Between The Lines
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It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century when the United States, led by the intrepid Theodore Roosevelt – ever mindful of naval power – decided that it was not only a vital matter of American lives, time and money, but national principle, to create an American-controlled waterway across the Panamanian isthmus.
American colonists followed preacher George J. Adams from New England to Ottoman-ruled Palestine on a messianic mission to prepare the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. “We are going to become practical benefactors of the land and the people,” Adams stated, “to take the lead in developing its great resources.” A year after arriving, some of these impoverished colonists wanted a ticket home. It was at that moment that author Mark Twain came to town while on a five-month pleasure trip through Europe and the Middle East.
It wasn’t until he visited the Holy Land and wrote the longest poem in American literature about it, though, that he gave up the idea of ever publishing again. He was finished: Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land did him in.
Just three months into his presidency, Kennedy pledged, in his address to Congress on May 25th, 1961, ”that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” To which he added “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
President Kennedy laments he hasn’t time to write about Thomas Jefferson, and then carefully does so.
Writing just two months after handing the presidency off to John Adams, Washington was a changed man. Having returned to Mount Vernon, and at last under the shadow of his own vine and fig-tree, he was, in fact, exuberant, wry – and surprisingly, funny.
Theodore Roosevelt, having wanted his whole life to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral, finally got at least half of his wish when, on January 8, 1919, he was buried, quietly, in his parish church in Oyster Bay. Reporters watching as President Wilson read the message that Roosevelt had died, swore he broke into a wide transcendent smile. Why, is the story told here, in one of the very last letters Roosevelt ever wrote…
At an even more fraught and divisive moment in our past, Abraham Lincoln lost an epic contest – and so 160 years ago wrote this letter, whose final words, echoing King Solomon, are once more worth heeding. “‘And this too shall pass away.’ Never fear.”
5 days before recognizing Israel, Truman writes to Clark Clifford, mentioning the pressure of Palestine.
Palestine, says President Truman in February 1948, is a “matter of considerable disturbance” to be determined by the U.N.
President Harry Truman stands by the 1947 creation of a Jewish homeland.
General Edmund Allenby enters Jerusalem.
American literature, travel writing, and international tourism would never be the same.
Herzl, Envisioning the First Zionist Congress, Vows the Return of the Jews to Palestine.
A heart-broken president mourns his teenage son.
Ben-Gurion, writing as the Six-Day War begins, predicts victory.
Kennedy’s Most Famous Words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”
Truman on Kennedy: inexperienced and hopeful.
A recently acquired letter offers new revelations.
Theodore Roosevelt was dying to serve in World War I. He was, he reminded all who could hear, an ex-Commander in Chief of the United States Army, and ready to once again lead “his” First United States Volunteer Cavalry – the “Rough Riders” – into the fray. But President Wilson, whom Roosevelt detested, refused the appointment
President Lyndon B. Johnson writes to the parents of astronauts killed in the Apollo I disaster.
Theodore Roosevelt has a suit made, and re-made, for his 1905 inauguration.
The execution of ten Nazi war criminals.
James A. Garfield didn’t want the job, and his arguments from the convention floor to that effect were so eloquent and moving, he was nominated forthwith.
Days Before Leaving to Drive Out the “Indians” from the Bighorn Country, Custer Predicts Mining Fortunes To Be Made There
However much Tad vexed others, Lincoln was entirely at his service, day or night.
“Nancy sends her love,” – Ronald Reagan, miraculously surviving an assassination attempt, is optimistic about his recovery.
Schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe Writes About Her Excitement Going into Space on the Ill-Fated Challenger.
On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:38 EST and, 73 seconds into its flight, exploded nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean. All seven crew members were killed, including 37 year-old McAuliffe, who had been selected from 11,000 applicants to be a “Teacher in Space.” Largely because of her presence, some 17% of Americans watched the live coverage of the launch.
The Charleston Mercury had already given warning. If the “Black Republican” party succeeded in the upcoming presidential election, it declared in the summer of 1860, “loyalty to the Union will be treason to the South.”
Young Mark Twain, in Maui, on horseback, arranges to meet shipboard friends.
Twain on the heroic writing, and fantastic success, of Grant’s memoirs – Grant’s fame, he predicts, will last two-thousand years.
Lincoln Assassination Conspirator Mary Surratt Becomes the First Woman Executed by the Federal Government
Mary Surratt’s daughter petitions Andrew Johnson for the return of her mother’s remains.
Wilson wanted to ascertain all the facts; he wanted to reach a determination; he wanted, then and only then, to write the Imperial German government, a sharp letter. He was still gathering information when, on May 7th, another German U-Boat torpedoed and sank the British luxury ocean liner RMS Luisitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. This time Wilson did voice a protest – but that was all. “Americans must have a consciousness different from the consciousness of every other nation in the world,” he declared. “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.” Roosevelt was apoplectic.
An exceptionally rare Lincoln autobiographical letter – mentioning the death of his mother and sister, and his elegiac poem “My Childhood Home I See Again, And Sadden With the View.”
Nazi Germany surrenders.
“The other day I visited a German internment camp. I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world!” – General Eisenhower.
Rare and suspicious John Wilkes Booth letter, written just two months before Lincoln’s assassination.
When young bride Jacqueline Kennedy bought her husband a paint set for Christmas 1953, all the Kennedys descended on it, competing to see who could produce the most paintings in the shortest amount of time. Jacqueline was appalled: her idea had been to allow Jack to emulate his great hero, Winston Churchill, who found in painting a serene distraction from political pressure.
It was his harsh life in the wilderness of Spencer County, Indiana, that shaped Lincoln’s character and beliefs.
Hoover had longer than most presidents to give vent to a sentiment a great many of them felt: out-of-office, he says he is “…once of Washington D.C. – now fortunately elsewhere.”
If in the annals of American history, there was ever an expert witness on Presidential assassinations, that person would be Robert Lincoln.
Life’s lessons: John F. Kennedy advises a college student what classes to take for a life in politics.
When the House Judiciary Committee passed Articles of Impeachment, and a tape recording revealed him ordering a cover-up, Nixon had to go – and so left, speaking vaguely of “wrong judgments” but never, his role in Watergate itself.
The dog days of summer are here: so warmed up, and slowed down, that even Congress has stopped doing nothing…
President Harding tries to get a job for his alleged mistress, Nan Britton: excessively rare documentation of their relationship.
The public’s right to know versus a President’s responsibility to protect. Just when, exactly, is secrecy warranted?
Franklin Pierce on the death of his dearest friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Benjamin Harrison: the earliest known example of a typewritten presidential letter.
President Kennedy’s trip to Ireland was notable, publicly, in that it marked the first visit of an Irish-American President, the first of a Catholic President, and the first of a sitting President. It was notable, privately, in that no one traveling with him – including all his staff of Irish descent, two of his sisters, and his sister-in-law – had ever seen him happier.
The very man who defined the American presidency was probably the only man to occupy the office who did not want the job.
Of course it was a huge secret: everyone remembers it. The girl was 21, the President 49; almost no one in the White House had an inkling. In Washington, no one knew a thing – but enough suspected, sooner or later, it was always a possibility: women hadn’t exactly been scarce in his background. In fact, running for president, the first time, there was an absolute media riot about his intimacy with a woman to whom he was not wed. Anyone who lived through it, would never forget. But not all presidential intrigues end in scandal, for as this letter from President Cleveland to his half-his-age secret fiancée attests, his led to the altar
The shock of the earthquake which struck San Francisco on the morning of April 18, 1906 – leveling countless buildings, starting a fire that lasted three days, and taking hundreds of lives – was felt all across the country.
The Hayes’ White House, famously, was a bastion of Temperance – earning Mrs. Hayes the sobriquet “Lemonade Lucy” – although it was rumored that the disapproving staff served oranges infused with a rum-based Roman Punch.
Abraham Lincoln swears he shall not modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any person freed by it.
If it had rained that morning; if Jacqueline Kennedy had not been with him; if the crowds to greet them hadn’t been so deep…
An Assistant Secretary of the Interior tries to stop the annihilation of German Jews.
In 1864, Governor Michael Hahn pushed through a provision authorizing the legislature to enfranchise non-whites on the basis that Lincoln suggested: military service and intellectual fitness. This was a crucial development: voting rights for Blacks were now – incrementally – possible…
A war that ended in deadlock, starting something that would last for thirty-five years: the Cold War.
President Gerald Ford, never elected to the office – nor, uniquely, to that of the Vice President – wanted to be remembered, he said, as a dedicated, hardworking, honest person who served constructively.
170,000 men fought for three days, often hand-to-hand, in encounters so epic they are known by name.
Theodore Roosevelt hated William Howard Taft; Taft hated Roosevelt; Roosevelt hated Woodrow Wilson. Wilson hated…
Ben-Gurion painfully acknowledges that if the Jewish state had been founded in 1937, millions of Jews would not have died in the Holocaust.
Read Across America Day: It Was His Boyhood Reading, Truman Recalls, That Prepared Him for When His “Terrible Trial Came”
No one has ever taken history, or algebra, or Latin, and not at some point asked, querulously, “when am I ever going to need to use this?” The answer, according to Harry S. Truman, is when you are struck by lightning one day and wake up to find yourself president of the United States.
“In Our Hands” – Two letters by Lincoln at hard-won, and long-sought moments.
Who is in charge, when the presidential term ends on noon on the Sunday, but the Oath isn’t taken, until Monday?
An Extraordinary Orville Wright Letter: How Watching Birds Led to Manned Flight at Kitty Hawk.
Truman’s aide battled the entire State Department to ensure Truman’s support for the Jewish State
Lincoln Asks Grant, Not As President But As a Friend, For a Favor: Find a Place For His Son, Robert, on His Staff
Lincoln may have been hailed, during the Civil War, as the Father of the Nation, but at home, with his eldest son Robert, Lincoln was mostly the President of the United States.
The most famous gunfight in Western history; three men had been killed, and someone, the law said, had to answer.
Former President Pierce defends himself against treason charges.
Lincoln, in a prelude to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, shadows Douglas around the Illinois.
On the day he suddenly becomes president, Roosevelt writes of his heavy and painful task.
The afternoon that President McKinley was shot point-blank, his Vice President was on an island, xxxxx miles away. VP Theodore Roosevelt wired for news – and predicted a recovery for McKinley who would succumb to his wounds xxxxx days later.
Polk, surprised to be nominated, says that the presidency is too important an office to be sought or declined.
Arriving in Nevada Territory, Mark Twain began one of the greatest careers in the history of literature.
Tyler, the first vice president to inherit the presidency, jokes about his being “an accident”
Assassin Czolgosz, calling himself “Fred Nobody,” writes of Buffalo – the place he will murder McKinley in 5 weeks time.
In 1956, Israel’s Prime Minister looks to George Washington’s army for inspiration.
The assassin Charles Guiteau fired, twice, into his back. “My God!” the President cried, “What is this?”
The Custers, of whom there were five in the 7th Cavalry, lived as a clan, fought as a clique, and died in their matching white buckskins at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the same afternoon.
The Cold War may have began the day the Second World War ended, but its greatest battle did not start until the morning of August 13, 1961, when Berliners from both the Western and Soviet sectors awoke to find their city divided by a barbed wire barrier – soon to become a concrete wall 16 feet high and some 96 miles long – which, for the next 28 years would virtually imprison those unlucky enough to be on the Eastern side of the divide.
Theodore Roosevelt, horseman, disparages the motor car.
When President Kennedy famously challenged Americans “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, thousands of young Americans responded by signing up for the Peace Corps – established just six weeks into his presidency, on March 1, 1961, by executive order.
“All that I am or hope ever to be,” Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I get from my mother – God bless her.”
President William Howard Taft, heartbroken at the loss on the Titanic of his military aide, writes an emotional eulogy.
Running for President, Grant tries to lose the antisemite label engendered by his infamous “Jew Order” during the Civil War.
It’s noble to teach oneself, Mark Twain once remarked, but still nobler to teach others – and less trouble.
Lincoln was fifty-one years old, and in his own eyes, a common man, running for president against those infinitely more likely, and better favored, than himself. Lincoln’s identification of himself as unexceptional in any way reflected his intrinsic egalitarianism .
The conundrum of the President who is at once both the most common and the rarest in manuscript material, is solved.
The Dreyfus Affair was “one of the great commotions of history. ” It began in 1894 against a backdrop of espionage and antisemitism, when Jewish French Army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment.