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Explore : American History

Ideas

Welcome to the Utopian States of America

Experimenting With More Perfect Unions Is Part of Our National Character

By Chris Jennings
February 25, 2016

No place on the globe has been more crowded with utopian longing and utopian experimentation than the United States in the middle of the 19th century. Countless people on both sides of the Atlantic believed that a new and wondrous society was about to take form in the American wilderness. It was a time when the imminence of paradise seemed reasonable to reasonable people.

Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, nearly one hundred utopian colonies were founded in …

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Artifacts

The Laptops That Powered the American Revolution

Always on the Go, Our Founding Fathers Waged Their War of Words From the Mahogany Mobile Devices of Their Time

By Bethanee Bemis
February 23, 2016

Delegate to the Continental Congress. Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. General Washington’s aide-de-camp. Secretary of state. President of the United States. Secretary of the treasury. During their lifetimes, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton epitomized the role of American Founding Father, all of them heavily involved in the birth of the new United States and the shaping of its government and future. Between them, they performed some of the most important tasks in forming our nation, but for all …

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Ideas

The Unlikely Journalist Who Dethroned America’s Robber Barons

We May Revere Our Millionaires, but Thanks to Ida Tarbell, We’re Not Afraid to Expose Their Shenanigans

By Steve Weinberg
February 16, 2016

Over the last few years, the idea of “the one percent” has become a popular way to discuss the gap between the fantastically wealthy—the one percent of Americans who control more than 20 percent of the country’s wealth—and the rest of us. But the one percent is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1900, they were known as the Robber Barons—people like Andrew Carnegie and Philip Armour, who were riding new industries and monopolies to ever greater fortunes. At the …

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Ideas

Let’s Not Play ‘Gotcha’ With the Great Emancipator

If Lincoln Seems Like a Lukewarm Abolitionist, It’s Because He Was a Nuanced Radical

By Allen C. Guelzo
February 12, 2016

“I am naturally anti slavery,” Abraham Lincoln said in 1864. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.” That doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering that every American is taught in school that Lincoln was the president who freed the slaves.

Yet, there has always been a small cloud of doubt about just how great an emancipator he really was. Why (for instance) did he wait …

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Journeys

The Japanese-American Officer Who Helped Take Down and Then Rebuild Japan

Born in Seattle in 1920, Harry Fukuhara Was Fully Bicultural, Bilingual, and Binational

By Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
January 28, 2016

When I first met Harry Fukuhara, in 1994, he was orchestrating a Tokyo press conference for Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, former Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and veterans of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The groups were there to commemorate the separate threads connecting them to the Holocaust. The Foreign Ministry officials were belatedly acknowledging a renegade consul, Chiune Sugihara, who had issued approximately two thousand transit visas to desperate Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, when he was stationed …

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Identities

Running for President Takes a Stiff—and Clean-Shaven—Upper Lip

As Thomas Dewey Learned in His Race Against Harry Truman, You Can Lose by a Whisker

By Christopher Oldstone-Moore
January 26, 2016

In 1948, Emilie Spencer Deer, a solidly Republican woman from Ohio, announced to her family that she would vote for President Truman instead of the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey because she could not vote for a man with a mustache. She was neither foolish nor alone in her opinion. Educated and conscientious, she was, like other women of her day, simply reading the signs of what a good man looked like at the time. A clean-shaven man was team player, …

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Identities

When Two ‘Little Rascals’ Crossed the Color Line

The Friendship Between These Young Hollywood Actors—One Black, One White—Was Ahead of Its Time, but Also an Illusion

By Julia Lee
January 19, 2016

When I was a kid, I used to watch episodes of The Little Rascals on TV in our living room in Los Angeles. My parents were Korean immigrants who had moved to the city in the 1970s, the first in a wave of Korean immigrants who would transform the city’s racial makeup. I had no idea the series had been filmed 50 years earlier, that most of the stars were dead, and that it was once unusual for black and …

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Places

The Japanese-American Flower Growers Who Made Phoenix Bloom

Post-WWII Gardens Like My Family’s Found Beauty in Stony Ground

By Kathy Nakagawa
January 14, 2016

When my high school orchestra teacher found out my family owned a Japanese flower garden in Phoenix, Arizona, he made a confession: He had once snuck into those fields. He stole flowers to propose to his wife. To this day, I meet other people who share with me equally vivid memories of the farms. One friend told me: “I would drive my mom there every weekend!” Although all of the flower fields are gone now, they’re still an important part …

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Identities

What the First First Couple Bequeathed America

George and Martha Washington’s Close Partnership Helped Them Through Rebellion, War, and Even the Presidency

By Flora Fraser
January 12, 2016

One of the most revealing spaces at Mount Vernon, George and Martha Washington’s home in Virginia, is a bare attic bedroom. Martha retreated here after George’s death in 1799. Without him, she would not occupy the elegant bedchamber they had so long shared. Grief made this tough, capable woman give up her will to live. She died, still in that attic retreat, a few years later.

Standing at the threshold of that little room, 10 years ago, I wondered at the …

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Encounters

The Native Americans Who Drew the French and British Into War

The Anishinaabeg Played an Outsized Role in World Affairs

By Michael A. McDonnell
January 5, 2016

When a young George Washington approached the forks of the Ohio River in the spring of 1754, he was nervous. The previous year, as he scouted the area that would become Pittsburgh to contest French claims to the region, he came across seven scalped settlers. His escorts told him it was the work of a group of Indians allied with the French. Returning to the area a year later, he heard that hundreds of those same Native Americans were on …

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