Terrorism No New Topic to Presidential Elections
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
It’s Election Day, and there has been a lot of talk in the news lately about terrorism influencing the current and last two presidential elections. But although sometimes it feels like it’s a relatively new political issue, the fear of terrorism has been part of the American political discussion since our nation’s founding. During the presidential election of 1800, terrorism and its prevention were hot topics, and part of what cost Pres. John Adams his reelection.
During Adams’s presidency, America was involved in the Quasi-War with France from 1798 through 1800. France was a great ally to the United States during the American Revolution, but much changed in the intervening years. The United States made peace with Great Britain in 1783, and several years later the French monarchy collapsed. Revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain, and Great Britain joined a coalition of European monarchies that aimed at containing the French Revolution. The United States remained neutral in the conflict. In addition, the U.S. government refused to repay debts owed to France from the American Revolution, claiming that they were owed to the French monarchy, which no longer existed. Ignoring American neutrality, French privateers began seizing American merchant ships in the West Indies. This led to an undeclared war between the United States and France—the Quasi-War.
Pres. Adams and the Federalist Party supporters aligned with Great Britain. They viewed the French Revolution as mob rule and resented what they saw as foreign intervention in American domestic politics. They also feared the threat of possible invasion. Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law in 1798. The four laws targeted French immigrants and sympathizers to the French cause, but also foreigners in general and anyone who criticized the government. The Alien and Sedition Acts increased the residency requirement for citizenship from five to fourteen years and empowered the president to deport aliens “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” at will. No one ever was prosecuted or deported as a “dangerous” alien and the law expired in 1800, but it had a chilling effect on resident aliens. A separate law that allowed the president to restrain or remove enemy aliens in wartime was the only act that had wide support in congress (and still is in effect today), but was not used by Adams because the U.S. never formally declared war on France. The laws also limited the freedom of the press, a sentiment that Adams had strongly supported as author of the Massachusetts Constitution. The Sedition Act gave the government broad power to suppress public attacks on the government and its officials, and, as a practical matter, allowed the Federalists to prosecute their political opponents. The Sedition Act also had a fixed term and ended on the last day of Adams’s presidential term in March 1801.
When the Federalists attempted to use the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence their opposition, they met strong opposition from the Democratic-Republican Party, a party more closely aligned with the ideals of the French Revolution and under the leadership of Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Most newspapers of the day were partisan, and when Republican newspapers harshly criticized the Adams administration for its handling of French relations, fourteen authors and editors were tried under the new Sedition Act. Playwright and newspaperman James Burke, Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon, and newspapermen Thomas and Abijah Adams were among those indicted for seditious libel.
The 1800 presidential election was a bitter continuation of the previous presidential election. One of the Democratic Republicans’ chief criticisms of the Federalist Party was of its efforts to centralize and increase governmental power, illustrated by the passage of the Alien and Section Acts and the resulting infringement on individual rights. Republicans were not necessarily against prosecutions for seditious libel, but believed they should take place in state rather than federal courts.
The Republicans won the election of 1800 and, at least in part because of the unpopular acts, Adams became a one-term president. He was succeeded by Jefferson who, in his conciliatory first inaugural speech, said that “…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names, brethren of the same principle. WE ARE ALL REPUBLICANS; WE ARE ALL FEDERALISTS.” His administration too soon would be at war with foreign “terrorists,” in this case the Barbary pirates, who attacked and kidnapped American sailors in the Mediterranean.
During the recent presidential debates, Pres. Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney addressed their own positions on terrorism and homeland security. Although the threat may look slightly different now, with a greater focus on foreign terrorists rather than internal subversion, it’s nothing new to American politics. Just ask John Adams—and Thomas Jefferson. And don’t forget to vote!
| Published: Tuesday, 6 November, 2012, 1:00 AM
Brown Bag Lunch Talk: “The Theology of Citizenship”
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
On Wednesday, October 31, Andrew W. Mellon research fellow Ben Park, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge, England, presented a brown bag lunch talk, “The Theology of Citizenship: Local Preachers and the Production of Nationalism in Early America.” Park’s dissertation explores the local production of national identities in the Early Republic, using South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts as comparative regional case studies. His current research focuses on the role of the clergy in imagining and disseminating notions of citizenship and national character. To introduce his topic, Park described the evolution of the Reverend Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798), a key figure in the founding of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Belknap spent his early career in New Hampshire where his sermons remained politically neutral throughout the Revolution and into the 1780s. Only when Belknap moved from New Hampshire to Boston in 1787, where he took up a post at the Federal Street Church, did his weekly sermons begin to more overtly combine religious notions of providentialism with exhortations to patriotic sensibility. He began to speak of God’s role in shaping the United States as a nation, condemned those he saw as religious and political fanatics, had harsh words to say about French “atheist” revolutionaries, and expressed trepidation at the growing role of mercantilism in American life. Park theorizes that Belknap’s change in geographic location brought him into a new “localized nationalism,” in which particular Boston-based notions of civic responsibility and national identity galvanized him into political speech. Previous historians have explored the effect of politics on religious identity and practice; Park wonders about the effect of religion on political identity and action.
Conversation following Park’s presentation explored the working definitions of “local,” “national,” and “citizenship,” and the relationship between these three concepts: What does it mean for citizens to articulate ideas of nationalism from their position in a particular locality? What happens when individuals from two different localities converse about their mutual citizenship in the newly federal America? To what extent can existing sources – such as sermons – open a window into how congregants understood themselves in relation to political powers? When sources are clustered in urban centers (Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston) to what extent can arguments be made about the region as a whole? What interpersonal networks existed between urban and rural communities in each state? How does one get not only at local political ideas but also local political acts such as voting, pageantry, and revolts?
We look forward to following Ben’s work during over the course of his year-long residency here in Boston conducting his primary source research for the dissertation; and eventually we look forward to congratulating him upon a successful defense of his work and conferral of his Ph.D. Best wishes for a successful year of study and writing!
| Published: Friday, 2 November, 2012, 1:00 AM
Society Launches Modern New Website
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
On 18 September the MHS launched its brand new website, complete with features including an interactive Adams timeline, a gallery displaying prominent objects and manuscripts from the collections, and mobile access capability. The site contains eight search tools and over 11,000 transcribed pages and 102,000 digital images.
The goal of the website redesign is to better connect with our audiences – which means you! Our audiences include researchers, educators, the intellectually curious, and anyone who is interested in learning about the MHS. We invite you to discover who we are as a Society, and how you can become involved, either remotely or in person. Check out our events calendar, about section, visit the library pages, and online resources to find out more.
If you’re interested in finding an entry point to our collections, head over to our Adams family or American Revolution resources, or check out our object of the month. Want to visit the Society in person? We have two exhibitions on display right now – In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry and In The Arena: The Presidential Election of 1912 in Massachusetts. For more opportunities to connect with the MHS, visit our social media section.
Want to tell us what you think about the new website? We would love your feedback. Please contact us here with your comments or questions.
| Published: Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 8:00 AM
The Intersection of Comics and History: An Interview with Jason Rodriguez
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
Writer and editor Jason Rodriguez’s work includes District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC, Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, and The Little Particle That Could. His books have been nominated for eight Harvey Awards honoring excellence in the comics industry and a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award. Rodriguez’s current project editing graphic novels about colonial New England brought him to the Massachusetts Historical Society last week. He took the time to answer a few Beehive questions about comics, history, and what to expect from the coming historical graphic novels.
*Image of Jason Rodriguez drawn by Scott White
1. Tell us about your current project with Fulcrum Publishing editing graphic novels on colonial New England.
Colonial Comics is a series of graphic novel anthologies about colonial life up to and a little bit beyond the American Revolution. The first book, scheduled to be released in the spring/summer of 2014, will focus on the early settlement of New England. The book will feature stories of pilgrims and Puritans, Pequots and pirates, midwives and printing presses, whales and livestock, slavery and frontiers, and many other aspects of colonial life. The second book, scheduled to be released in the fall/winter of 2014, will focus on the pre-Revolutionary period. It will depict the unconventional stories of Revolutionary men and women, the early ideas and seemingly insignificant moves that brought about revolution, and a shot that was heard around the world. We're still in the planning phases for additional books, but editing two large anthologies at a time is a lot of work as it is, so I'm not in a huge rush to get started on a third or fourth.
The books feature an eclectic mix of comic book writers and artists, fiction and nonfiction authors, university professors, and renowned historians. I also have two assistant editors: A. David Lewis, a comic writer with a Ph.D. in religious studies, and John L. Bell, who writes the Boston 1775 blog.
2. How will the Massachusetts Historical Society support this work?
While we're still working out the details, the MHS aims to help us in our mission to produce a historically accurate piece. With comics you need to get all the visuals right. Architecture, clothing, weapons – you need to make sure that the images you're putting on the page are backed by the historical record. There's also the fact that we're crafting narratives and extrapolating between recorded points in history by making up dialog and inserting representative characters. MHS is going to help us by making sure we have access to the primary sources and artifacts so that we can include them in the stories and make a book that's accessible and fun for readers but also educational and accurate.
3. What is your background and how did you come to write comics?
I've read comics my entire life, tried to write comics for a little bit, and then took a job editing a small anthology that turned into a bit of a cult hit called Western Tales of Terror. After that I took on a job editing a book called Elk's Run, which was a critical success but not much of a commercial success. Nevertheless it got nominated for seven Harvey Awards and was picked up by Random House/Villard, who also picked up the anthology I was working on at the time, Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. From there I worked on a lot of small- and mid-sized books, writing for anthologies and editing some projects here and there. Colonial Comics is definitely my most ambitious project to date – between the first two books we're looking at around 50 stories, which translates to over 100 writers, artists, and designers.
4. Why do you think comics are a good medium for exploring history?
Comics tend to immerse the reader in the time period. Every panel is a moment in time, and each moment allows the reader to pause and take note of the buildings and the dress and the people. Since the words are printed on the page in little balloons, the reader can note the dialog and the pacing. There's also a layer of subtext you get with comics that you don't necessarily get with books and film. When someone is in panel for an entire story and hardly says a line of dialog it says a lot about that character and how he or she fits into the context of the story. And of course there's the narrative aspect. These historic figures become interesting characters within the stories. Readers are inspired to learn more about them, either on their own or in their courses.
Because of all this, the individual stories could stand alone as fun and informative narratives or act as segues into larger discussions on the period. For example, one story in the first book is about Elizabeth Glover, the owner of the first New England print shop. The story could be used as a lead-in to a discussion on the difficulties of female business owners in society at that time. The small pieces capture your interest and encourage you to seek out the larger context.
5. What are some of your favorite comics? Can you recommend a good entry point for someone who is interested in history but fairly new to comics?
My taste in comics is pretty mixed. I love a lot of Japanese comics, especially anything by Naoki Urasawa. But more to the tastes of the people on this blog, I recently finished Osamu Tezuka's massive eight-volume graphic novel about the life of Buddha. It's a bit of a pop-culture twist on the source material but it is beautiful and heartbreaking.
Forgive me if I give a little plug for Fulcrum's District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington DC. I even wrote a story for that one about the 1867 Washington Nationals. As far as other histories, I like the ones that have a personal narrative attached to them, like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (which is about her childhood in Iran) and Joe Sacco's Palestine (which is about his experiences in the Gaza Strip during the early '90s). A bit more of a hidden gem is Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente's wonderful Action Philosophers! That book is the greatest way to learn about philosophy and philosophers. It should be required reading in every college philosophy class. And if you just want straight history, Hill & Wang has published a bunch of graphic histories including books about Reagan, Ché Guevara, Trotsky, the Vietnam War, the 9/11 Commission Report, and even an adaptation of the U.S. Constitution.
| Published: Friday, 12 October, 2012, 8:00 AM
Brown-Bag Lunch Talk: “Some Are Weatherwise, Some Are Otherwise”
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
On Wednesday, 3 October, research fellow Lauri Coleman from The College of William and Mary, gave her brown-bag lunch talk, “ ‘Some are Weatherwise, Some are Otherwise’: Popular Almanacs and Weather Cosmology in Mid-eighteenth Century America.” Coleman’s dissertation research explores how mid eighteenth-century New Englanders, from the 1740s to the 1780s, experienced and made sense of the weather generally and natural disasters such as draughts and earthquakes in particular. New Englanders during this period experienced the weather in two distinct yet interconnected ways: “providentially” (as a sign of God intervening in human affairs) and through the discourse of natural philosophy, scientific observation through which divine laws might be discerned. Coleman argues that these two frameworks for understanding weather – one through which God is understood to act disruptively and violently, the other through which God is seen to act benevolently and in an orderly fashion – exist together in collective consciousness throughout the period. In the face of natural disasters, these two interpretations were often pitted against one another in public discussion (in newspapers and sermons, for example) as citizens attempted to make sense of the event.
The Cushing Academy Fellowship in Environmental History -- one of the 20 short-term research fellowships offered by the MHS -- is supporting Coleman’s work at the MHS this fall, where she is reading through our extensive collection of interleaved (annotated) almanacs and diaries. Almanacs, Coleman explained, are particularly useful as a window into understanding how eighteenth-century New Englanders understood “usual” weather, what type of records they kept about everyday weather, and what use they made of that documentation (if any) over the course of their lives or across generations. They are also unusual for surviving eighteenth-century records in that, while still relatively elite, the authors of annotated almanacs represent a broader cross-section of society than the typical manuscript or print materials that have been preserved from the period. Coleman has found two collections of particular interest during her residency thus far: the Experience Wight Richardson diaries (1728-1782) and the Samuel P. Savage interleaved almanacs (1770-1795). Richardson’s diaries, which record her spiritual struggles and relate her faith experiences to weather events, are unusual in being kept by a woman. Few eighteenth-century New England women’s diaries have survived, and fewer still deal so directly with the cosmology of weather. A farmer, Samuel P. Savage used the almanacs, particularly the information they provided on the phases of the moon, to plan his management of crops and animals.
During the discussion that followed Coleman’s presentation, attendees raised questions about the motives of those documenting the weather – were they hoping to forecast the future? Did they change their behaviors in relation to the weather based on their records of the past? They also explored what is historically particular about weather cosmology in the eighteenth century, and whether Coleman’s project might benefit from comparison to earlier and later periods (possibly beyond the scope of a single dissertation!).
We wish Lauri Coleman the best as she continues her research at the MHS and then returns to The College of William and Mary to complete her dissertation.
| Published: Friday, 5 October, 2012, 8:00 AM