Historian Ray Raphael on that Flummoxing Electoral College

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

Twelve years ago at this time Vice President Al Gore ran against governor of Texas George W. Bush, leading to chaotic election results. The votes were so close that one candidate won the popular vote while another won the electoral vote. That was right about the time that people across America began asking, what is the Electoral College, and how can a candidate win the popular vote and still lose the election? Who would create such a system? Many are still asking these questions as we approach another close presidential election in November, and historian Ray Raphael has the answers.

 Raphael is currently a Senior Research Fellow with Humboldt State University in Northern California. He authored the acclaimed People’s History of the American Revolution as well as many other books on the founding of the United States, and his latest book is Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive. Raphael visited the Society on Monday, September 24, to present “The Curious Creation of the Electoral College: What the Founders Didn’t Want and Didn’t See Coming.” 

 “Welcome, fans of the Electoral College,” Raphael began, to the laughter of the audience. He went on to explain the roots of the electoral system in the Federal Convention of 1787 and the ways in which even the founders viewed it as an imperfect solution. The Virginia Plan, an outline of government proposed by the Virginia delegates, called for an undetermined number of members of an executive branch chosen by the legislature. James Wilson of Virginia, however, proposed a single executive elected by the people. Although the members of the convention agreed upon the idea of a single executive, with very limited powers, they disliked the idea of a popular vote to decide the election. Wilson outlined an electoral system as an alternative, but it was rejected. The feeling of the convention was that Congress should be involved in selecting the president. Why the opposition to a popular vote?

 “They wanted government by the people,” Raphael said, “but not the people ruling on a daily basis.”

Finally, the question of how to elect the executive was referred to a committee, which became known as the “Grand Committee.” They created the electoral system we know today, which does not involve Congress directly in presidential elections. The committee also gave the president powers of treaty and appointment. The electoral system and the greater powers allocated to the president were contrary to the sentiments of the convention as a whole, but nonetheless the electoral system was ratified as part of a final effort to complete the Constitution. As a result, electors representing each state, which are equal in number to its Congressional representation, elect the president. Although Maine and Nebraska count their electoral votes proportionally, the rest have a winner-take-all system. In winner-take-all states all the electoral votes go to the candidate who had the most votes in that state, which in four cases has resulted in a candidate winning the popular vote and losing the electoral vote, as we saw in 2000—and which came very close to happening again in 2004.

The committee designed the Electoral College to avoid corruption. They believed that if the electors, who were chosen by the state legislatures, voted at a distance they would be less likely to succumb to the dangers of intrigue and faction. The founders expected the electors to behave nobly and do what was best for the nation. But it only took eight years for national political parties to take hold, resulting in electors having no discretion in voting. Their votes were pre-committed to their parties.

“It’s Oedipal,” said Raphael. “In trying to escape your fate, you create it.”

The Electoral College has evolved considerably from the original intent of the founders, which was to protect the election of the executive from corruption. But even after the collapse of the election process in 2000, Raphael believes it is unlikely to be changed by a constitutional amendment. Voters in rural states, with small populations, and voters in swing states are courted because their votes have added electoral weight, so they prefer this electoral system.

“Isn’t it amazing?” asks Raphael. “Humans are stuck with their own contrivances for centuries.”

Turning Points in History

By Kathleen Barker, Education Dept.

Summer has officially turned to fall, which means it’s time once again for leaf peeping, pumpkin carving, and National History Day! Since the Society became the official co-sponsor of Massachusetts History Day earlier this year, I’ve learned a lot about making websites, judging performances for historical accuracy, and spotting student-created content in exhibitions mounted on replicas of everything from the Taj Mahal to the R.M.S. Titanic.  I have also discovered that National History Day is a fabulous way to engage students in the process of doing history. For example, creating an NHD project requires that students work individually or in a group to select a topic related to the annual theme; conduct primary and secondary research at libraries, archives, and museums; think critically about sources and draw conclusions about the importance of their topic; and present their research through an exhibit, website, performance, documentary, or research paper.  Best of all, students who produce history day projects develop all sorts of reading, writing, thinking, and presentation skills that they can apply to other courses in other disciplines.  History Day is about so much more than history!

I was fortunate enough to attend a four-day NHD training session earlier this month. In addition to meeting competition coordinators from all over the world, I also attended a great session that explored the finer points of this year’s theme: Turning Points in American History. So, you might ask, how should we define a broad idea like “turning point?”  More than an important event from the past, a turning point is an idea, event, or action that led to some sort of cultural, political, social, or economic change. It could be anything from the changes in Secret Service protocol after President Kennedy’s assassination to the creation of state arts patronage that resulted from the Russian Revolution.  Of course, there are plenty of potential turning points in our own backyard. If you’d like to tackle a project that involves Massachusetts or New England history, explore the Society’s collections or contact the library staff (library@masshist.org; 617-646-0532) and start to plan a visit to the Library. For more information about participating in Massachusetts History Day, visit the MHD website. Good luck!


A Massive Machine for a Massive Job: Digitizing 55,000 Pages of China Trade Material

By Brenda Lawson, Collection Services

The Library Collections Services department is always a busy place, but this fall is an especially active time on the third floor.  As the behind-the-scenes arm of the library, our department is responsible for the acquisition, cataloging, processing, preservation, conservation, and digitization of our collections, but in addition to our regular ongoing digitization projects, we are playing host to a large-scale scanning project for the next four to five months. The MHS has contracted with Adam Matthew Digital, Ltd., a British publisher of digital collections sold to libraries, to supply somewhere in the neighborhood of 55,000 manuscript pages to a forthcoming multi-archive digital publication, China, America and the Pacific: Trade and Cultural Exchange.  Adam Matthew has contracted, in turn, with Luna Imaging in Los Angeles to do the scanning.  In late August, Luna shipped all of the equipment shown here and sent a representative to install and test it and train a scanning technician.  The technician, shown here, is now hard at work scanning correspondence, account books, ships’ logs, and letterbooks from multiple collections, including the extensive Forbes Family Papers.  Other highlights of the final product, scheduled for release in late 2013, will include the manuscript of Richard Henry Dana’s seminal work, Two Years Before the Mast, and Robert Haswell’s log of the Columbia-Rediviva, the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe

“Death and the Civil War” airs on PBS

By Elaine Grublin

Last night I eagerly watched as American Experience debuted “Death and the Civil War,” a documentary film based on the remarkable This Republic of Suffering (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust. My eagerness was generated in part by my personal interest in the Civil War, and in part because this past spring I had the pleasure of working with Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns and a wonderful production team from Steeplechase Films when they visited the MHS to work on this project. I assisted them in selecting documents and artifacts for filming and had the special opportunity of supervising the filming process in the Society’s Dowse Library. What an eye opening experience!  Seeing the care and time invested in the selection and filming, all the while knowing the MHS material only represented a small portion of the total material needed for the two hour film, left me with a deeper appreciation for those that research and create documentary films. 

So last night, I was anxious to see which MHS materials made the final cut and was thrilled to see a large number of our resources were used to tell portions of the story.  MHS materials feature prominently in two segments of the film. In the segment “Dying” a letter written by Wilder Dwight to his mother Elizabeth Dwight (available on our website), begun “in the saddle” at the opening of the Battle of Antietam and finished as he lay mortally wounded on that field, is read aloud while the letter and a photograph of Dwight are featured on screen.

Later in the film the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a Massachusetts soldier mortally wounded at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, and his father Henry Bowditch, who championed improvement of the ambulance service available to soldiers after the death of his son, weaves through the segment “Naming.”  This segment includes images of both Nathaniel and Henry Bowditch, a panning shot featuring a number of personal items belonging to “Nat” from the Bowditch Cabinet, as well as an assortment of items – the “terrible telegram” and the annotated map of Virginia showing the site of the younger Bowditch’s death, among others — contained in the Nathaniel Bowditch Memorial Collection.   

If you missed the episode, look for it to re-air on PBS or watch it online. You will be glad that you did. 

This week @MHS

By Elaine Grublin

On Tuesday, September 18, the fall seminar season kicks off with the first Immigration and Urban History Seminar. Join Brooke L. Blower, Boston University, as she explores why Allied strategists allowed Spaniards Marcelino Garcia and Manuel Diaz, two ardent Franco supporters and Nazi sympathizers, to remain in play for the duration of World War II. RSVPs are required and advance copies of Blower’s paper “Devil’s Bargain: New York City’s Premier Spanish Shipping Agents and Allied Strategy during World War II” are available to series subscribers. Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Tufts University, will give the comment.  


Louisa Catherine Adams: A Father Reflects on the Death of his Infant Daughter

By Nancy Heywood, Collection Services

On 15 September 1812, John Quincy Adams (JQA), then serving in St. Petersburg as U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Russia, and his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams (LCA), suffered a huge loss—the death of their only daughter. Thirteen-month-old Louisa Catherine, named for her mother, had been unwell for weeks. She experienced extreme discomfort due to teething (in his diary, JQA stated she was cutting seven teeth at the same time), had dysentery, and was feverish. JQA sought out the best medical treatment for his daughter in St. Petersburg. The standard medical practices at this time, bleeding and the deliberate creation of boils, were based on the assumption that infections and toxins could be removed from a person by drawing out bodily fluids; however, rather than providing relief, these techniques usually only weakened the patient further.

JQA’s long diary entry for 15 September 1812 includes this passage: 

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away— Blessed be the name of the Lord— At twenty-five minutes past one this morning, expired my daughter, Louisa Catherine, as lovely an infant as ever breathed the air of Heaven— … Her last moments were distressing to me and to her mother, beyond expression. (From John Quincy Adams diary 28, 1809–1813, page 413

The weeks leading up to young Louisa Catherine’s death were stressful for JQA. Following the advice of two doctors, Dr. Galloway and Dr. Simpson, who thought the infant might benefit from fresh country air, JQA made arrangements for his family to move to Ochta, about 7 miles northeast of St. Petersburg. JQA’s diary indicates that he traveled back and forth between the two locations, sometimes making more than one trip each day. Both doctors made frequent visits to check on the young patient. On 8 September, Dr. Galloway “ordered a blister between the shoulders” of young Louisa Catherine. Then, both doctors recommend that JQA and LCA bring their daughter back to St. Petersburg, which they did on 9 September. Two days later, on 11 September, Dr. Gibbs, a surgeon, lanced one of the infant’s gums. 

Understandably, JQA was distracted as he did his best to fulfill his duties during this time.  On 10 September 1812 JQA wrote: 

The agitation of mind occasioned by her illness, is so great that I have neither time for the ordinary occupations of my life, nor recollection of its common incidents. I have had in the course of the few last days several visitors, but have hardly the remembrance of their names, or of the occasions of their visits. (From John Quincy Adams diary 28, 1809 -1813, page 411)

JQA’s diary indicates the toll the baby’s final days took on the whole family. On the afternoon of 13 September, an exhausted and distressed LCA temporarily left her daughter’s side and went into a different chamber. JQA describes how he alternated between checking on his wife and checking on his daughter, who at that time was under the care of a nurse and LCA’s sister, Catherine Johnson. According to JQA’s diary, 14 September was a particularly grueling day for all involved. LCA returned to her daughter’s side, but by evening all hope was gone. Catherine fainted (JQA states that for forty-eight hours she “had scarcely for an instant moved from the side of the Cradle”) and LCA “was suffering little less than her Child.” Young Louisa Catherine died early on the morning of 15 September.  

After a funeral service in St. Petersburg’s English Factory Church on 17 September 1812, the infant Louisa Catherine Adams was buried at the Lutheran Cemetery on nearby Vasilevsky Island. Two hundred years later she is still remembered—on 15 September 2012 the Consul General of the United States of America in St. Petersburg will host a ceremony in that cemetery to unveil a new memorial stone for Louisa Catherine Adams.

For some of JQA’s wife’s writings about the death of her daughter, please read, Louisa Catherine Adams: A Mother Reflects on the Death of her Infant Daughter.

Louisa Catherine Adams: A Mother Reflects on the Death of her Infant Daughter

By Judith Graham, Adams Papers

Louisa Catherine Adams’ (LCA) only known writings about the period of her daughter and namesake’s final illness in St. Petersburg are eloquent in their brevity and starkness. In a second, shorter version of “The Adventures of a Nobody,” a memoir begun in 1840 and composed largely in diary form, LCA wrote: 

3 [30] August [1812]: Went into the Country with my sick Child.

9 [September]: Took my Babe back to the City in Convulsions Dr  Simpson and Galloway both attend the Babe

12 [15 September]: My Child gone to heaven

To assuage her grief, LCA on 22 October began to keep her Russian diary. “I have procured this Book with a view to write my thoughts and if possible to avoid dwelling on the secret and bitter reproaches of my heart for my conduct as it regarded my lost adored Child whose death was surely occasion’d by procrastination,” LCA explained, needlessly blaming herself for the loss. In her despair LCA wrote on 5 Dec. that her daughter’s death was a blow that left her “only desirous of mingling my ashes with those of my lovely Babe.”

In a 30 January 1813 letter, Abigail Adams, writing as one who early in life “had also been “call’d to taste the bitter cup”—a reference to the loss of her own daughter, Susanna, in infancy—offered her daughter-in-law consolation. When LCA replied on 4 April, her self-reproach was again evident: “I have the horrid idea that I lost my darling owing to a fall which I had with her in my arms in, which I did not percieve that she had met with the slightest injury but which is said to have been the cause of her death.” By 14 August of that year LCA could report relief of a kind. “What wonderful changes have taken place since I last took up this book even my health and spirits are so much amended that I scarcely know myself,” she wrote in her diary, and she thanked “the Almighty disposer of events for his great mercy in having raised me up and comforted me.” She would “ever put my trust in him for in heaven alone can I find consolation and I look forward with the hope of soon being reunited to my Angelic Babe—”

But on 7 February 1814 she wrote, with her usual forthrightness, “Mr Adams gave me Dr [Benjamin] Rush’s work upon the deseases of the Mind to read. . . . I confess it produced a very powerful effect upon my feelings and occasion’d sensations of a very painful kind since the loss of my darling babe I am sensible of a great change in my character and I often involuntarily question myself as to the perfect sanity of my mind.”

LCA gradually regained her confidence, showing remarkable resourcefulness and nerve on her 2,000-mile journey from St. Petersburg to Paris, 12 February to 23 March 1815, to meet her husband, John Quincy Adams (JQA), who had been negotiating the Treaty of Ghent. In “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France” she reflected on her bitter experience in Russia: “In Petersburg for five long years I had lived a Stranger to all, but the kind regards of the Imperial family; and I quitted its gaudy loneliness without a sigh, except that which was wafted to the tomb of my lovely Babe— To that spot my heart yet wanders with a chastened grief, that looks to hopes above—”

An edition of Louisa Catherine Adams’ account of her demanding and eventful life—her childhood, courtship and marriage, and the years with JQA on his diplomatic missions to Prussia and Russia and during his periods of service as Massachusetts and U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of state, and U.S. congressman—has been prepared at the Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, and will shortly be published: Diary and Autobiographical Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, ed. Judith S. Graham, Beth Luey, Margaret A. Hogan, and C. James Taylor, 2 vols., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.

For JQA’s description of the death of his daughter, please read, Louisa Catherine Adams: A Father Reflects on the Death of his Infant Daughter.

Death, Skeletons, and Fashion: New Exhibition and Book on the Jewelry of Mourning

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

How do you remember your deceased loved ones? Today many mourners have unique rituals for honoring the dead. Some brand their bodies with tattoos, or print photographs of the departed on T-shirts they can wear. In other cultures the more traditional outward displays of grief persist, such as donning black clothing for a period of time after the death.

Trends in mourning rituals and attire change with the times, and centuries ago the bereaved had their own ways of commemorating loved ones. In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, an upcoming exhibition at the MHS by jeweler Sarah Nehama and MHS Curator of Art Anne Bentley, examines the practice from the 17th through the 19th century of commissioning and wearing rings, bracelets, brooches, and other jewels to honor the dead.

The exhibition features mourning jewels and memento mori pieces. The former memorialize a family member or close friend who recently died. Examples in the exhibition feature inscriptions with the dead’s initials and date of death, hair work made from the locks of the deceased, and miniatures and daguerreotypes depicting the visage of the loved one. Memento mori pieces, however, do not remember a specific person, but rather serve to remind the wearer that a good Christian does not live for this world but for the next. Memento mori translates to “remember death.”

Co-curator Sarah Nehama authored a companion book to the exhibition of the same name. In Death Lamented, now available for purchase on Amazon, displays vivid color photographs of the jewels, along with detailed information about the pieces, the mourners, and the mourned. It also examines the changing trends in memorial jewelry style, from baroque to rococo to neoclassical, and beyond.

Both the exhibition and book feature jewels commemorating prominent historical figures, including George Washington, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln. View these and other mourning jewels at the MHS exhibition beginning September 28, or preview the jewelry now by purchasing a copy of In Death Lamented. Also, check our events page for upcoming public programs related to mourning jewelry. You just might learn a little about the origins of your own bereavement traditions.

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 16

By Elaine Grublin

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Friday, Sept. 19th, 1862

The war, – whose burden has lain on our spirits through this anxious period, will find more enduring records than this. The retreat of McClellan from the peninsula, & the battles near Washington, – the irruption of the rebel army into Maryland, have followed each other in sad succession. We have been saddened, besides other losses of more distinguished officers, to hear of that of Lieut. W. R. Porter, a young man of this town, known to us personally.

Come back to the Beehive in October to read Bulfinch’s thoughts on the Emancipation Proclamation and the upcoming gubernatorial election. 

Happy Birthday, Lafayette!

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

Today marks the 255th birthday of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, who was a Revolutionary War hero and one of the first celebrities in the United States. To celebrate, the Society joins with 23 other host institutions tomorrow for a lecture at Hamilton Hall in Salem, Mass. Prof. François Furstenberg, associate professor of history at the University of Montréal, will give the keynote lecture “When the United States Spoke French: Trans-Atlantic Politics, Land, and Diplomacy in the Age of the Revolution.” A festive reception will follow to honor the marquis. For more information about the event please contact Becky Putnam of the Bowditch Institute at beckyput@yahoo.com or 978-744-6343.

A French citizen, Lafayette began his career as a musketeer in the king’s regiment and married into a wealthy, well-connected French family. The reports of Americans fighting for liberty moved him, and in 1777 he bought a ship and sailed for America. Upon arrival, Lafayette earned an honorary commission as major general in the Continental Army. Gen. George Washington became his mentor, and Lafayette was devoted to him. Lafayette earned fame for his courage on the battlefield, and he used his family connections to obtain crucial material aid from France for the American cause. His support for the Revolution, especially as a foreigner, captured the imagination and admiration of Americans. He was beloved in the United States for the rest of his life.

Lafayette’s legacy is apparent in the Society’s collections, which include correspondence, artifacts, and memorabilia from the time of the American Revolution and his celebrated return trip to the States in 1824-1825. The portrait gallery also features Jospeh Boze’s well-known portrait of Lafayette. Thomas Jefferson commissioned this work for his gallery of American heroes in honor of Lafayette’s contributions to the American Revolution. The portrait depicts Lafayette at the pinnacle of his career. He wears the uniform of the French National Guard and a confident expression as he gazes off into the distance. Even at 255, he still looks good. A happy birthday to him.