What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

The Savvy Press Agent Who Invented Buffalo Bill

"Arizona John" Burke Perfected the Art of Hype That Converted a Bison Hunter Into a Symbol of National Character

By Joe Dobrow

To appreciate the wonder and luster of a star in the sky, one must look off to its side—“averted vision,” it is called.

So it was in the late 19th century with the rising star of republics—the United States—and with the man who, more than any other, came to epitomize our nation’s drive, character, promotional flair, and obsession with celebrity: William F. Cody.

In the second half of the century, Cody, also known as “Buffalo Bill,” achieved a measure of renown in …

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Places

The Washingtonians Who Fought to Keep Their City as the Nation’s Capital

Rivalries Over Its Political Symbolism, and Damage From the War of 1812, Nearly Destroyed the City

By Adam Costanzo

As the national capital, Washington, D.C. always has carried special meaning—representing both the federal government and the United States as a whole. No matter how Americans might feel about the state of the nation at any given time, they typically respect and revere the city—visiting on vacations and school trips by the millions each year.

Many might be surprised to learn, therefore, that at one particularly precarious point in the city’s history during the War of 1812, Congress seriously debated …