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Ideas

How the Bloodiest Mutiny in British Naval History Helped Create American Political Asylum

Outrage Over the Revolt Spurred the U.S. to Deliver on a Promise of the Revolution

British sailors boarding a Man of War to recapture of the British Hermione in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, two years after the crew had mutinied. Painting by John Augustus Atkinson; Fry & Sutherland; Edward Orme. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum.

By A. Roger Ekirch
March 24, 2017

The United States has a special history, and thus bears a unique stake, when it comes to the flight of foreign refugees, particularly those seeking sanctuary from oppression and violence. Political asylum has long been a defining element of America’s national identity, beginning most forcefully in 1776 with Thomas Paine’s pledge in Common Sense that independence from Great Britain would afford “an asylum for mankind.”

Curiously, the nation’s decision to admit asylum-seekers was not a direct consequence of our Revolutionary …

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Ideas

How Medicare Both Salved and Scarred American Healthcare

The 52-Year-Old Federal Program's Successes Reflect a Complex Legacy

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Medicare Bill into law while former President Harry S. Truman, right, observes during a ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo. on July 30, 1965. Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

By Julian E. Zelizer
February 17, 2017

Before Congress passed Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 millions of elderly Americans lacked health insurance. They could not afford to go to the hospital, nor could they cover the cost of a physician. Medical breakthroughs ranging from antibiotics to new surgical procedures kept increasing the cost of health care, but the elderly were left out in the cold, and were unable to buy the insurance that was being given to workers in manufacturing jobs.

For them, just going to the hospital …

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Encounters

Remembering 1876, the Year of the Inconclusive Vote

There Has Never Been Anything Like It Before or Since

The public inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes takes place in front of the U.S. Capitol on the East Portico in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 1877.   (AP Photo)

By John Copeland Nagle
October 10, 2016

We are told that this year’s presidential election is unprecedented in many ways. The American voters are faced with the choice between an unlikely candidate who has been repudiated by many within his own party, and a seasoned politician whom the head of the FBI characterized as “extremely careless.” The tumultuousness of the race makes many long for the good old days when elections were civil, thoughtful, and quickly resolved

In other words, we are not longing for 1876.

A …

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Artifacts

The Swag—and Swagger—Behind American Presidential Campaigns

From a Coloring Book to a Painted Axe, Election Ephemera Remind Us of Hard-Fought Elections of Yore

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By Megan Smith
October 10, 2016

America’s founding is rooted in the power of the people to select their own leader. Efforts to sway the vote—via gritty campaigns driven by emotion, piles of cash, and brutal, drag-out battles—are equally American.

Years, decades and even centuries later, the essence of these fights can often be glimpsed through their ephemera—the signs, slogans, and campaign buttons that both bolster true believers and aim to coax the reluctant into the fold. These objects can suggest campaign strategy as well as the …

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Ideas

1936, When “The Dictator” FDR Was Bent On Constitutional Destruction

The Fight Over the New Deal and Roosevelt's Second Term Launched a New Style of American Political Attack

Roosevelt Wallace

By David Sehat
October 10, 2016

True or False? Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to be a conservative defender of the nation’s founding ideals.

If you answered “both,” you’d be correct. We don’t tend to think of FDR as a conservative today, and at certain points he would have rejected the label, but in 1936 that was how he wanted to be understood. He was three years into his first term and it was far from clear there would be a second. The mandate from his 1932 …

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Encounters

Think The Press Is Partisan? It Was Much Worse for Our Founding Fathers

A Scheming and Salacious Newspaper Reporter Targeted Hamilton and Jefferson—and Nearly Ruined Them

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By Christopher B. Daly
October 10, 2016

It is a common complaint that the drive for traffic at news sites in the digital age has debased our political dialogue, turning a responsible press into a media scramble for salacious sound bites. But partisanship and scandal-mongering go way back in the American political tradition. And there was no internet to blame in 1793, the year an especially vicious and salacious newsman arrived on American shores and soon after set his sights on the founding fathers.

Despite efforts to unify …

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Encounters

How Herbert Hoover Skirted Scandal to Win the White House

The Public Was Charmed by His Presentation as an Antidote to Politics, Until the Great Depression Hit

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By Charles Rappleye
October 10, 2016

It was not the craziest election of the 20th Century, but it might have been the strangest.

One candidate was a natural politician, affable and gregarious, a true man-of-the-people who favored flashy suits and a trademark derby hat. Reporters loved him and admirers thronged his events.

The other contender could easily be classified a misanthrope. He was a miserable public speaker who hated crowds and disdained the campaign regimen of shaking hands and kissing babies. For months, even after secretly directing his …

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Encounters

The Untold Story of the Presidential Candidate Once Named “Our Other Franklin”

Massive Rallies, an Emulated Style, and Votes From Both Democrats and Republicans Couldn’t Save This Quixotic Candidate’s Campaign—Or His Life

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By R. Craig Sautter
October 10, 2016

A populist desire for “reform” runs deep in the psyche of American voters. Every few decades, a presidential candidate channels this rebellious spirit. Andrew Jackson was such a candidate in 1828. So were William Henry Harrison in 1840, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, William Jennings Bryan in 1896, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Barack Obama in 2008.

But no candidate for President carried the reform banner for honesty and competence more naturally, or …

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Encounters

Handle Your Presidential Debates With Care

The Institution of Multiple Meetings Between Presidential Nominees Might Seem Old and Tired, But Such Gatherings Are a New—and Fragile—Phenomenon

Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis shakes hands with Vice President and Republican candidate George Bush, left, prior to their second and final debate at Pauley Pavillion on UCLA campus, in Los Angeles, Calif., on October 13, 1988. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)

By Joel Fox
October 10, 2016

Today, presidential debates between candidates are considered fixtures of our political scene. Though they generate the occasional dust-up—like Donald Trump complaining that some of this year’s debates conflict with high-profile sporting events, or third-party candidates demanding places on the stage—it’s hard to imagine election season without them.

But I can attest from personal experience that not long ago our presidential debates were fragile. During the 1988 presidential campaign I had a close-up view of the near-cancellation and 11th-hour rescue of a …

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Engagements

The New Deal Origins of Homeland Security

During FDR’s Administration, the First Lady and the Mayor of New York Clashed Over Guns, Butter, and American Liberalism

Tony Garcci of Richmond, Va., determined to plant a Victory Garden despite the shortages of farmhands and horsepower, works the plow being pulled by his pickup truck, driven by Joe Garcci, April 1, 1943.  The job was completed in a few hours' time.  (AP Photo)

By Matthew Dallek
August 25, 2016

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have faced a set of seemingly unprecedented national security challenges and anxieties. Our society has been consumed with debates about government surveillance programs, overseas counter-terrorism campaigns, border security, and extreme proposals to bar foreign Muslims from America—debates that are all, at bottom, focused on finding the proper balance between keeping people safe versus protecting civil liberties.

This debate is not a new one in American history. Even before the Cold War …

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