MR. MADISON’S WAR: THE CONTROVERSIAL WAR OF 1812
In 1812, Massachusetts was bitterly divided along partisan political lines and a wave of popular protests greeted the declaration of war on 18 June. The Massachusetts Historical Society is commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with an exhibition that examines the controversial nature of the war in Massachusetts and the struggles between the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. Open 18 June through 8 September, Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812 showcases a number of letters, broadsides, artifacts, and images from the Society's rich collections including a midshipman's log of the USS Constitution describing the ship's first great victory, letters written by John Quincy Adams to his mother while serving as the American minister to Russia, and a brass cannon captured from the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
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 frigate 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, a preliminary peace treaty was signed 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 8 January and the last naval engagement in the East Indies on 30 June.
MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO PARTICIPATE IN BLUE STAR MUSEUMS
The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of more than 1,500 museums across America to offer free admission to military personnel and their families this summer in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the Department of Defense
The MHS is pleased to announce the launch of Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 1,500 museums across America to offer free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2012. Leadership support has been provided by MetLife Foundation through Blue Star Families. The complete list of participating museums is available at www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.
This summer, in commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the MHS will open the exhibition Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812. This exhibition provides insight into the political life of Massachusetts just before the war, when the Bay State was bitterly divided due to tensions between the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. Among the many treasures from the Society’s collections, a log book from the Constitution will be on display, showing the entries that Midshipman Frederick Baury made, describing the ship’s actions early in the war. The exhibition will open on June 18 and be on view through September 8.
“Through Blue Star Museums, the arts community is extending a special invitation to military families to enjoy over 1,500 museums this summer,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “This is both an opportunity to thank military families for their service and sacrifice, as well as a chance to create connections between museums and these families that will continue throughout the year. Especially for families with limited time together, those on a limited budget, and ones that have to relocate frequently, Blue Star Museums offers an opportunity to enjoy one another and become more fully integrated into a community.”
“As we enter the third consecutive year of the Blue Star Museums program, we are happy provide an opportunity for our nation’s service members and their families to connect with our national treasures,” said Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet. “Through this distinctive collaboration between Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts and more than 1,500 museums across the United States, military families have an unparalleled opportunity to visit some of the country’s finest museums for free.”
This year, more than 1,500 (and counting) museums in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa are taking part in the initiative, including more than 300 new museums this year. Museums are welcome to join Blue Star Museums throughout the summer. The effort to recruit museums has involved the partnership efforts of the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of Children’s Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. This year’s Blue Star Museums represent not just fine arts museums, but also science museums, history museums, nature centers, and 70 children’s museums. Among this year’s new participants are the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Virginia, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, NM, the Cleveland Botanical Garden in Cleveland, Ohio, the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, California, the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, and the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
About Blue Star Museums
Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 1,500 museums across America. The program runs from Memorial Day, May 28, 2012 through Labor Day, September 3, 2012. The free admission program is available to active-duty military and their family members (military ID holder and up to five family members). Active duty military include Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and active duty National Guard and active duty Reserve members. Some special or limited-time museum exhibits may not be included in this free admission program. For questions on particular exhibits or museums, please contact the museum directly. To find out which museums are participating, visit www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums. The site includes a list of participating museums and a map to help with visit planning.
Museums that wish to participate in Blue Star Museums may contact email@example.com, or Wendy Clark at 202-682-5451.
This is the latest NEA program to bring quality arts programs to the military, veterans, and their families. Other NEA programs for the military have included Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience; Great American Voices Military Base Tour; and Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour.
About the Massachusetts Historical Society
The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day. The galleries are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. For more information visit www.masshist.org.
About Blue Star Families
Blue Star Families is a national, nonprofit network of military families from all ranks and services, including guard and reserve, with a mission to support, connect and empower military families. In addition to morale and empowerment programs, Blue Star Families raises awareness of the challenges and strengths of military family life and works to make military life more sustainable through programs and partnerships like Operation Honor Cards, MilKidz Club and Blue Star Museums. Membership includes military spouses, children and parents as well as service members, veterans and the civilians who strongly support them. To learn more about Blue Star Families, visit www.bluestarfam.org.
About the National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at www.arts.gov.
MHS PRESENTS KENNEDY MEDAL TO GORDON S. WOOD
On May 16, the MHS honored Gordon S. Wood as the 11th recipient of the John F. Kennedy Medal. Awarded to persons who have rendered distinguished service to the cause of history, it is the highest award given by the Society. Wood, a Corresponding Fellow of the MHS since 2002 and the Alva O. Way University Professor at Brown University, was presented the medal as part of the Society’s Annual Meeting. In remarks to MHS Fellows and Members he spoke about the way in which history writing has divided between the academics who write for one another and the growing numbers of popular non-academic historians who write for the general reading public.
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.
MHS President Dennis Fiori remarked, “The Society has honored ten historians with the medal since its establishment shortly after President Kennedy’s death. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian with a long career of distinguished scholarship, it gives us particular pleasure to add Gordon Wood’s name to the list of recipients.”
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. The previous recipients of the medal are 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).
A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams, 1883-1885
In 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.