Last Chance to Visit Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land
By Jim Connolly, Publications
Boston enjoys a reputation for its role in the founding of the United States. That reputation is well deserved, but the American Revolution was hardly the last time Boston figured significantly in a radical and righteous cause.
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Boston became a center of the national antislavery movement. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, a key figure in the movement, began the publication of The Liberator, the country’s leading abolitionist newspaper. On the first page of the first issue (1 January 1831), Garrison fired a bold volley against not only proslavery attitudes, but apathy and arguments for a cautious and gradual approach to abolition. “Urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch.—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
William Lloyd Garrison and several other prominent Boston abolitionists are the subjects of the Society’s current exhibition, Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land": Boston Abolitionists, 1831–1865. Manuscripts, portraits, broadsides, and artifacts from the MHS collections illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national struggle over slavery. Among the most fantastic objects on display are John Brown’s Colt revolver, first editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, and the imposing table on which Garrison set the type for The Liberator, which has not been displayed at the Society in many years.
The exhibition closes Friday, 24 May 2013, so come down to 1154 Boylston Street as soon as you can. It’s free and open to the public from 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday.
And for those who can’t make it to Boston, you can explore the exhibition’s companion web feature, Boston Abolitionists, 1831–1865.
| Published: Friday, 17 May, 2013, 10:00 AM
Massachusetts History Day: Young Historians at Work
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
On Saturday, April 6 -- one of the first truly spring-like days of the year -- I left my apartment before dawn to make my coffee-clutching way, along with several Massachusetts Historical Society colleagues, to Stoneham High School. What were we doing at a high school so early on a Saturday morning? We were there to serve as volunteer judges for the state round of the annual Massachusetts History Day competition. We were there to celebrate young historians at work crafting history.
This was my second year volunteering as a judge for Massachusetts History Day (MHD). Beginning in 2012, the MHS has co-sponsored MHD alongside the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies. MHD is the state affiliate of National History Day, an annual competition that encourages middle and high school students to undertake extensive primary-source based research on a topic related to the annual theme and build a historical argument in one of five categories: research paper, exhibition, performance, documentary, and website. Beginning in the fall (or even over summer vacation), young people embark upon their research, either individually or in groups, narrow their topic, craft a thesis, and eventually design a final project. Some face an initial in-school round before moving on to the district level competition, in early March, where the top two entries in each category move on to state. State winners will travel to the national competition in June.
On the day of the district and state competitions, students come before a panel of volunteer judges to present and discuss their hard work, after which each group of judges is faced with the difficult task of selecting the two best projects to advance to the next round -- as well as awarding honorable mentions and special prizes.
As a judge, my favorite part of each round is the chance, on the competition day, to meet with each student or student group to talk with them about their research. It is often in these conversations that the young person’s excitement about their topic and their depth of knowledge come to the fore. There is nothing that warms my historian’s heart quite so much as the opportunity to see a teenager’s eyes light up as she talks about the direction she’d like to take her work in the future, or when he describes the discovery of a key primary source.
This year we had projects ranging across time and space, all touching upon the annual theme of “turning points”: students tackled topics ranging from the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 to the role of the Internet in the Arab Spring, from the fall of apartheid in South Africa to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
One of my favorite things about working as a reference librarian at the MHS is the opportunity to work with scholars at all stages of their research, from initial question to final footnote. Every year, young people visit our library to work on MHD topics; as a reference librarian I get to help them refine their research questions and locate primary source materials. As a History Day judge, I get to see the fruits of their hard work on competition day.
The 1st and 2nd place project winners from the Massachusetts History Day state competition will be traveling to the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, June 9-13 to participate in the national contest along with winners from across the country. We are proud to have our young scholars and their fine work represent Massachusetts and wish them the best of luck (and lots of fun!) while they are there.
| Published: Wednesday, 15 May, 2013, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
Last week saw the close to the seminar season here at the Society and as summer approaches the calendar opens up a bit. Still, there are some great programs coming up this week to experience. Here is what is on tap at the MHS this week.
First, on Wednesday, 15 May 2013, come on in for a Brown Bag Lunch discussion as Reiner Smolinski of Georgia State University presents "Cotton Mather encounters the gods of Egypt: The Transatlantic Enlightenment and the Origin of Pagan Religions." The presentation is based on Prof. Smolinski's ongoing work for his forthcoming intellectual biography of Cotton Mather. Brown Bag lunches are free and open to the public and begin at noon.
The following day, Thursday, 16 May, the MHS hosts "The Tender Heart & Brave: The Politics and Friendship of Charles Sumner & Henry Wadsworth Longfellow." This talk, co-sponsored by the Longfellow House-Washington National Historic Site and the Boston African American National Historic Site, examines how the fiery abolitionist Sumner and the genteel poet Longfellow became the closest of friends. Dramatic readings of actual historic documents such as letters, journals, poetry, and speeches will show the deep personal relationship shared between the two men. The reading, done by author Stephen Puleo and the Longefellow House's Rob Velella, takes listeners from the earliest friendship to antislavery advocacy of these two men, from personal triumphs and tragedies to their final years, weaving through the events of the nation during their lifetimes, including the Emancipation. Mr. Puleo, author of "The Caning: the assault that drove America to Civil War" will provide commentary and sign copies of his book. Reservations are requested for this event at no cost. Please RSVP. Contact the education department for more information at email@example.com. Program begins with a reception at 5:30pm, talk begins at 6:00pm.
And on Saturday, 18 May, come to 1154 Boylston at 10:00am for a free building tour, The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led tour takes guests through all of the Society's public rooms while providing information about the history and collections of the institution. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, there are only two weeks left to view three current exhibitions, all focusing on varying aspects of the path to Emancipation in the mid-19th century. Exhibits are open to the public six days a week, Mon-Sat, 10:00am - 4:00pm. The present displays are on view until Friday, 24 May, so do not miss them!
| Published: Monday, 13 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 21
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Monday, May 11th 1863
I must leave to history the public events of this agitating time; but I have sadly to record that my dear pupil and friend, Frank A. Eliot, was killed in the recent battle at Chancellorsville, near Fredericksburg, Va. He was captain of the Phila [Braves?], - about 35 years of age, - brother of Dawes and William G. Eliot. We hope that an honorable end of this awful strife is near.
| Published: Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 8:00 AM
A Fair Trial for the Boston Massacre Soldiers
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
In the aftermath of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, the question remains of how to handle the trial of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There has been a public outcry for punishment, and it seems unlikely that the defense will be able to obtain an unbiased jury in a case as high profile as this. But this is not the first time that the desire for punishment has clashed with procedure in Boston’s legal history. On National Public Radio, Cokie Roberts rightly made the connection between this current case and the Boston Massacre trial of almost 250 years ago, when John Adams, in providing legal defense for the British soldiers involved in the Massacre, dealt with similar issues.
In 1768 the British Parliament stationed troops in Boston to protect customs commissioners, since they collected the unpopular taxes on imports and feared for their safety. Bostonians resented the presence of troops in their city and animosity grew between the locals and soldiers over the next year and a half. On March 5, 1770, tensions came to a head. A crowd gathered to harass the sentry posted outside the Custom House, and Capt. Thomas Preston and a small group of soldiers came to his aid. When the crowd refused to leave, the British soldiers fired on them. Three members of the crowd were killed instantly, and two later died from their wounds. The captain and his soldiers were placed in jail.
Following the Boston Massacre deaths, some Patriot leaders used propaganda to enflame feelings of rancor in Boston towards the British. Paul Revere created a famous engraving of the scene with uniformed British soldiers firing at close range into a crowd and a sign that read “Butcher’s Hall” hanging over the Custom House. Many Patriots hoped that the pressure of public opinion would lead to a murder conviction for the soldiers and aid the cause for independence.
The level of outrage in Boston made it very unlikely that the soldiers would get a fair trial. Government and judicial officials delayed the beginning of the trial in hopes that time would calm public opinion. Amidst this tumult, John Adams, Robert Auchmuty, Jr., and Josiah Quincy, Jr., were hired to defend the soldiers. The trial began on November 27, 1770.
The defense could not make the argument that the soldiers fired in self-defense without also hurting Boston’s reputation, so they tread carefully. In addition, since Capt. Preston was found to be not guilty, the soldiers could not claim they were following his orders when they fired. Adams opened his defense dramatically with a quotation from the Marquis Beccaria: “If I can but be the instrument of preserving one life, his blessing and tears of transport, shall be a sufficient consolation to me, for the contempt of all mankind.” He argued that because it was impossible to tell which soldiers fired the fatal shots, finding all of the soldiers guilty would inevitably lead to the wrongful conviction of some innocents.
On December 5, 1770, the jury delivered its verdict: six of the soldiers were found not guilty, and two were found guilty of manslaughter. None were convicted of murder. The soldiers who were convicted of manslaughter were branded on their right thumbs with the letter “M.”
The verdict quieted the mood in Boston and reflected well on the colonies internationally. Years later, Adams wrote in his diary that he believed a “Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.”
The Society has in its collections several manuscripts related to the Boston Massacre; there is a good introduction to them here. Robert Treat Paine prosecuted the soldiers, and you can learn more about his papers here. You can also read more about Adams’s views on the Boston Massacre and trial in this previous post.
| Published: Wednesday, 8 May, 2013, 1:00 AM