Abraham Lincoln – perhaps best known for his efforts in abolishing slavery – intended to secure equality and freedom for all Americans, including another growing minority group in Civil War-era America: the Jews. Read the reviews and discover the story at our online exhibition or purchase a copy of the book.
“Abraham Lincoln and the Jews don’t exactly go together in the popular imagination like bagels and lox. While Lincoln has been championed as a Moses leading African Americans out of slavery, the 16th president’s ties to the Tribe have not been well examined or even clearly acknowledged.” – Emily Shire, The Daily Beast. (more…)
A young Private David Ben-Gurion, volunteer in the Jewish Legion, 1918. Ben-Gurion would go on the become Israel’s first Prime Minister. (more…)
“The new book, ’50 Children’ tells the remarkable story of two Philadelphia-area Jews who, at the dawn of World War II, went to extraordinary lengths fighting red tape on both sides of the Atlantic to save the lives of children on the brink of the Holocaust in Europe.” – Jordan Hoffman, Times of Israel (more…)
This month marked the anniversary of the death of Anne Frank. She would have been 84 years old had she lived to today. Looking for a way to mark this tragic event, I came upon a site where photographs of the Frank family are displayed. These images of intimate family life brought home for me the terrible tragedy Otto Frank faced, and very much how the mind cannot fathom the atrocities and tragedies that consumed Europe and European Jewry during WWII and the Holocaust. (more…)
Be prepared to take some time to stroll through these nostalgia-inducing photos. Shorpy.com is a vintage photography blog that digitally enhances photographs acquired from a variety of sources, including the Library of Congress and National Archives. The clarity of the images is particularly impressive. Most of the photographs on the website date to the early twentieth century. I highly recommend visiting their site to enjoy the photographs in their full-size glory. (more…)
Lest anyone think that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – delivered 150 years ago, today – came out of thin air, one has only to look at the wonderful, if weary, elegance of his 25 words written to General Robert Huston Milroy on October 19, 1863, just one month prior. Whether a warm-up to narrowing down his thoughts in a short, concise, and understandable manner, or merely a discrete example of the same, Lincoln was capable, we see here – be it in a national address, a debate, or on a simple card – of a literary brilliance unsurpassed by any other American president and barely, by any other American, period. This, then, is perhaps the best presidential short composition ever.
Famous people, as a general rule, do not become assassins. The man who shot Abraham Lincoln point-blank in the back of the head, however, was the most popular actor of his time. Yet John Wilkes Booth, for most of the Civil War, did not see himself in the role of assassin, but spy. At twenty-six, he was rich, handsome, adored – and a secret Confederate agent. Here, writing 150 years ago today, Booth works behind the scenes to appear in Washington, at Ford’s Theatre – an appearance which would prove but a rehearsal for the role in which he is still reviled: assassin.
The man who, for an entire generation, embodied youth and vigor, would have been 96 this year. At 43, he had been the youngest man elected President; at 46, the youngest to die in office, assassinated. But Jack Kennedy never expected, one way or the other, to live long. In chronic pain, suffering a myriad of illnesses, he had received the last rites of his Church three times before he was 40 – and that wasn’t counting the near-fatal sinking of the legendary PT-109 in World War II. Perhaps that was why he lived so fearlessly, intensely, joyously – and fast. He wanted to do everything, and he did – all of it, well. He could even fly. This war-time flight logbook, virtually unseen, is thought to be the only proof of this hitherto-unknown fact. Lieutenant Kennedy, USNR, it is noted, soloed once – on his 27th birthday. He is not known to having piloted an aircraft ever again.
John R. Sellers discusses Simon Wolf’s original research and roster of Jewish soldiers and the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s efforts to review and expand upon Wolf’s original work regarding Jewish soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.
Jewish Participation in the Civil War – by John R. Sellers
Learn more about the Shapell Roster here.