"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable."

— Thomas Jefferson

Recent Articles

The Law of Slavery Lies at the Heart of the Movies “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained”

Appropriately marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, two of the season’s Hollywood blockbusters, Quentin Taratino’s “Django Unchained” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” are about, respectively, slavery and its abolition. And while they could not be more different in style, tone, and story, the two films are instructively complementary in reminding us of an uncomfortable truth about our nation’s past: that underpinning slavery at the local, state, and national levels was the law, including the highest law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.

At one level “Django,” set in 1858 on the eve of the Civil War, can be viewed as simply a prelude to “Lincoln.” It captures essential realities of slavery, whose permanent demise “Lincoln,” set in 1865 near war’s end, reminds us came through hard-fought pragmatic politics that produced the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Read the full article

The Federal Government Should Hold On To General Motors

Most journalists, federal officials, and General Motors (GM) executives are celebrating the U.S. Treasury’s recent announcement that the federal government is beginning to sell its share in the bailed-out auto giant. They claim that the government’s sell-off is good for GM and for the government, and it is the “American” thing to do. But the successful GM bailout and the history of private/public partnerships in early American history suggest that they are wrong on all three counts. The Treasury should hold onto GM stock as long as it can.

The federal bailout of GM occurred in spring 2009. What was then the world’s largest auto company had been hemorrhaging money for years, losing an astonishing $69.6 billion in 2007-2008. By early 2009, the company faced bankruptcy, with no private investors willing or able to pour money into it. Counting GM’s 91,000 employees, the several hundred...

Read the full article

The “Invisible Guest” World Food Campaign of the 1920s Should Be a Model for Us Today

The holiday season is a time of giving to loved ones. It can also be a time of giving to those unseen or invisible: the world’s hungry. In the winter of 1920-21, with the scars of World War I still fresh, helping an invisible guest became a centerpiece of holiday celebrations.

The First World War left destruction far beyond the battlefields of Europe. Food supplies were devastated, and recovery would not come easily. The American Relief Administration, led by Herbert Hoover, provided food aid to Europe’s hungry long after the guns fell silent following the 1918 Armistice.

In 1920, because Europe’s food production had not rebounded enough for them to feed themselves, Hoover assembled a group of charities, including the Red Cross and church groups, to form the European Relief Council.

Read the full article

The 1862 Morrill Act Honored the Liberal Arts As Well As Technical Education

A recent issue of Time magazine was devoted to “Reinventing College.” Several full-page public-service ads celebrated “Milestones in the History of U.S. Higher Education.” The first ad had “1862” emblazoned across the top, accompanied by a photograph of President Abraham Lincoln.

Why the fuss about 1862? Because the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act, signed by Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, created many of America’s leading public universities. The law’s purpose was to democratize higher education. At the time few Americans attended college, and most who did came from families of means.

In honor of the Morrill Act’s transforming impact on American education, its sesquicentennial is being celebrated this year on many American campuses. My own institution, the University of Maine, recently raised banners in its honor.

Read the full article