American History & Jewish History Blog

Ida Tarbell, Library of Congress
September 6, 2023

Ida Tarbell and Her Little-Known Yet Major Influence on Lincoln’s Legacy

In downtown Cincinnati, an 11-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln has been hovering near its busy thoroughfares for over a hundred years. Devoid of his signature beard and framed by rumpled hair instead of his stately hat, Lincoln’s face looks wrinkled and tired. It is a version of Lincoln cast from a time before he became president, from when his humble beginnings and failures would seem to have nearly consumed him whole. When sculptor George Gray Barnard’s statue was unveiled in 1917 by former President William H. Taft, the pushback was immediate: this was not the version of Lincoln that the nation sought to canonize; the statue was pilloried in many newspapers and magazines as a “melancholy mistake in bronze, and as “something the cat brought in on a wet night.”[1] Robert Todd Lincoln referred to the statue as “grotesque.”[2] Yet Theodore Roosevelt called it “the greatest statue of our time.”[3] When a copy of the statue was offered to London as a commemoration of the peace between the United States and the United Kingdom, what would have been a domestic debate surrounding the image of the nation’s sixteenth president rapidly became an international one, as cries of uproar and support could be heard on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Amongst the people who came to the defense of this depiction of Lincoln was one of the most famous women in America at the time, renowned journalist and Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell. Though the sculpture is now firmly ensconced as a great work of art, and Lincoln’s earlier years are now widely perceived to be the foundation of his great character, none of this was a given in 1917. Tarbell had endured a similar journey over two decades before in undertaking a biography of the country’s most beloved leader. The modern audience most likely doesn’t think twice about the depiction of Lincoln as a Kentucky laborer, and that is a testament to the success of Tarbell’s work. 

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) is a contradiction in terms. She is essentially the mother of investigative journalism whose name is barely remembered, and a trailblazing woman who opposed suffrage for women.[4] When she is recalled, however, it’s for her takedown of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Her life actually began at this critical juncture of what defined her career. Ida Tarbell was born in Pennsylvania to a farming family who decided to seek their fortunes in the new oil boom months after Ida was born. Unfortunately, like many other small oilmen, Ida’s father’s business fell victim to the Cleveland Massacre in 1872. Essentially, John D. Rockefeller negotiated deals with railways to give rebates and discounts to his company, Standard Oil. This allowed him to drop the price significantly and put all the smaller refineries out of business, thus consolidating Rockefeller’s hold on the oil industry. The misfortune that befell the Tarbells was certainly a defining moment in Ida’s life but she was also determined to succeed and contribute to society.

Ida finished high school at the top of her class in 1876. She went on to earn a BA in biology in 1880 and an MA in 1883. She then pursued journalism while cultivating an attraction to French history. 1891, she moved to Paris to work on her first biography about Madame Roland. In 1892, she was hired by Sam McClure to write for his eponymously named magazine. There, she interviewed leading luminaries such as Louis Pasteur, Emile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas.[5] McClure was impressed with Tarbell’s writing and research and eventually commissioned a Napoleon biography to be released as a serial in 1894. This brought Tarbell, now back in the U.S. and living in Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC, to the estate of Gardiner Hubbard who had an extensive Napoleon collection. Hubbard was also supporting his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, and his work on the telephone. Thus, Tarbell often dined with the Bells in addition to the director of the Smithsonian and prominent politicians.

Tarbell’s writing on Napoleon saw sales at McClure’s surge.  She was becoming highly regarded for her well-researched pieces accompanied by clear prose and lyrical language. Tarbell’s next assignment was to write about Lincoln. Five years earlier, in 1890, John Hay and John Nicolay’s Abraham Lincoln: A History had been published. Tarbell, like many people, felt that a ten-volume biography on Lincoln authored by the president’s personal secretaries would sate the public’s desire for Lincoln material. McClure disagreed and directed the bewildered Tarbell to begin her research immediately. Ida first called on Nicolay (she was in a literary society with Nicolay’s daughter), who unwittingly put Tarbell’s work on Lincoln on the path to greatness. He refused to allow her access to any of the Lincoln papers in his possession and told her that her assignment was “hopeless” and that he and Hay had already told “all that was worth telling of Lincoln’s life.”[6] So Tarbell turned her focus towards Lincoln’s early life beginning in Kentucky, following young Lincoln to Indiana, New Orleans, Illinois, and finally, to the White House. Over the course of her journey, she studied the people and places that had been overlooked in understanding Lincoln.

Perhaps the reason Tarbell was so adamant in her defense of Barnard’s work two decades later was that Barnard’s focus echoed her own: the earlier, rougher period of Lincoln’s life. And indeed, Tarbell faced so many of the barriers that Barnard had. Rival magazines sneered that “McClure’s had gotten a girl to try and write a life of Lincoln.”[7] In addition to debunking many myths purveyed by biographers who emphasized the later period of Lincoln’s life, Tarbell’s work actually aimed to show that Lincoln’s early life on the frontier had a positive impact on his character as well as his presidency. 

After Tarbell began to publish the first installments of her Lincoln biography, it was Nicolay who came to her. His attitude hadn’t changed. “You are invading my field,” he exclaimed. “You write a popular Life of Lincoln, and you do just so much to decrease the value of my property.”[8] Robert Todd Lincoln, on the other hand, was a solid ally. He gave her a never-before-seen portrait of Lincoln (which she used as the frontispiece to her book), made himself accessible to her, and when the work was done, considered it “an indispensable adjunct to the work of Nicolay and Hay.”[9] Robert Todd Lincoln’s praise for a book that focused on the “humble and unknown” aspects of his father’s life seems at odds with the debate around the Cincinnati statue that would be unveiled less than twenty years later, with he and Tarbell falling on opposite sides of the debate. The controversy over the Lincoln statue divided Americans over not only Lincoln’s legacy, but the character of the United States. 

Tarbell never stopped writing about Lincoln, and she continued to write profile after profile for McClure’s. She seemed to be connected to the major luminaries of her time and to be omnipresent at historical events. In 1898, Tarbell had been at the military HQ when the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbour. She firsthand witnessed the US response to the news, observing Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt bursting into the room like “a boy on roller-skates.” It was Mark Twain who put her in touch with the vice president of Standard Oil for her takedown of the company, and it was this work that led Theodore Roosevelt, now President Roosevelt, to refer to Tarbell and her ilk as “muckrakers” (Tarbell was not thrilled with the moniker and responded in print).

Tarbell’s work on Lincoln and Napoleon laid the groundwork for her exposé of the corruption of Standard Oil. In gaining access to internal documents, which she studied, interviewing company employees, and consulting professionals about her findings, she essentially created what we call investigative journalism. Her book, The History of the Standard Oil Company remains the gold standard of investigative journalism.[10] Perhaps ironically, Rockefeller’s biographer makes a stronger case for Tarbell’s work: “Only three times in the American past have writers produced works that transcended their literary qualities and became in themselves powerful enough to shape history. The first was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense; the second, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; third, Ida M. Tarbell’s History of the Standard Oil Company.”[11]

 

  1. See “A Calamity in Bronze! Mr. Barnard’s ‘Lincoln’ Once More.” The Art World, vol. 3, no. 2, 1917, pp. 99–103. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25588174. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023.
  2. Robert Todd Lincoln, writing to  William Howard Taft on March 22,  1917, referred to the statue as a “monstrous figure, grotesque as a likeness of President Lincoln and defamatory as an effigy.” Cited by Judith Rice in  Rice, Judith A. Abraham Lincoln and Progressive Reform, 1890-1920. 1993. University of Illinois, Doctoral Dissertation. Proquest. p. 6 
  3. Williams, Dan. “George Grey Barnard.” The North American Review, vol. 243, no. 2, 1937, pp. 276–86. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25114876. Accessed 30 Aug. 2023.
  4. The obvious tension between being a renowned journalist and editor at a time when this was an aberration for women and being anti women’s suffrage is addressed by virtually every scholar who writes about Tarbell. For a chronological discussion of Tarbell’s writings on the subject, as well as a nuanced exploration of Tarbell’s background and relationships, see Stinson, Robert. “Ida M. Tarbell and the Ambiguities of Feminism.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 101, no. 2, 1977, pp. 217–39. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20091149. Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.
  5.  Son of the author of The Count of Monte Cristo
  6. Tarbell, Ida M. All in the Day’s Work. New York, Ny, The Macmillan Co, 1939, p. 163
  7. McCully, E. A. (2014). Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman who Challenged Big Business– and Won! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 95
  8.   Tarbell, p. 163
  9. Ibid, p. 169
  10. Weinberg, Steve. Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller. New York, Norton, 2009, p. 24
  11. “Hawke, David Freeman. John D.: The Founding Father of the Rockefellers. Harper & Row, 1980.” p. 213
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January 31, 2022

Primary Sources: Meaning, Reliability & Where To Find Them

By Kenneth Kolander, PhD

What is considered a primary source?

Primary sources are vital to historical research. Researchers, both professional and amateur, use them to reconstruct the past. A primary source is a document or object that was created contemporaneously with the time or event being studied. It can take many forms, such as a newspaper article, diary entry, map, poetry, song lyrics, artwork, personal correspondence, and more.

Where to find primary sources

There are numerous ways to locate primary sources. The easiest, most basic way to find a primary source is with a web search. If you have a specific primary source in mind, then search for the title, author, and/or subject of the primary source. If the source has been digitized, it should come up in the search. If you do not have a specific source in mind, but instead have a general idea of the type of primary source you want to find, then search for simple keywords. For example, if you are interested in the Civil Rights Movement and want to explore first-hand accounts, then search for “primary sources Civil Rights Movement.”

Many searches, such as one for the Civil Rights Movement, will return a massive number of possibilities. At that point, the challenge is to identify which sources are more reputable than others. Generally, education and government websites tend to have the most varied and trustworthy primary sources. Oftentimes, though not always, these websites end in .edu or .gov. Some organizations, such as the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, share primary sources with the public, and these websites end in .org. Websites that end in .com or .net are typically less reliable than the other sites, but can still offer exceptional primary sources.

Not all primary sources can be accessed online, though. In some cases, you may need to visit a repository, such as a library or archives, to view and find certain primary sources. It takes time and labor (and funding!) to turn existing collections into digital form, so certain institutions may not have all their files accessible via the web. The Harry Truman Presidential Library, for example, has not digitized all of Truman’s audio recordings that are preserved and listed as available on-site. But they are happy and willing to digitize a certain recording upon request. In other cases, a primary source may be so faded that a digital image fails to capture the essence of the source. That would require a person to physically travel to the location of the source to view it. But most of the time, primary sources are accessible on the web.

Are primary sources always reliable?

Once you have located a primary source, then you must determine the reliability and authenticity of the source. As mentioned above, look at the last letters of the url to determine the nature of the website. Next, consider the institution responsible for providing access to the source. Does it seem reliable? How authentic is the primary source? Are you able to access any credentials or information? Is there a contact address?

It is also important to question the primary source itself. Primary sources are not free from bias. A person created a primary source, and therefore the source, just like its creator, lacks complete objectivity. Primary sources do not tell us exactly how the past was, but rather, how someone interpreted the past as it was unfolding. It is up to the individual, then, to use resources like primary sources, along with secondary sources such as monographs or textbooks that put forward interpretations, to come to a clearer, more truthful understanding of the past.

How to find a primary source online

There are many reputable websites and physical locations to view primary sources. Two of the best are the National Archives and the Library of Congress. They both have specific web pages and search engines devoted to primary sources, which allows researchers to search for a wide variety of documents and themes.

As a diplomatic historian, I can recommend several locations and websites for primary sources. Probably the best is the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), which can be accessed online (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments) or in hardcopy. This is the “official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.” The record is organized, first, by presidential administrations, and therein, by both theme and geographic area. Researchers can access documents from as early as Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Additionally, the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) and newspaper archives, such as the New York Times, offer a treasure trove of documents. But note that the DNSA and newspaper archives require a membership to access sources; FRUS, on the other hand, is free.

Another excellent collection of primary sources is the Congressional Record, which is “the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress.” The online version of the Record can be accessed online (https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/crecb/_crecb/Volume%20002%20(1874)) or in hardcopy. The first issue of the Congressional Record was compiled in 1873.

For those who are willing to travel, presidential libraries maintain massive collections of primary sources related to just about any topic imaginable. Some collections have been digitized, but most records need to be viewed on site. When dealing with matters of national security or sensitive information of some kind, a source may be classified or have redacted material. This can be quite frustrating. A researcher can file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in the hopes of getting at least a portion of a classified document. However, the relevant bureaucracy and sensitivity of the material can lead to an extraordinarily long wait period to access the information, assuming the request is approved at all. But for those who are hunting for a very specific piece of information, this may be the only avenue.

One additional archive that needs to be mentioned is the Israel State Archives (ISA). The ISA is in the process of digitizing all of its material, but it is a work in progress. For those who are interested in accessing Israeli primary sources, contact an archivist via email. From my experience, archivists are friendly and helpful. If the material you desire has not already been digitized, just submit a request and the requested material will be scanned and published online.

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Chester Arthur, Ole Peter Hanson, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
December 15, 2021

The Dude President: Chester Arthur, Civil Rights, and Civil Service Reform

American presidential nicknames have been a phenomenon since the beginning of the republic. Honest Abe and Old Hickory are amongst the more famous presidential monikers. “The Dude,” however, is probably the most contemporary-sounding presidential nickname, yet it belonged to one of the more obscure presidents: Chester Arthur. In 19th century parlance, a dude was essentially a dandy, which is exactly what Arthur was. His love of the finer things in life was no secret, and he made headlines when he purchased numerous fine trousers from England, as well as accumulating an extensive collection of silk top hats and shoes. Though it was the Gilded Age, where conspicuous consumption and luxury abounded in close proximity to poverty, Arthur’s detractors were most likely taking a dig at Arthur’s past, in which he was seen as a champion of the spoils system. But Arthur’s story is one of redemption, both in the sense that he righted wrongs in which he had been complicit, and in the sense that he rose to the occasion when President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881. And yet, if Chester Arthur is remembered at all today (and that is a big “if”), it’s more for his outlandish facial hair than his achievements as a president and as a person. In examining Arthur’s path to the presidency, it will become apparent that Arthur’s legacy deserves another look.

Chester Arthur was born in Vermont in 1829 to an American-born mother and a father who had immigrated from Ireland. His father, a fiery abolitionist preacher, was not very popular, and the Arthurs moved often, crossing back and forth from Canada to the United States so frequently, in fact, that Arthur’s presidency was beset upon by detractors insisting that Arthur was born in Canada, and as a result, ineligible for the presidency. Chester Arthur spent most of his youth impoverished in New York, and very quickly decided that he would be a Manhattan lawyer, and enjoy the finer things in life.

Arthur was admitted to the bar in 1854. A year later, he won a landmark case: a century before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and to go to the section of the bus designated for blacks in Alabama, Elizabeth Jennings Graham took a stand against racist policies in New York City. Unlike Parks, who was an activist who wished to be arrested to further Civil Rights, Jennings-Graham was merely late for church. She hopped onto a street car, and the conductor ordered her off. She refused to budge, and was eventually forcibly removed from the streetcar by a police officer. Arthur, a junior partner and all of 24, won the case for Jennings-Graham, which led to the eventual desegregation of public transportation in New York City. Arthur continued practicing law in New York. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he became a Quartermaster, where his abilities in administration and logistics became obvious. By 1863, Arthur finished his military service, and that is where his stellar record becomes a bit murky, as it was the year he became friendly with Roscoe Conkling, the notorious big boss of the Republican New York political machine.

Conkling’s name has gone down in history as a byword for corruption, and in his day, it wasn’t much different. As state senator for New York, the New York Customs House fell under Conkling’s jurisdiction. One of the most important political and financial institutions in the United States, the New York Customs House accounted for one third of the country’s revenue. Conkling, who also led the Stalwart faction of the Republican party, filled the Customs House with his underlings, and the profits made by working there compounded his power. [1] In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Arthur the Customs Collector of the Port of New York. Though Arthur as far as we know never took kickbacks, he was complicit in the patronage system, retaining party members in unnecessary jobs at the taxpayer’s expense. 

In 1877, Rutherfod B. Hayes ascended to the presidency and was determined to clean up the Civil Service. One of his first moves was to eject Rosco Conklin’s man from the position of Customs Collector of the Port of New York. By 1878, Hayes had succeeded in ousting Arthur. In 1880, the Republican Party found itself fractured. In order to maintain party unity, Arthur, a Stalwart, was proposed for the position of Vice President, to run with James Garfield, himself a surprise candidate at the 1880 convention. Following their victory, Arthur openly broke with Garfield on several key issues.

When Garfield was assassinated in  September 1881, four months after taking office, Arthur and Garfield had  all but been estranged. In fact, at the time of the assasination, Arthur had been in Albany with Conkling, who was seeking reelection. To make matters worse, when Charles Guiteau shot Garfield, he announced “I am a Stalwart! Now Arthur will be President!” Guiteau, who was a delusional and disillusioned office seeker brought more attention to the burning issue in American politics – the patronage system. His insane but accurate declaration did not reflect well on Arthur, who inherited the majority of Garfield’s term, to the general horror of the American people.

Arthur surprised everyone. In an America torn by Garfield’s assassination and party politics, he immediately set to work proving he was above partisan squabbles. He signed the Pendleton Act of 1883 – this put into motion the Civil Service Reform for which Hayes had tried to press, and ended the patronage system which had essentially built Arthur’s own career. The year before, Arthur had vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would have denied American citizenship to Chinese residents of the United States, in addition to banning immigrants from China for twenty years. This was a particularly sordid bill, as the Chinese immigrants had been crucial to building the Transcontinental Railroad. In trying to stand with what was morally right both in regards to political corruption and to the rights of the Chinese, one catches a glimpse of the young lawyer Chester Arthur, who took on segregation.

Mark Twain, who never seemed to hesitate to throw shade at politicians and presidents commended Arthur’s presidency. “I am but one in 55,000,000; still, in the opinion of this one-fifty-five millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s Administration.” [2] Indeed, Alexander McClure, a writer, politician, and biographer of Lincoln said of Arthur “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired […] more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe.” [3] Chester Arthur’s presidency, though not remarkable in its own sense, is one of history’s great examples of a person rising to the occasion when he was needed the most by his country.

 

 

  1. The Stalwarts were a faction of the Republican party who were most associated with the patronage system and their bid to have Grant re-elected for a third time. They existed from the 1870s until Arthur became president in 1881, at which point Conkling was no longer a force, and Arthur had reformed the Civil Service.
  2.  Critics have long contended that Twain’s Puddin’ Head Wilson is based on Arthur’s reforming of the Civil Service. Kaschig, Merit. “‘Vice Breeds Crime’ The ‘Germs’ of Mark Twain’s Puddn’ Head Wilson.” American Periodicals, vol. 12, Ohio State University Press, 2002, pp. 49–74, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20770892.
  3. McClure, Alexander 1828–1909. Colonel Alexander K. McClure’s Recollections of Half a Century, Ulan Press, 2012. P. 115

 

 

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William Howard Taft as Chief Justice, 1921, Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress
August 30, 2021

Chief Justice William Howard Taft: A Dream Deferred

“I was engaged in the respectable business of trying to administer justice [but] I have fallen from that state now and am engaged in running for the presidency.” [1]

-William Howard Taft

There are six American presidents who failed to win reelection. Most recently, Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection in 2020. Before him, George Bush, Sr., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, and William Howard Taft all failed to win a second term. William Howard Taft is the only former president who made a public career comeback to serve on the Supreme Court. He remains today the only person who has served as both the President of the United States and Chief Justice. When Taft was appointed Chief Justice in 1921, he succeeded Edward Douglass White, whom Taft himself had elevated to Chief Justice when he was President in 1910. [2] Not many people can say they settled on the presidency after their first choice career didn’t pan out, but that is essentially what happened in Taft’s case. When he promoted White, Taft confided in George W. Wickersham, his Attorney General, that “There is nothing I would have loved more than to be Chief Justice of the United States. I cannot help seeing the irony in the fact that I, who desired that office so much, should now be  signing the commission  of another man.” [3]   Let’s step back for a moment and trace Taft’s trajectory to where he happily ended his career as a public servant: that of Chief Justice of the United States of America.

William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1857, the scion of the Taft family, who traced their origins to Ireland, but more recently, to Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Taft’s great grandfather, Samuel Taft, served in the Revolutionary War under George Washington and stayed at Samuel’s tavern at Uxbridge. A letter from the newly-elected Washington thanking Taft for his hospitality survives. When Taft was born, his father, Alphonso, started a law firm with William M. Dickson, who was one of the founders of the Republican party. Alphonso himself had written the platform of the Republican party the year before William’s birth, emphasizing, amongst other things, its commitment to the Constitution. William H. Taft studied at Yale from 1874-1878, where he was a member of the elite Skull and Bones society, which his father had co-founded. During the younger Taft’s time at Yale, his father served as a judge on the Superior Court of Cincinnati, lost a bid for the Ohio governorship to Rutherford B. Hayes, and was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War. Shortly thereafter, Alphonso became Attorney General. The confluence of law and politics ran deeply in the Taft family, to put it mildly, and both his father’s example and his counsel that it was greater to be Chief Justice than President were to impact William’s career path. 

In 1878, Taft finished Yale and moved back to Ohio to study law in Cincinnati, passing the bar in 1880, and entering his father’s firm. The following year, Taft was appointed Hamilton County’s Assistant Prosecuting Attorney [4] which he resigned the following year, in 1882, when he was appointed by President Arthur as Collector of Internal Revenue. All of these achievements and opportunities were attained by the time Taft was twenty-five.  [5] 

In 1886, Taft married fellow Cincinnatian Helen Herron, with whom they would eventually have four children. Helen’s father had also been active in the Republican party and had been legal partners with Rutherford B. Hayes. Helen’s political pedigree further fueled her aspirations for her husband to seek public office, ultimately becoming the driving force behind Taft’s political career. In the meantime, Taft continued working up the ranks of the legal profession, and in 1887, at age 29, he followed in his father’s footsteps and was appointed Judge of the Superior Court of Cincinnati. Two years later, Taft was tapped to join the Supreme Court, but was instead appointed by President Benjamin Harrison the following year as Solicitor General, and in short succession, Taft found himself a circuit judge, and dean of his alma mater, the Cincinnati School of Law. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed Taft the first head of the  civilian governor of the Philippines. Though this delighted his wife, who made no secret of her White House ambitions for him, Taft would have preferred to devote himself to the law. [6]

In 1902, Taft was informed by President Theodore Roosevelt that he wished to put Taft on the Supreme Court bench. He confided in then-Secretary of War Elihu Root “I long for a judicial career, but if it must turn on my present decision then I am willing to lose it.” [7] Taft was essentially bowing to his wife’s political aspirations for him.  Roosevelt didn’t give up, but Taft’s sense of duty to finish his work in the Philippines, combined with Helen’s urging that Taft’s career not be shelved on the Supreme Court bench, ultimately won out.

In 1904, Taft followed in his father’s footsteps yet again when President Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of War, bringing the Tafts to Washington. While there, Roosevelt tried his luck again to convince his old friend to join the Supreme Court. By now, though, there was a growing consensus that Taft would make an excellent president. Taft confided in his diary that Helen was “Bitterly opposed to my accepting the [court] position and that she telephoned me this morning to tell me that if I did, I would make the biggest mistake of my life.” [8] After a private half-hour meeting with Helen Taft, President Roosevelt became the most vocal proponent of Taft’s bid for the presidency.

In 1908, with Roosevelt’s help, Taft won the election. Though viewed as Roosevelt’s successor, Taft was different in temperament nearly across the board. Whereas Roosevelt stretched the limits of the constitution, Taft felt duty-bound to be constrained by them. In other words, his judicial temperament made him less suited for the expectations of a president. Taft was relieved to lose his bid for re-election in 1912 to Woodrow Wilson, ending a somewhat unpopular term in office. 

The former president still needed a source of income, and was delighted to begin teaching law at Yale. Finally, in 1921, Taft’s dream became a reality when President Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft served in his position until 1930, retiring shortly before his death. In the words of Jeffrey Rosen, Taft’s most recent biographer, “Taft’s constitutional restraint helped solidify his legacy as our most judicial president and most presidential chief justice.” [9]

  1. Caroli, Betty Boyd. The First Ladies “From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama” Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 131
  2. Grover Cleveland had appointed White as Associate Justice in 1894, and Taft’s elevation of White to Chief Justice was surprising, given that Taft was a Republican.
  3. Rehnquist, William H. “Remarks of the Chief Justice: My Life in the Law Series.” Duke Law Journal, vol. 52, no. 4, 2003, pp. 787–805. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1373198, p. 797. Accessed 19 Aug. 2021. 
  4.  The county seat of Hamilton is Cincinnati 
  5. Warren, Earl. “Chief Justice William Howard Taft.” The Yale Law Journal, vol. 67, no. 3, 1958, pp. 353–362, p. 355. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/793882. Accessed 16 Aug. 2021.
  6. Ever since Helen Herron Taft visited the Hayes’s White House as a small girl, she was determined to return as First Lady, and passionately pursued her ambitions vicariously through her husband
  7. Warren, p. 356
  8. Caroli, p. 130
  9. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/trump-william-taft/555656/
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General Order No. 11 Historic Marker, Mississippi.
March 31, 2021

Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11 Historic Marker In Mississippi

On March 18th, 2021, a new historical marker was installed by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with support from the City and the Marshall County Historical Society Museum.

The marker commemorates General Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous General Orders No. 11, often considered the worst anti-Semitic Government act in American history. The order – -issued on December 17th, 1862, from Holly Springs — expelled all Jews from Grant’s military district, which comprised areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. 

President Abraham Lincoln countermanded the General Order on January 4, 1863.

Learn more here of how Grant later tried to lose the anti-Semite label engendered to him by the order.

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Rutherford B. Hayes as a major during the Civil War, 1861, Rutherford Hayes Presidential Center
February 16, 2021

Presidential Brothers in Arms: Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley

The 23rd Ohio Infantry Regiment was raised outside of Columbus in June 1861 as a three-year regiment. Its colonel, William Rosecrans, would go on to have a controversial military career and later, served as the American representative to Mexico to be followed by consolidating the Southern Pacific railroad. Rosecrans wasn’t the only person of distinction from the 23rd OH. Several members went on to have careers in public service – notably the 19th and 25th presidents of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley, respectively. 

Rutherford Hayes was a 38-year-old attorney practicing law in Cincinnati when he volunteered to fight in the Civil War. He joined the 23rd OH as a major, and as one of Rosecrans’s staff officers. William McKinley, by contrast, was an 18-year-old teacher living in Poland, Ohio. McKinley had volunteered for the Poland Guards, which soon after was consolidated into the 23rd OH.

Hayes’s non-military professional experience served him well as a leader in the unit.  As a lawyer, he knew how to speak and rally his soldiers. Hayes’s devotion to his men was both legendary and mutual. He took care of them, and they, in turn, revered him. Moreover, Hayes was quite the war hero. In his four years in uniform, he had four horses shot out from under him, and was wounded five times — once severely. Though he was one of five presidents to serve in the Civil War, he was the only one who sustained wounds in battle. Hayes was recognized for his bravery and competence and rose through the ranks steadily. By the end of the war, he was a Major-General.

“On more than one occasion during these engagements, General Hayes bore an honorable part. His conduct on the field was marked by conspicuous gallantry as well as the display of qualities of a higher order than that of mere personal daring. Having entered the army as a major of volunteers at the beginning of the war, General Hayes attained by meritorious service the rank of brevet major general before its close.” 

– Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

While Hayes was a leader amongst the 341 men in the 23rd OH, and William McKinley was but a private, the two men more than connected. McKinley proved himself time and again on the battlefield, especially at the Battle of Antietam. When news of McKinley’s bravery reached Hayes, Hayes suggested McKinley be promoted. With his promotion to Second Lieutenant, McKinley then served on Hayes’s staff when the latter was a colonel. At the war’s conclusion, McKinley was a Brevet Major. 

The relationship between the two men most likely began when McKinley served on Hayes’s staff, and grew into a long-lasting bond. In an 1862 letter to his wife, Lucy, Hayes described McKinley as a “handsome, bright, gallant boy,” in addition to being “one of the finest officers in the Army.”[1] For his part, McKinley considered Hayes a lifelong mentor whose input was not limited to the sphere of war. In 1867, McKinley’s first foray into politics was to stump for Hayes, who was running for governor of Ohio. As McKinley’s profile in law and politics grew, his path would cross with Hayes even more. In 1875, he attended the Republican state convention at which Hayes was nominated governor for the third time.  The following year,  McKinley, in the midst of his own congressional campaign, found the time to campaign for his old army comrade, Rutherford B. Hayes, who was then making a bid for the presidency. 

During Hayes’s tenure in the White House (1877-1881), the McKinleys were frequent guests, considered an honorary son and daughter-in-law to the Hayeses. Rutherford Hayes made sure to introduce his protege to key political contacts who would later help McKinley on his journey to the White House in 1897.  When Rutherford Hayes died in January of 1893, his funeral procession was led by William McKinley, then himself the governor of Ohio, along with President-Elect Grover Cleveland, also a veteran of the Civil War.[2]

The role of the military in shaping the characters and careers of various presidents is fertile territory, and as seen here, the Civil War unquestionably helped put both presidents on the path to political careers.

  1. Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War, (Kent: State university Press, 2000) by William H. Armstrong, p. 46
  2.  James Garfield actually served as the chief of staff to Rosecrans, who had been the first colonel of the 23rd OH before being promoted to Brigadier General in the Regular Army.
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US Cabinet Secretary George Cortelyou
May 10, 2020

George Cortelyou

In September of 1901, on the grounds of the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, two shots rang out. President William McKinley, mortally wounded, fell into the arms of his private secretary, to whom he spoke the famous words, “My wife, Cortelyou, be careful how you tell her.” This was probably the most dramatic moment in US Cabinet Secretary George Cortelyou’s public service, if not his life. Though he is mostly associated with McKinley’s assassination, there is far more to Cortelyou’s legacy. Having served under three presidents directly, Cortelyou’s roles were precursors of what would become the duties of Chief of Staff and Press Secretary. But Cortelyou managed to be quite more than the sum of even these two monumental roles.

George Cortelyou was born in New York City in 1862. After attending George Washington University and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he worked as a school teacher and principal in preparatory schools. He became a stenographer and entered public service in 1889 as a private secretary to various public officials.[1] In 1895, the Assistant Postmaster General was so taken with his private secretary that, when President Grover Cleveland approached him in search of a chief clerk, he immediately recommended Cortelyou.[2]

Within two years, Cortelyou managed to prove himself invaluable to the President. Upon Cleveland’s departure from the White House in 1897,  Cleveland told the incoming McKinley that if he wanted “things to run smoothly around here, my advice is to keep Cortelyou.[3] McKinley took that advice, and Cortelyou soon went from assistant presidential secretary to McKinley’s main Cabinet Secretary. 

Cortelyou and McKinley established a relationship with the press that laid the foundation for future administrations. They met with the press personally and cultivated not only their goodwill but kept them updated by sharing presidential statements and establishing a press office inside the White House.[4]

Cortelyou’s practical approach extended beyond his relationship with the press. He had a well-founded concern for McKinley’s safety, considering that America had lost Presidents Garfield and Lincoln to assassination as recently as 1881 and 1865, respectively. Perhaps more on his mind was the recent assassination of Umeberto I of Italy in July of 1900. Cortelyou urged President McKinley not to attend the very public Pan-American Exposition, going so far as to cancel McKinley’s appearance at the Exposition twice, only to be ignored both times. Following McKinley’s assassination, Cortelyou asked for congressional funds to increase the security for his next boss, Theodore Roosevelt. Though there was an attempt made on Former President Roosevelt’s life as he campaigned for a third term in October of 1912, Cortelyou’s initiative had a lasting impact on the protocol for keeping the most powerful person on earth safe.

Cortelyou worked for Cleveland for two years, and four for McKinley. But it was with Theodore Roosevelt that he enjoyed the most intimate relationship and under whose auspices Cortelyou fulfilled his powerful and numerous potentials, enacting change that would have a lasting impact on the office of the presidency, as well as the nation.

When Roosevelt took over McKinley’s term upon the latter’s assassination, he not only retained Cortelyou, but charged him with reorganizing the Executive Mansion. It was at this time that Roosevelt gave it the official name of “The White House,” and even had the letterhead changed. Roosevelt, the scion of a powerful business family, wanted the White House to run with the same kind of efficiency. Cortelyou obliged and wrote protocols for how White House staff were to conduct themselves and fulfill their responsibilities. He even insisted that at the end of every workday, all desks would be cleared of paper. He also completely overhauled the chaotic travel protocol for the President. 

Cortelyou was far more to Roosevelt than a clerk or private secretary. He became one of Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors. In fact, Roosevelt created a cabinet position for Cortelyou, and appointed him the first United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1903 in order to control the excesses of big businesses. The following year, Cortelyou left his cabinet position to run Roosevelt’s successful reelection campaign. Cortelyou went on to serve as Postmaster General in 1905 and Secretary of the Treasury, where he presided over the Great Panic of 1907.

Not many people manage to occupy as many powerful positions as Cortelyou did in his lifetime. But this is not what made Cortelyou remarkable. Most people are lauded if they impact one aspect of government. George Cortelyou managed to improve the way multiple aspects of the presidency and the United States are run. Cortelyou’s overhaul of White House staffing and presidential correspondence enabled the president to be more efficient. His allocation of congressional funds and the doubling of secret service agents made the office of the presidency safer. Cortelyou’s inclusion of a press office in the White House during the McKinley administration made the president more accessible and the office more transparent and accountable to its citizens. His invention of the press release during the Roosevelt administration allowed the president to get ahead of leaked reports and to influence his image in the media.[5] It was during Cortelyou’s tenure as Secretary of Treasury from 1907 to 1909, that Cortelyou established his most far-reaching legacy where the American people are concerned; Cortelyou began to advocate for a central banking system, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

After his service as Secretary of Treasury, Cortelyou worked for the Consolidated Gas Company until 1935. He passed away in 1940 at the age of 78 leaving behind a wife, two sons, and two daughters. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the wake, as she was best friends with Lilly, Cortelyou’s wife.

Manuscripts from George Cortelyou:

President McKinley’s Secretary Cancels McKinley’s Engagements “Owing to Mrs. McKinley’s Serious Illness”

McKinley’s Last Tour: Cortelyou Thanks the Mayor of San Francisco for His Help

George Cortelyou also remains enshrined in another piece of history. This clip is the first video ever taken of a president. McKinley and Cortelyou are reenacting the moment where Cortelyou informs McKinley of the latter’s Republican nomination for President in September of 1896.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRVj3yeTNg0

Learn More About George Cortelyou & Other Important Political Figures

Read more about George Cortelyou and other political figures, plus discover other great blogs from Shapell, including Titanic Victims – Archibald Willingham Butt, Anne Frank Family Album at the Anne Frank Fonds and Harry Truman Post Presidency

~

[1]  “George B. Cortelyou, Financier, 78, Dies.” The New York Times, October 24, 1940, p. 25

[2] https://www.whitehousehistory.org/a-place-of-peace

[3]  Ibid

[4] For more on the modernisation of the presidency with regard to the press, see Ponder, Stephen. “The President Makes News: William McKinley and the First Presidential Press Corps, 1897-1901.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 4, 1994, pp. 823–836. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27551327. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

[5] For more on Cortelyou’s general innovation and  impact on the press during the McKinley administration, see List of McKinley Firsts

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Quaker City passengers, August 1867. (Photo by William E. James, courtesy of Randolph James.)
January 16, 2020

“Not So Innocent Abroad” – Jewish Review of Books

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 FinnLife 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

Click here to read the full article.

View the digital exhibition here.

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View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in 1841. Courtesy of Dahesh Museum of Art.
December 25, 2019

“The Twain Shall Meet” – The New York Jewish Week

“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

Click here to read the full article.

View the Twain exhibition here.

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Mark Twain Signed Photo by Abdullah Frères in Constantinople, c. 1867. Shapell Manuscript Collection.
September 15, 2019

Forbes: Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ Celebrated In New York

“A new exhibition that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of ‘one of the best-selling travelogues of all time’ is set to open at the New-York Historical Society in New York.

“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.

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The image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. Photograph: EHT Collaboration.
April 11, 2019

Historic Week for Space Exploration

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.

Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman with stacks of hard drives of black hole image data. Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton with the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
(image credit: @floragraham, twitter.)

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President Ulysses S. Grant. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Wikimedia Commons.
August 14, 2018

The 150th Anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s 1868 Election Year

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.

Running for President, Ulysses S. Grant Tries to Lose the Antisemite Label Engendered to Him During the Civil War By His Infamous “Jew Order”

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Nirit Shalev Khalifa
August 21, 2017

When Did The US First Get Involved In The Middle East

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.

Transcript

Host:
You’re listening to a TLV 1. This is The Tel Aviv review. And I’m a now joined here in the studio by Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa, the curator of the exhibition Dreams and diplomacy in the Holy Land, American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. That’s currently showing at the national library in Jerusalem. Also, here in the studio is Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy Land, as well as a former broadcaster on Israel Radio and a rhetorician. Welcome both to the studio. Hello.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Thank you.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thank you.

Host:
Nirit, we’ll start with you. There are a few striking things about the history of American consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. One of them is the great proactiveness and political involvement at a time when Washington’s official foreign policy was isolationists and non-interventionist. Why is that? What motivated them to be so active?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
This is one of the most amazing things, that all those consuls came to Jerusalem. And if you see the motivation they had, it was mainly because they really wanted to come. They wanted so hardly that their friends colleagues tried the best they can do. They convinced the minister in Washington. And that even sent us to the first consul or almost consul in Jerusalem Warder Cresson. Warder Cresson-

Speaker 1:
Almost consul because he was [crosstalk 00:01:49] officially appointed.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Almost consul… He appoin and then it was canceled even before he came to Jerusalem.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The journey took about a month. And that time, the people in the government in a Washington, they found out who is the person, but it was-

Host:
[crosstalk 00:02:06] Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
The reason- Yes, the reason that they appointed him, because he was very religious person and he wanted to come to Jerusalem. He had no idea about the real Jerusalem.

Host:
Sure.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
He thought about Jerusalem in the-

Host:
[crosstalk 00:02:22] He had the Jerusalem syndrome.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The biblical Jerusalem.

Host 1:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some kind of. And I think that was a, you mentioned the Jerusalem syndrome, maybe you can say that the American diplomacy, that time was some kind of Jerusalem syndrome. Because, they came with ambitions. And also, we say, all the thinking of American about liberty, about freedom, but what you think in America, the new world, the new zion [crosstalk 00:02:50] they wanted to create. They came to Jerusalem and they found it.

Host:
Sometimes it went over the top because Warder Cresson, for example, the reason his appointment was revoked was that he was mentally unstable and his ex-wife even tried to institutionalize him.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. But you see, the reason was religion. Some of them came, if we say Warder Cresson was very dramatic and extreme-

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…example, but we can say about many other consuls. They won because the help of them or some relatives. They wanted to come. And when they came to Jerusalem, they came as the new guy in the neighborhood.

Host:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then, was no support, no policy from Washington. And then they had to deal with two main subjects. One of them was the American settlers-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…who is the American colonies and the other was the Jewish communities.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ron. What’s the thing that led the American policy in the land of Israel in Palestinian, in the Holy land. Was it just a Christian Zionism or were there other interests involved?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
In one word, Geopiety. Namely, if you look at this map, which was produced for the bicentennial, by my professor, Moshe Davis, the head of the Hebrew University, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, with his wife, you can see Moses and other distinguished guests from the Bible running around in the American map. And as a matter of fact, there were like 340 settlements, American, Puritan, Colonial settlements, and from the national [inaudible 00:04:41] period named after the Bible. So, geopiety speaking, Zion in America was in that nature. Furthermore, American students at Harvard in the 17th century had to study biblical Hebrew and they claimed it’s difficult. So, this led the government to appoint religious, mostly, people as consuls in the Holy land.

Host:
Because, in many ways the American Ethos is very similar to the Zionist Ethos. It mentioned the new Jerusalem, the new Zion, this whole thing about going back to the roots while discovering the new land. And some of those people that are covered in the exhibition were, you could say pro to Zionist, Zionist even before Herzl.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Even though some of them had some hesitations, for example, the side of Cresson, who tend to be Jewish who became a Rabbi and married this- [crosstalk 00:05:50].

Host:
Converted.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…as far as the wife and recently his tomb in Mt. Olives was found-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Thanks to the exhibition we found the- [crosstalk 00:05:59]

Host:
Oh, really?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so in his book, you can see this Magen David with his soul, his Jewish soul. And he’s saying in his book, the key of David, one true God, who was blessed forever and underneath his Hebrew name, Michoel Boaz Israel, which he shortened for my Mccovey. That’s the first-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…Mccovey, modern Mccovey.

Host:
And he’s the one who actually converted to Judaism, but others who were practicing Christians. So, the mission primarily, but I don’t know if primarily, but you know, a big part of the mission, to establish good relations with the Jewish communities in Jerusalem and in many ways to give them the patronage.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yes. Especially extraterritorial rights, which was the core of the American capitulations in this regime with the Ottoman Empire in which foreigners could have acquired land, houses and outside of the Ottoman, Texas.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, this was very important for Jews who came in growing number to the Holy land, because Europeans usually [inaudible 00:07:17] for their rights and between them and the Turkish, the Ottoman Empire. And the Jews were afraid of losing their extraterritorial rights, they’re privileges. There were proteges. And from Russian protection, British protection, they were led to America. Now American had the Monroe Doctrine since 1823, this isolation [crosstalk 00:07:44].

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So, the question is why the Turks were so eager or agreed to- [crosstalk 00:07:48]

Host:
That’s what I was going to ask. How was it received by the Ottoman authorities, who ruled this piece of land? It was part of the empire at the time.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And why America? Because, American official non-involvement was liked by the Ottomans, but specifically they liked American know-how, technologically speaking, of building ships, which the European destroyed in 1823 in Navarino where Greece was fighting for its independence. This was the real reason why in 1830, this- [crosstalk 00:08:21]

Host:
Basically it’s a cross-atlantic Alliance, even before it-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
[crosstalk 00:08:27] The consul was established.

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Yeah. Right.

Host:
So, basically they were looking towards America as a potential potential ally. While the British, the French and the Russians were gradually becoming their enemies. That’s what you’re saying.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Right.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nirit, we’ll go back to you. This Friday, on the 10th of January, there’s a gallery tour at the National Library where the exhibition is. And it will be dedicated to a specific consul, Victor Beauboucher, who’s actually a Frenchman.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yes. And one of the amazing thing is about all those characters that we see during… We’re talking about 16 consuls, because they couldn’t survive many years in Jerusalem. They just had to ask for another job after a few years and even after some months. And Victor Beauboucher was another very important consul, because he was involved in few major affairs, like, first day American colony in Jaffa.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And we are going to talk about the American colony in Jaffa, and also to see a film made by professor Yael Katzir, who documented the story. I guess most of the people knows now where the nice wooden building in Jaffa Tel-Aviv-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
-street. But…

Host:
And also Jerusalem, the famous hotel.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
No. But this is another American colony.

Host:
Oh, right. Okay.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
That was with another consul that had made them a lot of problems [inaudible 00:10:15]. But Victor Beauboucher actually was… He came and he had to help them to go back to America because they came here and [crosstalk 00:10:27]

Host:
Yeah. Who are these people? I mean, we know that the American colonies exists to this very day, like you said, in Tel Aviv near Jaffa and in Jerusalem and other places in the country.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And another American colony, which was actually the first one that we are talking about in Mt. Hope-

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Which is [crosstalk 00:10:45]

Host:
Yeah. That never survived. It existed for a few years and… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
All of them, I think-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
The forefather John Steinbeck, the famous American writer was murdered there.

Host:
Really?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And I had [inaudible 00:10:57] back in 1855, and you can find it in the Senate document.

Host:
Okay. That’s really fascinating anecdote, but who were these people who established the American colonies here?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
In 1866, this American colony in Jaffa. Their leader was the preacher, George Adams. And he convinced them to come again to, to the Bible and to be farmers here. And they came with their wooden houses. This is an amazing thing that just came from Maine and they came with everything with them. But of course they came to nothing and they couldn’t survive. And after a while, they needed a real help just to help them to go back to America and to build their life. Only few families stay here. And one of them is the Floyd family.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And Rolla Floyd, he was the first tour guide. He actually invented the tour guide in the Holy land.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) When was that? What the decade of 19th century?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
We are talking in the ’60s.

Host:
Okay, 1860s.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
It was between ’66 and ’67.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And they had to leave. And one of the things that maybe to mention about this exhibition, because we have so many firsts, we tried to look for every consul. What’s happened during staying here?

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And some of them said it was very boring and asked to leave.

Host:
Yeah. Exactly. That was going… Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
But it wasn’t so boring. I guess, for most of them, it was too much interesting. [Crosstalk 00:12:35]

Host:
Exactly. That’s my question to you, Ron, now. Another thing that struck me is that we were talking about, I don’t know, maybe a dozen consuls in just over half a century. And all of them asked to be transferred prematurely. [crosstalk 00:12:54] I don’t know all of them, but a great majority of them. And some of them, like Nirit said, found it boring. Others just couldn’t handle the network of pressures that was applied on them from the Turkish authorities, from the Department of State, in Washington, and from the Jewish community here. Many of them were embroiled in controversies that hit the very few newspapers that were here. All of this, of course you can see at the exhibition, but what do you think brought them to this situation?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
First of all, you have to remember that the settlers and most of the consul came from the geopietic feeling. Not just them, Edward Robinson, the famous American archeologist who found the Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem and there was the wall.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Near the Western Wall. [crosstalk 00:13:56]

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It said that he remembered his grandfather’s Bible, which led him to this profession, which led him to come to the Holy land. And so, under the Spoils system, this was the name of the department of States system until 1906, people were chosen because of personal reasons. Other missionary, like this Beauboucher for example, who actually was involved with his deputy Jewish wants before it was converted to Christianity named Finkelstein who became the private secretary later of Sewald, the famous secretary of state.

Host:
Right.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Okay. And this Sara Steinberg affair, where Beauboucher went Friday night to a Rabbi’s house to take out a small child rose so much fear. [crosstalk 00:14:52]

Host:
Why did he do that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Because he was, in his heart-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…a religious missionary.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So, he wanted to protect her from-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
So to speak.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
Yeah. Her family was converted when-

Host:
Right.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
…their parents died and only sister was a Christian, already.

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And then there was a fight, who’s going to get the-

Host:
So, they were all-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And this guy went to President Grant.

Host:
Who’s that?

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It’s Rabbi Schneersohn.

Host:
Okay.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
Grandson of the famous Schneersohn, who established Chabad. And he, as you see, speaking about geopiety, spoke to President Grant about this missionary consul, that should go home-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…so to speak. And as you can see, he was dressed like a prophet. This Rabbi said-

Host:
So this-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
As a matter of fact, he was the one who, for himself asked to become an American diplomat in Tiberia.

Host:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And-

Host:
But it was denied.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
It was denied because it was involved in the scandal in which he was beaten up by extreme Jews in the Galilee who didn’t want to go for modern agriculture and beaten him. But he succeeded in removing this consul Beauboucher from his office.

Host:
Right. Okay.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And he died in diaspora dreaming about a Tiberian-

Host:
Yeah.

Dr. Ron Bartour:
…colony, [crosstalk 00:16:13] which was established.

Host:
So, like-

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
And that’s why we don’t have [inaudible 00:16:16] American Consulate in Tiberia [crosstalk 00:16:18].

Host:
Yeah, because his mission failed. A lot like-

Dr. Ron Bartour:
But President Grant came to the Holy land, maybe as a result of this.

Host:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Ron Bartour:
And wrote about it, a diary, which we have.

Host:
Okay. Like we see, those many, many dreams that penetrated diplomacy and vice versa, which makes the name of the exhibition so apt, Dreams and diplomacy and the Holy land, American Consuls in Jerusalem in the 19th century. Thank you very much for coming into the studio, Dr. Nirit Shalve Khalifa, the curator and Dr. Ron Bartour, a historian specializing in American attitudes towards the Holy land. And I encourage our listeners to come on Friday, the 10th of January at 11 o’clock in the morning?

Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa:
At 10:30 in the morning.

Host:
10:30 o’clock in the morning. 10:30 in the morning, to the National Gallery in Jerusalem for a gallery tour dedicated to Victor Beauboucher. Thank you very much and we’ll be right back.

Read more about US history, plus discover other great blogs from Shapell, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Grandchild, Leopold Rothchild, President Jefferson and the First Vaccine, and more!

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