There is a meme circulating on Facebook that seems to be based on the conspiracy theory that Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were assassinated by the Rothschilds because they wanted to “end the federal reserve banking system.” Let’s pick this meme apart to see how historically accurate it is.
1. There was no federal reserve system when Lincoln was president. The Federal Reserve System was not established until 1913.
2. Prior to the Federal Reserve System, there had been a national bank*, and Andrew Jackson had made its end one of his key second-term goals.
3. Two assassins attempted to kill Jackson, but no evidence suggests that they were sent by the Bank.**
4. Some people have emphasized the eerie similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy, which are easily explainable.
* There were two national banks, in fact: The 1st Bank of the U.S., which was chartered from 1791-1811 and the 2nd Bank of the U.S., chartered from 1816-1836.
** There is that pesky Booth letter, though.
The build-up to the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination has produced renewed interest in the 35th president. PBS showed an interesting two-part series on him last week, and John Kerry believes that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone.
I’ll confess that I’ve never thought much of Kennedy as president, which, according to a recent poll, seems to put me out of step with many Americans. Unfortunately, this NYT poll doesn’t include a link to the entire poll results, but I wasn’t surprised by the results.* Kennedy placed fourth in the poll, behind Reagan, Lincoln, and Clinton. Kennedy has historically fared well in these polls of the general American public, which probably surprises no one.
Kennedy’s assassination cast an air of mystique around his image that resonates today. Many Americans who remember where they were when he was killed remain enamored of him, and they seem to have passed down their admiration to my generation. With no Kennedy attracting much attention nowadays, I wonder if we are starting to see a more realistic evaluation of JFK.
In case you are interested, here’s how scholars have ranked Kennedy.
You can find a number of other poll results on Wikipedia. Of those listed, the lowest ranking recorded for Kennedy is 18th (Wall Street Journal, 2000). I still think he’s been rated too highly, but at least I’ve admitted my bias.
* Kennedy’s ranking is inexplicable, but so are Clinton’s and Reagan’s, neither of whom belong in the top four.
I hate to break your heart if you’re an Animaniacs fan, but how many errors can you find in this song about the U.S. presidents?
I appreciate Dave Tabler’s invitation to write a guest post at his Appalachian History blog. You can read my perspective on the influence of Andrew Jackson’s origins in the Waxhaws on his blog here.
On Sat., Nov. 16, at 1:00, I will be speaking at the Hermitage Church, which is located on The Hermitage grounds. I’m very pleased to be able to speak at a place that has been special to me for nearly twenty years. If you are in the area that day, I hope you will attend.
I want to thank Kim Parks, Executive Director of Historic Lebanon, Erin Adams, Director of Public Programs & Volunteers at The Hermitage, and Phil Carter, Executive Director of Communications at Cumberland University, for putting together this event.
This year’s conference was a good one. I had the pleasure of catching up with some of my favorite Mississippi State friends, including John and Jeanne Marszalek, Connie Lester, Tim Smith, and Jim Humphreys, as well as several friends and acquaintances at the MSU reception on Saturday night. I also had lunch with loyal blog reader Boyd Murphree. We had a great conversation about a number of professional and personal topics. I appreciate him asking to meet me (and buying a book!).
One other conversation also made me smile. One of my former students is now in graduate school. This student’s current supervisor recognized my name and gave very positive feedback on her/his progress so far. As someone whose students often graduate and disappear, never to be heard from again, it’s always good to bask in the glow of an alum’s success.
I attended sessions honoring three men at this year’s Southern.
On Friday afternoon was a session celebrating John Boles’ thirty years of editorial service to the Journal of Southern History. Ten former students and colleagues offered brief remarks and memories about Boles the individual and the editor. It was encouraging to hear about Boles’ collegiality and professionalism. I would agree with one assessment in particular: Boles helped make the JSH the premier history journal in the profession.
On Saturday night, I heard most of the session honoring Eugene Genovese and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, both of whom passed away last fall. I was struck by how differently the two men were presented (fiery Genovese and grandfatherly Bert) and by how much they continue to influence the profession. As several of us Twitterstorians discussed, it’s hard to pick out similarly towering figures in the profession today, because of specialization and other reasons.
Ten years ago today, my friend, Shannon Mallard, died in an automobile accident. Shannon was one of those good people, universally loved for his friendly demeanor and willingness to listen. I can still hear his raspy voice saying “Good morning!” as I walked past his office and his loud laugh as he joked with his peers.
We spent a lot of time playing racquetball the last year of his life. Apparently, I was a better teacher than player, because he quickly started beating me on a regular basis. What made those times special, though, were the water breaks, when we would shoot the breeze about our childhoods, departmental gossip, history, and life in general.
Those games came to an end in the Fall 2003 semester, as he and his wife, Jennifer, had their first child that summer. The last few times we spoke, it was about the changes that parenthood brought: the lack of sleep, the diaper changes, the joy of holding your child.
When I finished my dissertation in 2002, I asked Shannon if I could borrow his printer to make my copies to deposit in the university library and the history department. At nearly 500 pp. each, it took most of the morning. As always, we talked about a number of different things. The one thing that stuck out in my mind was an essay that Shannon shared by Robert J. Hastings entitled “The Station.” I encourage you to read the entire essay, but these lines continue to stick with me:
Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.
Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.
Shannon died too young. I say that not because his was the beginning of a promising career, but because he was at the beginning of a lifetime that should have included living to old age with his wife; seeing their son (and maybe other children) grow up; and spreading the happiness that his life brought to people around him.
I have a copy of “The Station” stored with other memories of Shannon that I’ve kept. I read it occasionally to remind me that life is fleeting and that our lives here are meant to be fully lived.
One of the liveliest sessions I’ve ever attended was one yesterday afternoon on the question of whether military history should be central to the study of the Civil War. Carol Reardon presided, with Gary Gallagher, Lesley Gordon, and Jim Hogue offering their thoughts.
Gallagher kept his remarks short in arguing that understanding the military aspects of the war was essential to comprehending the other parts of American society during the era. Gordon’s comments were longer and centered on the definition of military history and the different audience to which the study of the Civil War appeals. Hogue suggested that the military history of the Civil War needed to be studied in depth, in breadth, and in context.
The Q & A with the audience exposed how volatile this question remains. (Reardon explained that the panel had been added because there weren’t enough Civil War panels on the program [!!!], and the panel’s title had been given to the participants.) Audience members expressed concern that Civil War history was being marginalized and that the panelists were arguing that military history needed to take precedence over other perspectives of the war.
The most tense exchange took place between Hogue and Dan Feller. As part of his remarks, Hogue offered an anonymous professor’s Civil War syllabus, which stated that that the course was not primarily about the military side of the war, as an example of the unfortunate marginalization of military history. Several audience members expressed support for the syllabus language as a way to ward off the “buffs” who only want to fight battles blow-by-blow, but Feller was the most vocal. Hogue took him to task for limiting access to students’ education, which I think misconstrued Feller’s intent. The back-and-forth became so heated that Gallagher jokingly suggested that the two take it into the hallway and sell tickets.
I understand both perspectives, but I have to side with Feller. I know exactly what he and other audience members were talking about. I’ve had Civil War classes with students who sulked unless we talked about battles and complained when we didn’t talk about the troop movements. I structure my Civil War course, which runs from roughly 1848-1877, into three sections: antebellum, the war, and Reconstruction and memory. That leaves approximately five weeks to discuss all aspects of the war itself. There simply isn’t enough time to delve into the military minutiae, just like there isn’t time to discuss political elections, which interest me more than military history, in detail. To head off complaints, on the first day of class, I tell students the course structure so that they understand that they might need to adjust their expectations or drop the course. Honestly, though, I’ve found that most students are more put off by the reading and writing expectations than by whether I talk or don’t talk enough about military history.
One final thought about this session. As a Jacksonian historian whose secondary interest is in the Civil War, I understand the fears of marginalization that Civil War historians, especially those who focus on military history, have. I wonder, in fact, whether Civil War history might find itself fading once we get past the sesquicentennial. That sounds unthinkable, but I would bet that historians in the 1950s and 1960s never thought that the Jacksonian era would be as marginalized and ignored as it is today.
Read another historian’s perspective on this panel.