Get to Know the 2017 History Scholars: Melanie Sheehan

Melanie Sheehan is a 2017 Gilder Lehrman History Scholar. These 15 exceptional college students were in New York City, June 49, learning from eminent historians and exploring New York City through a historical lens. Here Melanie describes highlights from the program.

Melanie Sheehan (center) gets a close look at the first draft of the US Constitution at the Gilder Lehrman Collection.As a Gilder Lehrman History Scholar, I had the opportunity to meet with some prominent historians and to hear them discuss their current research. Because some talks covered a large swath of American history, I was able to connect discussions with professors like Ken Jackson and Thomas Heinrich with my own research interests in the New Deal. At the same time, I learned a great deal about people and events that I had previously known relatively little about, such as women in the American Revolution, from Carol Berkin.

I also very much enjoyed seeing historical documents and artifacts in the Gilder Lehrman Collection and the New-York Historical Society. Few moments compare to hearing the words, “This is James Madison’s hair.” Additionally, the professors and the Gilder Lehrman staff showed a real interest in supporting my ventures as a historian going forward, and the connections I made both with these accomplished professionals and with my peers in the program will prove invaluable in the future. 

The program also gave me, as a lifelong resident of the New York metropolitan area, an incredible opportunity to view New York City in a different light. For instance, during our walking tour of lower Manhattan, I realized that everyday sites like churches, cemeteries, and taverns, which I might have walked past to catch a subway in most circumstances, had served significant purposes during the American Revolution. My appreciation for the city deepened not only during organized events but also in the evenings, when fellow History Scholars and I had the opportunity to explore the city on our own. Seeing the reactions of my peers to Central Park and Rockefeller Center helped me to experience the city through the eyes of people who had never been to New York. And, of course, I enjoyed introducing them to Ray’s Pizza.    

Melanie is a 2017 graduate of Fordham University with a double major in history and American studies and a minor in economics. She will be starting a doctoral program in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall. 

African Americans in WWII

In June 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to NAACP president Arthur B. Springarn, seeking support in the event of war. Though the US would not enter the war until December 1941, the letter demonstrates that President Roosevelt was already anticipating American involvement. In his appeal to the NAACP, he praises the “unflinching loyalty” of African Americans in wars “from Bunker Hill to Flanders Field,” and, looking forward, expresses his expectation that the African American community “will not hesitate to pledge their allegiance anew, in these ominous days, to the cause of human liberty.”

The letter, in calling for unity against a common enemy, positions Nazi Germany as a threat to the American values of democracy, civil liberties, and human rights. However, many African Americans saw a stark contrast between these American ideals and the reality of racism. Poet Langston Hughes noted that when Americans decried the human rights injustices of the Nazis, “to a Negro, they might just as well have been speaking of white Southerners in Dixie.” Those who joined the war effort often faced discrimination from fellow Americans. One African American soldier, turned away from a Kansas lunchroom that readily served German prisoners of war, realized that “the people of Salina “Americans All,” War Manpower Commission, 1942. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)would serve these enemy soldiers and turn away black American GIs.”

Once the war began, African Americans supported the national war effort while also pushing for more rights at home, a balancing act that one newspaper dubbed the “Double V” campaign: “Victory at home, Victory abroad.” The wartime rhetoric that celebrated American democracy and equality, as well as the growing need for soldiers and factory workers, gave African Americans an opportunity to organize for and achieve several civil rights victories, such as an Executive Order banning discrimination in the defense industries. These gains, and the tactics through which they were achieved, lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement of the postwar era. 

Summer PD: Self-Paced Courses

Summer is a great time for teachers to take a Self-Paced Course and earn professional development credit while picking up content knowledge and pedagogical skills. Each Self-Paced Course is equivalent to 15 PD credit hours and can be taken at any time or place, with no deadlines or expiration dates. Click here to browse all 16 courses, or discover the two newest offerings below:

Professor Brunsman leads a lecture on the role of women in the American RevolutiRevolutionary America, led by Professor Denver Brunsman of George Washington University, explores the American Revolutionary era, including insight into new scholarly approaches to traditional subjects, including American resistance to British rule, the decision to fight for independence, and America’s victory in the Revolutionary War. Participants will consider marginalized figures and groups, including loyalists, women, African Americans, and American Indians, who challenge conventional interpretations of the Revolution. The course includes six seminars by Professor Brunsman, three pedagogy video tutorials, and primary source readings that complement the lectures.

Professor Cannato leads a tour of the Tenement MuseumAmerican Immigration History, led by Professor Vincent J. Cannato of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, explores the struggles and achievements of major groups who journeyed to a new home in the United States, including Irish, Italian, Jewish, Asian, and Latino Americans. Participants will consider questions involving exclusion and inclusion; patterns of settlement; race, gender, and ethnicity; and the evolution of federal government policy. The course includes five lectures by Professor Cannato, optional primary sources that complement the lectures, and virtual tours of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Tenement Museum. 

Questions about the Self-Paced Course program or PD credit? Check out our FAQ page or email [email protected].

The H. L. Hunley Sinks the USS Housatonic

Capt. J. F. Green to Commo. S. C. Rowan, February 18, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)On the night of February 17, 1864, during the Civil War, the Confederacy made naval history off Charleston, South Carolina. The H. L. Hunley became the first submarine to sink an enemy ship, the USS Housatonic, in combat. Captain Joseph Foster Green of the USS Canandaigua took on the Housatonic’s survivors. Captain Green’s official letterbooks are a part of the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Through them, we see the Union navy’s response to this game-changing innovation. On February 18, Green wrote to Commodore Stephen C. Rowan to report the sinking:

I have respectfully to report that a boat belonging to the “Housatonic” reached this ship last night at about 9.20. giving me information that that vessel had been sunk, (by a Rebel Torpedo Craft) (at 8.45' P.M.)

I immediately slipped our cable and started for her anchorage, and on arriving near it at 9.30 discovered her sunk with her hammock nettings under water; ¾ dispatched all boats and rescued from the wreck twenty one (21) officers and one hundred and twenty nine (129) men.

There are missing and supposed to be drowned the following named Officers and men. Ensign Ewd C. Haseltine, Capts Clerk Chas. O. Muzzey, Qr Master John Williamss, 2nd C. Fireman John Walsh, Landsman Theodore Parker.

"Destruction of Housatonic" by William Waud (Library of Congress)Subsequent letters contain information about the crew and inquiries made into the sinking. But perhaps the most telling letter was written on May 23, 1864. In it, Green describes the uneasy state of the Union fleet, awaiting another attack from a “Rebel Torpedo Craft.” He reports that on May 20 something was spotted in the water near the Housatonic wreck:

The fact of a strange object being seen on the surface of the water two consecutive nights in the neighborhood and track of the blockading vessels, and disappearing suddenly, is sufficient cause for suspecting the strange object to have been a “Rebel Torpedoe Craft”: – and it is best in my opinion that this suspicion should exist so long as it does not amount to a panic, in order to arouse the greatest vigilance on the part of officers and Men.

I am doubtful, however, as to it having been a Torpedoe Craft, particularly after my experience this morning at daylight while standing in for an anchorage. . . . when an object resembling a Keg was discovered a little abaft our starboard beam. I immediately wore around stood for and endeavored to keep sight of, but lost it. Soon after, an object in the water, differing in appearance from that first seen, was discovered in another direction, which on approaching proved to be an old straw hat. I then stood in again for an anchorage, and had gone but a little distance when the first object seen was again discovered. I stood for and succeeded in picking it up, it proved to be a common chair, it floated on its back with the seat about two thirds out of water, consequently, when the seat was at right angles with the line of sight, it appeared like a Keg, and when parallel to the line of sight, or edge on, it could not be seen.

The Union navy did not know that the Hunley sank on the same night as the Housatonic and that the Confederates did not have another submarine.

In 1995, the National Underwater and Marine Agency located the wreck of the Hunley in Charleston harbor. On August 8, 2000, the US Navy, the Hunley Commission, and Friends of the Hunley raised the sub and sent it to Warren Lasch Conservation Center at Clemson University. For the last seventeen years, conservators have worked to free the ship from the sediment that encased it. The crew compartment was opened and the eight-man crew received a formal burial in 2004. The work continues today. Learn more about the project from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

You can read more about the development of another Confederate submarine, the David, here.

Looking Back on a Year of #EduHam

Yesterday, the Hamilton Education Program wrapped up its first full school year of matinees. From October 2016 to June 2017, the program held 24 matinees in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, giving students from more than 430 Title I schools across the country the opportunity to tap into their own creativity, discover the Founding Era through dynamic lessons, and attend a special student matinee of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton

However, this is just the beginning for #EduHam—the program will continue this fall in New York, Chicago, and, starting with Los Angeles, in select cities on the Hamilton national tour!

Click through the slideshow below to view highlights from the year.


The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s June Sale

For the end of the school year, from June 1 to June 30, all products in the Gilder Lehrman History Shop are 40% off. Use the summer to earn professional development hours with self-paced courses, stock up on classroom posters, and develop dynamic, interactive lesson plans with our teaching resources, books, and multimedia!

Click here to view special sales sets.

The Education of Women: On This Day, 1735

On May 19, 1735, the New-York Weekly Journal republished an article from England’s The Guardian on the reasons to educate women. Most notably, the author (most likely Joseph Addison) states that women, though they have different roles than men, have “the same improvable Minds” by virtue of their status as human beings. “Learning and Knowledge are Perfections in us, not as we are Men, but as we are reasonable Creatures, in which Order, of Beings the Female World is upon the same Level with the Male.” The author even argues that women have certain advantages over men in obtaining an education: more spare time, a natural gift for speech, a responsibility for educating their children, and the need to keep busy.

The quality of a woman’s education in 18th- and 19th-century America—even after the spread of free common schools—often rested on the magnanimity of her father or husband, and women who were granted this rare opportunity frequently echoed Addison’s thoughts. Mercy Otis Warren, author of political articles, satires, and verses during the Revolutionary era, explained to a female friend that “the deficiency” of women’s accomplishments “lies not so much in the inferior contexture of female intelligence as in the different education bestowed on the sexes.” She accepted her role as a dutiful puritan housewife, but believed “a concern for the welfare of society ought equally to glow in every human heart.”

Similarly, Lydia Maria Child, editor of The National Anti-Slavery Standard and one of a growing number of women’s rights advocates, believed that educating women would benefit all of society by creating a happier domestic sphere. “The more women become rational companions,” she wrote in an 1843 article, “partners in business and in thought, as well as in affection and amusement, the more highly will men appreciate home.”

Learn more about women’s contributions to American history in History by Era

Congratulations to the Summer 2017 History Scholars!

Fifteen college juniors and seniors were chosen for the Gilder Lehrman History Scholar Award based on their exemplary leadership skills, commitment to public service, academic excellence, and demonstrated passion for American history. This summer, the scholars will spend a week New York City, where they’ll have the opportunity to explore the field of American history through archival visits, special presentations, and meetings with eminent historians. They will also be honored at a celebratory dinner.

Learn about our newest scholars below:

Michael Antosiewicz attends Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences and is a rising senior majoring in history and classics (Latin and Greek) and minoring in philosophy. He is involved with the Aresty Research Center and WRSU Studio.

Rebecca Barker is a 2017 graduate of Liberty University and grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A double major in history and cinematic arts, her passion is to tell the untold stories of history through film. She is the recipient of the Zaki Gordon Award for Excellence in Screenwriting for her World War I thesis film We Are the Dead.

Jacob Bruggeman, from Brunswick, Ohio, is a sophomore honors student at Miami University with majors in history and political science. He studied in Italy during the summer of 2016, and was chosen as a 2017–2018 fellow at Miami’s Humanities Center as well as a 2017 Undergraduate Summer Scholar. He has worked for the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio as an Ohio Public Leader Fellow. Jacob also serves on the AEI Executive Board, the JANUS Forum Steering Committee, the “I Am Miami” values committee, is the student editor of Miami University’s undergraduate journal of history, and is currently campaigning for a seat on the city council of Oxford, Ohio.

Robert Chad Campbell is a 2017 graduate of Texas Tech University, where he majored in history. While attending college, he participated in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, presented at various conferences, and studied abroad in Germany. In 2016, he was endorsed by Texas Tech for the Rhodes Scholarship. Outside of academics, he served as historian of the Texas Tech Chapter of Mortar Board in 2016–2017 and mentored elementary school students in Lubbock, Texas. He enjoys collecting historical artifacts and is particularly interested in the history of the Great Depression and World War II. He plans to attend George Washington University in the fall, pursuing a master’s degree in museum studies.

Amanda Horrocks is a 2017 graduate of Franklin Pierce University, where she majored in American history and secondary education, with a minor in public history. She has completed three education internships at local museums in New England and was part of two faculty-led exhibition teams at Franklin Pierce, creating exhibits on Willa Cather and Anne Frank.

Midori Kawaue is a 2017 graduate of DePauw University, where she was an international student majoring in history and French. She is the co-editor of a 700-page Civil War prisoner-of-war diary, which is currently under review at Kent State University Press. In 2016 she was one of six fellows selected from a national pool for the Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program.

Rebecca McCarron of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, is a 2017 graduate of The Catholic University of America, where she majored in history and minored in Hispanic studies. She is particularly interested in late 19th- and early 20th-century American social history with a focus on American citizenship. In the fall, Rebecca plans to attend graduate school at Mansfield College, Oxford.

Samantha Perlman is a Massachusetts native and 2017 graduate of Emory University, where she double majored in history and African American studies. She is an active student leader, having served as orientation captain, vice president of membership for Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, a member of Emory Honor Council, and on the Student Alumni Board. She wrote her honors thesis on the history and development of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions at Emory, inspired to explore access to higher education after witnessing student protest movements while abroad in South Africa. Having interned in government at the state and federal level, Samantha intends to pursue law and hopes to become a federal judge. She has been chosen as an FAO Schwartz Family Foundation Fellow at Generation Citizen in Boston.

Madison Porter is a 2017 graduate history major from Brigham Young University. A native Arizonian, Madison enjoys tennis, being outdoors, and traveling. She will be pursuing a Master of Studies of Early Modern British and European History, 1500–Present at Oxford in the fall.

Heather Riganti is a 2017 graduate of Colorado State University-Pueblo, where she majored in history and psychology. She is a mother to a young toddler, a military wife, and a community volunteer. She hopes to teach US history and government to high school students, and will pursue a graduate degree in American history from Ashland University in Ohio.

Melanie Sheeha is a 2017 graduate of Fordham University with a double major in history and American studies and a minor in economics. She is particularly interested in the intersection of Cold War politics, labor, and populist conservatism. She will be starting a doctoral program in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall of 2017.

Emily Shyr is a 2017 graduate of Columbia University, where she double majored in American history and music. Her research interests include the rise of the welfare state and its attendant inequalities in the 20th century. This fall, she hopes to attend Cambridge University.

Sydney VanLeeuwen is a rising senior history major and documentary film minor from Mercyhurst University. She runs on the cross country team, leads the college Circle K club, and aspires to one day make a film as good as Ken Burns’s Civil War.

Andrew Wofford is a student of history, Spanish, and colonialism studies. A graduate of Tufts University, he has focused on the intersection of African American and Native American history in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Angela Zhao is a rising junior at the University of Chicago majoring in history and minoring in English and creative writing. She focuses on 20th-century Asian American immigration history, specifically tracing collaboration and joint advocacy among ethnic minority communities during the Cold War and the later Civil Rights era. She is the co-chair of the Women in Public Service Program at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, which prepares young women to be leaders of civic engagement.

Gilder Lehrman 2017 Gala: Honoring Champions of History John Nau III and Jeffrey Seller

On Monday, May 8 the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History held its 2017 Gala, bringing together more than 300 supporters at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City. This year we honored John L. Nau, III, and Jeffrey Seller, raising over $1.1 million in recognition of these individuals who have made an enormous impact on American history education and historic preservation. 

President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute James G. Basker praised the honorees for having “risen to the very top of their respective businesses while also making transformative contributions to American history, to education, and to civic life.” In recognition of these contributions, Mr. Nau and Mr. Seller received the Gilder Lehrman Champion of History Award.

Honoree John L. Nau, III, is chairman and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors LP. Mr. Nau’s generosity and commitment to service is apparent through his 40-year participation in civic, community, and philanthropic organizations in Texas and across the country. He is currently chairman of the Texas Historical Commission and on the board of the National Park Foundation, the Civil War Trust, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Mr. Nau has supported the Gilder Lehrman Institute since 2003, and was instrumental in establishing the National History Teacher of the Year program. Under former president George W. Bush, he served as chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. President Bush, in a special written tribute, commended Mr. Nau for being “a lifelong and passionate student of history who has done so much to advance public understanding of the story of his nation and state.”

Honoree Jeffrey Seller is the four-time Tony Award-winning producer of the Broadway musicals Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights, and Hamilton. Two of these musicals, Rent and Hamilton, also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Mr. Seller, along with former business partner Kevin McCollum, created the Broadway lottery for Rent, beginning a Broadway tradition that has, for twenty years, provided affordable access to Broadway productions. Mr. Seller served as the catalyst in the creation of the Hamilton Education Program, which has given low-income students across the country the opportunity to explore the Founding Era and their own creative talents. Mr. Seller remains actively involved in the education program, which, within its first five years, will reach 250,000 students.

Attendees who came to celebrate history and honor Mr. Nau and Mr. Seller included Gilder Lehrman’s two newest trustees, Julian Robertson and Luis Miranda; leading historians Carol Berkin, David Blight, and Ron Chernow; Craig Stapleton, former US ambassador to the Czech Republic and to France and his wife Debbie Stapleton, a trustee of the Institute; Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust; Carmen Fariña, chancellor of New York City Schools; and Pam Schafler, chair of the New-York Historical Society, and Louise Mirrer, president of the New-York Historical Society, among other distinguished guests in the political, philanthropic, historical, and education fields.

The evening concluded with a special performance by Providence St. Mel student Kai Bosley, a participant in the Hamilton Education Program’s inaugural Chicago matinee. Ms. Bosley’s powerful piece, written from the perspective of a war-weary George Washington camped at Valley Forge, was inspired by a letter by Washington that Ms. Bosley studied as part of the Hamilton Education Program. The performance joined several interactive activities throughout the evening including an audience-wide history quiz and a demonstration of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s new virtual reality Google Expeditions based on Alexander Hamilton’s life.

View photos from the evening below! 
Photo Credit: llir Bajraktari


Teacher Appreciation Week: Teaching Resources

Participants in the 2016 Immigrants in American History Teacher Seminar visiting Museo del Barrio in New YorkIt’s Teacher Appreciation Week! At Gilder Lehrman, we’re celebrating social studies/history teachers for their invaluable work in not only bringing history to life for their students, but educating future generations of knowledgable, civics-minded citizens. In recognition of these efforts, we’ve highlighted some of our most popular teaching resources. Explore them by era below:

The Americas to 1620

Colonization and Settlement, 1585-1763

The American Revolution, 1763-1783

The New Nation, 1783-1815

National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

Rise of Industrial America, 1877-1900

Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929

Great Depression & WWII, 1929-1945

1945-Present and Civics

Victory Order of the Day: On This Day, 1945

Gen. Eisenhower speaks with paratroopers before they participate in the first asOn May 8, 1945, one day after Germany’s unconditional surrender ended World War II in Europe, Commander of the Expeditionary Armed Forces Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a Victory Order of the Day to commend the victorious Allied forces for their “valiant performance of duty.” 

You have taken in stride military tasks so difficult as to be classed by many doubters as impossible. You have confused, defeated and destroyed your savagely fighting foe. On the road to victory you have endured every discomfort and privation and have surmounted every obstacle ingenuity and desperation could throw in your path.

While Eisenhower encouraged troops to celebrate their hard-won victory, he also urged them to recall the horrific casualties and universality of destruction wrought by the war: 

The route you have traveled through hundreds of miles is marked by the graves of former comrades. From them has been exacted the ultimate sacrifice; blood of many nations – American, British, Canadian, French, Polish and others – has helped to gain the victory.

Eisenhower also emphasized the collaboration and mutual effort that led to victory, and warned against glorifying any particular nation for winning the war:

Working and fighting together in a single and indestructible partnership you have achieved a perfection in unification of air, ground and naval power that will stand as a model in our time. . . . Let us have no part in the profitless quarrels in which other men will inevitably engage as to what country, what service, won the European War. Every man, every woman, of every nation here represented, has served according to his or her ability, and the efforts of each have contributed to the outcome.

Discover essays, primary sources, timelines, and more about World War II in History by Era.

The Doctrine of Discovery: On This Day, 1493

In October 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on a Caribbean island he called San Salvador and claimed it for the king and queen of Spain. A few months later, on May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull known as Inter Caetera, which played a central role in establishing and protecting Spanish domination over land on the west side of the Atlantic. The bull demarcated a line 350 miles west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands and assigned Spain the exclusive right to acquire territorial possessions and to trade west of that line. All others were forbidden to approach these lands without special license from the Spanish rulers. 

Pope Alexander VI's Demarcation Bull, May 4, 1493. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Portugal quickly protested this apparent violation of previous bulls issued in its favor, and Spain and Portugal negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which effectively propelled them to superpower status at the turn of the century. However, this protection only went so far, as within the next century, the English, Dutch, and French established their own trade routes and colonies around the world.

Inter Caetera also imbued Spanish conquests with a holy mission: spreading Christianity. The pope stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

Read the entire papal bull in English here.

View essays, videos, and primary sources on the Age of Exploration here.

Explore Alexander Hamilton’s World with New GLI Resources

Since the introduction of the Hamilton Education Program more than a year ago, there have been a staggering 22 student matinees in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Before attending a Hamilton matinee and enjoying a day of student performances and a production of Hamilton, #Eduham participants learn about the historical context behind the musical with an interactive Founding Era curriculum created by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The most recent highlight was on April 26, when, thanks to, 5000 students from Title I schools attended matinees in all three cities.

Through the recent partnership with Google, we’ve integrated more technology into our Hamilton education resources for a more exciting and immersive experience. With Google Expeditions and Google Cardboard viewers, teachers and students can explore the sites of Hamilton’s life in virtual reality, traveling from the Caribbean islands of Alexander Hamilton’s childhood to the cobble-stoned streets of Lower Manhattan, from Revolutionary War battlefields to the site of his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, with the click of a button.

In addition, you can see the following new online exhibitions on our website, made in partnership with Google Arts and Culture:

On site at the New York Stock Exchange, Professor Lobel explains Hamilton's role

Alexander Hamilton: Witness to the Founding Era

Six mini-exhibitions, using materials from the Google Expeditions virtual reality project, explore locations where Hamilton made history, with links to relevant lesson plans.

Hamilton’s New York: Lower Manhattan Walking Tour

Join City University of New York professor Cindy Lobel on a virtual reality walking tour of Lower Manhattan spots and institutions where Hamilton lived, worked, and left a lasting legacy.

“We the People”: Printings of the US Constitution from the Gilder Lehrman Collection

In 1787, fifty-five men met in secret to write a constitution for “a more perfect Union.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the only institution to hold all of the first five printings of the US Constitution, from the first draft to the first printing made available to the public. This exhibition opens a window into the process by which the draft evolved into the Constitution we live by today.

These and more essays, primary sources, videos, and online exhibitions exploring Alexander Hamilton’s life and legacy are available here.

A Poem by John Quincy Adams on Love and Friendship

John Quincy Adams to Miss Anna McKnight, 1829The Gilder Lehrman Collection has a multitude of personal letters and writings by prominent politicians, which often reveal a lighter side to their austere public personas. This poem written in 1829 by John Quincy Adams to a female friend, Miss Anna McKnight, vividly and cheekily describes his admiration for her. Adams was 63 when he penned this poem, and married to Louisa Catherine Adams—two factors that kept him from offering “thee my heart.” After contemplating the various types of love he could feel for Miss McKnight, he proclaims his affection comes from a mix of all—that of “lover - brother - father - friend.”

To Miss Anna McKnight

Fair Anna, how shall I describe
     My bosom’s deep reflection,
Call’d in thy Album to inscribe
     The tribute of Affection?
To say I love thee were too bold –
     Love, is a youthful Passion
And three score Winters are too cold
     For Spring and Summer’s Fashion

I cannot offer thee my heart –
     That, long has been another’s –
For me, too warm the Lover’s past:
     Not warm enough the brother’s –
Thy Father, Anna, Shall I be?
     That Sentiment is cheering –
But inward looking, soon I see
     An impulse more endearing.

The bloom of Friendship, Sweetly blows
     Nor Spinning heads, nor toiling:
But calm, the blood of Friendship flows;
     And mine for thee is boiling.
Any pulses, mix’d emotions blend,
     Unchang’d by Wind or Weather –
Of Lover – Brother – Father – Friend
     So take them all together

National Poetry Month, Part 4: WWI Poems

In 1918, Ella Osborn, an American nurse serving in France at the close of WWI, copied two poems into her personal diary: “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by Canadian surgeon Lt. Col. John D. McCrae, and “The Answer,” a response by Lt. J.A. Armstrong of Wisconsin.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place. While in the Sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Unheard, amid the guns below.
We are the dead, Short days ago
We lived, felt dawns, saw sunsets glow;
Loved and were loved – but now we lie
       In Flanders Field

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch, Be yours to bear it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep tho’ poppies blow
        In Flanders Field.

The Answer –

In Flanders Field the cannon boom
And fitful flashes light the gloom;
While up above, like Eagles, fly
The fierce destroyers of the sky;
With stains the earth wherein you lie
Is redder than the poppy bloom
       In Flanders Field.

Sleep on ye brave! The shrieking shell,
The quaking trench, the startling yell,
The fury of the battle hell
Shall wake you not; for all is well.

Sleep peacefully, for all is well.
Your flaming torch aloft we bear,
With burning heart an oath we swear
To keep the faith to fight it through
To crush the foe, or sleep with you
       In Flanders Field

As a nurse serving near the front, Osborn would have been a witness to the death and destruction of the war. Her diary details her daily life as well as the trauma of her work near the front line, caring for soldiers injured by bullets, bombs, and chemical weapons. 

July 8. Miss Rottman, Miss Lent & I went to Bruley, and had an omlet, also bought some French cake which we could not eat.

Mon July 29. Went to the dressing room this morning had 22 dressings. 2 under anesthesia, did not get off for any time & came off dead tired & went to bed

Fri. May 31st nearly 400 of our boys were gased last night and are at 102 field Hosp. some are very bad—some say it was Phosgene gas and others say Mustard.

However, the poems stand in stark contrast to the tone of her typical entries, where her daily routines, from drinking tea to caring for soldiers with crippling injuries, are largely recorded in the same matter-of-fact, detached voice. These poems perhaps hint at Osborn’s attempts to make sense of the large-scale death and destruction around her.

On our website you can learn more about Ella Osborn, view our digital exhibition and timeline on World War I and America, and explore WWI primary sources, essays, and teaching resources in History by Era.

Thank you, Eric Foner!

Eric Foner talks with a Civil War essay contest winner at the 2011 Lincoln PrizeEric Foner, the eminent historian of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, retires this year as DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, a position he has held since 1988. Foner has taught at Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, and Moscow State, has written more than 25 acclaimed books, and is the recipient of numerous awards for scholarship and excellent teaching. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slaverywhich he discusses in this video interview with James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

Professor Foner has participated in the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s programs in many vital ways. With historian Martha Jones, he has led seven summer Teacher Seminars on Reconstruction, taking teachers on weeklong explorations of the post–Civil War era through lectures and archival visits. He has contributed essays, interviews, and lectures to the Gilder Lehrman website, expanding the scope and deepening the impact of the Institute’s resources on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Below is a selection:

Lincoln’s Interpretation of the Civil War (from History Now 26: New Interpretations of the Civil War)
The Reconstruction Amendments: Official Documents as Social History (from History Now 2: Primary Sources on Slavery)
Roundtable discussion on American antislavery writings
Lincoln and the Rights of Black Americans,” a lecture at Columbia University
1866: The Birth of Civil Rights,” a lecture at the Museum of the City of New York

The Gilder Lehrman Institute thanks Professor Foner for all he has done to enrich and promote the study of American history, and congratulates him on his retirement.

The Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Ceremony

At the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize ceremony, at the Union League Club in New York City, on April 19, we honored James B. Conroy and Douglas R. Egerton for their outstanding scholarly works on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Read more about the prize and the prize winners on the GLI blog for April 19.

In addition to the winners of the prize, we also celebrated the work of the students from Gilder Lehrman Affiliate Schools who won the 2017 Civil War Essay Prize. On the morning of April 19, the students, along with their parents and teachers, visited the Gilder Lehrman Collection to view highlights of Abraham Lincoln and Civil War era documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation. That evening, they met leading historians of the Civil War era at the prize ceremony and were recognized for their stellar work.


Happy 217th Birthday, Library of Congress

"Report of the Joint Committee authorized to contract for the Library of Mr. Jefferson," Nov. 28, 1814 (Gilder Lehrman Collection).On April 24, 1800, John Adams signed a Congressional Act authorizing the transfer of the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Tucked into this bill was a provision of funds “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress . . . and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.”

Thus, the Library of Congress was born. The library’s first collection was destroyed when British troops burned the Capitol on August 24, 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered his vast personal library as a replacement, and several months later, Congress approved the purchase of the former president’s collection of 6,487 books.

This became the core of a new collection that has now grown to more than 164 million items, including more than 38 million books that range from American classics that left an imprint on history to contemporary works from all over the world, and more than 70 million manuscripts.

National Poetry Month, Part 3: Poem on a Civil War Death

Hanford L. Gordon, “Only a Private Killed,” November 12, 1861. (Gilder Lehrman C

In the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, on October 21, 1861, the 1st Minnesota Volunteers unit had just one casualty: a man named Lewis Mitchell. Mitchell was “only a private,” one of the approximately 750,000 casualties in the Civil War. Nonetheless, his death is given a sense of honor and sacrifice in a touching poem by his friend Hanford L. Gordon. Written several weeks after the battle, Gordon’s poem recounts the “literally true” circumstances of Lewis Mitchell’s death, from a gory description of Mitchell’s last moments to Gordon’s horrified discovery of his friend’s body.




We’ve had a fight a Captain said
Much rebel blood we’ve spilled
We’ve put the saucy foe to flight
Our loss – but a private killed!
“Ah, yes!” said a sergeant on the spot
As he drew a long deep breath
Poor fellow, he was badly shot
Then bayoneted to death!”

When again was hushed the martial din
And back the foe had fled
They brought the private’s body in
I went to see the dead.
For I could not think the rebel foe
(’Tho under curse and ban)
To vaunting of their chivalry
Could kill a wounded man.

A minie ball had broke his thigh
A frightful crushing wound
And then with savage bayonets
They had pinned him to the ground
One stab was through his abdomen
Another through his head
The last was through his pulseless breast
Done after he was dead.

His hair was matted with his gore
His hands were clenched with might
As though he still his musket bore
So firmly in the fight
He had grasped the foeman’s bayonet
His bosom to defend!
They raised the coat cape from his face
My God! it was my friend!

Think what a shudder thrilled my heart
’Twas but the day before
We laughed together merrily
As we talked of days of yore
“How happy we shall be,” he said
When the war is o’er and when
The rebels all subdued or dead
We all go home again!

In the final three stanzas, Gordon attempts to come to terms with his friend’s death and find meaning in the risk that all soldiers, himself included, face in the war:

Ah little he dreamed, that soldier brave
(So near his journey’s goal)
That God had sent a messenger
To claim his Christian soul!
But he fell like a hero fighting
And hearts with grief are filled
And honor is his, though our Chief shall say
“Only a private killed!”

I knew him well, he was my friend
He loved our Land and Laws
And he fell a blessed martyr
To the country’s holy cause.
Soldiers our time will come most like
When our blood will thus be spilled
And then of us our Chief shall say
“Only a private killed.”

But we fight our country’s battles
And our hopes are not forlorn
Our death shall be a blessing
To “Millions yet unborn”;
To our children and their children
And as each grave is filled
We will but ask our Chief to say
“Only a private killed.”

Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Honors Conroy and Egerton

At this evening’s Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Ceremony, at the Union League Club in New York City, we will honor James B. Conroy and Douglas R. Egerton for their outstanding scholarly works on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and Gettysburg College, is a $50,000 prize awarded annually for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War soldier, or the American Civil War era.

James B. Conroy and his book, Lincoln's White HouseJames B. Conroy’s winning work, Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime (Rowman and Littlefield), was recognized by the Lincoln Prize jury as “the first book focusing on the executive mansion and its denizens during the Lincoln administration,” noting that Conroy has taken full advantage of previously unpublished primary sources. “Conroy skillfully avails himself of these and other primary sources to offer a vivid, highly readable account of how life was lived in the White House. A gifted prose stylist, Conroy fills that lacuna in the literature admirably.”


Douglas Egerton and his book, Thunder at the Gates

The jury praised Douglas Egerton’s winning book, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (Basic Books), as “a deeply and impeccably researched work, drawing on (to name just some of the sources) manuscript collections of personal papers, the black and white press, regimental records, draft records, records of the Department of the South, medical records, pension files, wartime letters and journals, memoirs, and photographs. Egerton’s is a brisk and personable narrative history that will reach a wide audience, with its vivid portraits of lives both on and off the battlefield.”

Additionally, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis will receive a Special Achievement Award for their book, Herndon on Lincoln: Letters (University of Illinois Press), a collection of letters about the President written by Lincoln’s former law partner, William H. Herndon.

For a list of past Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize winners, click here.