Culture & Literature
American History

American History

June 2020

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6 Issues

in this issue

7 min.

Slavery in Rhode Island Rhode Island is designating locations around the state that figured in slavery. The Slave History Medallions project, announced in November 2019, will install markers explaining the slave trade’s prominent role in that state’s fortunes. Besides being a hub for slavers and their vessels (“How New England Got Rich on Slavery,” bit.ly/NewEnglandSlavery), Rhode Island was home to large plantations worked by enslaved laborers, some of whom fought in the Revolution. Rhode Islander Charles Roberts, who as a child played in God’s Little Acre, a section in Newport’s Common Burying Ground containing slaves’ unmarked graves, conceived and chairs the project. The markers, left, feature an angel’s-head-and-wings image borrowed from a gravestone carved and signed in 1768 by enslaved stone carver Pompe Stevens. The medallions, to be installed at some…

1 min.

Frequent contributor Joseph Connor has lived all his life within a mile of the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey. Despite spending many hours exploring those grounds, he knew little more than that the site and fellow Morristown resident Alfred Vail had had something to do with telegraphy until he researched “Vail Code” (p. 34). Michael McCray (“Populist Painting,” p. 60) is a retired American history teacher who lives on his farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A working musician, he is working on a book about historic State Route 11. Besides regularly contributing articles like “Atlanta, Burning” (p. 50), Daniel B. Moskowitz writes the SCOTUS 101 column and frequently reviews books for the magazine. His most recent article was “Soldierly Swing” (April 2020). Simon P. Newman, a specialist in the history of…

1 min.

Misidentified Julius Sterling Morton (“Statue Swap,” February 2020) was never U.S. Secretary of Education, though he did serve as Secretary of Nebraska Territory 1858-61 and as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during the Grover Cleveland administration. The Department of Education did not become a cabinet-level agency until 1979, more than 75 years after Morton’s death. Roger Boye Evanston, Illinois In the Details Thank you for “Hard Knock College” (February 2020), which mentions U.S. Supreme Court decisions on trading the general ticket for the district ticket plan and would-be Democratic elector Edmund Blair. Could you provide those citations? Edward Keller Central Islip, New York THE EDITOR REPLIES: Those cases are McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1, 27 (1892) and Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952). CORRECTIONS: A caption in the April 2020 American Schemers (“Mama Tried”) incorrectly identified a photo of New…

5 min.
where roy cohn was

For decades before he died of AIDS in 1986, Roy Cohn predicted that the first sentence of his obituaries would identify him as the lawyer for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s commie-hunting subcommittee. He was right. But Cohn worked for McCarthy less than two years. For 30 years more, he cultivated fame as a pit-bull lawyer, party animal, crooked businessman, tax cheat, and deadbeat. “Don’t Mess with Roy Cohn,” Esquire magazine warned in 1978. “He is a legal executioner—the toughest, meanest, vilest and one of the most brilliant lawyers in America. He is not a very nice man.” Born in Manhattan in 1927, Roy was the only child of Albert Cohn, a fixer for Tammany Hall, which rewarded Cohn the elder with a judgeship. Watching Pop, his boy became a precocious hustler. In…

6 min.
enlarging the kill zone

The faith-based wars that wracked Europe after the Reformation saw armies casually slaughter noncombatants and fanatics assassinate kings and commanders of the wrong religion. By the mid-17th century, however, a wearier—and perhaps wiser—continent began to professionalize its warrior class and regulate conflict. These reforms carried over to fighting in the New World, at least when the combatants were white. Captors treated officers held prisoner with courtesy; grunts, not so much. Even in battle, armies thought it rude to target enemy officers. On the eve of an action at Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania, in September 1777, Major Patrick Ferguson of the British army observed two American officers, one in a large cocked hat, reconnoitering ahead of their front line. Ferguson, a crack shot, called on the Continentals to dismount. Instead, the pair…

7 min.
giving courts the business

NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD V. JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP. 301 U.S. 1 (1937) WAS THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT CONSTITUTIONAL UNDER THE COMMERCE CLAUSE? On April 12, 1937, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a keystone decision paving the way for near open-ended federal regulation of business. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes authored the ruling in a jurisprudential U-turn that for the rest of his life Hughes denied making. The decision upheld the constitutionality of provisions in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act easing the path for workers to organize. The now-reinforced ruling ordered company managers to bargain with unions picked by workers to represent them and outlawed punitive actions against pro-union employees. The decision set up an independent agency, the National Labor Relations Board, to enforce the provisions of…