James Monroe was the country’s fifth president and the last of the American Founding Fathers. A man of great integrity, he had very little party feeling and was extremely popular. He called himself a Republican. He dressed traditionally and was the last president to wear his hair in a ponytail. (When was the last time you thought a man in a ponytail was sporting a traditional, conservative style?!) Monroe favored a weak presidency and was a strict constructionist. This meant he thought the federal government had power to do only what was explicitly written in the Constitution. One of the last men who had fought against Great Britain in the American Revolution, Monroe worked to keep government small. In 1820, he was reelected without any opposing candidate.
James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758 and lived until the age of 73, passing in 1831. Monroe was home schooled by his mother until the age of 11. After this he attended college for four years. A Virginian, just like four of the first five presidents, Monroe dropped out of college to fight the British in the American Revolution as an officer. He was severely wounded at the Battle of Trenton (Washington’s crossing of the Delaware), later trained soldiers at Valley Forge, and fought at the Battle of Monmouth. During and after the war, Monroe trained to be an attorney under Thomas Jefferson. Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright when he was 28 and they lived 44 years together as husband and wife. They had three children, though one died at the age of sixteen months. Their daughter Maria was the first child of a President to be married in the White House.
Like other founding fathers, James Monroe’s relationship with slavery was complicated. He owned slaves and a plantation and slaves served him in Virginia and later in the White House. But he was morally opposed to slavery, tried making the international slave trade illegal, and worked to establish a country in Africa, later called Liberia with Monrovia as its capital, to resettle all African-Americans. As Governor of Virginia in 1800, he helped crush a slave rebellion and participated in the arrest of over 70 and execution of 10. As President, he resided over the Compromise of 1820, which added new states to the Union and maintained an equal number of slave states to free states. Monroe and the Founding Fathers feared that slavery would one day end the American republic, but they never resolved this issue and left it as a cancerous sore.
James Monroe served as a representative, a senator, the governor of Virginia, a minister to France where he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase under President Jefferson, and was Secretary of State and then Secretary of War under James Madison during the War of 1812. His long political history and major accomplishments earned him the trust of the Presidential electors who voted him in two terms as President, from 1817-1825.
Throughout his tenure, there was no opposing political party, and historians have called this time the “Era of Good Feelings.” Monroe’s actions as President exemplify the founder’s ideal of a republic with a limited government. Monroe favored public works, but only if they were related to national defense. The federal government created and improved coastal forts. However, Monroe opposed the government spending money on roads, canals or other projects if they were not strictly related to defense, because the Constitution does not give the federal government this power. In 1822, Monroe vetoed a bill that would have authorized federal funds to improve the Cumberland Road. Monroe claimed, “it is with deep regret, approving as I do the policy, that I am compelled to object to its passage and to return the bill to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, under a conviction that Congress does not possess the power under the Constitution to pass such a law.”
James Monroe achieved great success in the area of foreign policy. He settled the U.S.-Canadian border dispute through a treaty with Great Britain. In Georgia, his administration ordered General Andrew Jackson to defeat the Seminole Indians, who had been raiding settlers and then escaping into Spanish Florida. Jackson illegally invaded Florida, conquered the Indians, and found two British agents, then tried, convicted, and hung them as spies. Spain was thus forced to sell Florida to the U.S. for $5 million in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. However, Monroe is best known for the Monroe Doctrine.
The Monroe Doctrine of 1820 forbids any European power from meddling in the affairs of North and South American countries in return for America staying out of European affairs. In the early 1800s, Spanish colonial power in the Americas was weakening, and France appeared to want to take Spain’s possessions. The United States wanted to make sure no European power would ever again colonize the Americas, and Great Britain was eager to create a “special relationship” with their former colonies. Great Britain secretly assured America it would use its navy to defend the Americas.
James Monroe was the last American Founding Father to serve as President, and as such he continued the great fortune and blessings that were bestowed on the first republic of modern times. Though imperfect and unable to resolve slavery, Monroe helped establish the United States of America as one of the strongest and freest countries on earth. His sacrifice in the American Revolution, his service in various offices in Virginia, and his Presidency were all in the aim of building a country founded in individual liberty and constitutionalism.
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) is the first Native American to be canonized a Catholic saint. She was born in 1656 in what is today the state of New York. Her tribe was the mighty Mohawk, her father was Chief Kenneronka, and her mother was an Algonquian who had been assimilated into the Mohawks. Her Mohawks name “Tekakwitha” means “one who bumps into things.” Kateri had a tough childhood and was faced with many moral challenges throughout her life. Immediately after her death at the age of 24, witnesses claim a miracle occurred. As a young girl of four, she survived smallpox but for the rest of her life bore ugly facial scars. Witnesses claim that after her death all of her scars completely disappeared. A church was built in her honor, and numerous miracles have been attributed to her.
From a young age, Kateri suffered hardship. At the age of four, her parents and her younger brother died of smallpox. She survived but her face was badly scarred, she suffered poor eyesight and poor health the rest of her life. Her aunt adopted her. At the age of 10, Kateri’s village was attacked by the French, and to end the fighting her Mohawk tribe agreed to live in French territory with the Jesuit missionaries, who wanted to convert the Indians. Kateri’s uncle forbade her to speak to the missionaries, but she disobeyed him.
A Mohawk girl in the 1600s was supposed to grow up within the tribe, marry one of the Mohawk men, have babies, cook, weave mats and baskets, and work on the farm. Kateri chose at an early age to do something completely opposite. While with the Jesuits, her tribe was attacked by the Mahican, and she helped the missionaries care for the sick and wounded. After this experience, she told her aunt she never wanted to marry.
In 1674, at the age of 18, Kateri decided to become a Catholic Christian and receive training form the French priests. Most in her tribe were disappointed and angry. She was ridiculed, called a witch, and ostracized. Two years later, she was baptized and moved to the Jesuit settlement of Kahnawake. It was then she took the Christian name of Kateri, after Saint Catherine of Sienna.
At Kahnawake were other Indian converts to Christianity. Kateri was no longer bullied but instead was encouraged to follow her heart’s wishes. There, she met her mother’s best friend who had also converted and other Christian women. Kateri attempted to strive to live a Christian life in how she treated others, in fasting, and even in acts of self-mortification. Throughout the medieval Christian world, many believed that if you harmed yourself physically in honor of God you gained blessings for yourself and others. Kateri wanted to tie her physical pain to the sufferings of Christ.
In 1680, Kateri Tekakwitha died at the Jesuit community of Kahnawake. Witnesses swore that within minutes of her death her facial scars healed and she became radiantly beautiful. Christians built a church in her honor, and pilgrims arrived to pray at her burial site. Some reported miracles that occurred because of Kateri’s intercessions. The Catholic Church proclaimed her a saint in 2012, the first Native American saint.
Some believe Kateri’s story is joyful while others see it as a terrible tale of colonization. Catholics and other Christians point to her to show that Christianity gave Indian women the freedom to do what they want to do and to live in a loving community. Others say that her story shows how European colonization destroyed the Native American way of life and that the missionaries were wrong to convert her.
Geronimo (1829-1909) is one of the most-recognizable of American Indians who resisted the American government in the 1800s and 1900s. A leader of the Chiricahua tribe of the Apache, Geronimo fought Mexico, the United States of America, and other Native American Indians until he surrendered to the United States in 1886 and died a prisoner of war. Married nine times and father to many children, Geronimo brought fear into the hearts and minds of Mexicans and Americans.
Geronimo was born in Mexico in 1829, in present-day Arizona, and he was raised in the Apache war culture. The Apaches raided Mexican and other Indian villages as a way of life. During these raids, Apache would steal cattle and horses, kill men, and steal women as slaves. In response, Mexico tried to kill all Apache, offering $25 for every Apache scalp. As a young man, Geronimo married and had three children with his wife, Alope. On one outing while he was away on a trading trip, Mexican soldiers came into his camp and murdered women and children, including his mom, his young wife, and his three boys. He vowed to seek revenge the rest of his life against the Mexicans.
In 1848, the land Geronimo’s Apaches lived on changed hands from the Mexicans to the Americans, and the Apaches were now enemies of not only the Mexicans but the Americans, as well. For the next 38 years, Geronimo and the Apaches successfully waged war against Mexico and the United States of America. His band of soldiers, and women and children, would travel as far as 70 miles a day to avert capture. At the same time, they waged guerilla war against settlers. 5,000 United States soldiers, 3,000 Mexicans, and hundreds of Indian scouts hounded Geronimo’s Apaches throughout the Southwest.
Finally, Geronimo surrendered and he and his Apache tribe were taken prisoner to Oklahoma. Three years before Geronimo died, he converted to Christianity. In his autobiography, he said,
“Since my life as a prisoner has begun I have heard the teachings of the white man's religion, and in many respects believe it to be better than the religion of my fathers. However, I have always prayed, and I believe that the Almighty has always protected me. Believing that in a wise way it is good to go to church, and that associating with Christians would improve my character, I have adopted the Christian religion. I believe that the church has helped me much during the short time I have been a member.”
However, on his deathbed, it has been reported that he said he was no longer a Christian. This truth of this incident is uncertain, though, and he was buried in a Christian cemetery.
Many Americans did not believe his conversion was real. Stories of his brutal tactics and successes would not allow them to think this Indian leader had accepted Christ. The New York Times noted when he died that Geronimo “was the worst type of aboriginal American savage. Even his so-called religious conversion was not without cunning.” The Times journalists believed he had converted in order to persuade President Roosevelt to give the Apaches back their land in Arizona.
Geronimo was very fond of marriage. He married nine times and it appears he had many children. Some of his wives, like his first one, Alope, were murdered by soldiers. One witness claims he killed one of his wives when she would not escape from soldiers with him. He did have multiple wives at the same time, which was keeping in tradition with the Apache custom.
Toward the end of his life, Geronimo appeared in Wild West shows, at world’s fairs, and rode in President Roosevelt’s Inaugural Parade. On the reservation, he sold bows and arrows and posed for pictures. As there was little work available for Indians, it is a sign of resourcefulness that Geronimo stayed active through the age of 90. The night before he died, he went into town and got drunk. Riding home, he fell off his horse. Injured and unable to get back on, he stayed out all night long. He caught pneumonia and eventually died.
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was one of the most influential American women of the 20th century. As a progressive and eugenicist, she believed that some humans were, by nature, inferior to others. Sanger was primarily driven to provide women complete control over their reproductive life and to make it impossible for the “unfit” to have children. Sanger wanted to create a master race. To achieve her ends, she sought to legalize and spread contraception and sterilization. Sanger was not a fan of abortion, but she wanted it legal and her work paved the way for the modern abortion industry. In 1921, she established The American Birth Control League, later to be named Planned Parenthood.
Eugenics, according to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population's genetic composition.” Margaret Sanger believed in eugenics. Sanger wrote at the top of her birth control magazine publications, “More children from the fit and less from the unfit. That is the chief aim of birth control.” In a New York Times interview in 1922, she stated, “Superman is the aim of birth control.” In her book, The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger wrote, “Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class should be segregated during the reproductive period.” Sanger supported infanticide of disabled babies and wanted the legalization of abortion to achieve her eugenic goals.
Was Sanger a racist and did she want the elimination of ethnic minorities in America because of their race? That is hard to answer. But there is no doubt she believed she was able to decide who should live and who should not. Writing in 1931 “My Way to Peace, Sanger states she wants the government to :
. . . keep the doors of Immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphiletic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class . . . apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization, and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.
For Sanger, birth control was the primary method to promote a superior race, although she also wrote in favor of legalizing abortion. During the first half of her lifetime, birth control was illegal in the United States of America. Sanger worked to change society about contraception. In 1921, she formed the American Birth Control League to promote contraception. In 1929, she formed lobby group to push legislators to make contraception legal. In a 1936 court case, Sanger challenged and won the right for physicians to obtain contraceptives. That next year, the American Medical Association adopted contraception as a normal medical service.
The majority of Americans in the early 1900s believed that God should be in charge of determining when life begins, and that people should not use artificial means to influence pregnancy. Every major Christian religion opposed artificial contraception until 1930, when the Anglican Church approved it for married couples. Shortly after, other Protestant Christian Churches approved it. The Roman Catholic Church still teaches that artificial contraception is inherently evil.
Margaret Sanger sought to control the population, especially in low income, immigrant, and African-American communities. She wrote, “A License for Mothers to Have Babies” with the subtitle, “A code to stop the overproduction of children.” In this publication, she asserted that parenthood was not a right but a privilege that only the state could give. She championed the 1939 initiative “The Negro Project,” which sought to get rid of too many births among African Americans. She declared, “The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear children properly.”
Sanger visited the totalitarian countries of Nazi Germany and Communist Soviet Union in the 1930s. Her main reason was to investigate how these two totalitarian governments handled women’s rights, eugenics, and human reproductive matters. While not a NAZI, Sanger shared the stage with other NAZI eugenicists and did not denounce them. Sanger did not approve of Hitler’s barbarism, but she also did not change her views on forced sterilizations of the unfit or legalizing abortion. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1935, she wrote for the Birth Control Review, "Russia today is the country of the liberated woman. The attitude of Soviet Russia toward its women...would delight the heart of the staunchest feminist." She liked that the Soviets gave out free contraceptive devices to women, but she disliked the Soviet use of abortion as a means of mass population control. She didn’t object to legalizing abortion, but thought that Russians used abortion too frequently and women needed more access to contraceptives.
Margaret Sanger died in 1966. Her work changed American society and perhaps the world. For Progressive who think the government and certain “fit” women should decide who should live and who has the right to procreate, she is their hero. When Sanger was born, in 1879, birth control and abortion were illegal throughout the United States of America, and both were viewed as sinful by the great majority of Americans who were Christian. She worked to make every means of birth control and eugenics a reality in America. At her death, birth control was legal in most states, and, seven years after her death, abortion became legal, as well. The organization that she founded, Planned Parenthood, became the nation’s largest provider of abortion and today, promotes abortion and sterilization around the world. In 2020, Planned Parenthood accounted for 345,672 abortions and 2.6 million contraceptive services in the United States. Annually, there are over 1 million abortions in America, averaging 3,000 a day. Sanger’s views on population control, eugenics, and birth control and abortion have had a major influence in the country and in the world.
One of America’s greatest doctors and activists for the least protected in society was Mildred Fay Jefferson (1927-2010). Jefferson was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, the first woman to graduate in surgery from Harvard, and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society. She influenced a President of the United States of America to change his mind on abortion, and throughout her life, she was a voice for powerless in American society.
Mildred Jefferson was born in raised in segregated Texas and experienced first-hand racism and sexism. She grew up in a time where legally, black Americans experienced injustices because of their color. Her father was a Methodist minister and her mother a school teacher. Even though blacks had less opportunities than whites in the 1930s and 1940s, Jefferson never let her circumstances hold her back. As a young girl, she accompanied the town doctor on his house calls and told him that she would one day become a doctor. This was during a time that nearly all doctors were men and white. She succeeded in her dream.
Jefferson was an outstanding student and throughout her career she broke new ground for black Americans and for women. At the age of 15, she entered Texas College and earned her bachelor’s degree in three years. Normally it takes four years. She went on to earn a master’s degree in biology and then to Harvard and became a medical doctor in 1951. She was Harvard’s first black woman ever to graduate from medical school. She was the first female doctor at the Boston University Medical Center and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society.
Jefferson worked all her life to defend the innocent and society’s most vulnerable. She strongly believed in the preservation of life, and fought tirelessly to protect the unborn. Around 1970, she was one of the founders of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. She later was one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee. She was President of this committee from 1975-1978. “Millie” was a persuasive speaker, and after one time listening to her speech, the future President Ronald Reagan became pro-life. He wrote to her, "You have made it irrefutably clear that an abortion is the taking of a human life, I am grateful to you. " In a 1978 video, Jefferson explained:
“I became a physician in order to help save lives. I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow the concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.” And, in another interview that same year, ““I would guess that the abortionists have done more to get rid of generations and cripple others than all of the years of slavery and lynchings.”
On October 15, 2020, at the age of 84, Mildred Fay Jefferson passed away in her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was a pioneer in medicine for American women and for black Americans and she tirelessly fought for the lives of those who could not speak for themselves.
One of America’s greatest authors of all time was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known by his pen name Mark Twain (1835-1910). He was born in Missouri when it was considered the west, and continued moving west until he decided it was time to jump continents and live in Europe. Known for his wit, his analysis of human behavior, and at the end of his life his love for young people, Twain’s writings exemplify what it meant to be an American living in the 1800s. Change, moving west, honesty, independent-minded, funny, self-critical and struggle was the story of Mark Twain.
Twain is famous for his literature. His one-liners tell us a great deal about him.
“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often”
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
“I once fell into a California river and got all dusty.”
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”
“Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
Throughout Twain’s writing life, he made Americans, and others around the world, laugh at themselves, laugh at others, and question if what they were doing was the right thing. Called the greatest American author that ever lived, Mark Twain’s life was all about moving, change, honesty and integrity.
Samuel Clemens was born in Missouri and raised in Hannibal, right next to the Mississippi River. He became Mark Twain when his writing career took off. That river became the focus point of two of his most famous novels about a boy growing up in 1800s America, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At various times throughout America’s history, these books have been forbidden by libraries because of their use of the “N Word,” even though Twain wrote in the vernacular and even though these books do not support racism. Three of Twain’s siblings died young, and his dad died when the boy was only 11. After his father’s death, Twain left school and became a printer’s apprentice, then a typesetter, then a printer, writing various humorous stories while working in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. He came back to the Mississippi River and trained for two years for his dream job, a steamboat pilot. He worked as a pilot until 1861, when the Civil War broke out. He joined the war as a Confederate soldier, and after two weeks, he quit and “lit out for the West.”
In the west, Clemens tried and failed as a miner and went back to writing. While writing articles for various newspapers, in Nevada and then in California, he also wrote short stories, such as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” He was hired to travel to Europe and the Middle East and write about it. On this trip, fellow passenger Charles Langdon showed him a picture of his sister. Mark Twain described the moment as falling in love with the woman at first sight. This girl in the picture later became his wife! She wasn’t even on the boat.
Samuel Clemens married Olivia Langdon in 1870 in New York and had three daughters and one son (who passed away at 19 months). Samuel and his wife were married for 34 years until Olivia’s death in 1904. Through his wife’s family, Samuel Clemens met Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and other important figures of the day. In the 1870s and 1880s the Clemens family lived in Connecticut, where Mark Twain wrote many of his famous novels.
While Mark Twain was a famous author, he made poor investments that caused his bankruptcy. Trying his hand with inventions and technology, Twain lost nearly all his financial worth. For much of the 1890s, the Clemens family lived in various countries of Europe, seeking help from their poor health, searching for less expensive places to live, and in between, Twain would come back to the states to try to resolve his financial problems. Even though Twain had declared bankruptcy and did not need to pay back his debtors, he went on a year-long arduous world lecture tour to make enough money to pay back all those who had ever loaned him money. Mark Twain was a sought-after speaker, performing humorous solo talks, similar to modern stand-up-comedy.
Mark Twain had believed America should spread the American way of life around the world. However, after supporting the Spanish-American War of 1898, he had a change of heart and became an anti-Imperialist. He saw how the USA fought the Philippines instead of allowing this people their independence immediately. Twain said, “I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”
In the later years of Twain’s life, he lived in Manhattan. After his daughter died in 1896, his wife in 1904, and then another daughter in 1909, he understandably was depressed, at times. He still wrote, however, and, he even formed a club for girls who were interested in writing. Called the “Angel Fish and Aquarium Club” for a dozen girls between the ages of 10 and 16, Twain exchanged letters, took them to concerts and the theatre and played games with the kids. In 1908, Twain wrote that the club was his “life’s chief delight.”
Mark Twain predicted that he would die when Halley’s Comet came closest to Earth in 1910. He believed this because he was born two weeks after the Comet was closest to Earth in 1835. Twain said, “I came with Hally’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almight has said, no doubt: Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet was closest to Earth. He lived a life of integrity, humor, and devotion, as well as being one of America’s greatest authors of all time. His writings continue to cause laughter and controversy today. He could have chosen to not pay back his debts, but he left his family for one year to pay his creditors. Towards the end of his life, when those closest to him had died, he supported and encouraged young girls in their writing and enjoyment of life. Ernest Hemingway wrote of Mark Twain, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
Abraham Lincoln was the most hated and despised president of all time, yet he is one of America’s greatest presidents. During the years before the presidential election of 1860, Lincoln clearly stated that slavery was a morally evil and corrupt institution, and that one day, the country would be either all free or all slave. His clarity on this issue led the South to believe that Lincoln would try to abolish slavery, even though he never stated he would. His election to the presidency in 1860 pushed the first Southern states to secede and form the Confederate States of America. Over the next four years, 1861-1865, Lincoln led the effort to crush the rebellion in the South.
Lincoln’s circumstances of youth were common to many Americans. He was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky, in a log cabin. His family was part of the Separate Baptist Church, which forbade alcohol, dancing, and slavery. Abraham’s dad, Thomas, saw Indians kill his own father. When Abraham was 9, his family moved north to Indiana. Then, Abraham’s mom died. About a year later, Thomas remarried to Sarah, called “Sally.” Abraham came to love Sally and called her “mother.” As a young person, Abraham learned to read and write at an “ABC School” a few weeks per year. In ABC Schools, children in a larger community met at a log cabin and were taught by a private tutor. Lincoln read the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Franklin’s Autobiography, and law books, whenever he had extra time. At the age of 21, Lincoln moved west to Illinois.
As a boy and young man, Lincoln was known as physically strong and a person of wit. He was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, lanky and wiry. For fun, he would tell stories and wrestle. Lincoln is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, and had a 300-1 record. Once, after beating his opponent, Lincoln looked at the crowd and declared, “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” Nobody took him up on the offer.
Lincoln was a reader, a hard worker, and a person of character whom others respected. He read the few books he had many times, and when possible, he borrowed books from other frontier settlers. While living with his parents, he worked on the family farm all day. Lincoln traveled by flatboat down the Mississippi River in 1828 and 1831, and he later received a patent pertaining to flatboats. In the Black Hawk War, Lincoln was voted militia corporal. When he lived on his own, Lincoln opened a store with his partner, who then embezzled all the money. Lincoln worked to pay off the resulting debt of $1,000 (equal to about $26,000 in 2017). Later he decided to be a lawyer.
Lincoln’s understanding of religion changed over time. As a young man, he was skeptical that God and Jesus Christ existed. Later, he believed in Christ, but he still rejected joining a religious denomination. Toward the end of his life, Lincoln was convinced of the truth of the New Testament and was led by his faith. In the election of 1846, he campaigned, “I am not a member of any Christian Church…but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures.” During the Civil War, Lincoln professed a conversion experience to Christianity. Immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln visited the battle scene. He wrote this of what happened:
"When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I love Jesus."
After this, Lincoln prayed every day and read the Bible. To a friend he wrote, “Take all of this book [the Bible] upon reason you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”
Abraham Lincoln married Mary Todd in 1842 and had four boys. Though Lincoln left Mary Todd at the altar during their first wedding attempt, Lincoln called marriage a “profound wonder.” His son Edward died at the age of four of thyroid cancer. William died at the age of 12 of typhoid fever. Tad died of pneumonia at the age of 18. Only Robert lived into adulthood, dying in 1926. The boys’ deaths were a source of great sadness for the Lincolns.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Lincoln was known for physical beauty, but they were known for their character, ideas, and determination. Mary once said of her husband, “Mr. Lincoln is to be president of the United States some day. If I had not thought so, I would not have married him, for you can see he is not pretty.”
In 1858, Americans learned a great deal about the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln through the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Republican Abraham Lincoln was running for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat against the incumbent Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas. Lincoln was relatively unknown in the country, and many believed Douglas would one day be president. Lincoln and Douglas debated seven times, with each debate lasting around three hours. The debates were big events, with bands, food, and whiskey. At the end of each debate, the candidates shook hands, and maintained a cordial, friendly attitude toward each other. There was no questioner or moderator, only the two men on stage, speaking at great length.
At the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, the two candidates expressed greatly different views, especially on slavery. Lincoln spoke strongly against slavery, calling it a moral evil. Lincoln’s clear and unequivocal talk on slavery angered Southern Democrats who wanted slavery to expand. Douglas stated that he was personally against slavery, but he favored popular sovereignty, that the decision should be left to the people in the individual states.
At the last debate, Lincoln stated,
"The real issue is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong…The Republican Party look(s) upon it as being a moral, social and political wrong…and one of the methods of treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger…That is the real issue.” [The black man is] “entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…In the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”
In the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln argued that the new Republican Party believed the Southern states opposed the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln saw slavery as a sin, as evil, and as a threat to liberty and equality for all. How Lincoln foresaw ending slavery, however, was through legal means, either by voting or appointing Northern judges who would chip away at slavery in the courts. He wanted to peacefully abolish slavery through law, over time.
Stephen Douglas won the 1858 Senate election against Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln became a national political figure. All Americans understood that Lincoln and the Republicans saw slavery as morally corrupt, and that over time, they would work to end it. When Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the Southern states believed they had to secede from the Union in order to preserve the Southern culture, which included slavery.
The Civil War
Nearly the entire Presidency of Abraham Lincoln consisted of the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans gave their lives, and over that number suffered injuries. The North defeated the South and the United States remained as one country. Immediately after the war, the northern states passed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Five days after Lee’s surrender and just over one month after Lincoln’s second inauguration, a Southern actor conspired with others and then shot Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. Lincoln was attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., when his bodyguard John Parker left his post to get a drink at a nearby tavern. John Wilkes Booth snuck behind the president, aimed his .44–caliber gun inches from the back of Lincoln’s head, and fired. President Lincoln was carried across the street to a nearby inn and died nine hours later.
After the assassination, Booth jumped to the stage below, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus be it ever to tyrants”), and escaped on his waiting horse. Soon after, Federal soldiers trapped him in a barn, set it on fire, and a cavalryman shot Booth as he tried to escape. Lincoln’s conspirators had planned to murder a number of Republicans, but failed in their attempts. Four of Booth’s conspirators, three men and one woman, were hanged. Three others received life sentences, and one went to jail for six years.
Lincoln’s assassination immortalized the 16th President, alongside Washington and Jefferson, as one of America’s greatest heroes, and it led Congress to punish the South for its rebellion. The morning after Lincoln’s murder, Walt Whitman wrote the poem “O Captain, My Captain.” This poem expressed the grief many people in the North felt after Lincoln’s death.
In Lincoln’s second inaugural address, given a little over a month before his assassination, he stated:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Lincoln had planned generous peace terms for Southerners who had joined the Confederate States of America, but his assassination gave control of the government to the Radical Republicans, who wanted to completely change the South.
For a more detailed version of Abraham Lincoln, slavery in America, and the Civil War, read The Story of Liberty, America's Heritage Through the Civil War, by John De Gree. For a Video Lesson on Lincoln, Go Here and scroll down.
1. Did Abraham Lincoln experience tragedy as a young boy?
2. What did Lincoln do for work before he left home?
3. Did Lincoln read many books or a few books many times as a young person?
4. Before becoming President, what did Lincoln do for work?
5. What did Mary Todd think about Abraham's physical appearance?
6. What was Lincoln's stance on slavery before the Civil War?
7. Describe Lincoln's conversion experience regarding Christianity.
8. Why did Southern Democrats secede from the United States of America?
9. How did Lincoln die?
10. Why do Americans celebrate the life of Abraham Lincoln?
by Adam De Gree
Charles R. Drew was born in Washington, D.C. on June 3, 1904. By the time of his death just 45 years later, he had become the ‘father of the blood bank’ and one of the great scientists of the 20th century. Along the way, he pioneered new medical techniques, broke down racial barriers, and saved thousands of lives. As a black man born in a time when segregation was still practiced all over the United States, his achievements stood as an example of the great potential of African-American doctors and researchers. Yet despite his laboratory success, his early life was marked more by sports greatness than academic excellence.
Drew was not a good student until well into his university years. However, his natural athleticism earned him a scholarship to Amherst College for football and track and field. It was there that he developed an interest in medicine. After graduating, he chose to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where his academic pursuits finally took center stage. Drew earned the annual scholarship in neuroanatomy and won multiple awards on his way to graduating 2nd in a class of 127 students.
After graduating from McGill with honors, Drew began his work with transfusion at Montreal Hospital. There, he worked with bacteriology professor John Beattie to develop treatments for shock. Drew hoped to pursue transfusion therapy studies at the Mayo Clinic, but racial prejudice against African-Americans barred him from joining the organization. However, he was admitted to doctorate studies at Columbia University, where he studied with John Scudder and aided in the establishment of an experimental blood bank.
At Columbia, Drew overcame racist treatment to successfully complete his award-winning dissertation, “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation.” His research brought significant progress to the growing field of transfusion. Drew’s understanding of fluid balance, shock therapy, and the processing and storage of blood samples allowed him to develop new and safer ways to collect and store blood. This earned him a post at the head of the Blood for Britain Project. Thanks to his work, thousands of liters of blood were sent to Britain as it bled in World War II.
When the United States joined World War II there was a great need for blood donations. Naturally, Drew was the man for the job. He was named assistant director of the National Blood Donor Service, where he pioneered the invention of ‘bloodmobiles’ – blood donation trucks with refrigerators.
Yet even though Drew was an African-American, the Red Cross did not allow blacks to donate blood. This meant that Drew could not donate to his own program. Eventually, this policy changed to one of segregation, where the blood of black donors could only be used by black recipients. Drew called this “unscientific and insulting to African Americans.” He resigned after a few months.
Drew spent the rest of his career at Howard University, where he had taught on and off in between other assignments. He headed the Department of Surgery and sought to “train young African American surgeons who would meet the most rigorous standards in any surgical specialty.” In addition to training surgeons, Drew campaigned relentlessly for the inclusion of black doctors in local and national medical associations.
On April 1, 1950, Charles Drew fell asleep at the wheel on the way to a medical conference. He died despite being given a blood transfusion at an all-white hospital nearby. In less than half a century, Drew earned numerous awards and appointments unique for his age and his race. His work on blood transfusion has undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of people. Today, he is remembered as one of the greatest medical scientists of the last century. He is also remembered for powerful words such as these:
“So much of our energy is spent in overcoming the constricting environment in which we live that little energy is left for creating new ideas or things. Whenever, however, one breaks out of this rather high-walled prison of the "Negro problem" by virtue of some worthwhile contribution, not only is he himself allowed more freedom, but part of the wall crumbles. And so it should be the aim of every student in science to knock down at least one or two bricks of that wall by virtue of his own accomplishment.”
By Adam De Gree
Henry Ossian Flipper
Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in 1856, but he would achieve much by the time of his death in 1940. His life serves as an example of the courage and the challenges African Americans faced during Reconstruction. As the first black man to graduate from West Point and command African-American ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ Flipper served with distinction. Yet white officers framed him for embezzlement only a few years into his military commission. Not until 1999 was his reputation restored by the United States government.
Flipper was born the eldest of five to Isabelle and Festus Flipper in Georgia. His father worked as a shoemaker and carriage-trimmer for a wealthy slave dealer. After the Civil War, the family did as much as they could to better their own lives. As a young man, Flipper attended Atlanta University. There, he earned an appointment to West Point, the United States Military Academy.
At West Point, Flipper and his fellow black cadets faced many challenges. White students at the academy regularly mistreated them. For example, Flipper wrote extensively about the many ways that white cadets would bully black students in order to gain the attention and favor of their superiors. Within several years he was the only black cadet who had not left the school. Flipper persevered in part because of his strong commitment to good behavior.
After graduating from West Point in 1877, Flipper was given a commission as a second lieutenant. His command was a company of African-American troops in the Western outpost of Fort Sill, Oklahoma. These black frontier troops were called ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ by Native Americans. The Indians thought the hair of the black soldiers resembled buffalo fur. Flipper was the first black officer to command Buffalo Soldiers.
According to army records, Flipper served with distinction at Fort Still. In addition to fighting in the Apache Wars and the Victorio Campaign, he contributed to many engineering projects. For example, he developed a system to drain stagnant pools of water that provided breeding grounds for malaria epidemics. In addition, he developed a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness with the local residents. He also started a close friendship with a white woman named Mollie Dwyer.
Suddenly, in 1881, Flipper was accused of embezzling over $3,000 worth of commissary funds by Colonel Shafter, his commanding officer. He was arrested and put before a court martial. During the trial, it became clear that there was little evidence to support the allegations. Colonel Shafter repeatedly contradicted his own testimony and many witnesses testified to Flipper’s honesty.
Since there was little chance of convicting Flipper of embezzlement, the court introduced a new charge – conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. Many argue that this charge had more to do with Flipper’s friendship with a white woman than any error he made in keeping track of military funds. He was found guilty and dishonorably discharged.
Lieutenant Flipper was crushed by the dismissal. However, he resolved “to go forth into the world and by my subsequent conduct as an honorable man and by my character disprove the charges.” Over the next decades, Flipper worked throughout Mexico and the American Southwest as a civil and mining engineer, translator, surveyor, and cartographer. He became a well-respected Senate foreign relations expert on Mexican relations. Later, Flipper oversaw the planning and construction of the Alaskan railway system. His many achievements left an indelible mark on the West.
Despite his continual efforts, Flipper could never get his name cleared by the Army. He tried to enlist again during the Spanish-American War and the first World War, but was denied both times. After attaining old age, he retired to Atlanta and lived with his brother until his death in 1940.
Flipper’s death did not signal the end of the battle to reclaim his legacy. Several friends and family members continued to challenge the official narrative, and in 1976, the Army granted him a full pardon. However, his military rank and record would wait until a 1999 pardoning by President Bill Clinton.
Today, the U.S. Army gives the Henry O. Flipper Memorial award to the most outstanding cadet at West Point in the areas of leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance. Numerous landmarks and memorials dot the country in his memory. Henry Ossian Flipper paved the way for thousands of black West Point graduates and officers who have served their country nobly. In his conduct in the Army and in the world, he set a fine example for all Americans.
Interesting Questions for You to Discuss with Your Children and Students:
by Adam De Gree
John Buford Jr. was born on March 4, 1826. Just 37 years later, he would lose his life in the Civil War after receiving a deathbed promotion to the position of major general of Volunteers from Abraham Lincoln. Known for his key role in major battles including Gettysburg, Buford had a profound impact on Union victory and is remembered as an American hero.
Buford was born in Kentucky, which became a battleground state in the Civil War. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Illinois. His father was a well-known Democrat who opposed Abraham Lincoln. Like many Americans, Buford’s ancestors had fought in the Revolution; his grandfather served under Robert E. Lee’s father. Growing up in a political family, Buford was very patriotic. After one year at Knox College in Illinois, he was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Divisions between American society increased as Buford grew older. The issue of slavery split the country into two factions – North and South. But while the split sounds simple, it wasn’t – many families were split into two opposing camps. For example, Buford’s father owned slaves, although he did not want to leave the Union. On the other hand, Buford’s wife Pattie was from a Southern family, and his in-laws fought for the Confederacy. At West Point, young men from the north and south trained to become officers, only to fight against each other when war broke out.
In 1861, the Civil War erupted. While Buford could have chosen to fight with the rebellious Confederates, he stayed in the United States Army and quickly rose to the rank of brigadier general. Buford was a cavalry officer, and one of the finest in the war. He served with distinction in major battles such as the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Brandy Station. However, John Buford is best remembered for his role in the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the entire Civil War, and Buford secured the field for a Union victory. As tens of thousands of troops from North and South neared one another, Buford’s cavalry arrived in the town of Gettysburg, located on high ground. As he looked down, the general saw thousands of Confederate troops marching up the road and knew that he had to hold the high ground if the Union was to win the battle. He boldly ordered his much smaller force to defend their position against the advancing Rebels. They held out just long enough for reinforcements to arrive and staked out a strong defensive position that held for three bloody days of fighting.
Buford served ably for some months after Gettysburg. However, it became clear that he was sick, possibly with typhus. This was a serious issue because during the Civil War, more American soldiers died of an illness than of a bullet wound. Buford was quartered at the home of a fellow general in Washington for his last days. President Lincoln, upon hearing that the hero of Gettysburg was on his deathbed, promoted him to “Major General for distinguished and meritorious service.” Buford, upon hearing of his promotion, asked, “Does he mean it?” and then said, “it is too late, now I wish I could live.”
John Buford’s funeral was attended by the President, and his pallbearers were Union generals. He was buried at West Point, where he joined other American war heroes. In response to his death, the Philadelphia Enquirer ran the poem:
No more to follow his daring form
Or see him dash through the battle's storm
No more with him to ride down the foe
And behold his falchion's crushing blow
Nor hear his voice, like a rushing blast
As rider and steed went charging past ... Buford is dead!
Interesting Questions to Discuss with your Children:
Copyright ©2017 by the Classical Historian. All Rights Reserved.
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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