While the last few decades have bestowed upon us considerable discussion in regards to the intended meaning of the separation of Church and State, one cannot deny the abundance of religious references which have peppered the language of Presidents, regardless of their personal faith (or lack thereof), from the onset of the Union through the present. One such example is found in the June 15, 1845 issue of The New York Times, which prints the text (see below) of the letter President Ulysses S. Grant wrote to the children and youth of America at the request of the editor of The Sunday School Times for insertion into their Centennial Edition. The letter emphasizes the importance of the Bible in regards to life and liberty: “My advice to Sunday Schools, no matter what their denomination, is: Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your heart, and PRACTICE THEM IN YOUR LIVES. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’ Yours respectfully, U. S. Grant”.
Mere religious blather, or good advice rooted in truth? Thoughts?
Today’s travels took me to Springfield, Massachusetts, by the means of the Springfield Republican dated March 6, 1917, where the headlines announce “President Wilson Takes Oath”, “Firm Stand for Armed Neutrality – Nation Poised on Verge of War”. “Woodrow Wilson, with the major part of the world at war and America poised on its verge, consecrated his second inauguration as president of the United States at Washington yesterday with a last message of hope for peace… the president renewed his oath of allegiance to the constitution, praying to God that he might be given wisdom and prudence to do his duty in the true spirit of the American people…” Just in case anyone thinks the United States is more politically divided by geographic region today than it was 100 years ago…
My Fellow Americans: Devastating hurricanes, Pearl Harbor, 9-11, the end of WWII, Lindbergh’s 1st flight across the Atlantic – while there is much that divides us, there have been times throughout our history when both triumphs and tragedies have inspired us to lay down our weapons and to unite as one. While these times of mutual good will are typically short-lived, they often act as a reset to help center us on that which binds us together. We need such a time!
It is was with the current atmosphere of angst as a backdrop that I was moved by an under-the-radar prayer found buried on page 11 of an issue reporting the assassination of President JFK. His death, airmailed via television directly into the living room of nearly every home in America, brought together Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike and unified us around shared grief. May a day come when such unity of spirit flourishes without the inspiration of deep sorrow, tragedy, or war. As another assassinated President once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand (Abraham Lincoln).” It is time for us to lay down our weapons. Much is at stake.
Today I traveled to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, by the way of the Fitchburg Sentinel ~ Extra dated November 7, 1916. I found that they had the presidential election the previous day and were declaring the winner… “Hughes’ Election ‘Flashed” In New York City”. You all remember President Hughes now, don’t you? Oh wait, that’s right — the wrong winner had been declared! Woodrow Wilson had truly defeated Charles Evans Hughes instead.
Today I traveled to New York City by the way of The New York Times dated June 6, 1916. I found that history took place in Washington, D.C. “Every available seat in the courtroom of the United States Supreme Court was occupied at noon today when Louis D. Brandeis of Boston took his seat on the bench as an Associate Justice of that august tribunal… Chief Justice White, rising announced the appointment of Mr. Brandeis,… then announce the readiness of Mr. Brandeis to take the judicial oath, which was administered,… Justice Brandeis was then escorted by Frank Key Green, the Marshal of the court, to his seat on the extreme left of the bench. Members of the court bowed as he passed…. Mr. Brandeis took his seat…”.
Mr. Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, which was bitterly contested as he “…was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible . . . [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.” He was eventually confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22 in 1916, to become one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court…” per wikipedia.
Today I traveled to New York City by the means of The New York Times, February 15, 1966. There I found that Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the 76’ers, had scored his 20,884th point to surpassed the record previously set by Bob Pettit.
The front page also has the reporting of “2-SOVIET AUTHORS ARE CONVICTED” with subheads “Court Finds Works Published Abroad Harmed Regime” and “Sinyavsky Is Given 7 Years, Daniel 5 at Hard Labor”. Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel were convicted of writing under pseudonym names and sending the books out of Russia for publication. “…The judgment, considered unprecedented in modern Soviet history, called it a criminal act to put into print beliefs and ideas that could be used profitably by ‘enemies of communism’…”
As historian Fred Coleman writes, “Historians now have no difficulty pinpointing the birth of the modern Soviet dissident movement. It began in February 1966 with the trial of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, two Russian writers who ridiculed the Communist regime in satires smuggled abroad and published under pen names… Little did they realize at the time that they were starting a movement that would help end Communist rule.” [source: Wikipedia]
One of the attractions of collecting old newspapers is the ability to look at history with the benefit of hindsight. Many times writers were right on the money when it came to predicting events in the future; many times they could not have been more wrong. Both views offer interesting reading.
Not long ago we came across a report of what would become a scar on the military history of the United States, specifically the lengthy war in Vietnam. A “Los Angeles Times” newspaper as early as March 25, 1965, some ten years before the Vietnam War would officially end (Saigon fell on April 29, 1975) had a headline announcing: “VIET CRISIS GROWS“. This report notes that Red China was committed to sending troops to fight in Vietnam if the Americans persisted in their growing involvement, and that they would: “…fight together with the South Vietnamese people to annihilate the U.S. aggressors.” This is in response to the event of 3 weeks prior when the first American combat troops arrived in Vietnam, joining a force of 23,000 American “advisers”. American involvement in the Vietnam War would only continue to grow for another 8 years.
I am sure almost no one who read this newspaper in the spring of 1965 could have guessed the future complexity and duration of American involvement in Southeast Asia. This issue constitutes half of what I would call “bookend newspapers”, or a pair of newspapers which report the beginning and end of noteworthy events.
Historical perspective offers so much as we reflect upon some of the headlines of the past, particularly those proven to be so wrong. With the reestablishing of relations with Cuba currently in the headlines, we dug through out archives and found a headline which history has shown could not have been more wrong. The “Detroit Free Press” of October 20, 1960, in announcing the beginning of the embargo against Cuba, ran a banner headline: “CASTRO COLLAPSE FORESEEN” and one of the subheads noting: “Fidel Given Year or Less“. This is now a newspaper much more interesting today than it was almost 55 years ago.
What a fascinating hobby!
Today I traveled to New York City by the means of two different titles… The New York Times of February 2, 1865 and the Harper’s Weekly of February 25, 1865. In the New York Times I found “J. S. Rock (Colored,) of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, was to-day, on motion of Senator Sumner, admitted an Attorney and Counselor in the Supreme Court of the United States.”
The Harper’s Weekly includes a nice illustration of “John R. Rock, Colored Counselor”. Within the article reads “…Mr. Rock is known in Boston as a first-class lawyer. This even, following two days after the passage by Congress of the proposition to amend the Constitution so as to abolish slavery in the United States, will be regarded by the future historian as a remarkable indication of the revolution which is going on in the sentiment of a great people. Mr. Rock has never been a slave. He represents the colored freeman, as Mr. Douglass represents the freeman. This extraordinary reversal of the Dred Scott decision is an act almost sublime…”
In doing further research on Mr. Rock, he is also credited with coining the phrase “black is beautiful” while giving a speech in Boston in March of 1858 as a refutation of the western idea that the physical features of African Americans were unattractive. However, further research has found that he did not say those exact words but did in essence about the beauty of the black people.
Today I traveled back to January 5, 1965 by way of The Springfield Union, Massachusetts (January 5, 1965). There I found the reporting of President Johnson’s State-of-the-Union message in which he presented several new programs. “…These are all parts of the Johnson design for a ‘Great Society’, he hopes will develop through decades ahead… the search begins for a way to ‘elevate the quality of our civilization.’…” This was to be for a better health care program for the elderly under the Social Security, to help develop regions suffering from distress and depression, new education programs, and more.
Also in the issue was the report of the death of poet and playwright T. S. Eliot. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948 “for his outstanding pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”. His book of poetry “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats” is what the musical “Cats” was based on, which has been the third longest running show in Broadway history.