The Roots of Liberty and Slavery

In 1888, John F. Smith was commissioned by Library of Congress to create a map depicting his impression of slavery’s spread across the United States. Created decades after the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the map is obviously subject to over twenty years of historical interpretation and the experience of Reconstruction. Nevertheless, Smith’s map offers an interesting view on slavery’s spread and the roots of its decline. Viewed through the lens of history, this map can support the viewpoint that the destruction of slavery was not an initial aim of the United States Civil War.

The Ostend Manifesto and the Dark Side of Manifest Destiny

Manifest DestinyManifest Destiny is the idea that a higher power ordained the expansion of American republican government over the North American continent. Rooted in the idea of American Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny was a rallying point for expansionists in the 19th century as many sought to expand the borders of the United States for political, religious, and commercial reasons.

Any fair consideration of Manifest Destiny recognizes that it was not a benign expansion of American institutions over an empty land. At the very least, the westward movement of Americans displaced Indian tribes and disrupted their ways of life. Additionally, Manifest Destiny has inherent racist undertones focusing on the promulgation of ideas of American government and custom as a way of life. While many writings and events of the period demonstrate the belief in the superiority of American ideals idolized by the political majority, the drafting of the Ostend Manifesto in 1854 serves as a useful tool in recognizing the darker side of Manifest Destiny within the scope of Cuban annexation.

Two Accounts of Lincoln’s Assassination

President Abraham Lincoln shortly before his assassination.

President Abraham Lincoln

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot while he viewed “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. While numerous accounts of that fateful day exist, a May 28, 1865 letter from Dr. Charles Leale is especially moving as Dr. Leale was the first doctor to treat the stricken president. Combined with a diary entry from Horatio Nelson Taft, both the medical response and the human reaction to Lincoln’s assassination are visible.

Manifest Destiny and Polk’s Inaugural Address

James K. Polk

James K. Polk

In “A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico,” Amy S. Greenberg describes James K. Polk as an “instrument of Manifest Destiny.” Described as a mere “instrument,” Greenberg’s characterization of Polk is likely an understatement as the young president “extended the domain of the United States more than any other president.”[i] Due to his expansion of the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War and his Oregon settlement, Polk must be inextricable linked to Manifest Destiny. In fact, Polk’s 1845 Inaugural Address foreshadows the political philosophy that spread the United States across a continent.