Teacher’s Bonus by Clifford Berryman, 05/01/1920, U.S. Senate Collection (NAID 6011608)
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Our Education Specialists work year-round to provide teachers with free resources for teaching with primary sources. From DC to our locations and Presidential Libraries around the country, we create and share lesson plans, learning activities, field trip and professional development opportunities, and multimedia and web content. We’ll continue to share our new and existing resources here each week. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest for more information on our resources.
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When the First Congress met in New York City 225 years ago, they faced the immense task of turning the words of the newly ratified Constitution into action. They were aware that what they did and said would set the tone for the new government, and could affect how much people supported it. How they decided to address the President would be of considerable importance, and this issue precipitated a weeks-long dispute between the House of Representatives and the Senate. In question was whether or not the President of the United States should be referred to with a title, as was the practice amongst the aristocracy in England and other European nations.
This debate in Congress can help your students get a sense of how this moment was a turning point for the new nation. Although the Revolutionary War officially ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, many historians argue that it wasn’t until the First Congress put the Constitution into effect that the Revolution really ended. It was at that point that the nation shed many of the remaining vestiges of colonialism and monarchy. The decision on whether or not the President should be called by a title helped to ultimately turn the nation away from monarchical traditions and towards a democratic republic.
House Report on the style or titles proper to be annexed to the office of President and Vice President of the United States, May 5, 1789; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. View full page.
Two congressional documents, one from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate, can illustrate this debate for your students. Before sharing them, ask your students a few questions about titles of nobility:
- What is a “title” for a person?
- Who has a title that you’ve heard of?
- How does a title affect your perceptions of a person?
Tell the students that prior to the inauguration of George Washington, the First Congress debated whether or not they should call him by a title of nobility. The House of Representatives thought that there should not be a title for the President. Many members said they believed the idea was dangerous to republicanism and a little ridiculous. Project the image of the Report of the House Select Committee on titles so that students can read the one sentence report: “That it is not proper to annex any style or title to the respective styles or titles of office expressed in the Constitution.”
Senate Journal showing report on titles for the President, May 14, 1789; Records of the U.S. Senate. View full pages.
Project the Senate Report on titles, and direct students to discover the Senate’s recommendation. Ask a student to read aloud the title that the Senate proposed to give the President: “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.” A majority of senators felt that a title was necessary for the United States to obtain the esteem of foreign nations and to enhance the respectability of the President. Ask students how they feel about this proposed title for the President. How would they feel using this title for a recent or current president? Would such a title make them think or feel differently about the President? How?
Senate Journal showing resolution on titles for the President, May 14, 1789; Records of the U.S. Senate. View full pages.
The Senate ultimately agreed with the House to forego a title, but they did so very reluctantly, as students can see in the resolution passed by the Senate. The resolution clearly stated the Senate’s belief that a presidential title would be beneficial to the nation, but that they would let it go and follow the lead of the House for the purpose of “preserving harmony.”
In a nation founded on the idea expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” Congress ultimately decided that this applied to the President, too. Calling the President “His Highness” would have elevated that position above the citizens he represented. This idea proved to be in opposition to the egalitarian republican ethos that was cementing in the First Congress. The debate in Congress over a title for the President indicated the direction that the new government would take—towards a government of the people and by the people.
The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents from this formative time via Tumblr, Twitter, and Education Updates blogs. Follow #Congress225 for more documents you can use in your classroom.
Whether someone developed a signature style or signed groundbreaking policy into law, National Archives records can illustrate the many ways people have “made their mark” on history.
And now teachers and students can uncover these signature records on special themed DocsTeach page related to our exhibition Making their Mark: Stories through Signatures.
Populated with dozens of recently added records and activities of remarkable achievements, this special DocsTeach page is a portal to these records and their stories. These new additions to DocsTeach include documents signed by such famous figures as Jackie Robinson and Johnny Cash and from such infamous individuals as John Wilkes Booth and Adolf Hitler.
There’s even a letter requesting an autographed photo of President Eisenhower from a young Dave Ferriero–the current Archivist of the United States!
In addition to documents signed by the famous or infamous, records highlighting signature looks and signature works are also part of Making their Mark. The styles of past Presidents are highlighted through FDR’s fedora and Ike’s Eisenhower Jacket. Iconic photographs from Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams highlight what set them apart and gave them a singular vision.
Felt Hat Belonging to Franklin D. Roosevelt
Jobless Men Lined up for the First Time in California to File Claims for Unemployment Compensation
Some surprise stories are uncovered in these records as well. For example, did you know that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a letter of recommendation for Walt Whitman? Or that before she was a famous chef Julia Child worked for the OSS? Or that Richard Nixon once applied to be an agent in the FBI?
From Walt Whitman’s Personnel Folder from the Department of the Treasury
Richard M. Nixon’s Application for Appointment
Visit www.docsteach.org/home/making-their-mark today to find more remarkable documents!
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most consequential pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. By the 1968 election, areas covered by the Voting Rights Act averaged a 25 percent increase in the number of registered African American voters. The new voters caused a shift in the political base of the South and contributed to a nationwide realignment of the political parties. The new voters also elected increased numbers of African American representatives to Congress.
Americans vigorously exercised their First Amendment right to petition their government when Congress formulated the Voting Rights Act during March and April of 1965. The House Judiciary Committee solicited many points of view, and considered citizens’ petitions, witness testimony, statistical data, and other information throughout their deliberations. The two documents on display here are letters from citizens received by the Committee—one is in favor of voting rights legislation and the other is against.
Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson in favor of voting rights, March 8, 1965; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is also available in DocsTeach.
Several documents from the records of the Committee which reflect multiple perspectives are part of a lesson plan on the Voting Rights Act created by the Center for Legislative Archives. The lesson puts students in the shoes of the members of the Committee as they deliberated the bill, and asks them to evaluate the evidence which led to the Voting Rights Act. The lesson is appropriate for grades 7-12.
Tables of data relating to race, voting, and voting tests submitted by the Attorney General to the House Judiciary Committee during hearings on the Voting Rights Act, March 18, 1965.
The first activity in the lesson orients students to the issue of voter registration in Alabama counties located near the scene of the 1965 voting rights demonstrations in Selma. This activity instructs students to examine and analyze a table of data indicating the numbers of whites and non-whites who were registered to vote in several counties. Students will be able to determine that even though some locales had a majority non-white population, a very small percentage—even zero—had been registered to vote. They will also notice that some places had white voter registration that exceeded 100%. After helping students analyze these numbers, a class discussion can draw out and define why many people believed that there was a problem for non-whites who wanted to vote in certain places and why the federal government proposed a law to address it.
In the second activity, students are put in the shoes of members of the House Judiciary Committee as it considered the proposed Voting Rights Act in March and April of 1965. The lesson includes five pairs of documents that represent different types of evidence that was presented to the committee during their deliberations. Students analyze the documents to determine how and to what extent they, might have been persuaded by each piece of evidence.
Letter from George Neu to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee against the Voting Rights Act of 1965, March 26, 1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is also available in DocsTeach.
Using the information they have gained in the activities, students can reflect upon the balance of constitutional powers over voting rights that exists between the federal and state governments. Did the Voting Rights Act strike the right balance? Pose the guiding question to students: Did the evidence presented to Congress in 1965 support the position that Federal Government action was justified to ensure African Americans’ right to vote?
The education programs at the Center for Legislative Archives aim to make historical records of Congress available to help classroom teachers integrate the history and workings of Congress into American history and government classes. More lesson plans are available at the Center’s web page.
Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Dinschel, education specialist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
I have thought often about the time I realized that I loved History. How do we, as teachers, convey our excitement for history to our students? Students are pushed into tech, science, and math-based careers because “history does not make money,” so how can teach them otherwise? How can we make them value history? Personal experience.
Portrait, Lou Henry Hoover 1928
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is opening an exhibit, America’s First Ladies, on April 16. Leading up to this day, I had spent many hours researching First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. We offer a Lou Henry Hoover Badge for the Girl Scouts that requires an archives activity. Naturally, I spent many hours sifting through Lou’s papers and I tasked an intern with reviewing my research. Weeks later C-Span was filming onsite for their First Lady series and naturally I was asked what items in Lou’s papers were the most interesting. I revisited the Lou papers, specifically her catalog of the White House.
Plate XIII, Lou Henry Hoover’s Catalog of the White House
The White House caught on fire in 1929. Lou Hoover was terrified that they did not have a description of the items in the White House. She hired an assistant and numbered, described, and photographed every item in the White House. The next First Lady to undertake the cataloging of the White House was Jackie Kennedy. Why is any of this important? What makes this more interesting to our students?
Close up of rug from Plate XIII
While re-studying the catalog to share with C-Span, I discovered a rug in Lou’s office that was probably overlooked. The rug said, “To the United States with Eternal Gratitude From Hamme Belgium 1915,” Wilson (or Belgium) Rug #6 in Lou’s catalog. Herbert and Lou Hoover worked tirelessly as the leaders of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, the topic of the Museum’s 2015 exhibit. So, I contacted the White House to learn more about the rug. To make a long story short, the rug is missing and was replaced with an oriental rug after the Truman renovation.
In the process, I worked closely with the White House and was invited to be a guest during my recent trip to Washington, DC. My historic research and Lou Henry Hoover brought me to the White House. I walked the same halls of Presidents and First Ladies from our country’s past. I had an amazing experience that most people will never get. When I tell my students that I was at the White House because my research led me there, they get excited. They want to see the catalog. The catalog is no longer just a collection of photos and stories to them, it is an opportunity.
It is not just this experience that is noteworthy, there are so many others. If we do not share the value of history with our students, they just see dates and books. Connecting our students with primary source documents gives them the opportunity to explore the stories and build their own. Sharing our stories as teachers and historians ignites passion and inspiration in our students. We see them taking the opportunity to conduct primary source research in National History Day and they are sharing their experiences with us!
I always tell my high school students about the time I fell in love with history. I was a junior in high school and I did an oral history interview with a holocaust survivor. I have done hundreds, if not a thousand, oral history interviews in my time. I tell my students, “explore your passions now because it can only help you.” Make history relevant and exciting by sharing your research stories. Encourage them to visit archives, incorporate their primary source research into their school projects, participate in National History Day, and use archival research in everyday life. Our adaptive learners are willing to look up the primary sources, if they know where to access them and how to use them—so let’s show our students where to find primary sources and let’s keep history relevant!
All of the photos are courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.