MHS News

Mr. Madison's War: The Controversial War of 1812

Mr. Madison's WarIn 1812, Massachusetts was bitterly divided along partisan political lines and a wave of popular protests greeted the declaration of war on 18 June. The MHS is commemorating the bicentennial with the exhibition Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812.

In Massachusetts there was strong opposition to the war, which had a profound effect on the region’s maritime economy. Seaports had suffered through a financially disastrous trade embargo during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, and now Jeffersonian Republicans, under Pres. James Madison, had started a war with the world’s most powerful navy. The development of the controversial political strategy of gerrymandering added to the strife within Massachusetts. Federalists coined the term “Gerrymander” to describe the Republican attempt in Massachusetts to retain power through redistricting, a scheme they attributed to Republican Gov. Elbridge Gerry. A political carton of the salamander-shaped Essex County will be featured in the exhibition.

The failure of the American invasion of Canada in 1812 was offset by dramatic victories at sea by the tiny United States Navy. Midshipman Frederic Baury served on the USS Constitution during victorious cruises early in the war, and in 1814 sailed to glory—and into legend—on the sloop Wasp. Among the many treasures on display is a log from the Constitution kept by Baury describing the ship’s first great victory on 19 August 1812.

When the British raided the coast of Massachusetts in the summer of 1814, Gov. Caleb Strong called a special session of the Massachusetts legislature. Antiwar sentiment was so strong that the Union appeared to be in danger. Massachusetts invited the other New England states to send delegates to a meeting in Hartford on 15 December, to draft constitutional amendments that would protect New England interests. Supporters of the war suspected that the convention, meeting in secret, was a secessionist plot. However, a number of the delegates to the convention were political moderates who hoped to forestall the secessionist movement by obtaining concessions from the U.S. Congress. After the Convention adjourned, Governor Strong sent a committee to Washington in an attempt to obtain federal funds for the defense of Massachusetts. The delegation was ridiculed in a Republican cartoon that will be on display. The cartoon depicts the three men sailing to Washington in a vessel resembling a chamber pot.

Almost from the moment that war began, President Madison attempted to end hostilities through diplomacy, but both sides were reluctant to make concessions until after they suffered military setbacks. Great Britain rejected a Russian offer to mediate in 1813, but early in 1814 both sides agreed to send envoys to Ghent in Belgium. John Quincy Adams led the team of delegates from the U. S. Although the negotiators were unable to fully resolve any of the issues that had led to war, both sides signed a peace treaty on Christmas Eve 1814. Visitors will be able to examine a letter Adams wrote to his mother on the very same day informing her of the end of the war.

Because of the slow pace of communications in the early 19th century the conflict continued into 1815, with the American victory at New Orleans on January 8 and the last naval engagement in the East Indies on June 30, 1815.

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New Slate of Officers Elected at Annual Meeting

New Officers elected at Annual MeetingAt the Annual Meeting on 16 May, the Fellows of the MHS, in their role as its governing body, unanimously approved the proposed slate of Officers, including a new Chair of the Board of Trustees, and three new Trustees. Beginning 1 July, Vice Chair Charles C. Ames will replace William C. Clendaniel as Chair of the Board in a one-year term. Frederick G. Pfannenstiehl will join Nancy S. Anthony as Vice Chair, Judith Bryant Wittenberg will serve as Secretary, and William R. Cotter will continue as Treasurer. Mr. Clendaniel will remain on the Board and join new Trustees Benjamin C. Adams, Byron Rushing, and Paul W. Sandman in a four-year term. Brief biographies for the newly elected MHS Chair and Trustees follow.

Charles C. Ames, Chair, Board of Trustees
Mr. Ames is a retired lawyer who specialized in real estate investment and finance at the Boston firm of Hill and Barlow where he served as managing partner from 1992 to 1996. He is a Trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the Board of Managers of the Shaw Fund for Mariner's Children. In the town of Brookline he has served as a Selectman. He is a past Trustee of Concord Academy, the North Bennet Street School, and Wheelock College and a past Chair of the Brookline Civic Association. Mr. Ames graduated from Harvard College and University of Virginia Law School.

Benjamin C. Adams, Trustee
Mr. Adams has been a health care investment banker for 17 years and has worked with a wide range of transactions of profit and nonprofit healthcare service providers. He currently works at BMO Capital Markets as Managing Director. Active in historical preservation, Mr. Adams serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Adams Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC; President of the Adams Memorial Society; and a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Adams Temple and School Fund. He received his MBA with Honors in Finance from Columbia Business School and a BA in Economics from Tufts University.

Byron Rushing, Trustee
State Representative Rushing was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1982. In the legislature, his priorities are human and civil rights, and the development of democracy; local human, economic and housing development; and housing and health care for all. Representative Rushing co-chairs the state’s Health Disparities Council. During the 1960's he was active in the civil rights movement working for the Congress of Racial Equality and for the Northern Student Movement in Boston. He directed a group of organizers, Roxbury Associates, who helped to found the Lower Roxbury Community Development Corporation, one of the first CDCs in the nation. From 1972 to 1985, Representative Rushing was President of the Museum of Afro-American History. Under his direction, the museum purchased and began the restoration of the African Meeting House, the oldest extant black church building in the United States. He is a Trustee of the Boston Public Library.

Paul W. Sandman, Trustee
Mr. Sandman is a lawyer who retired in 2008 as Executive Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel of Boston Scientific Corporation. He is a member of the Board of Directors of PDL BioPharma, Inc., an Overseer of the New England Conservatory, a member of the Finance Council of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and a member of the Executive Council of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund. Paul received a BA from Boston College where he majored in American history and a JD from Harvard Law School.


Photo by Stu Rosner

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The MHS Welcomes 14 New Fellows

New Fellows elected at Annual MeetingThe Fellows of the MHS approved the election of the following new Fellows at the Annual Meeting on 16 May.

Carolyn Eastman of Richmond, VA
Carolyn Eastman is an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where she moved this year after teaching for a decade at the University of Texas at Austin. She took her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins in 2001, three years after she held an MHS short-term fellowship to work on her dissertation. That study resulted in her book A Nation of Speechifiers (2009), an inquiry into the development of the public sphere in America, which won the James Broussard Prize of the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) for the best first book. She held an MHS-NEH Long-term Fellowship in 2008-2009 for research on her second major project, a study of the development of visual culture in the Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.

Louise H. (Polly) Flansburgh of Lincoln, MA
Louise H. (Polly) Flansburgh founded Boston by Foot in 1976 and directed the organization for more than thirty years before becoming president and trustee in 2007. Each year between May and October, the organization promotes public awareness of the city’s rich historical and architectural heritage through walking tours. Since the founding of the organization, its trained volunteer guides have introduced 250,000 visitors to the city’s most important and enduring sites. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Northeastern University and was a Fulbright Scholar.

Richard Gilder of New York, NY
Richard Gilder is nationally recognized as a collector and supporter of American history. A co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, he heads the brokerage firm Gilder, Gagnon, Howe & Company, is the chairman of the Executive Committee of the New-York Historical Society, serves on the Executive Board of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and is a trustee of many cultural institutions. He received the National Humanities Medal for work in promoting the study and love of American history in 2005.

Kenneth Gloss of Boston, MA
Kenneth Gloss is the proprietor of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, one of the nation’s oldest and best known antiquarian books shops. Widely recognized and respected for his expertise in rare books, he has lectured and written extensively on the subject. He has appeared as an expert on Antiques Roadshow, as a guest on radio broadcasts, and as an expert witness for the Federal prosecutor in Boston.

Jayne Gordon of Concord, MA
Jayne Gordon became the first Director of Education and Public Programs for the MHS in 2006. Previously, she was Executive Director of the Thoreau Society, the world's oldest and largest organization devoted to the legacy of an American author. Jayne taught high school history before becoming Director of the Orchard (Alcott) House for sixteen years. She has held the position of Director of Education at both the Concord Museum and the Thoreau Institute (Walden Woods Project), and of Education/Interpretive Specialist at two National Park sites: Minute Man and Longfellow. For many years she taught graduate courses in Museum Studies at Tufts University. She has been involved with organizations connecting history, literature and landscape for forty years.

Ruth Wallis Herndon of Grand Rapids, OH
Ruth Wallis Herndon teaches American history at Bowling Green State University, where she moved from the University of Toledo on the completion of an MHS-NEH Long-term Fellowship in 2007. Prior to that award, she held a New England Regional Fellowship Consortium grant in 2001-2002. Professor Herndon’s research focuses on marginalized populations during the colonial period. Her first book, Unwelcome Americans (2001), studied the transient poor in colonial New England. A co-edited anthology, Children Bound to Labor, looked at pauper apprenticeship, also the focus of her research while she was at the Society courtesy of the NEH. She is now working on a study of children in Boston’s almshouse who were bound out as apprentices during the eighteenth century. In another project, she and a Native American scholar are attempting to retell the story of colonial New England using Narragansett as well as Euro-American sources. Professor Herndon has served on the Society’s Long-term Fellowship selection committee, and presented a portion of her research at the December session of the Boston Area Early American History Seminar.

Barry Levy of Amherst, MA
Barry Levy, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, concentrates his research on American social history since the middle of the seventeenth century. His first book, Quakers and the American Family, focused on Pennsylvania, where he did his doctoral work, but New England in general and Massachusetts more particularly have been the subject of his recent research. His book Town Born: The Political Economy of New England Towns from their Settlement to the Revolution appeared in 2009; he is now working on a sequel on the role of Massachusetts in the British and American empires, 1690-1820. Professor Levy is a member of the Society and has made presentations to the Boston Area Early American History Seminar.

Louis Masur of Hartford, CT
Louis Masur is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor in American Institutions and Values at Trinity College. Professor Masur is the author of half a dozen books, including Rites of Execution (1989) on capital punishment in the United States; Runaway Dream (2009) on Bruce Springsteen and American culture; 1831: The Year of the Eclipse (2001). Two books he wrote will be of particular interest to Massachusetts readers: The Soiling of Old Glory (2008) on an ugly incident in Boston’s racial history, the attack on Ted Landsmark at City Hall Plaza in 1976; and a happier work, Autumn Glory (2003), on the first World Series. He served for a decade as the editor of Reviews in American History, and has also received teaching awards at Trinity, City College of New York (where he taught in the 1990s), and Harvard.

David J. Mehegan of Hingham, MA
David J. Mehegan worked at the Boston Globe in a variety of capacities from 1976 until his retirement in 2009. For about a decade during this time he was the Assistant Book Editor then the Book Review Editor. A graduate of Suffolk University, in 2011 he earned a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies at Boston University. He is revising his dissertation, an edition of letters on race in the United States by Alistair Cooke, for publication as a trade book.

Sir Adam Roberts of London
Sir Adam Roberts, a senior research fellow of the Centre for International Studies at Oxford University, was the Montague Professor of International Relations there from 1986 to 2007. An expert in the fields of international security, international organizations, and international law, he has also worked on the history of thought about international relations. In 2009 he became the president of the British Academy.

Eric Slauter of Chicago, IL
Eric Slauter is an associate professor of English at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 2000. Professor Slauter’s research focuses on eighteenth-century thought, particularly political thought. His first book, The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution, appeared in 2008. His current projects include a cultural history of natural rights in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. of Brookline, MA
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., is a distinguished fellow and consultative curator of American Art at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, where he has been affiliated since 2000. Prior to coming to Harvard for 22 years he was the John Moors Cabot Curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He has also been an associate professor of art history and curator of American painting and sculpture at Yale University. One of the nation’s leading scholars of American art, Stebbins has had a long professional association with the MHS.

Xiao-huang Yin of East Lansing, MI
Xiao-huang Yin is Professor and Director of Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. He is also a Changjiang (Yangtze River) Scholar and a Co-Convener of Global & Transnational Studies at Nanjing University in China. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1991, and shortly thereafter he held an MHS short-term fellowship to conduct research on the origins of Boston’s Chinese population. Professor Yin has presented work at the Society’s Immigration and Urban History Seminar, and this April he offered an essay at “What’s New About the New Immigration to the U.S.?,” the Society’s conference on recent immigration. A revised version of his conference piece will appear in the conference essay collection.

Philip Zea of Deerfield, MA
Philip Zea, a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware, is the president of Historic Deerfield. He held positions at Historic Deerfield, Old Sturbridge Village, Colonial Williamsburg, where he was curator of furniture, and Historic New England, where he was vice president for museums and collections, before returning to Historic Deerfield as the chief executive.


Photo by Stu Rosner

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John F. Kennedy Medal to be Awarded at Annual Meeting

Kennedy medalOn 16 May, the MHS will present the John F. Kennedy Medal to MHS Fellow and Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University Gordon S. Wood, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Awarded to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history, the medal is the highest award given by the Society. Since 1964, ten historians have received the Kennedy Medal including Samuel Eliot Morison (1967), Dumas Malone (1972), Thomas Boylston Adams (1976), Oscar Handlin (1991), Edmund S. Morgan (2002), Alfred DuPont Chandler, Jr. (2003), Bernard Bailyn (2004), John Hope Franklin (2005), Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2006), and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (2009).

About the Medal
Shortly after President Kennedy’s death, the Society received several gifts designated to perpetuate his memory as an active member of the Society and a great friend of historical scholarship. The MHS determined to create a medal in President Kennedy’s name and commissioned eminent artist and MHS Fellow Rudolph Ruzicka to design the medal. The medal is awarded to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history. It is not limited to any field of history or to any particular kind of service to history.

About Gordon S. Wood
Gordon S. Wood, a Corresponding Fellow of the MHS, is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. Over a long career, he has authored numerous books including Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, which won the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize in 1970, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize in 1993, and Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, which won the American Publishers Association Prize for History and Biography in 2010. As well, he writes frequently for The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. In 2010, Wood was awarded with the National Humanities Medal “for scholarship that provides insight into the founding of the nation and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.” Wood received his B.A. degree from Tufts University and his A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University under MHS Trustee Emeritus and Fellow Bernard Bailyn.

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A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams, 1883-1885

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover AdamsIn May 1883, Clover Adams, a descendant of Boston’s Sturgis and Hooper families and the wife of the historian Henry Adams, picked up her camera and began taking photographs—of her husband, of afternoons at the beach on Boston’s North Shore, and of eminent friends who frequented the Adamses’ home on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., H. H. Richardson, Francis Parkman, George Bancroft, and John Hay. Examples of these photographs are on exhibit through 2 June at the MHS. Based on guest curator and MHS Fellow Natalie Dykstra’s book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this month, the exhibition showcases Clover’s striking photographs, many of which have not been seen before in a public venue. It also highlights Clover’s many letters and the notebook she used to record the chronology and technical aspects of her photographs, as well as Henry’s letters and other family materials.

Clover Adams came from privilege, married into one of America’s first families, and presided over a celebrated salon in Washington, D.C. She had, as a friend noted, “all she wanted, all this world could give.” With her photography, she began an exploration of visual beauty that she also imbued with questions about life’s meaning and a woman’s place in her culture, conveying what she thought and felt not with words but with expressive, vital images. Inspiration for the composition of her photographs came from fine art she had seen and collected, and while her pictures could be playful—her “dogs at tea” is a perfect example—she could also evoke an intense feeling of loss, as with her photograph of the Arlington graveyard.

Clover’s life began to unravel just as she became adept with this powerful new technology for recording it .  A recurrent undertow of dark moods gathered force until, on a Sunday morning in December 1885, Clover committed suicide by drinking from a vial of potassium cyanide. A chemical she needed to develop her photographs had become the means of her death.  

Clover’s story has long been shrouded in mystery, yet she left behind clues. Most eloquent are her revelatory photographs, which invite us to look beyond the circumstances of her death and to stand with her in the world where she lived.

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