V. Centennialitis

In the fall of each year the William Allen White School of Journalism and Public In formation of the University of Kansas observes Kansas Editors' Day. In 1960 Dean Burton W. Marvin invited the writer to give the address at the general session. Because of the proximity to the centennial of statehood for Kansas the occasion seemed an appropriate one to recognize the kinship of journalism and history and to acknowledge the indebtedness of historians to the editors and publishers of newspapers and periodicals. The address was given on November 5, 1960.

The personal satisfaction which I experience as a result of the invitation to speak to you goes beyond the mere tickling of the ego, although that would be reward enough. This occasion provides me with the opportunity to express one historian's appreciation of the services which the members of the journalism profession have rendered to the students of history. I can think of no single body of historical material for the study of American history that is as significant in both quantity and content as the newspaper and periodical files which are preserved in our libraries. Moreover, the profession of journalism has produced some outstanding historians. I presume the name of Douglas Southall Freeman, distinguished biographer of George Washington, would occur to many. Allen Nevins would be remembered by others. And today within our state and on the faculty of this School of Journalism there are editors and teachers who make many important contributions to the cause of historical study. Also, it is relevant to recall that the Kansas State Historical Society in its present form originated in a meeting of the Kansas Editorial Association, at Manhattan, in April, 1875. D. W. Wilder, John A. Martin, D. R. Anthony, and Sol Miller were some of the leaders who secured the incorporation and organization of the State Historical Society. One present day product of their imaginative foresight is the magnificent collection of Kansas newspapers, which is housed in the Society's building in Topeka.

I believe that one of the important reasons that journalists have contributed so much to historical study is that the two disciplines have much in common. If I am correctly



informed, one of your principal objectives is to present to your readers a prompt and accurate account of what is happening. This in the past tense is what I regard as the fundamental obligation of the historian to give to his readers an accurate account of what has happened. In each case the basic problem is one of knowing: of knowing enough to describe correctly, of knowing enough to invest the record with meaning.

What is true of historical study in general is true of centennial observances in particular the problem is to know enough about the past to portray it accurately. Surely it is safe to conclude that we are in the grip of an epidemic of centennialitis. The birthdays of individuals, institutions, and political communities have been celebrated. For example, the achievements of Alexander von Humboldt, Edwin Drake, Charles Darwin, and John Dewey have been recognized in appropriate fashion. Even an historian, Jacob Burckhardt, has had his hour at the center of the stage. The educational journals are full of notices of colleges and universities that are marking with dignified fanfare the transition to the second century of their existence. Like the Hessian fly, the corn borer, and the Dutch Elm disease, centennialitis was confined, in its earlier stages, to the eastern sections of the country, but with the passage of time it too has moved westward. The celebration of statehood centennials has become a big-business enterprise with some states spending several millions of dollars on them. Even the state of Kansas, presumably in the midst of an era of austerity, simplicity, and economy has committed itself to a sizable expenditure of funds to mark in fitting fashion the centennial of statehood. But it is the Civil War that threatens to engulf the entire centennial business and to spawn a whole generation of centennial observances. Long before the one hundredth birthday of the firing of the first shot has dawned, a veritable flood of published material has descended upon the body politic. It would appear that no engagement was too trivial, no moment too fleeting, no participant too insignificant, no place too remote, to provide fuel for someone's literary fire. Of centennial celebrations there will be no end within the foreseeable future.

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And, it is possible that many benefits will accrue, albeit indirectly, to the study of history. It is probable that some materials of priceless value will be brought out of the attics, the basements, and the sheds and be deposited in libraries where their safety can be assured. Nevertheless, it is far more likely, that in the great mass of devices and methods that will be employed in the name of history to produce proper centennial observances, many unhistorical elements will creep in. But of far greater significance is the concept of the nature of history which centennialitis reflects. Ideally, a centennial observance should portray what the people of one hundred years ago considered to be important. It is their era that should be the focus of interest, not ours of today. Put in historiographical terms, most centennial observances no matter how carefully planned, reflect a combination of presentism and functionalism which do violence to the historical record. A segment of the past, whether a battle, a book, the birth of a person, or a movement, is wrenched out of its historical context and is made to speak to some present problem or to serve some present cause. Can it be, for example, that all of the frenzy of interest in the war against the States has one source in a desire on the part of some to select those aspects of the 1850s and 1860s which seem to bear upon the problems of the 1950s and 1960s? Are the ghosts of Calhoun and Cobb, Rhett, and Davis, being summoned to reenforce the argument turn ad horrendum that the people from the southern states are benighted if not actually depraved and decadent? Fortunately the publication of Mackinlay Kantor's novel Andersonville, in 1956, did not set the pattern for books about the Civil War. Thus far at least, William B. Hesseltine's prediction that, "The Centennial of the Civil War may well become the occasion for dipping the bloody shirt anew and mounting it again over the parapets of sectional partisanship,"1 has not come to pass.

But having said this much it is still a largely unanswered question as to why the American people want to immerse themselves in the tragedy and wanton destructiveness of the Civil War. Twice within the month I have seen dramatic productions based upon the life of John Brown. One was a television version of the raid at Harper's Ferry; the other was


a stage play entirely devoted to the trial of Brown. In both instances Brown is presented as a religious fanatic, but also in both instances the people of Virginia are portrayed in a most unfavorable light. More important is the question of why so much attention is being focused upon John Brown? Was he really that important? Regardless of the answer to this question it seems appalling that in our decade of the 1960s, a time so freighted with problems and dilemmas of tragic proportions, we should make solutions more difficult to attain by robbing the grave of history and raising up ghosts of the past. Perhaps it would not be out of place to recall the comment of Thomas Jefferson on Hume's History of England: "It is like the portraits of our countryman Wright, whose eye was so unhappy as to seize all the ugly features of his subject, and to present them faithfully; while it was entirely insensible to every lineament of beauty."2

"Seize every ugly feature, insensible to every lineament of beauty" here is this business of presentism again. The writer, or the producer, or the speaker, picks what he wants out of the past and remakes it in the image of the present and in the process destroys the past. Because there is no past there can be no such thing as a sense of continuity one of the priceless rewards of historical study. How can a sense of belonging to something constant and secure be developed if all we have is a past that is constantly being recreated in the image of an ever changing present? We have been told that we are living in an age of alienation and ambiguity and there has been widespread acceptance of the idea of "the lonely crowd." Professor Howard Lowry of the College of Wooster summarized this facet of the question when he said, "There are no dearly bought, long-range aims, no great men summoned from the past as models. The password of the lonely crowd is `now,' and its very heaven is to be accepted. This is its god, its goal, its benzedrine."3

I am taking it for granted that the analysis just presented is correct; that we are living in an age of alienation and ambiguity; and that the "togetherness" concerning which we hear so much is really only an outward cloak which conceals the absence of an inner sense of belonging and contains no sense of kinship with the generations that have walked before us.

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In offering an alternative to the kind of historical thinking which produces a feeling of alienation, and, indeed, permeates a considerable proportion of our centennial observances, I propose to examine briefly the idea of continuity, and then undertake a practical application of my suggestion. That a sense of continuity must root in a storehouse of historical knowledge pursued for its own sake is the principal point that I wish to emphasize. I hope that it will not sound heretical to take the position that the most natural as well as the most enduring foundation for a sense of continuity is knowing knowing the past, knowing the people of the past, knowing their efforts to know more about their world, and knowing about their achievements as well as their failures. More than a century ago a book reviewer in the Atlantic Monthly struck the same note, albeit with a discernible degree of patriotic fervor, when he wrote,

For ourselves, we believe that the best security against despair for our country is a knowledge of its history. We are glad to be assured that our historians do not intend to allow the republic to decay before they have written out in full the tale of its life. Their records, well digested, may prove to be the pledges of its vigor and permanence.... A real knowledge of our own institutions and a reasonable confidence in their permanence are to be found only in an intelligent and very intimate acquaintance with their growth and development.4

To develop a sense of continuity one must begin with the past and study it through the eyes of the men and women who participated in the events that we wish to describe. There can be none of this arrogance of presentism which reduces persons of earlier generations to second-class citizens with inferior intellects because they preferred to interest themselves in matters that do not concern us today. George F. Kennan apparently learned this lesson the hard way. In a sensitive article entitled "The Experience of Writing History," Kennan remarks that one of the first things to dismay him was "the hopeless openendedness of the subject of history its multi-dimensional quality; its lack of tidy beginnings and endings; its stubborn refusal to be packaged in any neat and satisfying manner." After describing other difficulties in writing history, Kennan states that he discov-


ered that it was possible to enhance one's capacity for visualizing history by studying it. He continues,

The more you steeped yourself in the environment of your subject... .the more your imagination could rise to the task. But this meant that if you really wanted to get near your subject, it was yourself you had to change.... To understand a past episode, you had to make yourself a citizen of the epoch in question. You had to make its spirit, its outlook, its discipline of thought, a part of your own nature.5

This same thought was expressed more succinctly by Professor Frank H. Hodder, a distinguished member of the faculty of the University of Kansas for forty years, when he told us that we had to equip our minds with the "mental furniture" of the age we were studying.

Some will say that the road is too long and time is too short, that, indeed, the price is too high to pursue the study of history for its own sake, through the eyes of the past, even if in the end historians write better history and people cease to feel alienated. But there are no short cuts. A feeling of continuity and the priceless sense of perspective can be attained only by looking at the past through the eyes of the past.

The logical application of this conclusion to centennial observances is that they should reflect what the people of a century ago considered to be important and should recreate as faithfully as is possible not the esoteric, not the occasional, not the dramatic, not the peripheral, but recreate as faithfully as is possible the principal, the primary, indeed the ordinary and the usual. I can cite two examples before I turn to my principal illustrations. Last year, a distinguished member of this group, Rolla Clymer, was the principal participant in the reenactment of Abraham Lincoln's tour of Kansas, In a few months Mr. Clymer and Mr. Alan Farley will go to Philadelphia to play the leading roles in observing the centennial of the raising by President Abraham Lincoln of the thirty-four star flag for the first time over Independence Hall. In their day these events did attract a great deal of attention.

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But even these superb observances of the authentic and the actual do not fully meet the requirements that I have suggested. In order to equip myself with the mental furniture, vintage 1860, I began last spring to immerse myself in the magazines and periodicals of one hundred years ago. I read or scanned the files of the Atlantic, Harpers, De Bows, North American Review, Hunt's Merchants Magazine, and many others. In my spare time during the past few months I have scanned a considerable number of Kansas newspapers of a century ago. For the national scene I have read James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald. Time will not permit me to document my conclusions in detail, but on the basis of the periodical literature, I am prepared to assert that the Americans of one hundred years ago were as intellectual in their aspirations, as perceptive in their judgments and as latitudinarian in their tastes and interests as the readers of today, who are pleased to be called intellectuals. My reading of the New York Herald leads me to the conclusion that the people of 1860 were engrossed in pretty much the same activities as the inhabitants of today: living and dying, buying and selling, worshipping and working, reading and politicking, fighting and loving; and viewing the unknown future with alarm. Although the Herald was a Democratic paper and castigated Abraham Lincoln in language far more extreme than is customary today, it devoted almost as much attention to the visit and tour of the Prince of Wales as to the presidential election and the threatened secession of the South. Moreover, it should be remarked that the editorial analysis of the significance of the visit of the heir to the British throne, written without benefit of knowledge of things to come, is as keen and perceptive as that of historians who have had the advantage of knowing what happened after the visit of the Prince of Wales.

To set the stage for my remarks on the Kansas scene of a hundred years ago, I would like to recall the words of a writer in the Atlantic Monthly for September, 1860: "If the dead have any privilege, it ought to be that of holding their tongues....,"6 but I would prefer to paraphrase the sentence to read "If the dead have any privilege, it ought to be that of being portrayed accurately and quoted correctly." We ought


not to put ideas in their heads, words in their mouths, beards on their faces or guns on their hips. Your colleagues of the press again vintage 1860 in their scanty columns of local news have left an impression of a people busy with the everyday affairs of life. In religious matters there were announcements of the building of Churches a Methodist Church here, a Congregational Church there, an Episcopal edifice somewhere else; notices of preaching services on Sundays and sometimes on weekdays as well; references to revival meetings at some point on the edge of town which left the streets and stores deserted; and reports of the meetings of presbyteries and synods. In matters educational there were advertisements of business colleges and singing schools and perhaps, not so strange after all, an occasional advertisement calling attention to the opportunity to learn a foreign language. Dr. Ricardo in Topeka gave his pitch an interesting angle. In one notice he said,

To young Americans the knowledge of the French language is a national necessity, but no person can learn what is truly French, but learning by the mouth of a Frenchman....for, no person can give to others, what he himself does not possess.... To learn French with a person who is not a Frenchman is the same as to learn English with a Spanish cow.7

The Lawrence Republican reported the first meeting of the Allen County Teachers' Institute at Iola,8 and up in Elwood there was a man who was born one hundred years too soon at least his offer to teach "the minor books plus writing, geography, written arithmetic, history and English grammar for one dollar per child, per month" would coincide with what some people today think teachers are worth. In matters intellectual and cultural, there were constant plugs for the top level magazines, Atlantic, Harper's, Littell's Living Age, Godey `s Lady `s Book and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, the Life magazine of its day. In Topeka, Wilmarth's Book Store advertised that it had for sale all of these plus the newspapers of the principal cities. In matters economic, the drouth was the big news, but there was a constant flow of reports from the Pike's Peak gold fields, on the driving of hogs and cattle to St. Louis and in one instance to Chicago,

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and the availability of merchandise of all sorts. The prices that were listed ranged from $1.00 to $1.25 per bushel of wheat, to five cents per pound for hides, fifteen cents per pound for butter, ten cents a dozen for eggs, and twenty-one cents for whiskey whether this was for a quart or a gallon was not stated. Six cents a pound seemed to be the going price in one community for the best sirloin steak. On rare occasions the editors noted gifts of delicious watermelons or garden vegetables. Jacob Stotler of the Emporia News lamented the impact of the drouth on his local column in the following wry comment: "No great yield of corn, no big squashes, beets or onions none of the products of our rich soil to notice; nothing but the drouth, a few political squabbles, and an occasional dog fight can be found for a local item."9 The editor of the Fort Scott Democrat revealed another facet of the editor's dilemma when he let his readers know that in payment for subscriptions he would take "anything that we can eat, drink, wear or burn...."10

International events received their share of attention and occasionally Garibaldi or Cavour drove Douglas and Seward out of the top position on the news page. But as you might expect it was the political scene that produced the most news coverage. Eighteen-sixty was an election year and "the exciting nature of the canvass- stimulated a great deal of journalistic activity. Pointed, almost snide, remarks were interspersed with factual reporting. Up in White Cloud, Sol Miller was saying that "hogs and doughface editors" were selling cheap in Topeka, and complaining that the "one hundred and fifty dollar donkey of the Topeka Tribune" was "braying and kicking" at him. And out in Emporia, Jacob Stotler revealed his partisan bias in his comment upon a statement in a Democratic paper that the Democratic party was still very much alive when he said, "So is an eel with its head cut off and skinned." Stotler was much involved in the county seat fight in Breckinridge county. Apparently Fremont and Americus were the principal competitors of Emporia. The hard fought campaigns for local office were concentrated in the brief period of two or three weeks prior to the election. In many cases the nominating conventions were not held until late October and because time was short


the editors urged and admonished everyone to vote. "Get out your neighbors" was the advice of an Elwood editor. Stotler down in Emporia put it a bit stronger when he wrote "See to it that those who are listless and indifferent about coming to the polls are there. Take your teams and bring them out."11

The contest for the presidency received a great deal of attention. To the Kansas editors the principal opponents were Lincoln and Douglas; Breckinridge and Bell were almost completely overlooked. The visit of William Henry Seward to Kansas and his speech at Lawrence on September 26, 1860, were given top priority in the Republican papers and virtually ignored by their Democratic counterparts. The religious issue was introduced directly into the campaign when the White Cloud Chief reprinted an article from the Chicago Press and Tribune under the caption "Is Douglas a Catholic," and indirectly when several papers published the open letter of a Methodist leader to President James Buchanan which described the mob violence directed at Methodist leaders in Texas, and appealed to the President for protection for those people who on religious grounds were opposed to the institution of slavery. And so it went. The Republican editors greeted the Republican victories in the state elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, which occurred several weeks in advance of the national elections, with great glee; the Democratic editors ignored these results or pointed out that lack of space prevented detailed reports. The results of the national elections evoked similar responses and after they were reported the editors began to devote more attention to the destitution of Kansas families and to speculating about the reaction of the South to the election of Lincoln.

Against this background of reasonably normal living that the editors of one hundred years ago portrayed in their columns, two issues or developments stand out in sharply etched lines: the drouth with its accompanying relief movements and the almost pervasive interest in railroads. Kansas had a farm problem in 1860. It was a problem of scarcity, not abundance. In most parts of the territory little or no rain had fallen during the fourteen months prior to October, 1860. Farmers had not even recovered their seed. Supplies from previous years were exhausted. Delinquent tax

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lists and orders for the sale of property crowded the columns. More than one editor advertised that he had "beautifully printed mortgage blanks" for sale at his office. There is a note of poignancy in one editor's comment on the first frost. He noted that the life of every green thing was already gone and concluded, "Thus the year like a sickly child expires, with less of regret than if it had been suddenly cut down with the bloom upon its cheek."12

If I were to select a theme around which to develop a centennial observance that would reflect the interests of the Kansans of 1860, it would have to revolve around railroads or perhaps more broadly around the general topic of transportation and communication. it is not only that a big railroad convention was held in Topeka late in October, 1860, an event that received columns of coverage in the territorial newspapers. It is rather that the editors and writers seemed to realize the significance of effective transportation facilities; the probable impact upon the growth of towns and communities; and the relationship to the overall development of the territory. If I were to apply my basic premises to the process of selecting a centennial theme, William Russell and Cyrus K. Holliday would receive more attention than John Brown and Jim Lane. And the editors, Miller, Martin, Thacher, Cummings, and Stotler, to name a few, would come in for their share of attention.

Perhaps a quotation from the speech which William Henry Seward made in Lawrence on September 26, 1860, will set the mood for a final attempt to formulate what I consider to be the proper relation of history and centennials. In flowery language well calculated to tickle the ego and win the votes of Kansans, Seward said,

I seem not to have journeyed hither, but to have floated across the sea the prairie sea I under bright autumnal skies, wafted by genial breezes into the free heavens where I would be. I am not sorry that my visit has occurred at this particular time so sad in its influence where nature that sends its rain upon the unjust as well as the just has for a year withdrawn its genial showers from the soil of Kansas. When I look at field after field and cabin after cabin, and church after church, and schoolhouse after schoolhouse, where but six years ago was the


unbroken land of savages, I am prepared here not expecting to escape being heard in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic coast I am prepared to declare, and do declare you people of Kansas, the most intelligent and the bravest and most virtuous people of the United States, or of the whole earth.13

With Seward's reference to "cabin after cabin and church after church and schoolhouse after schoolhouse" in mind, may I suggest that the kind of history that contributes to the feeling of alienation and ought not to characterize centennial observances is like a mining operation which wrenches from the strata far beneath the surface great chunks of ore an extractive process which leaves chaotic piles of debris on a surface that is connected to the yawning caverns underground only by the pitch-black void of the shaft. On the other hand the kind of history which may provide a sense of continuity, a feeling of belonging to one's cultural tradition, and a perspective on present problems is like the great tree in the forest with its beautiful configuration of leaves and branches connected by a solid trunk to roots which silently but surely push their way into the soil and the rock, simultaneously absorbing nutriment and anchoring the whole superstructure against the buffeting winds of circumstance. The first kind of history is a process of abstraction; the second a process of absorption. The first produces a feeling of alienation; the second a sense of belonging. The first complicates the present by extracting from the past only those parts which relate to a present problem or a present interest. The second illuminates the present by providing an entirely different observation point. In my opinion the first kind of history provides a footing of sand for centennial observances; the second a foundation of bedrock.

Recalling again Seward's reference to "cabin after cabin and church after church and schoolhouse after schoolhouse," perhaps the best method of determining what kind of history should characterize our centennial observances would be to ask ourselves what we would like the people of 2060 to recall about the 1950s and 1960s as they prepare for the bicentennial of statehood. Would we want them to emphasize

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the Clutter case adorned with political side-effects, a tragic traffic accident, a sordid instance of juvenile delinquency, a community controversy over the integration of a swimming pool? Would we want the people of 2060 to present the garb and jargon of the beatnik as typical of an entire generation of young people and the ducktail haircut as the finest expression of the tonsorial art of 1960? Or would we like the people of 2060 to view their past and our present as a whole and recall the achievements of creative artists, scientists, writers, educators, professional men and women, and the leaders in our business world? And would we like them to remember our halls of learning, our institutions for the care and treatment of the handicapped, our medical center and our museums, our plane factories, oil wells, and fruitful fields? And would we not like the people of 2060 to remember individual Kansans, some who remained in the state to make their contributions, some who left to win acclaim elsewhere, and one who was chosen to serve his country as its president? And, finally, would we not want the people of 2060 to look at their past and our present through our eyes by using the historical materials to which you and your colleagues have made a significant contribution?


1.Georgia Review, 10 (Spring, 1956), 92 ff.
2.Lester J. Cappon, editor, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, The University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill. 19591, 2, 498. 3."The Human Privilege," The American Scholar, 28 (Spring, 1959), 151-163; quotation from 152.
4.Atlantic Monthly, 3 (April, 1859), 441 ff. 5.
The Virginia Quarterly Review, 36 (Spring, 1960), 205-214.
6.Atlantic Monthly, 6 (September, 1860). 373. The review was of Tom Taylor, editor, The Autobiographical Recollections of Charles Robert Leslie.
7.Topeka (Kansas) Record, October 27, 1860.
8.Ibid., October 4, 1860.
9.Ibid., October 27, 1860.
10.Ibid., October 6, 1861.
11.Ibid., November 3, 1860.
12.Ibid., September 9, 1860.
13.Elwood (Kansas) Free Press, October 6, 1860.


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