U.S. Congressional Serial Set


'Free Talk About Free Books': Tracing the evolution of America’s libraries through primary source documents

1. From private collections to public repositories

The first libraries in the United States were largely private, the realm of wealthy and learned men. During the Colonial Era, these men bequeathed books to educational institutions, establishing early college libraries. They also initiated subscription libraries, which were private collections funded by memberships and dues. While such institutions weren’t available to the general public, they laid the foundation for the public lending libraries that soon became a hallmark of American civic and intellectual life.

One of the earlier imprints chronicling this evolution is a broadside dated 1741, found in Readex’s Early American Imprints, notifying the public of a meeting “in order to consider the Proposal of applying for a CHARTER, to incorporate the said Company.”

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That company was the Library Company of Philadelphia, the inspiration of Benjamin Franklin. The same year, Franklin published “a catalogue of books belonging to the company…” which members could borrow to read at their leisure—a rare luxury in a time when books were expensive and difficult to come by.

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Thirteen years later another broadside, this time from New York City, proposed a subscription program to finance a public library. These important institutions were still not free, although their fees were relatively modest for Americans of comfortable financial means.

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'Free Talk About Free Books': Tracing the evolution of America’s libraries through primary source documents

“An equality of wages”: The Evolution of Working Women’s Rights, as Captured by Early American Publications

Among the United States’ earliest and most fervent supporters of working women’s rights was an Irish immigrant named Mathew Carey, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1784. In that city he established a publishing business and a book store, and used his expertise to print broadsides and pamphlets that advocated for progressive causes.

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Toward the end of his life, Carey became a champion of poor seamstresses and spoolers, the women who wound cotton or yarn onto spools. In 1831 he wrote a pamphlet titled “Address to the Wealthy of the Land, Ladies as Well as Gentlemen, on the Character, Conduct, Situation, and Prospects, of those Whose Sole Dependence for Subsistence, is on the Labour of their Hands.” The title page includes a quote from “Barton’s Essay on the Progressive Depreciation of Agricultural Labour:”

We must never forget that THE LOW RATE OF WAGES IS THE ROOT OF THE MISCHIEF, and that unless we can succeed in raising the price of [their] labour, our utmost efforts will do little towards effectually bettering their condition….The increasing necessities of the poor [women] arise from the depreciation of labour, and consequently EVERY REMEDY WHICH FAILS TO COUNTERACT THIS DEPRECIATION, does no more than skim over the wound, without reaching the seat of the disease.

“An equality of wages”: The Evolution of Working Women’s Rights, as Captured by Early American Publications

“Bustle in the House of Wisdom:” The Life and Crimes of Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon

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Multiple choice: You’re Matthew Lyon, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1801. On the occasion of your fifty-second birthday, you’re asked what your most enduring legacy will be, that for which you’ll be remembered in two hundred years.  Which of the following answers do you choose?

  1. You were the first person convicted for violating the Sedition Act of 1798, when you accused President John Adams in print of “ridiculous pomp,” among other things.
  2. You were the first (and only) member of Congress to be reelected while imprisoned (for the above infraction).
  3. You were the first member of Congress charged with “gross indecency” and were repeatedly threatened with expulsion from office, for spitting in the face of a fellow member of Congress, and for the physical violence that ensued.
  4. You cast the deciding Congressional vote to elect Thomas Jefferson as President during the Election of 1800

With perfect hindsight from the twenty-first century, the election of Thomas Jefferson looms large in the list above, but all of these choices are notable for their impact on the course of early American history. Matthew Lyon was an Irish immigrant, an entrepreneur, and an (allegedly) disgraced Revolutionary War officer who served with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Lyon was a vehement anti-Federalist. The Federalists believed in a strong central government, whereas Lyon and his fellow Democratic-Republicans feared monarchy and favored states’ rights instead.

“Bustle in the House of Wisdom:” The Life and Crimes of Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon

The Territorial Imperative: Readex’s First Release of the Territorial Papers of the United States

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In the early days of the American republic, the territorial imperative that would develop into manifest destiny was more of an optimistic thought experiment than an imperial (or divine) mandate to subdue the wilderness. For the first release of Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United States, let’s examine a few deceptively simple terms and the concepts underlying them, namely Territory, and Paper.

A Territory denotes a specific piece of land over which a consistent level of sovereignty and law is extended. But what did that require, exactly? When surveys were perilous, expensive and imprecise, and even explicit natural boundaries were often contested, the concept of a Territory required magical thinking. Certainly American Indians took that position; the boundaries delineated in treaties and land grants took little account of indigenous traditions, alliances and patterns of settlement. In that much U.S. territories seemed quixotic and arbitrary, foisted upon established societies that could do quite well without legal title, not to mention Indian removal.

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The Territorial Imperative: Readex’s First Release of the Territorial Papers of the United States

Black and White Shot Through with Red: Poet Claude McKay Brings the Harlem Renaissance to the Soviet Union

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At the confluence of the period of racial violence known as Red Summer (1919) and the first Red Scare (1917-1920), Jamaica-born poet and journalist Claude McKay merged black anger with radical politics in his most well-known poem, “If We Must Die.”

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McKay’s sonnet initially appeared in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator, a radical socialist magazine published in New York City from 1918-24 by Max and Crystal Eastman. The fame and impact of “If We Must Die” was such that it was soon reprinted as a rallying cry in other progressive magazines such as the September 1919 issue of The Messenger, available in African American Periodicals, 1825-1995.

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Black and White Shot Through with Red: Poet Claude McKay Brings the Harlem Renaissance to the Soviet Union

Sifting the Ashes of Counterinsurgency: The Role of America’s Phoenix Program in the Vietnam War

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Fifty years ago the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a multi-pronged military campaign that underscored South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s inability to protect his country’s urban areas from attack.

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Although the assaults were eventually repulsed, the heightened focus on the defense of South Vietnamese cities exposed rural areas to greater infiltration by the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) cadre, consisting of civilians and paramilitary personnel collaborating with the communist North.

America formalized the Phoenix Program in 1967 as a means of addressing just this eventuality. Through a melding of rural development with intelligence gathering and targeted detention and killing of suspected Viet Cong, they hoped to turn the tide of the war to the South and democracy.

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Sifting the Ashes of Counterinsurgency: The Role of America’s Phoenix Program in the Vietnam War

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

The “Bridge of No Return” doesn’t look like much today: four waist-high blue bollards at the eastern end stand guard over grass growing through the cracked roadway. A weathered sign reads, “Military Demarcation Line” in English and Korean. The bridge’s railings are surely inadequate to prevent some desperate soul from leaping into the shallow river below. At the western end a low concrete wall hints that the last pedestrian or vehicle passed over the span long ago.

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As often happens in real estate, location is everything. This bridge spans the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) in Panmunjom, the United Nations Joint Security Area between North and South Korea, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is a heavily fortified and closely monitored strip of land 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide that approximates the 38th parallel of latitude. The MDL represents the cease-fire line of a war that has been unresolved since 1953. Those who were repatriated across this bridge acknowledged that they could never go back whence they came; theirs was a one-way trip.

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In 1993, protected by a heavily armed Secret Service escort, President Bill Clinton walked over this bridge to within about ten feet of the MDL, scrutinized all the while by North Korean soldiers armed with AK-47s. Obviously President Clinton lived to record this excursion in his memoirs, but on August 18, 1976, two American servicemen supervising a landscaping detail nearby were not so fortunate.

If a Tree Falls in the Demilitarized Zone: Operation Paul Bunyan Pits a Poplar against Pyongyang

Modern Research: A Conversation with Professor Paul Finkelman [VIDEO]

Readex had the opportunity to sit down with Paul Finkelman, a leading authority on American legal history, race relations and religious freedom, to discuss the importance of primary documents in his work as a scholar and professor. Finkelman-book cover.jpgNow the President of Gratz College, Finkelman has taught law and history courses at more than a dozen intuitions. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books, including Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court, which will be published this month by Harvard University Press. 

In our discussion, Finkelman compared his work flow to that of scholars in decades past, noting how the online availability of primary sources not only fosters faster work, but also unlocks new findings in ways never before possible. Watch the highlights of our interview to learn how digital resources like the U.S. Congressional Serial Set and American Pamphlets can help students discover historical connections and energize their research.

 

 

Contact us for more information about Readex digital collections for classroom and research use

Modern Research: A Conversation with Professor Paul Finkelman [VIDEO]

Nixon Rising: The ‘Pumpkin Papers’ that Haunted Alger Hiss

You may have heard of the “Pentagon Papers” from the Vietnam War era. More recently, the “Panama Papers” exposed the use of that country’s legal and financial institutions for tax evasion. But what about the “Pumpkin Papers?” In the spirit of the season, we’ll shed some light on these documents that were used to keep the specter of communism at bay following World War II.

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In 1950, the admission of the “Pumpkin Papers” as evidence of espionage against Alger Hiss led to his conviction for perjury, resulting in a five-year federal prison sentence. But perhaps as significant, the conviction of Alger Hiss brought U.S. Representative Richard M. Nixon to national prominence, as seen in these clippings from the Readex digital edition of the Washington Evening Star.

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Nixon Rising: The ‘Pumpkin Papers’ that Haunted Alger Hiss

Andrei Vlasov, the Russian Liberation Army, and Operation Keelhaul: A Tragic Diplomatic and Humanitarian Debacle

The aims of the Committee of Liberation of the Peoples of Russia are: the overthrow of Stalin’s tyranny, the liberation of the peoples of Russia from the Bolshevik system, and the restitution of those rights to the peoples of Russia which they fought for and won in the people’s revolution of 1917.

Andrei Vlasov, The Prague Manifesto, November 14, 1944

It’s November 14, 1944, and an armed uprising against Stalinist terror and Bolshevism is in progress. Its participants number well into the six figures and have been formed into an actual army. Its leader is Andrei Vlasov, a former general in the Red Army who had fought the Germans at the Battle of Moscow in 1941. Now he is allied with them, but only just.

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Vlasov makes his way to the microphone in a crowded ballroom in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and declaims a manifesto excoriating Soviet communist oppression. He speaks as a pragmatic man of firm convictions and steady purpose, and he gives a bravura performance, a definitive example of speaking truth to power. But he is also a man divided in his loyalties.

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Andrei Vlasov, the Russian Liberation Army, and Operation Keelhaul: A Tragic Diplomatic and Humanitarian Debacle

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