Misjudging Adolf Hitler

Misjudging Adolf Hitler

Alan Singer, Janice Chopyk, and Debra Willett

The 21st century has witnessed a resurgence in authoritarian and potentially fascist movements in many parts of the world including in the United States. As a result of Congressional hearings and judicial action we know that armed militias like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were active participants in the January 6, 2021 assault on the United States Capitol Building. They wanted to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election and threatened to murder the Vice-President of the United States. Commentators like Madeleine Albright (2018) and Timothy Snyder (2017; 2018) make the point that Fascists pretend to respond to public sentiment and populist movements, but that is really just a strategy to achieve power by stirring popular discontent, resentment and fear to undermine democratic institutions. Snyder believes that in the twenty-first century, the gravest threat to democracy is virulent nationalist populism and sees the potential for the rise of authoritarianism in the United States as a response to a real or perceived danger. He quotes Hannah Arendt, who wrote that after the Reichstag fire in Germany, “I was no longer of the opinion that one can simply be a bystander” (Snyder, 2017: 110; Arendt, 2003: 6). Arendt’s statement highlights the need for an activist component in civics education as well as a deeper understanding of how fascists came to power in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. During that period in the west many commentators misjudged the threat of fascism to world peace. Snyder and Albright call for promoting active citizenship and resistance against tyranny by educators committed to democracy and liberty, important goals in the National Council for the Social Studies College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 to a German speaking family in a region that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later became part of Austria. He did not become an actual German citizen until February 1932. In 1913, Hitler moved from Vienna in Austria to Munich in Germany and with the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the German Army. In the army Hitler rose to the rank of corporal and received the Iron Cross for service on the Western Front. Just before an armistice was signed in November 1918, Hitler was temporarily blinded and hospitalized following a British gas attack on German troops in occupied Belgium.

While still in the army, Hitler became part of the military’s propaganda department, and was assigned to speak to troops promoting nationalism and anti-Socialism. He also joined an anti-communist, anti-Semitic right wing political party. Under Hitler’s direction the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party or Nazi Party and in 1921 Hitler became its official leader. In 1923, Hitler participated in the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch that tried to take over the government of the German state of Bavaria. He was captured, convicted of treason, and spent nine months in prison where he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), a manifesto of Nazi ideology. In a September 1930 election, the Nazi Party increased its representation in the German parliament, the Reichstag, from 14 to 107 seats, making Hitler the leader of the second largest party in Germany. In January 1933, with the Nazis Party holding a third of the seats in parliament, Adolf Hitler became chancellor, or Prime Minister, of a coalition government. Once in office, Hitler quickly moved to ban all opposition and in July 1934 he proclaimed himself “Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor.”

Dorothy Thompson of the United States and Gareth Jones of Wales were two of the earliest western reporters to meet with and speak to Adolf Hitler. In their reports, they misjudged his threat to democracy, world peace, and human rights in their reporting. In 1931, the Nazi Party invited Thompson to interview Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine and in 1932, Thompson republished the interview as part of a book, I Saw Hitler! (New York: Farrar & Rinehart). Much of the article and book are dismissive of Hitler as a person. Thompson described him as a man of “startling insignificance,” “inconsequent and voluble,” and “the very prototype of the Little Man” (13-14). She characterized the interview with Hitler as “difficult, because one cannot carry on a conversation with Adolf Hitler. He speaks always as though he were addressing a mass meeting . . . a hysterical note creeps into his voice, which rises sometimes almost to a scream. He gives the impression of a man in a trance” (16).

Hitler, not surprisingly, was offended by his depiction in the Cosmopolitan article and Thompson was forced to leave Germany. In the foreword to the book, Thompson wrote. “My offense was to think that Hitler was just an ordinary man, after all. That is a crime in the reigning cult in Germany, which says Mr. Hitler is a Messiah sent by God to save the German people” (v). To her credit, Thompson later became an anti-Nazi activist in the United States, denouncing fascism in public addresses, her magazine and newspaper columns, and on radio broadcasts.

In a February 1933 article for The Western Mail & South Wales News, Gareth Jones described his meeting with Adolf Hitler during a shared airplane ride. Jones, like Thompson, was not initially impressed with Hitler, writing “When his car arrived on the airfield about half an hour ago and he stepped out, a slight figure in a shapeless black hat, wearing a light mackintosh, and when he raised his arm flabbily to greet those who had assembled to see him, I was mystified. How had this ordinary-looking man succeeded in becoming deified by fourteen million people?” Later on the flight, Jones discovered what he considered the other Hitler and reevaluated him. “Hitler steps out of the aeroplane. But he is now a man spiritually transformed. His eyes have a certain fixed purpose. Here is a different Hitler. There are two Hitlers – the natural boyish Hitler, and the Hitler who is inspired by tremendous national force, a great Hitler. It is the second Hitler who has stirred Germany to an awakening.” Jones had just completed a tour of the famine-ravished Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, and viewed Hitler and Germany positively in comparison.

The West’s uncertainty about Hitler’s threat to world peace comes across in Time magazine’s selection of him as its 1938 “Man of the Year.” It conveyed a sense that Americans should be impressed by the figure of Adolf Hitler as he strides “over a cringing Europe with all the swagger of a conqueror.” Hitler, in five years, “lifted the nation from post-War defeatism” and transformed it into “one of the great military powers of the world today.” Time editors considered Nazi rule in Germany “no ordinary dictatorship, but rather one of great energy and magnificent planning.” The article was published in January 1939, eight months before Germany invaded Poland igniting World War II.

In November 1938, during a parliamentary debate, future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations . . . Hitler is Fuehrer because he exemplifies and enshrines the will of Germany.” As closure for lessons on the rise to power of fascists in Europe on the 1920s and 1930s, students should discuss why Churchill, Jones, Time magazine, and Thompson, at least initially, seemed to misunderstand and minimized Hitler’s threat to democracy in Germany and world peace.


Albright, M. 2018. Fascism: A Warning. New York: HarperCollins.

Arendt, H. 2003. The Portable Hannah Arendt. New York: Penguin Books.

Snyder, T. 2017. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. New York: Penguin.

Snyder, T. 2018. The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. New York: Penguin.

Online sources for this article include: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/hitlers-rise-and-fall-timeline

Document 1: “I Saw Hitler!” by Dorothy Thompson (Farrar & Rinehart, 1932) (Excerpts)

Instructions: Dorothy Thompson interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931 for an article in Cosmopolitan magazine. Read excerpts A, B, C and D and answer questions 1 – 3. (Note: Hitler spelled his first name Adolf. Thompson wrote his name as Adolph in the magazine and book.)

A. “When finally I walked into Adolph Hitler’s salon in the Kaiserhof Hotel, I was convinced that I was meeting the future dictator of Germany. In something less than fifty seconds I was quite sure that I was not. It took just about that time to measure the startling insignificance of this man who has set the world agog. He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill-poised, insecure. He is the very prototype of the Little Man. A lock of lank hair falls over an insignificant and slightly retreating forehead. The back head is shallow. The face is broad in the cheek-bones. The nose is large, but badly shaped and without character. His movements are awkward, almost undignified and most un-martial. There is in his face no trace of any inner conflict or self-discipline” (13-14).   B. “And yet, he is not without a certain charm. But it is the soft, almost feminine charm of the Austrian! When he talks it is with a broad Austrian dialect. The eyes alone are notable. Dark gray and hyperthyroid—they have the peculiar shine which often distinguishes geniuses, alcoholics, and hysterics. There is something irritatingly refined about him. I bet he crooks his little finger when he drinks a cup of tea. His is an actor’s face. Capable of being pushed out or in, expanded or contracted at will, in order to register facile emotions” (14).   C. “The interview was difficult, because one cannot carry on a conversation with Adolph Hitler. He speaks always, as though he were addressing a mass meeting. In personal intercourse he is shy, almost embarrassed. In every question he seeks for a theme that will set him off. Then his eyes focus in some far corner of the room; a hysterical note creeps into his voice which rises sometimes almost to a scream. He gives the impression of a man in a trance. He bangs the table. ‘Not yet is the whole working class with us…we need a new spirit…Marxism has undermined the masses…rebirth in a new ideology…not workers, not employers, not socialists, not Catholics…But Germans!’ This, in answer to the question: What will you do for the working masses when you come to power?” (16-17)   D. “It is an important question. Millions of Germans follow Hitler because he has proclaimed war upon the banks, upon the trusts, upon “loan-capital.” He has asserted time and time again that he will abolish the rule of one class by another. What actually do these statements mean, in terms of practical politics? I couldn’t find out, and anyone who can is a better interviewer than I. When I dared to interrupt the stream of eloquence by bluntly repeating my question, he replied (rather coyly) that he didn’t intend to hand his program over to his enemies (the German Chancellor) for them to ‘steal’” (17).  


  1. What was Thompson’s initial reaction to Adolf Hitler?
  2. Why does Thompson describe the interview as difficult?
  3. In your view, why would Adolf Hitler be annoyed or angry at his portrayal by Thompson?
  4. In your view, based on these excerpts and your knowledge of German history between World War I and World War II, should Thompson have issued a warning about the Adolf Hitler? Explain.

Document 2. “A Welshman Looks At Europe, With Hitler Across Germany” by Gareth Jones (Excerpts), The Western Mail And South Wales News, February 28, 1933

Instructions: Gareth Jones met Adolf Hitler in February 1933 a month after Hitler became German Chancellor. Read excerpts A, B and C and answer questions 1 – 3.

A. “If this aeroplane should crash then the whole history of Europe would be changed. For a few feet away sits Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany and leader of the most volcanic nationalist awakening which the world has seen. Six thousand feet beneath us, hidden by a sea of rolling white clouds, is the land which he has roused to a frenzy. We are rushing along at a speed of 142 miles per hour from Berlin to Frankfurt-on-Main, where Hitler is to begin his lightning election campaign. The occupants of the aeroplane are, indeed, a mass of human dynamite. I can see Hitler studying the map and then reading a number of blue reports. He does not look impressive. When his car arrived on the airfield about half an hour ago and he stepped out, a slight figure in a shapeless black hat, wearing a light mackintosh, and when he raised his arm flabbily to greet those who had assembled to see him, I was mystified.”    B. “How had this ordinary-looking man succeeded in becoming deified by fourteen million people? He was more natural and less of a poseur than I had expected; there was something boyish about him as he saw a new motor-car and immediately displayed a great interest in it. He shook hands with the Nazi chief and with those others of us who were to fly with him in the famous “Richthofen,” the fastest and most powerful three-motored aeroplane in Germany.  His handshake was firm, but his large, outstanding eyes seemed emotionless as he greeted me. Standing around in the snow were members of his bodyguard in their black uniform with silver brocade. On their hats there is a silver skull and crossbones, the cavities of the eyes in the skull being bright red.”    C. “We are now descending, however. Frankfurt is beneath us. A crowd is gathered below. Thousands of faces look up at us. We make a smooth landing. Nazi leaders, some in brown, some in black and silver, all with a red swastika arm-band, await their chief. Hitler steps out of the aeroplane. But he is now a man spiritually transformed. His eyes have a certain fixed purpose. Here is a different Hitler. There are two Hitlers – the natural boyish Hitler, and the Hitler who is inspired by tremendous national force, a great Hitler. It is the second Hitler who has stirred Germany to an awakening.”  


  1. What was Jones’ initial reaction to Adolf Hitler?
  2. Why does Jones decide there are two Hitlers?
  3. In your view, based on these excerpts and your knowledge of German history between World War I and World War II, should Jones have issued a warning about the second Hitler? Explain.

Document 3. Time Magazine’s Man of the Year (1938), January 2, 1939 (Excerpt)

Instructions: For it’s January, 1939 edition, Time magazine selected Adolf Hitler as its 1938 “Man of the Year. “Read excerpts A and B and answer questions 1 – 3.

A. Adolf Hitler without doubt became 1938’s Man of the Year . . . [T]he figure of Adolf Hitler strode over a cringing Europe with all the swagger of a conqueror . . . Hitler became in 1938 the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today . . . Rant as he might against the machinations of international Communism and international Jewry, or rave as he would that he was just a Pan-German trying to get all the Germans back in one nation, Fuehrer Hitler had himself become the world’s No. 1 International Revolutionist.   B. That the German people love uniforms, parades, military formations, and submit easily to authority is no secret . . . What Adolph Hitler & Co. did to Germany in less than six years was applauded wildly and ecstatically by most Germans. He lifted the nation from post-War defeatism. Under the swastika Germany was unified. His was no ordinary dictatorship, but rather one of great energy and magnificent planning . . . Germany has become a nation of uniforms, goose-stepping to Hitler’s tune, where boys of ten are taught to throw hand grenades, where women are regarded as breeding machines. In five years under the Man of 1938, regimented Germany had made itself one of the great military powers of the world today.  


  1. According to this article, what are the key achievements of Adolf Hitler?
  2. Based on these achievements, do you think Hitler merited selection as “Man of the Year“? Explain.
  3. Write a Letter-to-the-Editor of Time explaining your point of view.

Why Should War Criminals Operate with Impunity?

Why Should War Criminals Operate with Impunity?

Lawrence Wittner

(Republished from History News Network)

The issue of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine highlights the decades-long reluctance of today’s major military powers to support the International Criminal Court. In 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by an international treaty, the Rome Statute. Coming into force in 2002 and with 123 nations now parties to it, the treaty provides the ICC, headquartered at the Hague, may investigate and prosecute individuals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. As a court of last resort, the ICC may only initiate proceedings when a country is unwilling or unable to take such action against its nationals or anyone else on its territory. In addition, although the ICC is authorized to initiate investigations anywhere, it may only try nationals or residents of nations that are parties to the treaty, unless it is authorized to investigate by the nation where the crimes occurred.

The development of a permanent international court dealing with severe violations of human rights has already produced some important results. Thirty-one criminal cases have been brought before the ICC, resulting, thus far, in ten convictions and four acquittals. The first ICC conviction occurred in 2012, when a Congolese warlord was found guilty of using conscripted child soldiers in his nation. In 2020, the ICC began trying a former Islamist militant alleged to have forced hundreds of women into sexual slavery in Mali. This April, the ICC opened the trial of a militia leader charged with 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, Sudan. Parliamentarians from around the world have lauded “the ICC’s pivotal role in the prevention of atrocities, the fight against impunity, the support for victims’ rights, and the guarantee of long-lasting justice.”

Despite these advances, the ICC faces some serious problems. Often years after criminal transgressions, it must locate the criminals and people willing to testify in their cases. Furthermore, lacking a police force, it is forced to rely upon national governments, some with a minimal commitment to justice, to capture and deport suspected criminals for trial. Governments also occasionally withdrew from the ICC, when angered, as the Philippines did after its president, Rodrigo Duterte, came under investigation.

The ICC’s most serious problem, however, is that 70 nations, including the world’s major military powers, have refused to become parties to the treaty. The governments of China, India, and Saudi Arabia never signed the Rome Statute. Although the governments of the United States, Russia, and Israel did sign it, they never ratified it. Subsequently, in fact, they withdrew their signatures. 

The motive for these holdouts is clear enough. In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of his nation from the process of joining the ICC. This action occurred in response to the ICC ruling that Russia’s seizure of Crimea amounted to an “ongoing occupation.” Such a position, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “contradicts reality” and the Russian foreign ministry dismissed the court as “one-sided and inefficient.” Understandably, governments harboring current and future war criminals would rather not face investigations and possible prosecutions.

The skittishness of the U.S. government toward the ICC is illustrative. Even as he signed the treaty, President Bill Clinton cited “concerns about significant flaws” in it, notably the inability to “protect US officials from unfounded charges.” Thus, he did not submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification and recommended that his successor, George W. Bush, continue this policy “until our fundamental concerns are satisfied.” Bush, in turn, “unsigned” the treaty in 2002, pressured other governments into bilateral agreements that required them to refuse surrender of U.S. nationals to the ICC, and signed the American Servicemembers Protection Act (sometimes called the “Hague Invasion Act”), which authorized the use of military force to liberate any American being held by the ICC. 

Although subsequently the Bush and Obama administrations grew more cooperative with the court, aiding it in the prosecution of African warlords, the Trump administration adopted the most hostile stance toward it yet. In September 2018, Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly that the United States would provide “no support” to the ICC, which had “no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.” In 2020, the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions and visa restrictions on top ICC officials for any efforts to investigate the actions of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Under the Biden administration, however, U.S. policy swung back toward support. Soon after taking office, Biden—in line with his more welcoming approach to international institutions ― dropped the Trump sanctions against ICC officials. Then, in March 2022, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine produced widely reported atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, the U.S. president labeled Putin a “war criminal” and called for a “war crimes trial.”

The ICC was the obvious institution for action. That March, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution backing an investigation into Russian war crimes in Ukraine and praising the ICC. Weeks before this, in fact, the ICC did open an investigation.

Even so, it is unclear what the U.S. government can or is willing to do to aid the ICC in Ukraine. After all, U.S. legislation, still on the books, bars substantial U.S. assistance to the ICC. Also, Pentagon officials are reportedly opposed to action, based on the U.S. government’s long-time fear that U.S. troops might some day be prosecuted for war crimes.

For their part, Russian officials have claimed that the widely-recognized atrocities were a complete “fake,” a “fabrication,” and a “provocation.” In Bucha, stated the Russian defense ministry, “not a single local resident has suffered from any violent action.” Not surprisingly, Russian authorities have refused to cooperate with the ICC investigation.

Isn’t it time for the major military powers to give up the notion that their war criminals should be allowed to operate with impunity? Isn’t it time these countries joined the ICC?

The U.S. Response to the Holocaust was Part of a Longer Pattern of Appeasing Fascism

The U.S. Response to the Holocaust Was Part of a Longer Pattern of Appeasing Fascism

Roger Peace

(Reprinted from History News Network)

The six-hour documentary film on the U.S. and the Holocaust produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein has many merits. It vividly portrays and personalizes the horrors and inhumanity of the Nazi murder machine, examines the diversity of responses within the United States, and highlights the State Department’s resistance to allowing more Jewish refugees into the country. Inspired by an exhibition of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the film reflects the museum’s extraordinary cache of recorded interviews and resources. 

Most importantly, it teaches the right lessons. When asked what she hoped people would gain from viewing the film, Botstein, the child of Jewish refugees on her father’s side, said, “I hope they learn something and have conversations about their role in a democratic society and their responsibilities to fellow human beings. To be kind to your neighbor, to think about what you would do and what you should do when things get hard and complicated. How can we work together?”

Yet I also agree with critic Martin Ostrow, the director of a previous PBS film on America’s response to the Holocaust aired in 1994, that Burns and company treated President Franklin D. Roosevelt with kid gloves. “It’s a shame,” wrote Ostrow, “the series brings nothing new to understanding Roosevelt’s troubling decisions and motivations.” 

To understand the Roosevelt administration’s motivations and actions – or non-actions – one has to examine the U.S. and British policy of appeasement toward fascist states during the 1920s and 1930s. This larger story has been explored by a number of scholars, including Arnold Offner in American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938 (1969), David Schmitz in Thank God They’re on Our Side: The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorship, 1921-1963 (1999), Jacques Pauwels in Big Business and Hitler (2017), and Jonathan Haslam, The Spectre of War: International Communism and the Origins of World War II (2021).

Essentially, the policy of appeasement was based on the view that communism constituted a mortal threat to Western society, whereas fascism was acceptable, if not a positive antidote to communism. Indeed, when Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922, U.S. officials welcomed his National Fascist Party as a force for stability and a bulwark against Bolshevism (communism). “In developing American policy,” writes Schmitz, “officials in Washington were mainly influenced by Mussolini’s establishment of a stable, noncommunist government that welcomed American trade and investments.” This view, in turn, “allowed American officials to ignore Mussolini’s brutal repression of all opposition groups, destruction of Italy’s constitutional government, and rule by violence.” 

Conservative British leader Winston Churchill was of a similar mind. Following a meeting with Mussolini in Rome in January 1927, Churchill praised the dictator at a press conference, saying, “If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”

Mussolini provided the role model for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Upon Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in January 1933, the American ambassador to Germany, Frederic Sackett, wrote, “From the standpoint of stable political conditions, it is perhaps well that Hitler is now in a position to wield unprecedented power.” 

In 1937, after more than four years of Nazi dictatorial rule and anti-Jewish policies and propaganda, the U.S. State Department continued to maintain that fascist-type governments were compatible with U.S. interests, free trade, and the international order. A February 1937 report written by the department’s European Division defined fascism as a respectable movement of the propertied classes aimed at defending the existing order and private property against Bolshevism. Where fascism was in power, the authors judged that “it must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle classes, will again turn to the Left.” The goal of the United States, as such, was to ensure that Germany would recover economically. Should the economy falter, they warned, “war is possible, if not probable.”

Some members of the U.S. diplomatic corps pushed in the opposite direction. Most prescient was George Messersmith. He had been in the Foreign Service since 1914 and served as the consul general in Berlin from 1930 to April 1934 before becoming minister to Austria. In March 1934, he strongly advised that the U.S. not renew the major trade agreement with Germany, the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights, ratified in 1925, which was due to expire in 1935. 

Messersmith argued that the treaty would only spur German rearmament. He pointed out that the long-range “mail planes” recently purchased by Germany were “easily convertible to bombers.” Contrary to Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s benefic view of international trade, he wrote in May 1934 that “a government with really peaceable intentions does not produce armaments, train its people in military exercises, and create such an extraordinary spirit in the schools, even among the very young.” Rather than build up the German economy, Messersmith hoped that economic instability would bring down the Hitler regime.

Disregarding Messersmith’s pleas, a special State Department committee recommended approval of the trade treaty, noting that trade warfare would mean the loss of nearly one billion dollars in American investments. The U.S. and Germany renewed the treaty in June 1935, which in turn enabled U.S. corporations to trade and invest in Germany without restriction. Messersmith lamented in 1936 that American firms were allowing their capital to be “used for the maintenance of the German industrial program and in some important directions for German rearmament, which is obviously not intended for defensive but for aggressive measures.” American business leaders, he added, “are not blind to all of this.”

U.S. business investments in Germany were substantial when Hitler took over in 1933, and continued to grow thereafter. “Perhaps the Germans could have assembled vehicles and airplanes without American assistance,” writes Pauwels. “But Germany desperately lacked strategic raw materials, such as rubber and oil, which were needed to fight a war predicated on mobility and speed. American corporations came to the rescue.” 

As Nazi repression and militarization proceeded, U.S. corporate leaders faced the choice of whether to continue their operations in Germany or pull up stakes and take a financial loss. Virtually all remained. The reigning philosophy in Corporate America was expressed by Alfred Sloan, Jr., chairman of the General Motors board of directors, in a letter to a stockholder in April 1939: “According to my belief . . . an international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the country in which it is operating.”

Ambassador William Dodd in Berlin criticized this economic appeasement. He wrote to President Roosevelt on October 19, 1936: “At the present moment more than a hundred American corporations have subsidiaries here or cooperative understandings. The DuPonts have three allies in Germany that are aiding in the armaments business. Their chief ally is the I. G. Farben Company, a part of the Government which gives 200,000 marks a year to one propaganda operation on American opinion.” Dodd also noted the investments of Standard Oil, International Harvester, and General Motors in German rearmament.

Another mark of appeasement was Roosevelt’s appointment of Hugh R. Wilson to replace Dodd. Ambassador Dodd had been a thorn in the side of the Nazi regime, avoiding Nazi celebratory events and beseeching the Roosevelt administration to protest Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, albeit to no avail. Wilson, during his first meeting with Hitler on March 3, 1938, complimented the dictator as “a man who had pulled his people from moral and economic despair into the state of pride and evident prosperity which they now enjoyed,” according to his own account. Eight days after the meeting, German troops marched into Austria.

U.S. diplomatic and economic appeasement carried over into the muted U.S. responses to Jewish repression as well as the establishment of strict immigration quotas. On June 16, 1933, Roosevelt effectively established his administration’s policy with respect to Jewish persecution in Germany in a missive to Dodd in Berlin: “The German authorities are treating Jews shamefully and the Jews in this country are greatly excited. But this is also not a government affair. We can do nothing except for American citizens who happen to be made victims. We must protect them, and whatever we can do to moderate the general persecution by unofficial and personal influence ought to be done.”

Roosevelt began to have second thoughts about the policy of appeasement in 1937. In February, he questioned a State Department report which concluded that “economic appeasement should prove to be the surest route to world peace.” In May, he wrote in a letter to William Phillips, ambassador to Italy, saying that the “more I study the situation, the more I am convinced that an economic approach to peace is a pretty weak reed for Europe to lean on. It may postpone war but how can it avert war in the long run if the armament process [in Germany] continues at its present pace – or even at a slower pace?”

The U.S. and Great Britain abandoned the policy of appeasement only after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Thereafter the policy became anathema. During the war, the U.S. aligned with the communist Soviet Union and fought against Germany and Italy, thus reversing its prewar orientation. The foreign policy establishment, meanwhile, blamed its abandoned appeasement policy on the antiwar movement rather than its own anti-communist vendetta – which it revived after the war.

“During the Second World War, millions of Americans fought and sacrificed to defeat fascism,” writes Lynn Novick, “but even after we began to understand the scope and scale of what was happening to the Jewish people of Europe, our response was inadequate and deeply flawed.” 

Indeed, it was inadequate in a number of dimensions. The Roosevelt administration could have prevented U.S. corporations from aiding the Nazi state, particularly in rearmament. It could have united with the Soviet Union early on in opposing German expansionism. It could have spoken out strongly against Germany’s human rights abuses and opened the doors of immigration wider, even on a temporary basis, fulfilling the promise set in the bronze base of the Statue of Liberty, written by Jewish immigration activist Emma Lazarus in 1883, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Local Connections: WPA Artists

Local Connections: WPA Artists

Susan Zwirn

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000)

This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence

Born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Jacob Lawrence moved to Harlem with his family in 1930 where he benefited from WPA projects. He studied art at the WPA Harlem Art Workshop in the New York Public Library’s 135th Street branch while he was still in high school. He continued his studies in art at the Workshop, despite dropping out of school to work part-time to help support his family when his mother lost her job. At the age of 21, he joined the easel division of the WPA and then the WPA Harlem Mural Project. Harlem, a destination for people of African descent from other parts of the U.S. and the Caribbean, provided Lawrence with a continual source of stimulation for his art. During the 1930s and 1940s, one of Lawrence’s major themes was working Americans, and unlike many artists, he created images of female workers, including teachers and domestic workers. The Shoemaker, 1945, is one of his images of men working.

Here, Lawrence depicts the strong physique and concentration of a lone worker, an artisan with powerful arms. Lawrence focuses especially on the man’s hands, rendered in exaggerated size and the largest element in the painting. It’s a serious subject, but Lawrence paints the background in the brilliant and joyous colors and patterns that he had noticed in many poor Harlem homes. Lawrence was well acquainted with the lives of laborers; his mother had been a domestic worker. In 1941 Lawrence was the first African American represented by a major New York City gallery. He was also the first to be exhibited in major museums and to enjoy patronage both within and outside the Black community.

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

In 1932, Lange photographed unemployed men in New York City on food line

Lange, born to German immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey, is best known for her photographs taken during the Depression. A childhood case of polio left Lange with a limp that contributed to her sensitivity to the plight of others and her commitment to social justice. Deserted by her father and raised in the home of her alcoholic grandmother, Lange had a lonely childhood. She trained in several photographers’ studios, studied photography at Columbia University, and established a very successful photography studio in San Francisco. Lange’s early photos of labor demonstrations in San Francisco came to the attention of Paul Taylor, an economist at UCLA, who later became her second husband. An advocate for establishing camps for migrant workers, Taylor encouraged Lange to become a photographer for the State Emergency Relief Administration. The potency of these photos prompted Roy Stryker, the director of the Farm Security Administration, an agency that examined issues of rural poverty, to employ Lange in its historical division. Lange’s images became a source of inspiration for John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Her photograph, Migrant Mother, came to epitomize the Depression. This migrant mother was only 32 years old and had just sold the tires from her car to purchase food. Lange’s photographs later documented the injustice of Japanese internment during World War II.

Ben Shahn (1898-1969)

As a young boy Ben Shahn immigrated to the United States with his mother from Lithuania. When he was 14, he left school to become a lithographer’s assistant. He eventually attended New York University, CCNY, the Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design. His study of Jewish traditions, examined while the Depression developed, reinforced a concern for the plight of workers. He became known for his political subject matter, especially his series on the Sacco and Vanzetti court case that grappled with the trial and execution of Italian immigrants. Shahn worked on many WPA projects as both a painter and a photographer, chronicling the relocation of poor families to new federally sponsored communities through the Resettlement Administration. Shahn created a series of murals for a subsistence homesteading community in Roosevelt, New Jersey. The community was  founded by the Farm Security Administration in 1936 to house New York City garment workers and their families, who would farm while off from work in the summer.

Shahn mural now housed at Princeton University

Ukrainian Homodor

Ukrainian “Homodor”

(Murder by Hunger)

Images of starving Ukrainian peasant children, c. 1932-1933

Animosity between Russia and Ukraine has deep roots. This “Father Stalin” children’s song is from the 1930s when Soviet Union policies created famine in Ukraine. Father Stalin is Josef Stalin, head of the Communist Party and government in the Soviet Union that was dominated by Russia. The author of the poem is unknown. This version is from the 2012 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2012: 36) by Timothy Snyder. A “kolkhoz” is a collective farm.

Father Stalin, look at this

Collective farming is just bliss

The hut’s in ruins, the barn’s all sagged

All the horses broken nags

And on the hut a hammer and sickle

And in the hut death and famine

No cows left, no pigs at all

Just your picture on the wall

Daddy and mommy are in the kolkhoz

The poor child cries as alone he goes

There’s no bread and there’s no fat

The Party’s ended all of that

Seek not the gentle nor the mild

A father’s eaten his own child

The Party man he beats and stamps

And sends us to Siberian camps.

New Jersey History: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Discusses the “American Dream,” Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, February 5, 1965

New Jersey History: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Discusses the “American Dream,” Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, February 5, 1965


An audio of the entire speech is available online at: https://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/King/index.html

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “American Dream” speech to an audience of 5,000 at Drew University. He is with Drew professor Dr. George D. Kelsey and his wife.

A. I would like to use as a subject from which to speak tonight, the American Dream. And I use this subject because America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. The substance of the dream is expressed in some very familiar words found in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a dream. Now one of the first things we notice about this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men which includes black men. It doesn’t say all Protestants, but it says all men which includes Catholics. It doesn’t say all Gentiles, it says all men which includes Jews. And that is something else at the center of the American Dream which is one of the distinguishing points, one of the things that distinguishes it from other forms of government, particularly totalitarian systems. It says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God. Very seldom if ever in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.

B. But ever since the Founding Fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy. On the other hand we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed, slavery and racial segregation are strange paradoxes in the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But now, more than ever before, our nation is challenged to realize this dream. For the shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy, and the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. The hour is late and the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.

C. I would like to suggest some of the things that must be done in our nation if this American Dream is to be realized, some of the challenges that we face at this hour; and in facing the challenges we will be able to bring this dream into full realization. I would like to start on the world scale, so to speak, by saying if the American Dream is to be a reality we must develop a world perspective. It goes without saying that the world in which we live is geographically one, and now more than ever before we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood . . . Mrs. King and I had the privilege to journey to that great country known as India. I never will forget the experience of meeting and talking with the great leaders of India, meeting and talking with thousands and thousands of people in the cities and villages all over that vast country. These experiences will remain meaningful and dear to me as long as the chords of memory shall let them. But I must say to you that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of people by the millions going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night, no houses to go in, no beds to sleep in? How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than 400 million people, some 375 million make an annual income of less than $80 a year? And most of these people have never seen a doctor or a dentist. As I noticed these conditions, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came, “Oh, no, because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking about the fact that we spend millions of dollars a day in America to store surplus food. I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia and Africa and in South America.

D. I think this is the first challenge and it is necessary to meet it in order to move on toward the realization of the American Dream, the dream of men of all races, creeds, national backgrounds, living together as brothers. If the American Dream is to be a reality, secondly we must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. This idea still lingers around in some situations and in some circles . . . There may be superior and inferior individuals academically within all races. But there are no superior and inferior races. But in spite of this, the notion still lingers around . . . We have enough evidence in practical experiences and practical accomplishments of individuals in the Negro community and individuals in other minority groups to demonstrate that there is no truth in the idea of the inferiority of the Negro race, of the superiority of any other race.


  1. According to Dr. King, what is the American Dream?
  2. In your opinion, are any groups missing from the list described in section A. If so, who is missing?
  3. In section B, why does Dr. King call the United States “schizophrenic”?
  4. In section C, why did Dr. King have an extended discussion of conditions in India?

Dr. King delivered this speech in 1965. In your opinion, are the problems he described still present in American society? Explain.

New York History: Colored School No. 4

New York History: Colored School No. 4

Tom Miller

(Reprinted with permission from “The Daytonian in Manhattan)

The first Blacks arrived in New Amsterdam in 1626, imported from Africa as slaves by the Dutch West India Company. During the British occupation of New York City in 1776 the population soared after the Crown promised freedom to slaves who deserted their rebel masters. It resulted in thousands of runaway slaves flocking into the city. By 1780, there were more than 10,000 Blacks living in New York. Finally, in 1827, slavery was abolished in New York. But freedom did not necessarily translate into improvement in the lives of Black citizens.

The city, of course, was tasked with the education of all children; but integrated classrooms was not conceivable. “Colored schools” were established, staffed by Blacks. They were an offshoot of the first African Free School, established in 1787 on Mulberry Street. Seven Colored Schools were organized in 1834.

In 1853 Primary Schools No. 27 and 29 shared the new 25-foot wide building at No. 98 West 17th Street (renumbered 128 in 1868). Three stories tall and faced in brick, it had two entrances–one for boys and the other for girls–as expected in Victorian school buildings. In the basement was a small living space for the janitress, Mary Sallie.

There were four teachers in each school, all unmarried women. Their wages in 1855 ranged from $400, earned by H. A. McCormick (about $12,200 a year today), to the $100 salaries earned by Abbie M. Saunders and Eliza Ideson. How the women survived on the equivalent of $3,000 a year in today’s money is remarkable.

The street address was not the only thing about the school building that would change. By 1861 it was renumbered Primary School No. 14 (H. A. McCormick was still teaching here at the time), and within two years it became Colored School No. 7. That year it was staffed by seven teachers–four teachers in the Boys’ Department and three in the Primary Department.

By 1866 the name was changed yet again, now known as Colored Grammar School No. 4. Schools across the city staged a yearly exhibition of the children’s work and this one was no exception. On May 30 that year, the New York Herald reported “The exhibition of Colored Grammar School No. 4 took place last evening at the Cooper Institute. The audience was quite large, and included a few white persons, both male and female, and was well pleased with the exercises embraced in the programme.” The newspaper was careful to point out that the school was “formerly No. 7.”

Rather surprisingly, two specialized teachers were added to the staff in 1868. William Appo, a renowned Black musician, taught music and S. Anna Burroughs taught drawing.

Graduating from grammar school was an important milestone, especially for Black children who were often pulled from school in order to work and help their families financially. On March 5, 1869 The Sun reported “In Colored Grammar School No. 4, in Seventeenth street, Mrs. Sarah J. S. Thompkins, the principal, treated her pupils to an inauguration celebration. Remarks were made by the Rev. Charles B. Ray, Fred Sill, C. E. Blake, Jacob Thomas, and William F. Busler.”

The position of music teacher was taken by Joan Imogen Howard, who came from Boston, Massachusetts. Like William Appo, she was recognized as an accomplished musician. She was as well an ardent worker for integration and racial rights. On October 30, 1892 The World reported “Miss J. Imogen Howard, the only colored woman on the Board of Lady Managers of the [Chicago] World’s Fair, is busily engaged in gathering statistics concerning colored women in New York State.

Reflecting the innate racism of the time, the reporter asked Howard if it was possible for a Black woman to become a member of “the learned professions here.” Her reaction was visible. “Miss Howard looked surprised,” said the article. She replied “I know of a great many. In Brooklyn there are three doctors, each of them enjoying a large practice and doing well…I am personally acquainted with one colored woman who graduated from law school with honors…Miss Ida B. Wells, a young colored girl, is assistant editor of the New York Age, a weekly paper devoted to the interests of the colored people.” She went on to list a number of other successful professional women.

In 1873 the attendance of Colored School No. 4 was 120 pupils. The school building was showing the effects of two decades of use. An inspection by the School Board that year found in part: “ceilings cracked through and need repairing; ventilation by windows; water closets of wood, in poor condition; heated by seven wood stoves, properly shielded with tin.”

The tin-lined flues of the cast iron stoves would cause problems at least twice. On January 6, 1879 The New York Evening Express entitled an article “Scared Colored School-Children” and reported “A defective flue caused a fire this morning in Colored School No. 4, at 128 West Seventeenth street. The fire occurred just before the assembling of the school, and a panic was thus averted, although the children collected around the building were considerably frightened.”

It may have been that incident that prompted Principal Sarah J. S. Garnet to routinely instruct the pupils on how to react to a fire. (Sarah Garnet was the widow of the Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet, the former Minister to Liberia.) It proved to be worthwhile instruction. On February 14, 1883 The Sun reported that another flue fire had broken out.

At around 10:30 that morning children on the second floor noticed wisps of smoke “and became restless.” Mrs. Garnet told a reporter “I had frequently told the children that if fire broke out they would have sufficient warning from me to enable them to walk safely out of the school building. Their faith in me is what saved them from a panic.”

There was a total of 150 children in the building. Garnet instructed a teacher to arrange the pupils on the second floor in straight lines, while she went upstairs to do the same with the youngest children. “At a signal the pupils marched down the narrow, wooden stairways and stood quietly in the inner court yard.” One child ran three blocks to the nearest fire station. The fire was quickly extinguished and the pupils were marched back to their desks. “They were as busy in the afternoon as though nothing had happened,” said The Sun.

In 1884, Joshua S. Lawrence published an article in Ballou’s Monthly Magazine entitled “The Negroes of New York.” He praised racial advances, beginning, “What a contrast between now and twenty years ago! Then they were vassals, now they are clamoring for the offices and other perquisites of a free government.” His out-of-touch assessment was highly biased and he insisted “The negro in this city is not debarred or hindered in any way…Their children are allowed to enter public schools all over the city, besides having separate ones, taught by their own teachers.”

The article pointed out that integration was slowly coming about. “In order to show that the color line is breaking in this regard, an idea encouraged by the Board of Education, is not to take notice of complaints when two or more negro children happen to be near the offspring of some fastidious parent.” Lawrence mentioned Colored School No. 4, saying it combined “both primary and grammar,” levels.

At the time of the article the prospects for the school were dim. The Board of Education had already proposed closing the school. The minutes of the Board of Education on March 5, 1884 documented the receipt of a petition “From the Teachers of Colored Grammar School No. 4, asking that said school be continued for a longer period than that assigned by the action of the Board in 1883.” The petition was forwarded to the Committee of Colored Schools. Its decision was no doubt disheartening.

The teachers were permitted to continue to teach “in other premises than the school building, but without incurring any expense on the part of the Board.” In other words, if the teachers wanted to continue the school, they were responsible for all aspects of it, including funding.

But there was obviously a change of heart. The facility continued, now known as Grammar School No. 81. Sarah J. S. Garnet was still principal, and Joan Imogen Howard was still teaching here in 1892. Another inspection that year reflected the poor sanitary conditions. It said “the sinks are defective and cannot be cleaned and flushed regularly. The closets [i.e. toilet rooms] are not ventilated, but are filled with sewer gas and foul air.”

The push to discontinue the school in the 17th Street property continued. In December 1894, Mayor William L. Strong received a resolution from the Board of Education “requesting the sale of property No. 128 West Seventeenth street.” By the following year, the building was unoccupied.

Finally, on March 24, 1896 the City signed a deal with the Civil War veterans of the 73rd Regiment to lease the ground floor as its clubhouse. Four months later renovations had been completed and on July 6, 1896 the New-York Daily Tribune reported “The members of the Veteran Association of the 73d New-York Volunteers-2d Fire Zouaves–held a celebration in honor of the opening of their new headquarters, No. 128 West Seventeenth Street–the old schoolhouse.” Among the entertainment that night was John J. Moloney, who “gave his bone solo, which elicited much applause.”

The club rooms were decorated with war relics, perhaps the most significant of which was the first Confederate war flag captured by the North. On March 11, 1907 The Yonkers Statesman explained that it had been taken by Corporal Daniel Boone on May 2, 1862 at Yorktown, Virginia. Interestingly, the city retained possession of the old school house property. On January 19, 1921 The City Record announced that renovations would be made “to properly place the premises…in a state of occupancy for the Veteran Fire Association.” The 73rd Regiment Veterans remained in the ground floor while $5,000 was spent in renovations on the upper floors for the Veteran Fire Association.

The new residents renamed their portion of the building Firemen’s Hall. Like its downstairs neighbor, it was a social club. On February 17, 1923, for instance, The Brooklyn Standard Union reported “The Veteran Firemen’s Association held its annual banquet last Saturday night, at Firemen’s Hall, 128 West 17th Street, Manhattan. There were 300 members and their guests present, and it was a most unique affair.” The two organizations remained in the building at least into the 1930’s. A renovation in 1931 made “general repairs to the toilets, urinals and all the fixtures.” The building was later acquired by the New York City Department of Sanitation, which utilizes it today. At some point a veneer of yellow brick was applied. Remarkably, the small paned windows survive. The little building with its remarkable history is easily passed by today with little notice.

Thinking and Teaching the Implications of Federalist Paper #10

Thinking and Teaching the Implications of Federalist #10 for Democracy

Jeff Schneider

When I picked up my copy of Federalist #10 to begin writing this article, I was stunned by the subtitle: “The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection.” Despite my 30 years of teaching this document, the emotions that welled up in me upon reading “Insurrection” were a shock. These are hard times. That the present shapes our understanding of the history we study was brought home to me with new force.

Knowing that Shays’ Rebellion was a cause of the calling for and high attendance at the Constitutional Convention, and the prominence of the phrase “to insure Domestic Tranquility” in the preamble, helps explain what the framers thought was at stake in 1787. As a high school teacher, I always spent 10 or 15 minutes parsing the meanings of the preamble, but even though I taught the Constitution more than 150 times over the years, I never felt the depth of those words as I do at this time. The January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol by followers of Donald Trump puts us in a situation James Madison would recognize. Donald Trump and his followers have been frightening us every day for years now. It is time to analyze the most famous of Madison’s Constitutional commentaries: Federalist #10. This essay is addressed to teachers.

This article is in two major parts: An analysis of Madison’s Federalist #10 on his terms in the first section, which is a pared down student-led lesson, and a second section which builds on the first to critique #10. Usually historians and political scientists refer to the electoral college as the major anti-democratic feature of the Constitution, but in Federalist #10 Madison, as you will see, had fundamentally no respect for the will of the of the people. He baked this idea into his theory of the republic.

That final section takes on the chimerical idea of the (single) public good and Madison’s outright rejection of “the people themselves” to protect the government from dangerous majorities. In 2022 the white supremacist Republican Party has ditched democracy and gerrymandered Madison’s constitutional structure. We are on the brink of a fascist takeover. These contradictions could not be compromised away in 1787 and cannot be smoothed over in 2022. “The Miracle in Philadelphia” nearly failed as a system on January 6, 2021. Democracy cannot be defended by depending on a group of men of “wisdom” to lead us to control “the mischiefs of faction.” Instead we need majority rule.

Part I: Federalist #10 taken on Madison’s terms

When I assigned Federalist #10 I asked the students to download and read the document. They were required to choose two sentences from the beginning, three from the middle, and two from the end of the document. As I have explained in detail in “The Tarzan Theory of Reading,” on my Substack site, the students were to single out sentences with which they agreed or disagreed strongly or those that they thought were important and explain why. The students will lead the discussion with their questions, comments, and the sentences they choose which they will read out loud to the class. In addition, I asked them to identify the sentence that was at the logical center of the argument in Federalist #10, which has an elegant architecture.

When I began the class, I asked for questions or comments. Students often made comments on the definitions of faction or insurrection, which is now a term many students will encounter in the news. The definition of faction is “a majority or minority… opposed to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The students will come up with the common term “special interest,” but how can that be a majority? This is key problem with Federalist #10, since Madison’s understanding of the term faction is not intuitive. The students may object that the Constitution describes a democracy: does not the majority rule? You should put that idea in a separate list on the board and leave it until the end of the discussion (we will discuss that separate list of ideas in depth in the Part II critique). The students know that Shays’ Rebellion (1786 – 87) was an insurrection, an attempt at the violent overthrow of a government.

Majority faction is itself a contradiction that can be addressed by working through Madison’s series of subtopics: the climate of disorder in the country, his diagnosis of factions the proposals to eliminate them, or to control them, and a critique of his solution. Although the discussion will jump around the document, as the students volunteer their sentences those subtopics will organize the notes as we go along.

Disorder in the country

Shays’ Rebellion was a major factor in Madison’s concerns. The students will know that indebted farmers in western Massachusetts denounced unaffordable taxes and complained that they were losing their mortgages to foreclosure. Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary War captain who led his followers to attempt to close the courts to prevent the foreclosures. In addition, they demanded representation equal to the proportional per capita representation in the east close to Boston. After the rebellion was quashed, Shaysites were elected to the Massachusetts legislature. Another problem was that the rebellion was a protest against unfair taxation reminiscent of the protests in the 1760s and 70s. It reminded many leaders in Massachusetts of the lead-up to 1776 (similarly, some of the insurrectionists in 2022 used 1776 as a threatening slogan). This armed insurrection was a major cause of the convening of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, because the Articles Congress had no power to raise an army directly: the state had to defend itself along with any allies it could muster.

Madison describes how, in his view, the public good was being ignored. “The friend of popular governments” opposes the “violence of faction” which causes “instability, injustice and confusion.” There are “overbearing” majorities that cause “ governments” to be “too unstable” because they do not respect the “rights of the minority,” and governments controlled by “specious (unsupportable) arguments” causing “mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.” Madison blames the “factious spirit that has tainted our public administrations.”

Madison’s definition of faction

“By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” If a student chooses this sentence, you have to be careful to explain each part of the definition. I ask, “How do you explain this definition?”. Eventually the students come to realize that Madison expected that the people would support particular conclusions (how else could he call it a majority faction?). How could a leader find “the permanent and aggregate interests of the community,” I ask. This should also go in the Critique section for discussion. The rest of Federalist #10 discusses how to eliminate factions or how to control them.

Eliminating factions

This is the first of the methods to secure the government against the “mischief of faction.” There are two methods to eliminate factions: destroying liberty or giving everyone the same opinions. The students will then come to the conclusion that restricting liberty is not possible in a democratic government because we depend on freedom of thought and action to maintain democracy.

The second method, giving “everyone the same opinions,” is also an impossible solution because “as long as man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” I ask, “How do you understand that?” Here, students might note Madison’s identification of opinions based on “self-love,” the diagnosis that “reason is connected to passion” and the observation that “Diversity in the faculties of man” were factors in the differences of political opinions.

The rights of property and the ownership of different kinds of property and the faculties to obtain those kinds of property all cause divisions. “Faculties” seems to mean “abilities,” students will likely conclude. So, Madison describes it thus: “(t)he latent (underlying) causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” It soon becomes clear that Madison was not making an argument for the change in distribution or the control of production or property or goods in the U.S. — Madison was not a Marxist! Instead, the students will conclude that Madison was attempting to find ways to manage the political effects of that inequality or those differences. But in whose interest did he want to manage those inequalities: was it to be a country of the enslaved, the ordinary people, or did he favor his class of the southern gentry?

Controlling the effects of faction

“The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in controlling its EFFECTS.” In the ensuing discussion students will come to the conclusion that this sentence begins the second half of the argument. It is the sentence at the logical center of the argument. Here Madison turns to the idea of controlling the effects of factions instead of eliminating them, and eventually introduces the republic as a solution.

“If the faction consists of less than a majority” voting, the “republican principle” is the remedy. There might be disagreements, but majority rule does offer a solution. Therefore, what to do about a majority faction is the most intractable problem. Someone is likely to pick the sentence: “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” The ensuing discussion can conclude that it is a thesis sentence pointing to the chief point of the whole article.

The “existence of the same passion in the factional majority” must be prevented or “the majority must be rendered unable to concert. When people “concert” they work together. Madison is actually opposing the rule of the majority here. A pure (direct) democracy in which the citizens are the legislature “can admit of no cure” for “the mischiefs of faction” because “the common passion or interest will in almost every case be felt by a majority of the whole and there is nothing to check… an obnoxious individual” or group from influencing everyone.

In a republic as envisioned by Madison, however, “the representatives refine and enlarge the public views by passing through a medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country (my italics).” He added, “the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people might be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” Here Madison added the idea of making the republic cover larger areas. He suggests that by “(e)xtend(ing) the sphere — you take in a greater variety of parties and interests (and) you make it less possible they will concert….” The conclusion of this part of the argument can lead to a choice of more famous and experienced statesmen who possess the “wisdom” referred to above, because the a large number of voters would be participating in a larger district, the chances if a more famous or experienced person (i.e. of wisdom) would be greater.

Finally, “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.” He uses religious sects, a rage for paper money, and abolition of debt as examples that are more likely to “taint a particular county or district than an entire State.” These are some of Madison’s most famous statements. The students will see that the purpose of representation and extending the area of the republic was to elect men of wisdom. The factions may cancel each other out or the men of wisdom will convince the other legislators to follow the “true ideas” of the public good because ordinary people cannot end the controversy. Madison and his fellow leaders will decide for them.

Madison’s essay seems clear as a the ringing of two groups of bells: There are two groups of opposing solutions: Eliminating Factions or Controlling its Effects. Each has two methods of solution: He moves through the ideas with alacrity going from one solution to another. The logic is stunning and elegant, like a mathematical proof.

Part II: A critique of Madison’s argument

Now we have to confront the sentences we have put aside or left without exploring thoroughly, in particular the idea of the majority faction: “By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Eventually, the students will conclude that a majority vote is not what Madison is seeking as a solution to the problem of the majority faction. Somehow the government must override the majority.

Another example of Madison’s majority problem: The “public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people” might be more consonant “to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” The students will determine that Madison is counter-posing the representatives to “the people themselves.” Representatives certainly do not have to vote by taking instructions from their constituents, but it is clear that Madison is trying to circumvent the majority. Why would a legitimate republic be so designed? When we discuss this idea the students reach the conclusion that he does not trust the people to make the right decisions. It is obvious from the sentences that are there for the choosing.

Another of Madison’s sentences expresses the same contradictory view: “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” What, students may ask, is the “public good” other than the will of a majority? If you have not yet discussed “public good,” it is an opportunity to discuss the major contradiction. When the students analyze this, discussion is not done until students understand that although Madison seems to be arguing the solutions benefit all the people, he is claiming the right of the elite to decide for the majority, which citizens are going to benefit.

Eventually the students reach the conclusion that everyone does not have the same interests in society or that the public good may change. It is not clear how to determine the public good, or that the public good can be expressed as a singular rather than a series of public goods. Madison believed, however that the public good was not only attainable, but a key factor in overcoming the mischiefs of the majority faction. Do we really think that the Constitution has been a success for all the people as Madison designed it and the conventional wisdom in the US has always assumed?

Now we have entered a realm of ambiguity and contradiction. Madison’s elegant proof, which seemed so clear, becomes murky, and most importantly, unreachable by the majority of ordinary men — or women! I ask, “How do you understand this “public good” now?” The students will determine that not all people under the Constitution have the same interests as propertied white men. There are women and Black people and the poor and wealthy. In 1787 these individuals were not all formally part of the political community. The First Peoples, “not taxed,” were excluded from representation by the clause on taxing and the 3/5th clause. The Black underclass in the U.S. has been living without the protection of the law for the vast majority of American History; much of white America seemed to only discover the true level of relentless and widespread violence against Black people on May 25, 2020 —  the day of George Floyd’s murder. Madison had been fine with slavery and its terrible consequences; violence against Black men and women was not a new development.

The interracial uprising that resulted was unique. They were the largest multiracial demonstrations ever in the US. The violence against Blacks has been a dark undercurrent in the US since the ratification of the Constitution. What is the public good? Do you think now that Madison was protecting the whole people as he implied in paragraph after paragraph by calling his goal the public good?

Now we come to the final sentence in the statements we have put aside for critique. When Madison brought up the danger of Shays’ Rebellion, he blamed the eastern leaders of Massachusetts for the unequal taxation, which caused the rebellion. The western farmers rebelled against the unfair taxation as they had in the 1760s and 70s. Madison commented: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” i.e. elected to office.

These men on whom Madison depended must convince the other representatives and the senators that they know the public good better than the people themselves. Are these people philosopher kings who see the reality in Plato’s cave? Or are they advocating legislation based on the general will in the theory of Rousseau? The general will is discerned outside of debate, and expresses the “true will” of the people. This ability is a “faculty” of enlightened statesmen. It depends not on majority vote but on “the permanent aggregate interests of the community” or the “public good,” determined by the men “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country” in Madison’s phrase. These men of the “better sort” must convince other legislators to follow their lead. What in Madison’s argument places these statesmen in power, I ask. The students eventually identify the layering that takes the decisions out of the hands of the direct voters who have elected men of deeper perception or who represent more conservative interests that protect the government from the “vexed,” the poor or the enslaved, in other words, the factions born of ambition race, and class. These men can find the public good for the benefit of the permanent aggregate interests of their countrymen. But as I stated at the outset such a belief is a chimera.

How can we call the history of the US a long story of a developing public good for all the people when the 3/5th Compromise was in effect until it was repealed by the 14th Amendment in 1868, when the large white population of the North overwhelmed the slaveholders’ advantages, and up until the Civil War the small population states controlled the Senate with the help of the “dough-faced” northerners who voted with the South in the Senate and the House? These all acted together to repress democratic solutions to slavery and keep women, the poor and the First Peoples in literal and virtual shackles and chains.

When the slave power was overthrown and the Reconstruction Amendments were passed after the Civil War, there was a brief period from 1866 to 1877 when a fragile interracial democracy existed in the South, which for a time kept the Republican reformers in power. But then violent mobs attacked and killed Black Republican voters, overturned that hard won peace between the races, and Blacks lost suffrage in nearly the whole South. White supremacy ruled again until the Civil Rights Revolution capped by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 produced a second period of Black and minority participation.

Now we are in a different era in which our political life has also been commandeered by white supremacy in the form of Republican re-districting in the states so, despite the large populations in the Democratic-controlled states, the Democrats have only bare majorities in the House and only the tie-breaking vote of the vice president in a 50-50 Senate. Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans. These are problems quite different from Madison’s majority factions. It is minority rule that the majority cannot use the “republican principle” to “cure.” It is a deadlock caused by the filibuster and the small population states, which have controlled the Senate since they were born in the Great Compromise. Madison’s “Machine that Would Go of Itself” has been rejiggered. There is a fascist threat to democracy led by the followers of the former President. Madison’s governmental structure has been under threat by these insurrectionists and the democratic traditions have been undermined to the breaking point. It is unclear whether democracy shall survive the next election, let alone the ones after.

The call in Federalist #10 for the protection of the public good and for the permanent and aggregate interests of the community was based on the will and experience of a minority Madison called the “enlightened statesmen,” who protected slavery for the white majority. The white majority in the country is now disappearing and the movements to defend the “historical white republic” are threatening the lives of workers, women and all minorities. This is our problem now, and it is rooted in the ideal of the public good which Madison believed he and other enlightened statesmen could conjure up to protect the true interests of the “whole” community. He fought to maintain the rule of people like himself. There was no working compromise between the interests of slavery and freedom, or today between the evangelical radicals opposed to abortion and advocates of women’s rights, or between the refusal of the rights of the poor to health care and advocates of Medicare for all, or finally, the interests threatening the rights to clean air, water, food, and jobs and the movement for a Green New Deal. The Electoral College and the unrepresentative Senate must not control our politics. We are at a crossroads.

The myth of the “divinely inspired” Constitution has sustained Madison’s reputation of infallibility, but the flaws in his reasoning, as we have pointed out, have come to haunt us and brought us to the brink of losing our democracy. What, after all, is the public good if it does not represent a clear majority of the US population? As the students realized in their analysis there is no single or public good. We are a country of classes, races and genders. We should not be controlled by rich white men or their MAGA insurrectionists. We are still being ruled by the magical thinking of former centuries, from ancient Greece to the early modern concepts of the virtue of the white landed aristocracy. All this is embodied the persons of senators from states with populations smaller than assembly districts in New York or the city of Washington DC. These modern-day conservatives talk about the Constitution as a document describing a republic, not a democracy. They believe that the proper leaders of this republic are the whites: the real Americans. This idea brings us back to the earlier argument concerning the dangers of reaching for the single public good or the “permanent aggregate interests of the community.” The chimera of the public good turns out to be a smokescreen for white supremacy — as it always was. No amount of leisure or learning can motivate the white supremacists to discern the true interests of our country; they are in it for themselves.

Suppressing or Inhibiting Teaching

Suppressing or Inhibiting Teaching

 Cynthia Vitere

I have been teaching history on the secondary and college level for almost thirty years. Much of this time has been spent as a teacher on Long Island, New York where my area of expertise has ranged from contemporary issues and criminal justice to leading the International Baccalaureate program in history in my current district. As a trained historian, educator and administrator I bring all of these mindsets to my curriculum and pedagogy.

In considering the question of how one addresses attempts to suppress or inhibit teaching I believe it is essential to first discuss one’s understanding of the discipline of history, why we teach it and how we teach it. Why do we ask students to take a history course? I believe the most important function of history education is to establish the foundations for informed democratic citizenship. In the primary grades, students develop a narrative of U.S. history and at the secondary level they acquire the tools to examine and critically analyze that narrative. This critically thinking student is empowered and encouraged to then articulate multiple narratives which reflect our pluralistic society. Education is no longer a hierarchical relationship between the teacher and student, but a collaborative relationship where knowledge can be nourished and exercised through regular open discourse.

When I first engage students in my classroom, too many of them assume that history is a set narrative with established facts that must be memorized. Very few students like history. Many adults I meet say they hated history class as children but now appreciate it because they finally see its utility. It is not their fault; as that educational experience is the rule for most of us, rather than the exception. For me, it wasn’t until pursuing my graduate degree in history that I was truly engaged in thinking and acting like a historian. I quickly learned that the historical narratives we tell are governed by time and place, by the perspectives of the historians and their audience, and by the availability of evidence. Historiography, or the study of how history is written, tells us that this process of continuity and change results in fantastic disputes among scholars; disputes that rarely trickle down to the high school classroom. For many, this critical history is not welcome in the classroom because it is perceived as being “too hard” or “too nuanced for the high school student”. Since “that’s not going to be on the test” it is deemed irrelevant, or worse yet, an expression of the teacher’s political agenda.

I do have a point of view. I want my students to take a seat at the historians’ communal roundtable, use the critical thinking skills particular to history, and contest our curriculum. By acknowledging the role of race, gender, class, ethnicity and every other “divisive” lens students confront the fullness of our sometimes painful past and forge a meaningful place for their own individual narrative in our shared story. For much of my career this approach to history education was not controversial but encouraged and valued as an essential component of civics education.

When I first started teaching history I was asked to create and implement a course in Multiculturalism. This course was initiated in response to racial and ethnic tensions in my district. This senior elective was seen as a corrective to those divisions. There was a desire to confront racism, ethnocentrism and sexism head on. While this was a challenging course, I felt fully supported by my administrators to engage my students with challenging readings and to moderate discourse which was frequently impassioned, sometimes tense, but ultimately a source of greater understanding and community building.

Since 9/11 the question about what should be taught in a history classroom became more problematic. With so many of my students’ families directly or indirectly affected by 9/11, history was no longer a distant topic. One had to regularly question how your topics and discussions might upset students or community members. I began to introduce trigger warnings into my practice as a way to acknowledge students’ emotional challenges, sensitively modify my instruction, but not silence necessary discourse.

With the election of President Obama the issue of race became more problematic but not one to be avoided. In my economics and history classes I freely used the PBS program entitled “Race: The power of an Illusion”. This program and its complementary website provided interactive resources which challenged student preconceptions about race and how it has influenced government legislation and programs in the 20th century. Students were challenged to critically examine, discuss and assess the subject matter. Although this curriculum demanded careful implementation, I never felt significantly anxious about the curriculum or my pedagogy. I never experienced any negative feedback or reproach. When I consider using those resources today, a paralyzing doubt stops me. Even though my graduate mentor and acclaimed historian Ira Berlin is a source in the program, the current political educational environment stops me from freely using him. Why? The website explicitly addresses the structural and historical nature of racism. Simply put, I would be targeted as a practitioner of critical race theory and pilloried.

If I were to teach the transformation of my pedagogy I would ask my students to identify a chronology of contributing factors. I would introduce the following: the emergence of Donald Trump as the voice of the Republican Party, the 1619 Project, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Covid-19 Pandemic. When the 1619 Project was published in August of 2019 I was excited by the opportunity to introduce a reframing of American history. The beginning of my year focused on having students examine, discuss and evaluate the use of 1619 and 1776 as the defining dates in our national origin story. Excerpts from Nicole Hannah Jones’s introduction, as well as the rebuttal by Marxist and conservative historians were considered. We replicated the debate that ensued among historians. Students were not insulted, nor did they feel bad about themselves or experience any less pride as Americans. What they did do was engage in a lively critical discussion. With this introductory unit I sought to establish the transitory nature of history and the importance of critical thinking. I was neither worried or challenged by this lesson.

This, of course, is not the world we live in today. As 2019 turned into the presidential election year of 2020, the critical engagement of race became much more politicized. Still, I did not veer away from the lens of race as it is a foundational factor for historical inquiry, especially American history. After four years of the Trump Administration’s attack on evidence-based reasoning, the engagement of history became much more problematic. The normalization of framing evidence that you don’t like as fake by politicians and members of the media on both sides of the political spectrum impacted the classroom. Students would actually respond to historical evidence and claims in class with “fake news” as a silencing response. When silence is the aim, discourse itself is the problem. As a practitioner of critical thinking and discourse, my pedagogy became increasingly problematic. By 2021, I would become a target in our contemporary political culture wars.

As a teacher of the two-year IB History of the Americas curriculum, we examine U.S. history in year one and the emergence and consolidation of 20th century authoritarian regimes in year two. As I was teaching the Reichstag Fire and Hitler’s Enabling Act the January 6 insurrection took place. The continuity of this contemporary event and our historical inquiry provided a teachable moment. Students read contemporary German authors’ examination of American events from their unique historical perspective. The narratives were examined, interrogated and disputed. The sources were used to stimulate discussion, not as an equation of Nazi Germany 1931 and the United States 2021. I believed that I had a responsibility to my students to address what was happening around them, but felt that I had to mediate it through the lens of the past. Unfortunately, silence, self-censorship and discomfort became an unwelcome norm. I increasingly incorporated student writing in private blogs so that they could safely and critically engage history and contemporary events. Increasingly, I, too, self-censored in response to my discomfort. In speaking with colleagues both in the United States and on international IB web spaces, the professional fear was palpable. Was it possible to address these momentous events or was it best to safely stick to the proscribed curriculum? While many departments worked collectively to navigate a response, many others avoided discussion and left pedagogic choices to the conscience of individual teachers. In collective avoidance of this thorny issue, many hoped to protect themselves from acrimony.

Ultimately, the practitioner of critical pedagogy will be targeted by those who choose to close the door on the past, no matter how carefully they tread. My public crucible was in response to a lesson which asked students to assess the impact of racism. I did not feel comfortable or safe directly addressing the George Floyd/Derrick Chauvin trial but I did feel a professional responsibility to address the deep threads of racism and division. As a way to displace the dialogue, I focused on student generated claims which judged quantitative analysis to be more objective and useful than qualitative analysis. I asked students to apply these lenses to the impacts of racism. Students did engage in critical discourse, but what I found is that many do not want critical discourse to be taking place in public schools. If we cannot engage in critical discourse then we as educators have lost our most important teaching tool.

In historical retrospect, what have I learned? I would like to say that the experience of having my curriculum and pedagogy subjected to media and community scrutiny and attack would energize my efforts as a democratic educator. The reality is not so heroic. Much like the American Revolution, ⅓ of my professional and personal community supported me, ⅓ actively opposed me and ⅓ avoided me at all costs. This did not surprise me. When nations slide towards authoritarianism, teachers are often the first targets. The public attack on my pedagogy made this slide harder to deny and avoid. It made all teachers the target.

As teachers we are public figures who are under incredible pressure and scrutiny. One can hope to lay low and never make a mistake or misstep. One can stick to the text and avoid anything that hints of controversy, but this is not tenable. I came into education with a toolbox. The tools have evolved over time, but their purpose remains the same. My use of these tools in our current climate is much riskier. My curricular choices are more conservative, I hesitate to bring contemporary documents into our discussions of the past. I speak obliquely and ask neutered questions. To do differently is too charged, too dangerous, and too divisive but I must also acknowledge that there is a point at which I cannot surrender who I am as a critical educator. History itself calls on me to hone my critical pedagogy for these challenging times. The risk of not doing so is too great. The challenge for today’s social studies educators is how to cultivate democratic students in a world that is increasingly opposed to democracy? I do not have a singular answer, but I commit myself to seeking new methods and mediums so that we as social studies educators can reject complicity and collectively facilitate the better angels of our nature.