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Author: Heather Cox Richardson

How Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” defined the Civil War as a holy war for human freedom

On February 1, 1862, in the early days of the Civil War, the “Atlantic Monthly” published Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” summing up the cause of freedom for which the United States troops would soon be fighting. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” it began. “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.” Howe had written the poem on a visit to Washington with her husband. Approaching the city,...

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Authoritarian Learning: Insurrection by Brazil’s far-right shows Trump taught world how to do January 6

On January 8 in Brazil, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro attacked the presidential palace, congress, and supreme court, insisting that the country’s October election, in which voters replaced Bolsonaro with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was fraudulent. For months, Bolsonaro supporters have called for the military to stop Lula, as he is known, from taking office. Today, they attacked the government and called for military intervention to remove Lula from office. Many of them wrapped themselves in the Brazilian flag. Lula was visiting flood victims 500 miles from the capital, Brasilia, when the attack occurred. Bolsonaro is...

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Power entirely for its own sake: Where begging and pleading to become House Speaker leaves the nation

Early in the morning of January 7, shortly after midnight, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California won enough votes to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Not since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to elect New Jersey’s William Pennington as a compromise candidate, has it taken 15 ballots to elect a speaker. The spectacle of a majority unable to muster the votes to elect a speaker, while the Democratic opposition stayed united behind House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), raised ridicule across the country. McCarthy tried to put a good spin on it but inadvertently undercut confidence in...

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The Four Freedoms: Lessons from the FDR speech that articulated a powerful vision for a world

“If the Congress maintains these principles, the voters, putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks, will give you their applause. In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its...

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Destructive Politics: House Speaker chaos shows GOP has ability to obstruct but not to actually govern

The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022, aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote, but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots on January 3, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans backed their own choices. The saga continued on January 4 with three more ballots, and McCarthy still came up short. In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York...

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Remembering 2022 as the year democracies pushed back against authoritarians and exposed their weakness

Just a year ago, we were focusing on Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine, which the U.S. government and allies recognized as an attempt both to keep Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a longstanding military alliance resisting Russian expansion, and to test the unity of the democratic nations that made up NATO itself. Former president Donald Trump had weakened NATO and vowed to pull the U.S. out of it if he won a second term, demoralizing our allies, but Democratic president Joe Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had worked hard...

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