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Archive for '- Revolutionary War'

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part I

Portrait of Ben Franklin (ARC 532834)

Portrait of John Adams (ARC 532843)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in National Archives Exhibits.

John Adams of Massachusetts and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania crossed paths during “critical moments” in the earliest days of the republic. They met for the first time at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774, the first joint meeting of 12 American colonies (Georgia did not attend). Both were supporters of independence, Adams most publicly and Franklin more behind the scenes, though both were equally masterful wordsmiths.

During the Revolutionary War, Adams and Franklin worked together in Paris to obtain French support for the American cause, sometimes clashing on how best to do so. ­And they successfully negotiated peace with Great Britain. They saw each other for the last time in 1785, when Adams left Franklin in Paris for his assignment as the first Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain from the United States. During the years in between, their relationship had its ups and downs.

Their most intimate experience probably happened during an unsuccessful peace mission in September 1776. The British forces had recently raced across Long Island (New York) and almost destroyed the American Army. The British … [ Read all ]

In their own words: President George Washington

Washington at his inauguration in New York, April 30, 1789 (National Archives, 148-CCD-92C)

This is the first part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand.

As a registrar in the Exhibits Division of the National Archives for over 25 years, I have had the good fortune to work with many dedicated professionals at the National Archives. It has been a privilege to have access to the holdings, including the rarest of the rare. However, I always return to my favorites, the letters of the Founding Fathers.

Some of the most revealing letters come in a series of records blandly called Miscellaneous Letters in Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. Thanks to the irregularities of early recordkeeping, personal and official correspondence were sometimes mixed. These are draft letters or short notes with crossouts and annotations that illuminate the thoughts and work habits of the authors. The letters usually have to do with policy issues, but the topics are sometimes private and political. From the 1789 to early 1820s, there are hundreds of letters written by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

In the official files of the early U.S. Government, we expect to find letters and memos on the subjects facing a youthful country: diplomacy, … [ Read all ]

A Matter of Simple Justice

The president’s directive of April 21, 1971. Barbara Hackman Franklin Papers, Penn State University Archives.

Today’s guest post was written by Barbara Hackman Franklin, former White House staff member for the recruitment of women and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The story of how Franklin and other women cracked the glass ceiling is finally told in a new book that draws from “A Few Good Women,” an oral history project at the Penn State University Libraries. The National Archives will host a special program to launch A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and A Few Good Women on March 8.

The Nixon administration is remembered for many things, but advancing women’s roles in the workforce is usually not one of them. Yet in August 1972, Newsweek wrote that “the person in Washington who has done the most for the women’s movement may be Richard Nixon.”

Here is what happened.

First, on April 21, 1971, President Nixon issued a Memorandum for Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads outlining the administration’s new women’s initiative. The President called on all departments and agencies to create action plans to hire, promote, and advance women. Specifically, the plans had to address appointing more women to top-level positions, increasing the number of women in mid-level positions as well as on advisory boards and commissions.

This Presidential … [ Read all ]

The must-have Christmas gift of 1776

Washington Crossing the Delaware (66-G-15D)

Washington Crossing the Delaware (66-G-15D)

In 1864, Savannah, Georgia, was offered to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present. But in 1776, George Washington delivered one of the greatest gifts in American history: the United States.

Winter was a bad season for Washington. His Continental Army had been driven out of New York, and then it was driven out of New Jersey, leaving just a few thousand men shivering on the far side of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, while the British made camp in New Jersey.

The Continental Army was desperate for a victory. Many men had left the military after finishing their enlistments. Others were low on morale after the series of bitter defeats. Santa, it appeared, was siding with the British forces.

On December 25, George Washington ordered the few thousand men at his disposal to cross the Delaware River. Ice flowed down its waters–further downstream a unit that was supposed to join him couldn’t cross because of the ice flow–but Washington forced his men across, and was one of the first to land on the shores of British-occupied New Jersey.

Through the cold night air and sleet and snow, his men marched another nine miles, and then in a few quick maneuvers, launched a surprise attack against the Hessian forces encamped at Trenton. He took a thousand soldiers prisoner. He killed … [ Read all ]

If our Founding Fathers had Twitter (Final!)

thumbbill2We here at the National Archives noticed that many politicians these days use Twitter to deliver messages. Often this involves using numbers instead of letters, and symbols to convey a complex point in just a few words.

So we asked our readers: “what if the authors of the Bill of Rights only had 140 characters per amendment?” Last week we started counting down from Amendment X and we’ve posted the winning results below.

Archivist David Ferriero picked the pithiest tweets and the winners will receive a reproduction of the Bill of Rights, compliments of the National Archives eStore. You have three chances left to play! Today we’re tweeting the Second Amendment, and tomorrow we’re tweeting both the First Amendment and giving out a prize to the person who can best summarize the ENTIRE Bill of Rights in just 140 characters. Use #BillofRights to play and to follow along!

Amend Original Text Twitter Version Winner
X The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Power to the People! (conditions apply, void where prohibited) @azaroth42
IX The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Standard rights still apply. @jwt3K
VIII Excessive bail shall
[ Read all ]