Responsibility and Leadership: Eisenhower and Montgomery

No one is perfect and with the hindsight of history, it is a simple matter to question a commander’s battlefield decision or a president’s strategic direction. Given the unmistakable reality of human imperfection, some of history’s greatest figures can be defined by how they accepted their own imperfections and failures. Specifically, comparing Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery’s and General Dwight Eisenhower’s comments regarding some of their greatest battles, two very different pictures of these two leaders emerge with respect to responsibility.

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.

Book Review: The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands

The Age of Gold by H.W. BrandsThe California Gold Rush was a shot of adrenaline in the settlement of the American West. While settlors had been trickling into California and Oregon prior to the discovery of gold by James Marshall in 1848, news of the his gold find energized people around the world to travel to the gold fields. In The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, H.W. Brands vividly tells the story of not only the immediate effects of Marshall’s discovery, but also the broader effects of the California gold rush on the United States.

The Humility of Abraham Lincoln

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his most remembered speeches, the Gettysburg Address. Given in commemoration of the cemetery created to honor the soldiers who gave their lives on the Pennsylvania battlefield, Doris Kearns Goodwin notes that President Lincoln “translated the story of his country and the meaning of the war to words and ideas accessible to every American.” In fact, the main speaker of the day, Edward Everett, later wrote Lincoln to express that the president’s short speech accomplished what took him two hours to accomplish. While Goodwin’s passage aptly describes Lincoln’s speech, two key passages of the Gettysburg Address also embody the humility of the American president.