Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Videos for the Classroom: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the 149th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Maybe outside of the JFK killing, it is probably the most documented single homicide in American history.  It has been written about to death–and also in reel after reel of film.

Sometimes it’s difficult to weed out the grain from the chaff.

Attached is a PBS documentary about the assassination that gives a pretty good primer about the basics: the planning, the conspirators, the moment at Ford’s Theatre and the aftermath.  Just in case the film doesn’t download (as often happens with YouTube) I’ve downloaded a copy: Please email me if you want one.

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This Day in History 11/19: The Gettysburg Address

This two-minute speech from November 19, 1863 has been reposted ad nauseum today, but once more won’t hurt.

Thanks, Abe.  We need you now more than ever.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


~ The “Bliss Text”, the fifth version of the Gettysburg Address, the only version signed by Lincoln himself, and considered to be the authoritative version in classrooms and texts.

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Videos for the Classroom: Crash Course!

I cringe at the word “kid-friendly” — sounds like a bad Law and Order: SVU episode.

One of the constant missions of the Neighborhood is to find resources that tap into the caffeine-addled brains of young people.   In the quest to find “kid-friendly” material, most of what I find is directed at…okay, I’ll say it…good little white children.  Good little pasty white kids that sit still and believe anything told to them because a happy smiling face in a toga (or bonnet or Abe Lincoln-esque stovepipe hat) tells them so.

Today, even the good little white kids aren’t really that good nor that white–you can thank TMZ, MTV and YouTube for that.

So to connect with today’s kids, we need something a little edgier.  Crash Course! is a series of films about history and science, told in an irreverent, snarky way by brothers John and Hank Green.  The World History series I saw was pretty entertaining, although the producers do make clear that historical people have sex (they get around it with a folksy word that I forgot).  They are, however, loaded with data, facts and historical debate, when necessary–these guys don’t hide their biases, and it’s important for kids to see someone unashamed of their opinions.

If it weren’t for the occasional sex references, I’d recommend Crash Course! to middle schoolers on up.  It’s perfectly fine for high school, but you may need some discretion with younger viewers.  I’ve attached the episode on Alexander the Great to get an idea.  Enjoy.

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What’s your Favorite Book for Presidents’ Week?

Seal of the President of the United States

Image via Wikipedia

Like so many parts of American life, our holidays lend themselves to self-gratifying aggrandizement.

Presidents’ Week nee Presidents’ Day nee Washington‘s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday have taken a strange path through American education.  At first, the days were merely milestones to remember two of our most important Presidents.  Then, in some odd spirit of inclusiveness, the holidays were combined to form Presidents’ Day, thus including all Presidents–even James Buchanan, and that’s a stretch.

Today, the mere day just won’t do: retailers and car dealerships require a WEEK to find an excuse to dress two schmucks as Washington and Lincoln so they can hawk their crap while the kids are home on their winter break.

For teachers, the days leading up to Presidents’ Week inevitably involve books concerning our chief executives.  As a nifty way to share resources, The Neighborhood is now asking its readers to submit their favorite book for the holiday.  They can range from the tried and true childrens’ biographies of the past (Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire‘s incredible 1939 classic Abraham Lincoln comes to mind) to the modern tomes that deal more realistically with the office (Such as Judith St. George‘s So You Want to be President?).

Please leave your suggestions in the comment box.  I’d love to see the different resources our readers use and share them with fellow teachers.

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The Story of “Franksgiving”; or When Bad Things Happen to Good Holidays

We can always count on the federal government to come up with insane solutions to our problems.

Budget deficit? Tighten belts on all forms of spending except defense, which gets a blank check to fund whatever piece-of-crap technology they want (provided the appropriate Congressman gets his cut).

Farm prices too low? Dole out generous checks to farmers for doing nothing—just make sure to give them a fancy name like “subsidy” instead of “sit-on-your-ass check.”

Terrorist threat? Defy historical expectations and start not one, but TWO land wars in Asia, because that worked out so well for Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler.

In 1939, America again resorted to a hare-brained experiment to resolve a national crisis: an experiment with a holiday. For three years, Thanksgiving would be the center of a political and economic experiment that split families, upended governments and drove political debate far in excess of its results.

That solution was “Franksgiving”, one of the greatest blunders of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

By 1939, the nation had gone through two economic downturns. The first, of course, was the 1929 stock market crash that would trigger the Great Depression. From 1933 to 1937, Americans pinned their hopes on the slew of government programs created by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. For a while, at least, things were looking up. Banks had stabilized, unemployment bottomed out, businesses were growing again. By all indicators, the economy was back to what it was prior to the 1929 crash.

Then the bottom fell out.

By 1937, things were going so well that his advisors suggested that Roosevelt start to cut back on some of the programs—an incredible case of bad timing. The massive cutbacks in the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration coincided with a sharp economic downturn in the summer of 1937. The reasons for the “Roosevelt Recession” are still hotly debated. What’s certain is that during the 13 months of the recession, unemployment, production, and spending sunk to 1933 levels: the low point of the Depression.

Roosevelt tried everything to revive the economy. A new wave of anti-trust cases opened up, led by Thurman Arnold at the Department of Justice. Crop loans, crop insurance against natural disasters as well as farm subsidies were pushed through Congress in February 1938. In April, a massive spending bill rolled back the cuts made the previous year—to the tune of $5 billion.

Nothing worked as the administration hoped. To make matters worse, Lew Hahn and Harry Hopkins took a look at the 1939 calendar and shat in their pants.

Hahn, the general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, noticed an unfortunate accident in the holiday shopping season. Since the Civil War, the Thanksgiving holiday (NOT an official holiday yet) was customarily declared by the President for the last Thursday in November. In 1939, November had 5 Thursdays, so that Thanksgiving would fall on November 30th, leaving only 20 days for the holiday shopping season. Hahn immediately notified Commerce Secretary Harry Hopkins, one the New Deal “masterminds”, and they both made a mad dash for the President.

In Roosevelt’s mind, moving Thanksgiving made logical sense. It was never a national holiday fixed into law, after all: each President since Lincoln had simply followed Abe’s lead and declared the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving. Moving the holiday was his prerogative, and nothing less than the future of the New Deal was at stake.

Besides, the American people won’t mind changing the date of a day that to most is simply a massive gorgefest, right?

Franklin Delano, how wrong you were.

In two separate decrees, on August 31 and October 31, 1939, Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be moved up one week earlier for 1939 and 1940. In his proclamations, he reminded the American people of the non-official nature of the holiday, its history as a presidential custom, and the economic need for a longer shopping season.

America was having none of it. For three years, the United States was a divided nation every November.

Since Roosevelt’s decrees used the “moral authority” of the President, they had no legal enforcement. It was up to the individual states to adopt the new date as law, along with the new allotment of holiday time for state and municipal employees. The then-48 states in the Union split almost perfectly along party lines. 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, voted to switch to the new date. 22 states, especially the then-Republican stronghold of New England, decided to keep the original date. Three states (Mississippi, Colorado and Texas) split the difference, and made both dates holidays.

Even before adoption by the state’s, the plan aroused nationwide opposition. Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s GOP opponent in the 1936 election, stated that his declaration to move Thanksgiving was

“another illustration of the confusion which [Roosevelt’s] impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out… instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.”

Strong words, and this from a MODERATE Republican. Today, Landon would be bosom buds with Nancy Pelosi.

The change upset the lives of millions of Americans. Flight schedules, train reservations, and hotel accommodations all had to be readjusted to the new date. Printers, especially calendar manufacturers, went ballistic since their entire runs were now obsolete. College football programs, which depended on the Thanksgiving game for their season finales, now had to abruptly adjust their schedules: most conferences forbad games played after Thanksgiving. Colleges, schools and institutes make a frantic change in their vacation plans. Some students left school on one Thanksgiving and came home to nothing, since their home state kept the other date.

The dates even acquired names in popular culture. The earlier date was called “Democratic Thanksgiving” and the traditional date became “Republican Thanksgiving.” It was easy to tell the neighbor’s political leanings through the collective aroma of turkeys on one week or the next.

The earlier date was soon given a name befitting a monstrous bureaucratic decision. Atlantic City mayor Thomas Taggert, clearly noting the culprit in all this, derisively dubbed the earlier date “Franksgiving” after its unfortunate founder.

Nationally, even though more Democrats than Republicans approved the change, fully 62% of the American people disapproved of the date—and they made their voices heard for three years.

Thousands of letters poured into the White House, mostly with negative feedback on Roosevelt’s decision. Sometimes the letters are downright heartbreaking. Consider Eleanor Blydenburgh, a student from Connecticut attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn:

“Our directors announced that our school vacation would begin on the twenty-third of November and last until the twenty-sixth because New York, being your home state, is abiding by your decision. However, where I come from, Connecticut, they’ll be observing it on the thirtieth of November as usual. Really, this situation makes my heart ache because I love our Thanksgiving Holidays as much if not a bit more than our Christmas Holidays.”

Most of the letters were mean gripes about the inconvenience of the change. One particular letter, from Shelby Bennett in West Virginia, gets kudos from the Neighborhood for its oozing snarkiness:

“Mr. President:

I see by the paper this morning where you want to change Thanksgiving Day to November 23 of which I heartily approve. Thanks.

Now, there are some things that I would like done and would appreciate your approval:

1. Have Sunday changed to Wednesday;
2. Have Monday’s to be Christmas;
3. Have it strictly against the Will of God to work on Tuesday;
4. Have Thursday to be Pay Day with time and one-half for overtime;
5. Require everyone to take Friday and Saturday off for a fishing trip down the Potomac.”

For anyone familiar with the Potomac in the late 1930s, that last one should’ve been treated like a death threat.

Yet the greatest pox upon the Franksgiving experiment came in a Commerce Department survey on May 20, 1941. It found that the change in Thanksgiving caused no significant impact on holiday sales. The experiment was a complete failure.

The administration, seeing more important priorities on the horizon (priorities named Hitler and Tojo), decided to quietly push through a joint resolution through Congress, and signed on December 26, 1941. It stated that Thanksgiving was designated an official holiday to be observed on the fourth November of every calendar year. From 1942 to 1956, each of the states adopted the new standard, albeit haphazardly. Texas lollygagged until the end, probably to give their football teams one more weekend on the gridiron.

So what did we learn from “Franksgiving”?

Roosevelt’ s holiday experiment was well within his rights. It was completely legal, since the holiday was only enacted through a presidential proclamation. Furthermore, at least on paper, there was a logical reason to it: more time to shop could possibly stimulate the economy.
Yet having the legal authority to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you ought to do it. Barack Obama has the legal right to punch in the launch codes into the nuclear football and send our ICBMs into central Asia, but he’s not fool enough to do something like that.

Like a nuclear attack, messing with a holiday has extensive collateral damage, though not as bad as vaporized relatives and crippling nuclear cancers. America was so used to the old holiday that its own institutions adjusted to a day that, in reality, could’ve been changed at will. Roosevelt’s good intentions caused three years of chaos, from the train station to the college campus and to the football field.

Franksgiving would never get us out of the Depression: World War II did. It took long, bloody conflicts on two continents to realize that certain things shouldn’t be monkeyed with.

It was more important to be thankful than to worry about the day when we could be thankful.

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Happy Constitution Day! Quotes about our US Constitution

223 years ago, a group of men in a stuffy Philadelphia government building spent a stifling summer creating a four-page document that changed the world.

September 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787.  In over two centuries, countries around the world have seen revolution, coups, turmoil and chaos in which governments and constitutions are remade, discarded and remade again.

Yet with only 27 changes, the same crinkly four pages of parchment have served as the basis of one of the most successful democracies in history.  It stands as one of our “holy trinity” of founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). 

Today more than ever, students need to understand the development, tenets and underlying beliefs of our system of government in order to be productive citizens.

The following are quotes about our Constitution.  Many are celebratory, some offer sage advice, and others give sharp critique.   Whatever the point of view, it stands to reason that one crinkly set of papers caused so much commotion.

Happy Constitution Day, everyone!

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – Benjamin Franklin

 “The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams

“The American Constitution is the greatest governing document, and at some 7,000 words, just about the shortest.” – Stephen Ambrose

“In matters of Power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The strength of the Constitution, lies in the will of the people to defend it.” – Thomas Edison

“As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” – William E. Gladstone

“A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” – Thomas Paine

“Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.” – Alexander Hamilton

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.” – Will Rogers

“The government was set to protect man from criminals — and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government — as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.” – Ayn Rand

“I think there are only three things America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” – Gerald Early

And lastly, the birthday document itself:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” – Preamble, Constitution of the United States of America

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Spoofing History: Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass

As your finishing your last-minute paperwork before summer, the Neighborhood revisits an old theme with a new installment sure to “inform” and entertain.

The Drunk History franchise, seen on Funny or Die on HBO Comedy, has featured Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and even Nikola Tesla.  This most recent installment, whereas the cast acts out the drunk narration of a plastered host, features Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass and Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln.  It’s probably too expletive-laden for the classroom, but fun to share with the faculty as you get those records in order.

Enjoy the video–hopefully it’ll kill enough time before vacation.

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