Aaron Burr's life has always tangled itself in controversy. From killing the first Secretary of the Treasury and key figure in the Federalist Party, Alexander Hamilton, to being the defendant of the United States' first treason case, Aaron Burr was well known for a lot of questionable decisions and bad luck. However, none of his decisions were as objectively manipulative, callous, and greedy as purposefully letting New York City suffer with tainted water for the sake of building a bank. Haley Booker-Lauridson explains.

 An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

The New York Water System

Back when New York was New Amsterdam, the water sources were from nearby ponds, streams, and wells, and continued that way for many years. Without a waterworks system, the city's waste ran into the same water it drank from, and distributing drinking water to various areas of the city proved difficult. This troubled Christopher Colles, an Irish engineer and inventor who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771, just four short years before the Revolution.

In 1775, he began organizing a project he proposed, constructing a water distribution system in the heart of New York. This system used a steam engine pump to extract water from various wells into a reservoir, which would then distribute the water throughout the city in pipes. However, the Revolutionary War came to the city a year later and the project had to be put on hold, and the British soldiers soon destroyed what was left of the fledgling water system.

Though he made several attempts at creating various waterways and different systems in the newly formed United States, none of his projects came to fruition. The water in New York was left in a state of rapid pollution. Without a way to draw clean water, the citizens of New York City drank water steeped in animal, human, and industrial waste. Water distribution was another problem; fires could not consistently be quelled without a distribution system that could quickly get the water to the flames.

With a population of 60,515 people in the city, the waters became increasingly dangerous. By 1798, up to 2,000 people died of yellow fever, which doctors attributed to the filthy water people were drinking. By that time, New Yorkers desperately needed a plan to bring clean water to the city.


"Pure and Wholesome Water"

Nearly 24 years after Colles proposed a water distribution system, a bill to secure water from the Bronx River was drafted and sent to the New York State Assembly in 1799.

Aaron Burr, State Assemblyman and Democratic-Republican, worked to convince the Assembly to let the city and state use a private company for their water. While Democratic-Republicans were the main supporters of the bill, they received help from an unlikely ally, Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton campaigned for the Federalist Assemblymen to reach across the aisle. As New York had become his home when he emigrated to America in 1772, it is easy to see why he might want to turn the water bill into a bipartisan decision. The water was terribly polluted and toxic, and Aaron Burr had partnered with him on several occasions, including working as defense attorneys in the first murder trial in the United States. Having trusted Burr and having believed in the cause for a waterworks system, Hamilton convinced his fellow Federalists to back the creation of the Manhattan Water Company.

What Hamilton, and many Assemblymen, did not know was that Burr, just before submitting the bill for its final approval, slipped in a clause allowing the company to use "surplus capital" however it chose, as long as it followed state and federal law. The bill passed through with this clause on April 2, 1799, and the Manhattan Company was created to supply New York with "pure and wholesome water."

This small, unassuming clause transformed what was intended to be a water system for New York into a bank. Burr intended to establish a bank all along. He and other Democratic-Republicans inherently distrusted the First Bank of the United States and its branch in New York, as it was linked with Federalist politics. They feared discrimination in receiving credit and loans, and also desired the power to control campaign finance with their own bank. They wanted to establish a bank manned by their own political party, and schemed to use the city's water crisis to manufacture one right under the Federalists' noses.


The Manhattan Water Company's Legacy

By September 1, 1799, the Bank of the Manhattan Company opened, eventually becoming the oldest branch of JP Morgan Chase, and remains a financial institution today.

While the Manhattan Water Company was ostensibly a front for a bank, it did provide the city's first waterworks system. Shoddily put together, it constructed a cheap, crude network of wooden water mains throughout the city, by coring out yellow pine logs for pipes and fastening them together with iron bands.

The system was sub-par at best. It froze during the winter and the tree roots easily pierced through the log pipes, causing terrible back-ups. Even when the system worked, the people suffered through pitifully low water pressure. And, despite having permission to get clean water that ran down the Bronx River, Burr chose to source water from the polluted sources the city tried to get away from.

The Manhattan Water Company continued laying wooden pipes in the 1820s, even though other U.S. cities began using iron clad pipes. It remained the only drinking water supplier until 1842, leaving people with unreliable and bad water for over forty years.

As the water system floundered and the bank flourished, Aaron Burr experienced very little but misfortune from then on. Hamilton made it his duty to keep Burr out of influential public offices, famously campaigning against Burr during the 1800 election, and later in New York's gubernatorial race in 1804. Hamilton often negatively featured Burr in his newspaper, the New York Post. He likely would have continued had he not been fatally wounded in a duel with the man in July of 1804. Burr faced political exile that solidified when he was tried for treason in 1807, eventually fleeing to Europe for several years before returning to the U.S. and living as a perpetual debtor until his death in 1836.


What do you think of Aaron Burr? Let us know below.


Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part I: Gaining the Charter,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXII (December, 1957), 578–607.

Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part II: Launching a Bank,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXIII (March, 1958), 100–25.

“New York City (NYC) Yellow Fever Epidemic - 1795 to 1804” http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/disasters/yellow_fever.html

"The History of the Water Mains in New York City" https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/drinking_water/wood_water_pipes_history.shtml.

New York Laws, 22nd Sess., Ch. LXXXIV.

The Latin American wars for independence were perhaps the most important series of events that occurred on the American continent during the early part of the 19th century. From around 1810 to the 1820s, the dominance of Spain over much of the continent was broken, and many new republican states were created.

The enormous extension of the territory dominated by Spain led to the formation of many autonomous territories that approached the independence question in different ways, each one with their own kinds of social struggles, cultural identities, political complexities and economic structures.

In this series of articles, we will approach the independence wars in the northern part of South America, in the territory that would become the Republic of Colombia. We will look through the reasons that this specific land had for independence, and the many different events that led to the final formation of the new republican state.

Guillermo Morales explains.

 Pedro Messia de la Cerda, Viceroy of New Granada from 1761 to 1773.

Pedro Messia de la Cerda, Viceroy of New Granada from 1761 to 1773.

The Spanish Empire

To understand the series of events that resulted in the independence struggle, first it is important to understand the political, social and economic structures that existed in the region when it was a colony of the Spanish Empire.

The territory that would later become Colombia, in those times was known as the ‘Nuevo Reino de Granada’ (New Kingdom of Granada). After the Spanish conquest over the many native kingdoms that existed in the region, they established a governorship that was dependent on the viceroyalty of Peru. But in 1717, King Phillip V decided to create a new viceroyalty aside from the already existing ones in Mexico and Peru, so their American colonies, and the multiple riches in them, could be better administered. The viceroyalty of Nueva Granada existed at first from 1717 to 1723, when it was temporally abolished, but it was reinstated in 1739.

The viceroyalty was governed by a viceroy designated directly by the king. He was usually a military commander born in the Spanish peninsula, and who usually had never lived on the land he was to rule.  Alongside the viceroy a court body called the ‘Real Audiencia’ (Royal Audience) governed over the colony. Their members were called the ‘oidores’ (hearers) and their function was to apply the law of the kingdom over the viceroyalty.

The government was based in the city of Santa Fe de Bogota, high on the Andean mountains, in the center of what used to be the kingdom of the Muisca. The city was located near the center of the viceroyalty, and access to it was usually difficult. From the Caribbean coast travelers had to navigate through the broad Magdalena River, which went through dense jungles, and from there, ascend to the mountains on mules, horses or ‘silleteros’ (natives who carried chairs on their backs for travelers to sit on).

Another important city in the viceroyalty was the walled city of Cartagena, which was located along the Caribbean coast, and was one of the main ports in the American colonies, being a place where merchants sent gold, silver and jewels to Spain, or received slaves for the haciendas and mines in the colony. Also on the Caribbean coast was the port of Santa Marta, the oldest city in the colony. Down the Magdalena River were the river ports of Mompox and Honda, and located on the Andean cordilleras were the cities of Ocaña, Pamplona, Cucuta, Socorro, Tunja, Popayan, Cali and Pasto. There was also the port of Buenaventura on the Pacific coast. On the east of the Andean cordillera there were the so called ‘llanos orientales’ (eastern plains), an enormous extension of plains that were mostly uninhabited, with the exception of natives, ranchers called ‘llaneros’ (plain men), and missionaries trying to convert the natives to Catholicism.

Officially the territory of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada comprised what now are the countries of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, but the latter territories had a large degree of autonomy. Venezuela, with its capital in the city of Caracas, was governed by a Captain General designated by the king, so the region was named the ‘Capitania General de Venezuela’. Ecuador (which was known then as Quito, the same name as its capital city), had their own Audiencia, with its president as the main authority over the territory, so for this reason this region was known as the ‘Presidencia de Quito’.


Structure of Society

The Spanish conquerors, facing the enormous diversity found in the colony (white Europeans, native Americans, black slaves and people of mixed origins), built a heavily structured social pyramid based on the so called ‘pureza de sangre’ (blood purity). This system came from the times of the Spanish ‘Reconquista’ when the European Spaniards were at war with the Muslim ‘moors’ on the Iberian Peninsula. When they had control of all of the peninsula, they tried to differentiate themselves from the Muslim and Jewish people that still lived there, and also from the ones who converted to Catholicism, called ‘conversos’, who were mistrusted. They brought the same idea to the American colonies, but now differentiated the white Europeans from the Native Americans and the African slaves.

For this reason, the Spanish designated different names and scales of ‘mestizaje’ (mixed-blood), given that the conquistadors had a lot of children with the natives and the African slaves. For example, the child of a Spaniard and a native would be a ‘mestizo’, the child of a Spaniard and an African would be a ‘mulatto’, the child of an native and an African would be a ‘zambo’, the child of a mestizo and a Spaniard would be a ‘castizo’, the child of a mestizo and a native a ‘cholo’, and so on.

Usually the white Europeans represented the higher aristocratic class, while the mixed people and the natives represented a lower class, and the Africans were relegated to the lowest slave class. This was translated in the design of the cities, with the higher class living near the city main square, and the rest living in the outskirts of the city.

The race based system was used by the authorities to determine who was allowed in certain political, military or religious posts; whose children were allowed to enter in the important schools of the colonies; or who could buy an aristocratic title. For this, meticulous investigations over people’s lineage were made, so it could be determined that there was no ‘mala sangre’ (bad blood) in them. Because of this, many paid to erase any undesirable bad blood from their family trees.

The sole fact of being born on the colonies and not on the Spanish peninsula could reduce someone’s status. The criollos (white people who were descendants from Spaniards, but were born in the ‘Indies’), normally shared the same privileges as the peninsular whites, but they were not the preferred option for higher political posts, like oidor of the Real Audiencia, or viceroy. If they went to the Peninsula, they were treated as less than the Spanish-born whites, and called the disdainful title ‘manchado de la tierra’ (stained by the land).

But life was worse for mixed people, Africans, and natives. Native numbers were severely reduced after the ‘Conquista’ because of the brutality of the war, the introduced diseases and the forced labor that they had to do for the Spanish.  Still, the Spanish Crown tried to protect them from total annihilation, passing laws that forced the conquistadors not to mistreat them, and giving them some land, called ‘Resguardos’. Their towns were separated from the European cities, and were called ‘pueblos de indios’.

Black Africans had it even worse. As they were slaves, they were forced into brutal conditions on the mines or the haciendas. Many Spaniards considered the Africans to have no soul, so they were basically on the same level as animals, although some at least tried to give their slaves the chance to hear Mass. Some ran away from their owners, and managed to build settlements deep in the jungle, the so called ‘Palenques’, that were so distant from the European settlements, that in the end the Spanish authorities decided to leave them alone.

All this social and ethnic division led to severe tension between the different classes. For instance, the Criollos were upset that the natives were allowed to abandon the haciendas to move to the ‘Resguardos’, reducing the available workforce. Natives and Africans also mistrusted criollos, as they felt that any demand they made to the crown would be to worsen their own living conditions. This is why, later during the independence movement, some natives and Africans, disdainfully called ‘pardos’ (browns) by the whites, preferred to side with the crown. Even so, Spaniards were also severely mistrusted by the general population, who mockingly called them ‘chapetones’.


Decline of Spanish Rule

The increasing racial and social tensions, combined with the misinformed policies of the Spanish ‘Metropoli’ (the name given to the center of government), led to a path that ended in the independence wars. One of the policies was that manufactured goods were only to be produced on the Spanish peninsula, while the colonies produced raw materials that could only be sold to Spain, and not any other country. While this worked quite well in places like Peru (which was a major producer of silver), in Nueva Granada it was problematic, as there weren’t many mines for precious metal production, and the ones that existed, were located in places like the jungles of the Choco on the Pacific coast, which were far away from the major cities.

Because of this, the general population, being far away from the main economic activities of the colony, began to fall into poverty. The workers in the mines, being slaves or natives, essentially received no compensation for their work. Little wealth was produced, and when wealth was created, it was concentrated in Criollo and Spaniard aristocratic hands.

Spain established itself as the sole producer of manufactured goods for the colonies, blocking all commerce with other countries, and in general forbid the colonies from creating their own industries. Most people were unable to buy to expensive products brought from Spain, so a working class, called the ‘artesanos’ (craftsmen), supplied the general populace with products like clothing and furniture. Even so, they couldn’t create a colony based industry, as they mostly worked in an informal economy that usually was heavily restricted or even repressed by the colonial authorities.

This fragile economic system was very susceptible to any new policy implemented by Spain, like new taxes. This meant that the situation in the colonies by the end of the 18th century was very far from being stable, and that a collapse of Spanish authority would come sooner rather than later.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.


Mejía, Germán. Historia concisa de Colombia. Bogotá: Editorial Universidad Javeriana, 2014.

Tirado Mejía, Álvaro. Nueva Historia de Colombia Tomo I. Bogotá: Editorial Planeta, 1998.

Bushnell, Davis. Colombia: a nation in spite of itself. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Liévano Aguirre, Indalecio. Los Grandes Conflictos Sociales y Económicos de Nuestra Historia. Bogotá: Ediciones Nueva prensa, 1960. 

With the Union’s Army of the Potomac finally defeating Robert E. Lee, you’d think the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg would have elated Abraham Lincoln. Instead, for him, the battle produced a harvest of bitterness and disappointment. Lamont Wood, whose book Lincoln's Planner: A Unique Look at the Civil War Through the President's Daily Activities (Amazon US | Amazon UK) was recently published, explains why this American Civil War battle produced such feelings.

 A depiction of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives.

A depiction of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Hand-colored lithograph by Currier and Ives.

After two years of indecisive yet bloody warfare, Lincoln glimpsed victory in July 1863. Out West, a Union army was besieging Vicksburg and it looked like the Union would soon control the Mississippi River. Another Union army was advancing in central Tennessee, while on the coast the Union siege of Charleston looked promising. With the addition of Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, surely victory was within grasp.

But there was no follow-through.

As reflected in his collected wartime papers (and recounted in “Lincoln’s Planner”), as the battle unfolded on July 1 and 2, 1863, the president spent a lot of his time in the War Department’s telegraph office, reading dispatches from the front as they arrived.


Independence Day

On July 4, Independence Day, a Saturday, and the day after Pickett’s Charge, both sides at Gettysburg stood in place during the morning, Lincoln put out a press release congratulating his army, asking that, “He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude.” That night he helped mount a fireworks display at the White House.

But that was as upbeat as things got.

Meanwhile, torrential rains began falling at Gettysburg and Lee began pulling his army out of Pennsylvania. From out of left field, the Confederate vice president, Alexander H. Stephens showed up under a flag of truce at Fortress Monroe, asking to come to Washington to talk to Lincoln, supposedly to discuss prisoner exchanges. (Presumably, Stephens’ real motivation was to be on hand should the Administration become favorable to peace negotiations following Confederate successes in Pennsylvania.)

On July 5 (Sunday) Lincoln attended a Cabinet meeting where they discussed Stephens’ request, which Lincoln discounted. Lincoln (accompanied by his 10-year-old son Tad) then visited wounded general (and Republican friend and all-round scandal magnet) Dan Sickles, who had been evacuated to Washington after losing a leg at Gettysburg.

Back at the telegraph office, Lincoln saw a report about a Union cavalry raid the previous day that destroyed a Confederate pontoon bridge across the Potomac at Falling Waters, West Virginia. Lincoln bypassed the chain of command and directly telegraphed Gen. William French asking if the rain-swollen Potomac could be forded. The answer: no.

The enticing implication was that Lee was stuck on the north side of the Potomac, unable to retreat to Virginia, and subject to momentary destruction by the pursuing Federals – a development that could wrap up the war.


Too Quiet on the Potomac

The next day (Monday, July 6) Lincoln attended a morning Cabinet meeting and convinced them to ignore Stephens—if the Confederate vice president really wanted to talk about prisoner exchanges, there were existing channels for that.

And then Lincoln’s hopes were shattered by the arrival of Gen. Herman Haupt, the chief railroad engineer of the Union army, who pulled into town from Gettysburg on one of his trains and rushed to the White House. He told Lincoln that he feared Gen. George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was going to let Lee get away. Haupt had spoken with Meade Saturday and heard Meade say that his army had nearly been defeated and needed rest. Meade noted that since Lee did not have a pontoon train his army would be stuck on the north side of the Potomac, implying that an immediate pursuit wasn’t necessary. Haupt told him that the Confederates could throw together a temporary bridge by tearing down buildings for lumber, but Meade wasn’t impressed.

Lincoln then spent the afternoon back in the telegraph office, and what he saw confirmed the fears raised by Gen. Haupt. He returned to the White House about 7 and wrote to Gen. Henry Halleck, his chief of staff, complaining that the messages he saw indicated a policy of herding the enemy forces across the river rather than trapping and destroying them. “You know I did not like the phrase… ‘Drive the invaders from our soil,’” Lincoln said.

The next morning (Tuesday, July 7) Gen. Meade finally had his infantry march in pursuit of Lee. Lincoln was back in the telegraph office when notice arrived from Vicksburg of the Confederate surrender there on July 4. (Grant’s army did not have a direct telegraph connection with Washington.)

The city erupted into celebration and a crowd eventually gathered outside the White House demanding a speech. Lincoln made his longest-known off-the-cuff address, with themes he would re-use in the speech he gave four months later at Gettysburg, such as, “On the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal turned tail and run.”

The day after (Wednesday, July 8) Gen. Meade’s infantry caught up with Lee’s cornered army, but there was no major action. Lincoln was heard to complain that Gen. Meade is “as likely to capture the Man-in-the-Moon, as any part of Lee’s army.”

Thursday was equally frustrating, as Lincoln returned to the tasks of the Executive Branch, while things remained all quiet on the Potomac. Friday, the opposing armies probed each other, while Lincoln sent a telegram to an old friend back in Illinois, saying that the rumors were true and Lee had indeed been defeated at Gettysburg.

Saturday (July 11) Gen. Meade reported that he had decided to attack the trapped Confederates, and Lincoln’s mood was seen to improve.

Then, Sunday, Gen. Meade pushed the attack back a day, saying he needed time for reconnaissance. “Too late!” Lincoln groaned when he read the message.

On Monday, July 13, Lincoln sent a thank you letter to Gen. Grant for his recent victory at Vicksburg, noting that he had been worried about Grant’s plan to operate away from the Mississippi and take the city from the land side, but “you were right and I was wrong.” (Grant took a month to respond.)



Getting away

That night, Lee’s army slipped across the falling Potomac.

The next day, Lincoln wrote a thank you letter to Gen. Meade, as he had done to Gen. Grant. But the tone was radically different. “I am very – very – grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country… I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely... Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”

He filed the letter away, and never sent it.

As Lincoln feared, the war did drag on, lasting nearly two more years. The main impact of Gettysburg was that Lee would never again launch a major offensive.


What do you think of this article? Let us know below.


Lamont Wood is a journalist and history writer. He has been freelancing for more than three decades in the history, high-tech, and industrial fields. He has sold more than six hundred magazine feature articles and twelve books. He and his wife, Dr. Louise O’Donnell, reside in San Antonio, Texas. His book, Lincoln's Planner: A Unique Look at the Civil War Through the President's Daily Activities (Amazon US | Amazon UK), is available here.

As the nineteenth century began, both the United States and France were in transition. The American Revolution only officially ended in 1783, and now the president-helmed United States was forging an identity that rejected the courtly atmosphere of its European counterparts. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, France was moving away from the republicanism of its own revolution. Approximately twenty years after the executions of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, France was poised to become an empire under Napoleon Bonaparte. Amidst these changes, a scandal occurred when Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme, surprised the world by marrying Miss Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore, Maryland.

Christine Caccipuoti explains.

 A triple portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. By Gilbert Stuart, 1804.

A triple portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. By Gilbert Stuart, 1804.

Marital Bliss?

When eighteen-year old Elizabeth wed nineteen-year old Jérôme on Christmas Eve of 1803, few people other than the bride and groom approved. She was the daughter of a well-off businessman, but despite being lauded as the “Belle of Baltimore” she loathed the newfound United States’ lack of sophistication and glamour. He was only in Maryland because he decided to take a detour before returning to France after an unsuccessful stint in the Caribbean with the French Navy. After their respective social lives brought them into contact, their courtship was a whirlwind, and the starry-eyed pair were engaged within months of meeting.

Elizabeth’s father did not trust Jérôme and French diplomats in the United States warned that Napoleon hated the match, but the couple did not care. They allowed Elizabeth’s father to draw up documents requiring Jérôme to defend his marriage to the best of his ability should Napoleon object and had their nuptials conducted by a Catholic clergyman to underscore its legitimacy through religion. To Elizabeth and Jérôme, marrying was the important part. Acceptance, they believed, would soon follow.

The newlyweds enjoyed an extravagant honeymoon that established them as newspaper celebrities, with Elizabeth immediately turning heads after she adopted French fashions. It wasn’t long before word of the union reached Napoleon, who was about to be crowned Emperor of the French. What little respect Napoleon had for Jérôme evaporated and he made his opinion known by banning French ships from allowing Elizabeth aboard. They were still not deterred. By the time they managed to reach Europe in 1805, Jérôme’s brother was formally Emperor Napoleon I and there was an added complication: Elizabeth was pregnant.

Aware of his responsibilities, Jérôme went to France to win over his brother while Elizabeth traveled to England, a country hostile to Napoleon that welcomed the opportunity to show kindness to a woman he shunned. During this separation, Elizabeth gave birth to their son, boldly named Jérôme Napoleon, who went by the nickname “Bo”.

Elizabeth waited, but Jérôme never sent for her. Because of his unacceptable marriage, he was not among the family members elevated to the title of prince, and this greatly upset him. Although he wrote loving letters to Elizabeth, once Napoleon told him that he would be cut off forever if he remained married, Jérôme abandoned his wife. A shattered Elizabeth had no choice but to take her baby home to Maryland.


Unhappily Ever After

Napoleon sought to annul Jérôme’s marriage but the Pope denied the request. Undaunted, Napoleon had the French ecclesiastical courts declare it void and decided that was good enough. As far as he was concerned Jérôme was free again. Quickly, Napoleon arranged a politically advantageous marriage for him to Princess Catherine of Württemberg and named him King of Westphalia, two moves done to cement his growing influence in Europe. In stark contrast, Elizabeth was still legally married to Jérôme in the eyes of the United States and several years passed before she gained a divorce. Following this, numerous suitors sought her hand, but neither they nor a pension from Napoleon made up for what she lost.

It wasn’t until Napoleon lost power in 1815 that Elizabeth was able to finally experience the pleasures of European life. After all, with the Bonapartes defeated, no one could stop her. She and Bo spent years traveling the continent. They even visited Rome, where part of the Bonaparte family resided after their expulsion from France. This enabled Bo to meet not only his grandmother, but also his father and half-siblings. It is possible that Elizabeth too saw Jérôme but the sole surviving story indicates only that they were once in the same gallery, but did not speak. Elizabeth harbored hopes that Bo would make an illustrious marital match in Europe, perhaps even to one of his Bonaparte cousins, but it would not come to pass. Instead he returned home and married an American woman with whom he later had two children, Jérôme and Charles. Bo’s decision not to pursue what Elizabeth saw as his rightful place in European society broke her heart almost as much as her initial divorce and severely tarnished their mother-son relationship.

Their contact with the Bonapartes continued. In the 1850s when Napoleon III (who was Bo’s cousin, as his father Louis was yet another of Napoleon and Jérôme’s brothers) made France an empire again, he welcomed Bo as part of the family. Jérôme, however, did not. When he died in 1860, Bo was not included in his will. Elizabeth faced one last disappointment when her battle to have Bo recognized as one of Jérôme’s heirs failed.

Once again Elizabeth returned to Maryland devastated. Although she made lucrative financial investments, her personal relationship with her son and his family was strained. The wounds of her youth never healed and her bitterness manifested in the composition of pieces like Dialogues of the Dead, which placed her disapproving father and scoundrel ex-husband together in hell. After such a disappointing life, it is only fitting that following her death in April of 1879, at the age of 94, it was decided her tomb should read, “After life’s fitful fever, she sleeps well.”


An American Legacy

Elizabeth may have disliked the United States, but her grandson Charles lived to serve it. In the 1890s, he met future President of the United States Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt when both men were involved in reform work. When Roosevelt took office in 1901, Charles went along with him, serving as Secretary of the Navy then Attorney General and earning a reputation as Roosevelt’s troubleshooter. His most significant achievement was creating a force solely to carry out investigations at the behest of the Department of Justice. This group later adopted a name that remains recognizable today: the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI. Whether or not Elizabeth would have been proud of her grandson’s enduring contribution to the American government is impossible to say because while yes, he rose to an impressive height, he did so in the wrong country.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.


Christine Caccipuoti is a New York-based historian and received both her BA and MA in history from Fordham University. In her position as Assistant Producer of the podcast Footnoting History (FootnotingHistory.com), she serves as the resident Napoleonic historian and is the person behind its twitter account (@historyfootnote). Her personal website and blog can be found at ChristineCaccipuoti.com.


Carol Berkin, Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Paul-Napoléon Calland, “Jerome Bonaparte Biography”, Irène Delage (trans), The Fondation Napoléon, 2006. (https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/biographies/bonaparte-jerome/)

Lewis L. Gould, “Bonaparte, Charles Joseph”, American National Biography, February 2000. (https://doi-org.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0500081)

---, “Bonaparte, Elizabeth Patterson”, American National Biography, February 2000. (https://doi-org.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.2000085)

Desmond Seward, Napoleon's Family, New York: Viking, 1986.

Attorney General: Charles Bonaparte, via The United States Department of Justice (https://www.justice.gov/ag/bio/bonaparte-charles-joseph)

Brief History of the FBI, via The Federal Bureau of Investigation (https://www.fbi.gov/history/brief-history)

The Baird William Shakespeare is often seen as the greatest playwright in English literature. But what was life like in Shakespeare’s time in the town he was from – Stratford-upon-Avon, England? Here, Dean Hill tells us about life in 16th century Stratford.

 A painting of William Shakespeare. Painting usually attributed to John Taylor.

A painting of William Shakespeare. Painting usually attributed to John Taylor.

If you have the opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon in England to experience the wonders of theatre, try to visualize the river Avon ‘sweeping away bridges’1 as you advance to the market town. Next, observe goods being exchanged and look to your south: ‘a parish church rose to the south at Old Stratford, and from here one walked north into good streets, partly paved, to see Pedagogue’s House accommodating a grammar school, a range of almshouses, and the Gild hall and Gild chapel.’2 You might also decide to find a place to rest, and houses were often constructed of timber of two or three-storeys in height.

Stratford during the time of Shakespeare offers a captivating historical insight. To begin, his father, John, ‘had probably moved to the town as a young man to learn the trade of … a tanner of white leather and glover.’3 The house that was occupied by Shakespeare’s parents is much larger than homes built today as they were required to accommodate greater numbers of children in the 1500s. According to Wells, Stratford would have had a population of around 2,000 inhabitants, many of whom ‘would have bought and sold their wares in the market place on the appointed days.’4


Disasters in Stratford

However, the town had more than its fair share of disasters, as per the following claim: ‘less than three months after Shakespeare was born, plague struck … close on 240 townspeople died, including four children of a single family close to the Shakespeares’ house, in Henley Street.’5 In fact, such constructions were a serious fire hazard: ‘the buildings were made of wood, many of them thatched with stray, and the town suffered several major conflagrations during Shakespeare’s lifetime.’6

Fortunately, Shakespeare’s home still remains. It was here that his father had his workshop; ‘some of the family urine would have been put to practical use here, for softening the skins. The smells … would have been pungent, the less pleasant ones from the workshop mingling with those made by the baking of bread and by roasting on a spit.’7 Families would escape such uncomfortable experiences by attending their local church on Sunday and holy days.



But what about education during the 1500s?

‘Elizabethans had a great respect for education … between the ages of around five to seven, both girls and boys might attend a petty school where they would learn to recognize and pronounce their letters from a hornbook – a sheet of paper inscribed with the letters of the alphabet, a short prayer, and … combinations of vowels and consonants.’8 We know that Shakespeare received an education in Greek and Latin as traces of this schooling can be found in his most famous and celebrated plays.

In terms of Latin, ‘the fluency in Latin acquired by Elizabethan schoolboys, even in small towns like Stratford, meant that they could not only use the language for practical purposes, but could also both read and enjoy the great literature of the past to which they were exposed in the schoolroom.’9 If you were to find Shakespeare out of the schoolroom, he would have been ‘enjoying childish pursuits such as playing with whip and top … he may well have learnt to swim in the Avon, to practise archery.’10 This provides us with an insight into the world of education and leisure in Stratford.

To conclude, let’s finish our tour through Shakespeare’s Stratford. You notice most men are around five feet tall, some with grey teeth, and exclaim to your friends: ‘I must see this street with the same slight curve but without shop windows, the road surface rough and marked with dung of horses and cattle, all the houses or almost all timber-framed, malodorous.’12 At the town’s northern end it is ‘an old, built-up street, traversed by horsemen riding through on the way up to Henley-in-Arden.’13 You find wagons drawn by oxen bumped over a cross-gutter in front of Gilbert Bradley’s house and, according to Honan, ‘wagons and pack-horses were less likely to use the parallel way known as the Gild Pits, or royal highway, since it was rutty.’14

We know that Shakespeare disappeared from Stratford, perhaps to spend time with a travelling theatre company, which is termed ‘the lost years’ – but certainly not due to his dislike of the rutty parallel way or road surfaces marked with dung. Whilst the 1500s might have offered rather poor standards of living, it did offer a man with a literary tongue who would change the world hundreds of years later. William.


What do you think of Shakespeare’s Stratford? Let us know below.



1.     Honan, P (1999) Shakespeare: A Life. New York, USA: OUP, p. 3.

2.     Honan, P (1999) Shakespeare: A Life. New York, USA: OUP, pp. 3-4.

3.     Wells, S (2015) William Shakespeare. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 1.

4.     Wells, S (2015) William Shakespeare. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 4.

5.     Wells, S (2015) William Shakespeare. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 4.

6.     Wells, S (2015) William Shakespeare. Oxford, UK: OUP, pp. 4-5.

7.     Wells, S (2003) Shakespeare: For All Time. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 5.

8.     Wells, S (2003) Shakespeare: For All Time. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 9.

9.     Wells, S (2003) Shakespeare: For All Time. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 14.

10.  Wells, S (2003) Shakespeare: For All Time. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 15.

11.  Wells, S (2003) Shakespeare: For All Time. Oxford, UK: OUP, p. 293.

12.  Nuttall, AD (2003) Shakespeare the Thinker. Yale, USA: YUP, p. 2.

13.  Honan, P (1999) Shakespeare: A Life. New York, USA: OUP, p. 11.

14.  Honan, P (1999) Shakespeare: A Life. New York, USA: OUP, p 11

While there has yet to be a female president, first ladies have been important in shaping many presidencies and their policies. Following her article on Abigail Adams (here), Kate Murphy Schaefer considers the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in World War II. Specifically she looks at Eleanor’s opposition to the internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 A White House painting of Eleanor Roosevelt.

A White House painting of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tammy Wynette said “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” but it can be especially hard to be a woman married to a man in the public eye.[i] While history generally paints First Ladies as ornamental, many played important roles in guiding presidencies. Like Abigail Adams, a first lady can be her husband’s sounding board, confidante, and greatest supporter, but what if a first lady takes issue with her husband’s decisions and policies?

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reassurance there was “nothing to fear but fear itself” seemed hollow.[ii] As the nation went to war with the Empire of Japan, distrust and fear spread to anyone of Japanese descent. On Valentine’s Day 1942, General John DeWitt warned the president of the threat posed by Japanese Americans, saying, “racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race.”[iii] The absence of evidence supporting DeWitt’s claims of a fifth column of Japanese-Americans actively plotting against the government did not discredit them. Instead supporters like California Attorney General Earl Warren argued DeWitt’s claim was proof attacks were imminent and “(o)ur day of reckoning is bound to come.”[iv] Five days later, FDR signed Executive Order 9066, creating “military areas” in which thousands of Japanese-American men, women, and children would be interned for the duration of the war. Forcibly removed from their homes, their belongings, livelihoods, and civil liberties were forfeited because local military officials believed their presence near military bases and installations posed a threat to national security. Fear and suspicion trumped the protection of constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties, and Order 9066 gave Americans a legally-sanctioned domestic scapegoat on which to heap their outrage over the Pearl Harbor attack.


“You’ll have bad times and he’ll have good times, Doin’ things you don’t understand”

Eleanor Roosevelt was horrified. Taken under the wing of a progressive boarding school headmistress as a teen, she was dedicated to social justice. While many of her peers viewed education as preparation for an MRS, not a BA or MA, Roosevelt used it as a springboard for what would be a lifelong calling to serve others. She used her platform as first lady and her syndicated newspaper column to highlight civil rights issues.

Eleanor recognized the threat to Japanese-Americans early on, even meeting with the editor for Japanese-American newspaper Rafu Shimpo. In an October 1941 press conference, she said “the Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants to the United States) may be aliens technically, but in reality they are Americans and America has a place for all loyal persons regardless of race or citizenship.”[v] Less than two weeks before her husband signed the Executive Order, she gave another address, vowing “no law-abiding citizens of any nationality would be discriminated against by the government.”[vi] The executive order rendered both promises moot.

Others also recognized the threat Order 9066 posed to American democracy, especially as the press shifted from reporting the news to outright fearmongering. Archibald McLeish, FDR speechwriter and (ironically) the Director of the Office of Facts and Figures, tried to convince news editors to provide more balanced media coverage instead of giving in to sensationalism. McLeish also spoke with Eleanor Roosevelt on the situation, believing she was could counsel her husband. FDR refused to speak with his wife on the subject. In all fairness, though, he refused to speak to anyone about the issue. With the domestic “threat” contained, he focused on the war in Europe.

In March 1943, Congressman John Tolan briefed Eleanor Roosevelt on the status of the internment camps and updated her on the investigations, telling her the government never found evidence of sabotage or espionage committed by Japanese-Americans. DeWitt’s “fifth column” had never materialized. The American government had taken away the civil rights of thousands of legal citizens with no real justification. Eleanor went to her husband immediately with this news, requesting permission to visit one of the internment camps herself. She also asked if they could invite an interned Japanese-American family to live in the White House as an expression of goodwill to the Japanese-American community. Her second request was denied.


“But if you love him you’ll forgive him, Even though he’s hard to understand”

In a draft speech summarizing her visit to the Gila River internment camp, Roosevelt did not criticize her husband’s policy or the camps it created. Instead she perpetuated the more comfortable and conscience-soothing argument that the camps were as much for the Japanese-American community’s safety as for other Americans’ safety from the Japanese-American community and praised the internees’ “ingenuity” in living in such difficult circumstances. She navigated a more precarious political tight rope than McLeish: she had to perpetuate the lie that internment was justified while also arguing for its end. “To undo a mistake is always harder than not to create one originally but we seldom have the foresight,” she said.[vii]

She found her true balance by striking at the heart of racism, and American racism in particular. The fears exacerbated by the attack on Pearl Harbor were “aggravated by the old economic fear on the West Coast and the unreasoning racial feeling which certain people, through ignorance, have always had wherever they came in contact with people who are different than themselves.”[viii] Calling out the Americans who profited from Japanese-American misfortune, she also implied any non-white, non-natural born ethnic group could share the same fate. “We have no common race in this country, she said, “but we have an ideal to which all of us are loyal: we cannot progress if we look down upon any group of people amongst us because of race or religion…We retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves.”[ix] Roosevelt also skillfully reminded Americans of the thousands of immigrants serving in the American armed forces. The military had depended on immigrants to fill its ranks in WWI, and the trend continued in WWII. They needed soldiers and did not care what color they were or language they spoke.

Internment ended in 1945 through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Endo v. United States. Though the court reached a decision in December 1944, it graciously allowed FDR the ability to save face by delaying its verdict announcement until he could announce he was closing the camps. The president died the following April, and Harry S. Truman took over the nation and war he left behind. Truman ensured Eleanor maintained a public role after her husband’s death, appointing her as delegate to the United Nations. She was later elected president of the committee tasked with writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1946. Referencing her tireless work to protect human dignity and rights, Truman referred to her as the “first lady of the world.”[x]


“Stand by your man, and show the world you love him”

Eleanor Roosevelt’s most lasting post-war role, however, was keeping and shaping her husband’s legacy. Whatever their differences during life, Roosevelt focused on her presidential husband’s strengths and accomplishments in her writings and in interviews given after his death. She never mentioned his role in internment, and especially not her objections to that policy. She “stood by her man,” and so did the American people. Americans tried hard to forget the internment of citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, leading many historians to fear it could—and will—happen again. America’s tendency to consolidate national unity through common hate, our “propensity to react against ‘foreigners’…during times of external crisis, especially when those ‘foreigners’ have dark skins is a recurring pattern in times of crisis.”[xi] The pattern persists, the only change is the ethnic group, race, or religious tradition targeted. Though the “military necessity” of internment was never proven and the Supreme Court ruled it was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership,” the legal precedent stands.[xii]

Internment recently made the news as some politicians floated the idea of revisiting the policy for use in containing what they perceived to be the domestic “threat” posed by Muslim-Americans. If we refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past, perhaps we can learn from historical figures. Though most likely not as forceful as she would have liked to be, Eleanor Roosevelt was a voice of dissent in a difficult time. She tried to lend her voice to those silenced by racism and prejudice. Who will decide to be the voices of dissent in ours?


What do you think of Eleanor Roosevelt? Let us know below.


[i] Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man (1968),” lyrics available on Song Facts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?lyrics=6668.

[ii] “Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself: FDR’s First Inaugural Address,” History Matters, accessed December 6, 2016, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/.

[iii] John DeWitt quoted in Richard Reeves, Infamy: The Shocking Story of Japanese American Internment in World War II (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015), 41.

[iv] Earl Warren quoted in Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (Hill and Wang Critical Issues) (New York: Hill and Wang, rev. ed. 2004), 37.

[v] Togo Tanaka, ‘Mrs. Roosevelt Talks to Local Representatives,” Rafu Shimpo, November 1, 1941, 1.

[vi] Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 71.

[vii] Eleanor Roosevelt, “To Undo a Mistake is Always Harder Than Not To Create One Originally,” in Jeffery F Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese-American Relocation Sites. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 24.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] “Voices for Human Rights: Champion of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962),” Human Rights.com, accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.humanrights.com/voices-for-human-rights/eleanor-roosevelt.html.

[xi] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (Hill and Wang Critical Issues) (New York: Hill and Wang, rev. ed. 2004), 113.

[xii] Deju Oluwu, “Civil liberties versus military necessity: lessons from the jurisprudence emanating from the classification and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II,” The Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa 43, no. 2 (July 2010): 190-212, accessed December 5, 2016, www.jstor.org/stable/23253161, 207.


Highly evocative and worryingly effective, Nazi propaganda targeted its viewers in a very specific way. By targeting the viewer’s emotions, Goebbels and his underlings turned many of the German populace into a nation of followers in the National Socialist agenda from when the Nazis took power in 1933. Emotions were key to the entire apparatus, from hate of the ‘other’ to joy of the German rebirth. Maddison Nichol explains the troubling Nazi propaganda machine.

 Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

It was in Mein Kampf, that now infamous political manifesto of the National Socialists, that Hitler wrote:

Particularly the broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. And all great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of literary aesthetics and drawing room heroes.[1]


 To simplify, Mein Kampf would never create a populace of believers. Nonetheless, Nazi propagandists worked tirelessly to create new forms of propaganda to evoke that emotional response from the viewer and realign the German masses with the ideals of the Nazis.



Films were an important way to move the people in line with the ideology of the Nazis. Two films used two very different emotions to try to create a populace of believers in the Nazi cause, or at least a populace willing to follow Hitler. The first was the Triumph of the Wills.

The opening of Triumph of the Wills is a black screen with a small caption of text. It reads: “On 5 September 1934, 20 years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of German suffering, 19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth, Adolf Hitler flew once again to Nuremberg to review the columns of faithful followers.”[2] By prefacing the film in this light, German citizens watching the film were reminded of their once dire situation, now being improved by Hitler. The film then launches into a scene with throngs of eager people waving, smiling, and cheering as their Führer drives past them, waving as he goes.

The people here are seen as being overjoyed by the arrival of Hitler because of the supposed improvements he had made since taking power in 1933. By showing the enthusiasm of the Germans in Nuremburg to a wider audience in Germany, Triumph of the Wills succeeded in creating an emotional response from the viewers. For the first time since the outbreak of WWI, the German people were led to be proud of their nation and their leader. Hitler was reviving Germany from its ill state under the Weimar Republic and the people could see it. That was the point of the film, to show an overjoyed populace where previously there was only uncertainty.

Alternatively, at the other end of the spectrum of emotions, hate films were conceived to rile up the German people against the ‘other’ that was supposed to be poisoning pure German blood. Jew Süss was such a film. The film briefly documents the fall of an honorable German duke in the Middle Ages by listening to a Jewish advisor. By tricking the duke into heavily taxing his people, Süss created an environment ripe for uprisings and revolt. The film goes on to show more vile sides to Süss and the other Jews who enter the city, depicted as a horde of dirty, unsavoury vagabonds marching into a pristine German city. The depiction of the Jews in Jew Süss is in line with previous Nazi anti-Semitism to drive the point home to the viewers that Jews were the creatures depicted in the film. Ultimately, the film ends with the downfall of the duke, and the Jews are exiled from the city.

Jew Süss was seen as being successful in creating an atmosphere of hatred towards the Jews and it was shown to the SS at times before a mission against Jews.[3] That’s a startling thought. The film was shown to everyone who had access to a cinema, including youth, especially youth. The central idea here is that the once honorable German duke was tricked by an evil Jewish man to betray his loving people. In Nazi propaganda, Jews were depicted as doing just that, twisting the righteous and corrupting them. [4] Through Jew Süss and other similar films, the Nazis encouraged anti-Semitism in the German populace.[5]

Nazi films used emotion just like modern films do, but in a politically charged way. By evoking emotions like hatred and pride, Nazi propaganda films wanted to create a population of believers motivated by National Socialism and loyalty to Hitler. To an extent, they succeeded, but by 1945 many Germans despised Hitler and the Nazis for the horrors of war they brought upon the German people.



Historian Felicity Rash quoted Hitler by saying that spoken word is better to replace one’s hatred with your own.[6] This was an important feature of Nazi propaganda as speeches and oration were given as frequently as possible. Cheap radios were manufactured so all Germans could tune into a speech given by Hitler or a member of the Nazis. We’ve all heard people speak in such a way that moves us into action, be it at a protest or listening to an inspirational speech like Charlie Chaplin’s famous The Dictator speech. Oration, when used well, moves people into action.

Hitler was infamously good at it. His speeches moved much of a nation to rally behind him and work towards his version of a brighter future. In a speech, Hitler once said:

“When someone says, ‘You’re a dreamer’, I can only answer ‘You idiot…. If I weren’t a dreamer, where would we be today? I’ve always believed in Germany. You said I was a dreamer. I’ve always believed in the rise of the Reich. You said I was a fool. I’ve always believed in our return to power. You said I was mad. I’ve always believed in an end to poverty! You said that was utopian! Who was right? You or me?! I was right!’”[7]


Unfortunately, people ate this stuff up. According to Goebbels, the task of propaganda was to mobilize the mind and spirit of the people for National Socialism.[8] By using oration powerfully and constantly, the people were mobilized to support Hitler and the Nazis. All of this was done through emotion. By reading the above quote we can see some semblance of an emotional response, but by listening to it you can feel it. Reading doesn’t really have the same effect as listening to someone passionately proclaiming it from balconies and from stages.

In the end, to create an emotional response from the viewer, you need to show them an emotional reaction yourself. Nazi propaganda was skilled at that, more so than most propaganda in WW2. By evoking emotions from the viewers, Nazism went from a radical fringe party to the radical ruling party of an industrial powerhouse in the middle of Europe. People flocked to the cinemas to see the latest propaganda film and the rallies. They listened to their leader speak on the radio in a highly provocative manner just to evoke an emotional response from the masses.

Emotion was key to Nazi propaganda because Hitler did not seek acquiescence or even acceptance from the German masses. He craved a nation of believers in the Nazi cause. Only through emotion would that happen. By showing people the supposed improvements since 1933 both politically and economically, people felt joy and pride. By harping on slogans and oration, people rallied behind Hitler. It was only at the beginning of the end of the German war effort that propaganda became less effective.

But that’s a whole other story.


What do you think of this article? Let us know below.


[1] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 107.

[2] Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, YouTube, Germany: (Universum Film AG,

1935), Viewed on YouTube, 12/04/2018.

[3] Eric Rentschler, The Ministry of Illusion, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 150.

[4] Andreas Musolff, Metaphor, Nation and the Holocaust: The Concept of the Body Politic, (New York, Routledge, 2010), 37.

[5] Ibid, 43.

[6] Felicity Rash, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), 47.

[7] Der Souverän, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer [ENG Sub], published December 2016, YouTube video, 2:35.

[8] David Welch, “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community”, Journal of Contemporary History 39, No. 2 (April 2004), 217.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The life of women in Tudor society was scrupulously controlled – from the way they dressed, their education and what they did in their spare time. Even under the two female rulers of the Tudor era, not much changed, but perhaps Queen Elizabeth I of England’s reign (1558-1603) can be assessed as the birth of the first British feminist icon. Kaiya Rai explains.


 The  Ermine Portrait  of Elizabeth I of England.

The Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England.


Though very few boys received proper formal education, virtually no girls did either. Those who were poor learnt skills from their mothers and grandmothers, and girls from rich families received an education in things such as managing a household, needlework and meal preparation. Moreover, domestic skills were essential for a woman in her future married life, as one contemporary writer commented that a woman who could not cook had essentially broken her marriage vows - “she may love and obey, but she cannot serve and keep him with that true duty which is ever expected.”

At the beginning of the 16th century it became more common for girls to attend schools alongside their male peers, and by the 1560s even the very poorest girls underwent some form of education. Most of this education, however, was dominated by Christian dogma and doctrinal teaching, such as William Barber’s school in London, who taught ‘further learning’ of the Bible. Since the Bible was used by the Church and the patriarchs in society to justify the inferiority of women, this almost added to their lack of independence, no matter the fact that they were being educated. The exceptions in education began emerging during the Reformation, when humanists, such as Thomas More, actively sought to give their daughters an excellent education. Humanists paved the way for the Enlightenment era of the 17th and 18th century, as they believed in self-understanding of the Bible, and drawing conclusions for oneself as opposed to passively listening to and believing everything the Church taught. Thus, their emergence in the education stage of Tudor England was of a similar nature - to try and reform stereotypical attitudes towards knowledge.


Marriage and patriarchy

There was no legal age for a woman to be married and so for many families, it was a matter of urgency to try and find a husband for their daughters, who would have no choice in the matter. Many believed that if a girl passed the age of 14 unmarried, she would become a burden to the family as it was an extra mouth to feed with no extra income, and many first met their spouse on the wedding day, much like Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII did. For some, such as Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Surrey, marriage was an opportunity to further her social position. Most women were expected to enter service before they were married, and for upper-class women this would usually be with a woman of higher social standing who would also aide her in finding a husband, and for lower-class women, the agreement of a year’s service in exchange for wages and housing was usual. Others entered into the more abstruse institution of prostitution, where disease was rife and was the cause of many premature deaths. However, this was still seen as dishonorable, though it was common, as is evident in the case of Mother Bowden’s brothel which was declared ‘immoral’ by the parish officials in 1567. Furthermore, women were taught that God had commanded them to be obedient to men, whether that be father or husband, and so the patriarchy in a woman’s life in Tudor England was constantly upheld and strengthened by all sources of power.

Since they had been told from childhood that they were inferior, women subsequently acted in an inferior manner. The Reformation actually did little to thwart this, despite the more modern tendencies and attitudes of the humanists, as is evident in the beliefs of Protestant leader John Knox, who wrote “women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.” The law gave men full rights over their wives, to the extent that they could have their wife burned at the stake for adultery, and that if a man beat his wife, it was justified on the grounds that she must have done something to provoke him, by not being a ‘good’ wife. Another important aspect of a woman’s married life was childbirth; they were expected to produce sons to carry on the family line, and this was true for royalty and peasants alike. However, childbirth was dangerous, and resulted in many deaths during it, or even after the baby was born, as puerperal fever and post-birth infections were common. One job of the ‘midwife’ was even to make arrangements for the baby in case the mother should die, indicating just how often women did die during childbirth.


Tudor women under Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I did not ever get married, and to this day retains the somewhat misleading title of ‘the Virgin Queen.’ She was the most powerful woman of her time, and refused to relinquish or share that power, when women were considered property, and so perhaps it could be seen that she was a feminist in some sense. She was strong, intelligent and refused to be constrained by a political marriage. This is apparent in her hidden relationship with Robert Dudley, who she could never marry because of his status, but yet still refused to marry another who she did not love. She once stated “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England, too,” thus again indicating just how brusquely independent she was determined to be.

There is speculation among historians as to why Elizabeth I never got married, such as a psychological explanation owing to what happened to her mother and stepmother in marriage (they were beheaded). Perhaps she saw the damage of what Mary’s marriage to Philip II did to the country, and to Mary’s heart, or perhaps she held a fear of childbirth as two of her stepmothers, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr had died just after childbirth. It is clear that her love for Robert Dudley did play some importance, and her constant appearance of an available woman to foreign ambassadors meant that she could enter marriage negotiations and use them to her advantage by influencing other countries and playing them off against one another.

Despite the fierce independence of Elizabeth, she did not do much to actually improve the lives of women in society, and so perhaps cannot be a ‘feminist,’ as we see them. As Carrick asserted that “she was the monarch and [felt she’d been] appointed by God…. that set her apart from the rest of humanity.” However, we must also place her in context, and Carrick also recognises this, by stating, “The idea of women’s rights…just wouldn’t occur to her yet and yet as an individual she was that; she lived that. She was brilliant at sport and horse riding, really active, a massive intellect.”

Therefore, whilst women in the Elizabethan era had primarily similar lives to those living under the reign of the previous Tudor monarchs, the roots of feminine individuality can clearly be seen in the era, and so perhaps helped to set up a platform which would aid the suffrage movement many centuries later.


What do you think of the life of women in Tudor England? Is Elizabeth I the first British feminist? Let us know below.

While there has yet to be a female president, first ladies have been important in shaping many presidencies and their policies. In the start of a new series, Kate Murphy Schaefer goes back to the late 18th century and considers the importance of Abigail Adams to America and Founding Father John Adams.

 A painting of Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart.

A painting of Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart.

With the recent passing of former first lady Barbara Bush, Americans are once again allowed to indulge in a favorite pastime: memorializing and waxing rhapsodic about their most public citizens. This is second only to the most popular pastime: ridiculing those same citizens for what they did and did not do. Presidents are elected; to some degree they understand and accept the level of scrutiny they will be under for the rest of their lives. First ladies are, as Barbara Bush’s daughter-in-law Laura said, “elected by one man,” but have to live under the same microscope as their husbands.[1]

A first lady must be “a showman and a salesman, a clotheshorse and a publicity sounding board, with a good heart, and a real interest in the folks,” explained Lady Bird Johnson.[2] If any of those traits seem contradictory, that is the point. There are no set guidelines outlining a first lady’s role and duties, but Americans expect them to conform to expectations that change quickly and often. Within this White-House-shaped cage, they are judged for what they wore, said, and did, and also for what they did not wear, say, or do.

Still, first ladies are privileged because their words and actions are considered important enough to include in the historical record. For most of American history, women were expected to be silent observers as men shaped the world in which they lived. Their stories were beneath notice, and therefore ignored and forgotten. America’s earliest first ladies were considered important because they were connected to important men. Abigail Smith Adams, wife of President John Adams, provides an excellent example.


The Political “Pest”

Born in 1744, Abigail Smith was raised in a family that was politically aware and active. Her maternal grandfather, John Quincy, held several positions in the Massachusetts government and encouraged his daughter and granddaughters to keep abreast of what was going on in the world outside the home. She was not formally educated, but her correspondence demonstrates she was extremely well-read and had an agile, searching mind. “In an age when women were content to take a backseat to their husbands and keep their mouths shut,” wrote historian Cormac O’Brien, “Abigail gave free rein to her extraordinary intellect.”[3]

Abigail was most outspoken in her correspondence with husband John. When Adams left for Philadelphia for the Continental Congress in 1776, he left a very curious wife at home. Abigail “pestered the politicians for news” and asked her husband for updates in lengthy letters. “(T)ell me if you may where your Fleet are gone? What sort of Defence Virginia can make against our common Enemy? Whether it is situated as to make an able Defence?” she asked in a letter dated March 31, 1776.[4] She was a stalwart defender of the Revolution and her husband, and was emboldened by her husband’s respect for her views. One of her most famous letters encouraged her husband to “remember the ladies” in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.


“Remember the Ladies”

                  “(I)n the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men could be tyrants if they could.”[5]


In three sentences, Adams set forth the radical idea that protection under the law also applied to women. Use of the word tyrant was deliberate and effective, recalling John Locke’s warning that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”[6] She intimated American men were no better than the British if they did not include the needs and opinions of women in the nation they created. She went so far as to predict women would “foment a Rebelion (sic)” if the new government did not grant them a voice, prompting John’s reply, “(a)s to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh.”[7]

The female rebellion did not come to pass, but the Adams’ correspondence laid bare a distressing truth about the American experiment. Revolution created a new nation, but not a new society. Race, class, and gender narrowed the founders’ definition of who was entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and property. They overthrew the British colonial “tyrants” and took up the mantle themselves. “I have sometimes been ready to think that the Passion for Liberty cannot be Eaqually (sic) Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs,” wrote Abigail.[8] These liberal views were exceptionally progressive during her time. It can be argued they were progressive two hundred years later as women campaigned for equal protection under the law with the Equal Rights Amendment.

Her opinions on women’s rights kept private, it was Abigail’s vocal support of her husband, that “tireless promoter of liberty and…abrasive pain in the ass,” that most influenced popular opinion of the first lady.[9] As Adams and Thomas Jefferson squared off in the 1790s, Abigail was often caught in the crossfire. Her perceived influence on the President was exaggerated and therefore useful to political adversaries. They had no problem remembering the lady, calling her “Mrs. President” behind her back and arguing behind closed doors that she had “queenly aspirations.”[10]


“My pen runs riot”

By 1797, Abigail well understood her position’s lack of privacy. “My pen runs riot. I forget that it must grow cautious and prudent. I fear I shall make a dull business when such restrictions are laid upon it.”[11] Her fear was unfounded as she most certainly did not find being first lady a “dull business.” She expressed relief to finally leave the public eye when her husband left office. She never fully left the limelight, however. The first lady became “first mother” upon the election of her son President John Quincy Adams, namesake of the grandfather who had inspired her so many years before.

Abigail Adams spoke at a time women were supposed to be silent, and was politically aware when women were supposed to look no further than home and hearth. Her mind and opinions were extraordinary, so we are lucky her words were preserved. We should not forget that she was included in the historical record because of her connection to a powerful man. Though Abigail was far from ornamental in life, historians rendered her so after death. As historians continue studying the founding of our nation, they must work to “remember the ladies,” understanding the roles women played could be both hidden and important. For every woman recorded in the history books, the names and contributions of thousands more were lost. Would including women’s stories fundamentally alter our historical understanding of the American Revolution and the Early Republic? Probably not. But remembering the ladies would add new life to a history too long seen as cut and dried.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.


[1] Laura Bush quoted in Kate Anderson Bower, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies (New York: Harper Collins, 2017), 7.

[2] Lady Bird Johnson quoted in Ibid, 4.

[3] Cormac O’Brien, Secret Lives of the First Ladies (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2005), 18.

[4] “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Locke, “Chapter XVIII: Of Tyranny,” Two Treatises of Government, Book II, section 202.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] O’Brien, 21.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 29 January 1797,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17970129aa.

Sources Cited

Bower, Kate Anderson. First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.

“Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa.

“Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 29 January 1797,” Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17970129aa.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. (1689).

O’Brien, Cormac. Secret Lives of the First Ladies. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2005.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Alfred Crosby, one of the most influential historians of the 20th century, passed away on March 14, 2018. An environmental historian, he documented new perspectives on colonialism and imperialism through ecological approaches to history. One of his most lasting influences is a new perspective on the Columbian Exchange. Here, Christopher DeCou gives a brief outline of the Columbian Exchange and why it is so influential to our understanding of world history today.

 A depiction of Christopher Columbus encountering the Arawak people on the island of Hispaniola in December 1492.

A depiction of Christopher Columbus encountering the Arawak people on the island of Hispaniola in December 1492.

What is the Columbian Exchange?

The textbook definition of the Columbian Exchange is the “biological and demographic exchange of the Old and New Worlds products and peoples.” Let’s unpack that definition a bit more to see why it is so innovative.

Crosby did not coin the term Columbian Exchange, for it was in use well into the 19th century. Just one example is the now famous Chicago World’s Fair of 1892 as the centennial celebration for Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. The World’s Fair made numerous references to the ways that Europeans and Indigenous peoples interacted and exchanged materials. American History textbooks also included the Columbian Exchange in teaching as an important moment in early American history. However, in all these cases, the type of exchange that was described was surface level interaction and cultural. In other words, historians were more interested in thinking about how Columbus and later Europeans “civilized” the Americas with the printing press, philosophy, art, etc. while the indigenous peoples gave White Europeans tacos.

Crosby turned that focus on its head. Rather than thinking about ideas, he gave priority and agency to the environment. This requires a radical shift in thinking, an ecological compared to an ideological view.

First consider demography, the study of populations and their changes. In the 1960s, historians were interested in trying to quantify population dynamics and attempted to reconstruct historical interactions through statistical methods. One of the interesting questions vexing American historians, broadly defined, was the number of the people present in pre-Columbian North and South America and how disease decimated those populations, and consequently how did these changes impact social changes. Historical texts from the Spanish gave a variety of anecdotal evidence, but surveys and estimates on indigenous population were scanty. Historians had known for years that Columbus and his men had smallpox on board and brought this to the Taino people; but Crosby provided estimates based on new archaeological research and traced the story of disease throughout the Caribbean and Mesoamerica to the rest of the Americas. In other words, Crosby focused on disease as his historical agent. By making disease the focus of his study, he illustrated how disease demolished indigenous populations, sometimes killing more than 90% of certain populations. These population dynamics created labor supply demands with European indentured servants and also African slaves.

Another example of this biological perspective was the introduction of various plant and animal species into new environments. While Europeans introduced Old World diseases into the New World, the New World offered numerous types of plants that flourished in new environments. For instance, the tomato was discovered in Cuzco and brought back to Spain because of Pizarro. The new plant had a fantastical history in Europe, before it became a staple of the European diet. The New World strawberries followed an even more dramatic path. The strawberry was an Old World food, but by the 15th and 16th centuries a variety of diseases had impacted production of the fruit. When explorers found a similar plant in South America, they grafted New World strawberries to those of the Old Word and created hybrid plants that they found were resistant to the diseases affecting Old World strawberries. These new plants allowed for an agricultural revolution to shape the European continent.

Furthermore, New World goods traveled even further than Europe. Contact across the Atlantic and Pacific connected New World plants with Africa and Asia. For instance, manioc was quickly picked up by West African farmers and soon spread throughout the continent to become the most widely cultivated crop in Africa. While India and Indonesia had reputations since antiquity about their spices, the New World chili spread throughout the rest of East Asia and became one of the most important food items. Maize had a similar global impact.

One could give even more examples, such as the reintegration of horses into the New World and its impact on indigenous economies, the introduction of cattle and its impact on desertification, but the point remains. As Crosby tried to illustrate, the Columbian Exchange is more than a cultural affair. It is a way to see biological and demographic changes and their social impacts.


Why is the Columbian Exchange important?

Although these biological influences and their global interactions were important, Crosby’s legacy is far more ideological. One of the comments I made above was that Crosby wanted people to shift their perspective. Truthfully, most of the biological stories were already known beforehand. The history of the tomato was always a light-hearted example in the story about “evil Catholic Spain” and “freedom fighting Britain.” So, what is the real significance here?

We have to step back for a second and see that history at its most basic is how we narrate stories of the past. And until Crosby (and the other critics that contributed to this shift), most mainstream historians focused on a civilizational approach to history. The story of America was framed in European terms. It is easy to mock 19th century versions of history for their view of European superiority and their omissions; but, even in the 20th and 21st centuries, as historians have tried to incorporate more regions and parts of the world to tell more global or world histories, they can still fall prey to this worldview. In some ways, while the details might be more comprehensive, the story is really the same. The ultimate cause for social change was European demands and European exploration. This is still a story of European progress and European success.

If we take Crosby seriously, then what he is really criticizing in his book is not just historical narrative and the “facts” of history but who is the focus of history. For Crosby then, the Columbian Exchange is a story about the environment. People are certainly actors, but they are constrained by factors of the environment. In this way, population changes, food sources and food scarcity, disease – all of these environmental forces are just as important to that story. Moreover, if we allow the environment to become central to the perspective of the past, then suddenly we are able to create a new kind of global history that links geography in new ways. No longer is this just a European story, but suddenly we can see that North and South America were just as important as Africa and Asia in creating history. When we shift our focus to say disease, suddenly the boundaries and geographies that might have seemed important before must also change and reveal new ways of seeing and imagining the past.



Today, the Columbian Exchange is considered a standard portion of any history survey course; but, we often forget that the biological and demographic focus that Crosby integrated in his work is far more revolutionary. Crosby was calling on historians and teachers to change their worldview and discover a new way of seeing the past that moves beyond Euro-centric visions of the past and calls people to action.


What do you think of this article and Crosby’s perspective? Let us know below.