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How the Bloodiest Mutiny in British Naval History Helped Create American Political Asylum

By | March 24, 2017

The United States has a special history, and thus bears a unique stake, when it comes to the flight of foreign refugees, particularly those seeking sanctuary from oppression and violence. Political asylum has long been a defining element of America’s national identity, beginning most forcefully in 1776 with Thomas Paine’s pledge in Common Sense that independence from Great Britain would afford “an asylum for mankind.” …

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The “Greatest Show on Earth” Enthralled Small-Town Crowds and Inspired Shopping Malls

By | March 17, 2017

When Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” rolled into American towns in the 1880s, daily life abruptly stopped. Months before the show arrived, an advance team saturated the surrounding region with brilliantly colored lithographs of the extraordinary: elephants, bearded ladies, clowns, tigers, acrobats, and trick riders.
On “Circus Day” (as it was known), huge crowds gathered to observe the predawn arrival of “herds and …

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How Abolitionists Fought—and Lost—the Battle with America’s Sweet Tooth

By | March 10, 2017

Today, land developer and businessman William Cooper is best known for founding Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But back in the 1790s, Cooper was a judge and a congressman who used his power to market a different sort of pleasure—American-made maple syrup—as an ethical homegrown alternative to molasses made from cane sugar, which was at that time farmed by slaves. …

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In Atlanta, Honoring Two Civil War Generals Opens a Discussion on Race and History

By | March 3, 2017

One hundred and fifty years ago, my colorful East Atlanta neighborhood sat two miles outside of the city limits. By July 22, 1864, Union troops had set up their front lines along a trail that later became our main street. When the Confederates decided to bring the fight to their enemy, these quiet woods became the location of the devastating Battle of Atlanta, where some …

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How My Parents’ Wartime Gamble on Greyhounds Paid off with an Idyllic Life on the Road

By | February 27, 2017

The greyhound racing tracks were like big shiny carnivals, but I could only see them from the outside. Kids weren’t allowed in where people were gambling. Sometimes mother took me with her and I got to watch from the lot where the dog men parked their rigs. They all knew my name and gave me bubble gum and candy. On my tip toes I could …

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In the Lawless Post-Civil War Ozarks, the Vigilante Bald Knobbers Took Government’s Place

By | February 24, 2017

When I was seven years old, in 1983, my family took a road trip from Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Branson, Missouri, a family-oriented resort town deep in the Ozark Mountains. Our destination was Silver Dollar City, a Christian-owned theme park that is like Disneyland reimagined as a 19th century mining village, all built around a cave that was a bat guano mine in the 1880s. There, …

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Medicare Partially Cured American Healthcare, But Also Left Some Scars

By | February 17, 2017

Before Congress passed Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 millions of elderly Americans lacked health insurance. They could not afford to go to the hospital, nor could they cover the cost of a physician. Medical breakthroughs ranging from antibiotics to new surgical procedures kept increasing the cost of health care, but the elderly were left out in the cold, and were unable to buy the insurance …

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The Cuban Missile Crisis Haunts My Dreams, But as a Child I Regarded My Fighter Pilot Dad as a Nuclear Bomb-Smashing Superman

By | February 13, 2017

On a Tuesday morning in mid-October 1962, my father received a phone call ordering him to fly from where we lived, Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base outside Kansas City, Missouri, to Grand Island, Nebraska. He had to leave immediately. He couldn’t tell my mother why, but he did tell her that the president would speak later that night on television, and that she should listen.
My mother …

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The Presidential Practice of Tapping the Moneyed Elite Began with WWI—and Was Surprisingly Scandal-Free

By | February 10, 2017

From our earliest days we Americans have embraced leaders from among the ranks of the nation’s moneyed elite. Voters set the tone when they chose George Washington, the wealthiest man on the continent at the time, as the first president.
But that choice was accompanied by a healthy skepticism of the role of money in the halls of government. As the years went by, recurrent scandals …

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The Passport Went From an Informal Means of Introduction to a Symbol of American Identity

By | February 6, 2017

It was originally a European tradition, not ours. But in 1780, needing a more formal way to send former Continental Congressman Francis Dana from France to Holland, Benjamin Franklin used his own printing press to create a new document. The single-sheet letter, written entirely in French, politely requested that Dana and his servant be allowed to pass freely as they traveled for the next month. …

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