What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Ideas

The Golden State’s Unpopular Pro-Slavery Governor

The First American Executive of California Was a Pioneering Man of the West—and the South

Peter Hardeman Burnett, first Governor of California, circa 1860. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By R. Gregory Nokes

Peter Hardeman Burnett had probably the most impressive list of achievements of any leader in the early American West. He served on the supreme court of the Oregon Territory and became the first governor of California.

So why has he been forgotten?

Because sometimes history gets things right. Burnett’s stellar resume could not offset his blatant racism and inept leadership, which have denied him a prominent place in the region’s history.

Burnett is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, for his …

Identities

The Revolutionary War Couple Who Shed Their British Loyalty—One Letter at a Time

Henry and Lucy Knox Sacrificed Family, Home, and Beliefs to Adopt Their New American Identity

In this painting of the Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, Gen. Henry Knox stands by the left shoulder of Major General Nathanael Greene, who is seated on the white horse at right. Image courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery/Wikimedia Commons.

By Phillip Hamilton

In late 1783, General Henry Knox, formerly a bookseller from Boston who had become a trusted military subordinate to George Washington, wrote the first draft of an address to be presented to the commander-in-chief by his officers. Their Revolution won, the Continental Army’s leaders wanted to express their heartfelt gratitude to the general, “under whose auspices,” as Knox wrote, “the Army have been led to glory and victory, and America to Freedom and Independence.” Young Knox also urged his comrades …