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in , 1758, James Monroe was born. As , his most indelible mark was the Monroe Doctrine. During the War of 1812, he served as Sec. of State and Sec. of War—simultaneously. And in his breathtaking career, he was also a U.S. Senator, Minister to France, Minister to the United Kingdom, Governor of , and a veteran of the .
Early in the 's fight for , Monroe volunteered for the 3rd Regiment of Virginia. In 1776, he famously crossed the Delaware and attacked the Hessians at Trenton, where he was nearly killed. Not long thereafter, he endured the winter at Valley Forge, where he shared a hut with future Chief Justice of , John Marshall.
After the war, Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson and eventually ascended to the Administration of fellow Virginian, James Madison, under whom he served as Sec. of State. After the British stormed in 1814—burning both the and —Madison forced out his Sec. of War and replaced him with Monroe. For half a year, he was effectively SOS and Defense Secretary, during which he successfully defended and helped achieve peace.
One year later, Monroe was elected President, which coincided with the “Era of Good Feelings,” a decade of relative calm after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the decline of the Federalist Party, the U.S. purchase of from Spain, and the Missouri Compromise. In a larger context, it was the eye of a storm.
But Monroe is most famous for his introduction of the “Monroe Doctrine” in 1823. In his State of the Union to , he declared that political interference by “European powers” in the Western Hemisphere is a potential act of aggression against the . The Doctrine helped shape U.S. foreign policy for more than a century, especially as grew strong enough to enforce it.
Eight year later, like Jefferson and Adams before him, Monroe died on the 4th of July.
in 1822, Ulysses S. Grant was born. As Commander, he fought to preserve the Union. As President, he fought to preserve its values.
Grant 1st rose to prominence during the when his forces captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson near strategically-important rivers. The victories provided the Union with valuable supply lines into the Western Theater—and an optimal position from which to invade the South. They also finally provided with a military leader who elicited his confidence. In time, “Unconditional Surrender” Grant would become the 's 1st 4-Star General after making at a town named Appomattox.
Buoyed by hagiography, Grant was overwhelmingly elected in 1868. According to an early biographer, “No President since Washington, except Monroe and Lincoln at their second inaugurations, went into office so favorably regarded by men of all parties.” In office, Grant implemented civil service reform and an 8-hour work day for federal employees.
But his greatest endeavor was Reconstruction. After working with to pass the 15th Amendment, racial terrorism became rampant. A Federal Grand Jury noted that the KKK, “inflicted summary vengeance” on Blacks “by breaking into their houses at the dead of night, dragging them from their beds, torturing them in the most inhumane manner” and often murdering them. Grant therefore signed the Enforcement Acts, which empowered the government to intervene when states refused to protect the rights of Black citizens; and established the Justice Department, which to this day protects the liberties of every American.
That this legacy was largely forgotten says less about Grant than the politics of the nation he helped save. But as we celebrate his bicentennial, let us remember that there was once a time—in the hearts and minds of Americans—when there was Washington, there was Lincoln, and there was Grant.
Learn more by watching our event at the Grant Memorial: https://bit.ly/37H1xrP
in , 1822, Frederick Law Olmsted was born. Considered the “father of landscape architecture,” he helped design the grounds of the , 's , and numerous college campuses, including Stanford University. But perhaps his greatest contribution to landscape architecture was his heartfelt belief that the beauty of nature should be accessible to every person, regardless of their means or station.
Born in , Olmsted spent much of his childhood reading about nature and landscapes. Then, later in his life, he traveled to Belgium, China, , France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and . Each influenced him, but none more so than England, where he visited Birkenhead Park, a public space in . “I was ready to admit,” he conceded, “that in democratic there was nothing to be thought of as comparable to this People’s Garden.”
When he returned home, he wrote a book about his experience, which earned him an offer from the New York Daily Times. His assignment in 1852—the same year that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published—was to travel through the antebellum South to study the economics of slavery—and its detrimental impact on both the enslaved and the South itself.
According to the National Association for Olmsted Parks (NAOP), the “powerful connections made through his literary pursuits” led to his being hired as superintendent of Central Park. His career as a landscape architect had thus begun in earnest. By 1883, he had “established the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design,” explains the National Park Service.
To Olmsted, his motivation was clear: “It is one great purpose of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God's handiwork.”
To learn more about Olmsted’s remarkable life, watch our recent webinar with our own Steve Livengood, who sits on the board of NAOP: https://bit.ly/3KkCaZQ
in , 1616, William Shakespeare passed away. Among his greatest admirers was Abraham Lincoln, who turned to the Bard in times of reflection and great personal peril.
Despite lacking a formal education, read pervasively as a child. Then, as a young attorney, he was said to always carry Shakespeare's works as he traveled. Among his favorite plays were King Lear, Richard III, Henry VIII, Hamlet, “and especially 'Macbeth.'”
In 1846, James K. Polk asked for a declaration of war after Mexico “invaded” territory. But Lincoln suspected that Polk had provoked the attack in what was disputed territory as a pretext for war. He thus introduced the “spot resolutions,” which demanded details about “the spot on which the blood of our citizens was shed.” It has been argued that his numerous references to “that spot” was an allusion to Lady Macbeth, who—after conspiring to murder—yelled “Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!” to the blood on her hands.
More than any genre, Lincoln read Shakespeare's tragedies, apropos for his introspection and often melancholy thoughts. During the , Lincoln lost his second child, from typhoid fever. A visitor who came to see Lincoln recalled a passage that the read aloud. From the play, “King John,” the character Constance mourns the recent loss of her son:
“And father Cardinal, I have heard you say that we shall see and know our friends in heaven. If that be true, I shall see my boy again...Grief fills the room up of my absent child, Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me...I will not keep this form upon my head, When there is such disorder in my wit...Oh Lord! My boy...my fair son!...My life, my joy, my food, my all the world! My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!”
Then Lincoln wept.
As Shakespeare wrote in Henry V: “I think the King is but a man, as I am...All his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man.”
in , 1970, the 1st was celebrated nationwide. It was co-chaired by Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Rep. Pete McCloskey. Together, they helped organize a bipartisan day of action to raise awareness to the threat of environmental pollution.
Eight years earlier, many credit the book, “Silent Spring,” for igniting a generation of environmental consciousness. Rachel Carson reported the impact of pesticides on human health; and industry malfeasance that caused the crisis. By 1969, disasters like the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River fire heightened Americans' concern over the quality of their water and air.
The growing public distress led Richard Nixon to work with on passing the 's 1st major environmental laws: the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act of 1970. But as the government's environmental responsibilities grew, so too did the need for consolidation. Nixon thus proposed the Environmental Protection Agency to research pollutants, monitor environmental conditions, establish “environmental baselines,” and enforce standards for air and water quality.
In his “special message to the Congress,” Nixon explained that, “Each of us, all across this great land, has a stake in maintaining and improving environmental quality: clean air and clean water, the wise use of our land, the protection of wildlife and natural beauty...These problems will not stand still for politics or for partisanship...The time has come for man to make his with nature. Let us renew our commitment. Let us redouble our effort. The quality of our life on this good land is a cause to unite all Americans.”
You can learn more during today's webinar, "The Environmental Decade: Congress, Nixon, & the Birth of the EPA” (12-1 pm ET). Register for free at: https://bit.ly/3vzICHb
Photo: Nixon and his wife planting a tree to recognize Earth Day ( photo office)
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