Shaping History

William Lloyd Garrison, The Voice of Abolition

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) WHO HE WAS: William Lloyd Garrison was a preeminent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known for founding the anti-slavery newspaper, *The Liberator*, and for his unwavering insistence on the immediate emancipation of all enslaved peoples. His vocal advocacy and incisive writings galvanized the abolitionist movement and provoked national debate on slavery. WHAT HE SAID: “I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.” WHY HE MATTERED: Garrison’s significance lies in his radical approach to abolitionism. His commitment to nonviolence, women’s suffrage, and civil rights spearheaded a new era of progressive thought in America. He sought not just to reform, but to revolutionize society’s attitudes toward race and equality. His efforts helped to pave the way for the eventual abolition of slavery with the

Ulysses S. Grant: A Commanding Presence in American History

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) WHO HE WAS: Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States and a commanding general during the Civil War, leading the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. His presidency was marked by efforts to reconstruct the post-war South and enforce civil rights for freed slaves, though his administration was also tarnished by various scandals. WHAT HE SAID: “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and keep moving on.” WHY HE MATTERED: Grant was crucial in the Union’s Civil War triumph, which preserved the nation and ended slavery. As president, his Reconstruction policies aimed to integrate Southern states and ensure rights for African Americans, shaping the course of American history in the aftermath of war.

Charles Guiteau, portrait, facing left.

Charles Guiteau

Charles Guiteau (1841-1882) WHO HE WAS: Charles Guiteau was a disturbed individual who infamously assassinated President James A. Garfield. His actions shocked the nation and led to discussions about mental health, political violence, and the security of public figures. WHAT HE SAID: Reflecting on his motivations, Guiteau proclaimed: “I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President. The President’s death was a political necessity.” WHY HE MATTERED: Charles Guiteau’s assassination of President Garfield underscored the importance of presidential security and the consequences of unchecked political extremism. His tragic act sparked debates about the influence of mental illness on criminal behavior.

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) WHO HE WAS: Alexander Hamilton was a founding father of the United States, an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, the founder of the nation’s financial system, and the founder of the first American political party. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of George Washington’s administration. WHAT S/HE SAID: “Those who stand for nothing fall for everything.” Hamilton was a man of strong convictions and this quote exemplifies his belief in standing firm on principles. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Hamilton’s influence on America’s financial structure is unparalleled. He established the national bank, formulated the doctrine of implied powers, and set up a tariff system. His foresight in developing federal financial policies shaped the path of a young nation and laid the foundation for American capitalism.

William Henry Harrison, America's Briefest-Serving President

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) WHO HE WAS: William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States, an American military officer, and a politician. Known for his leadership during the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, he earned the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.” Harrison’s presidency, however, is most remembered for its brevity; he died of pneumonia just 31 days after taking office, serving the shortest tenure in United States presidential history. WHAT HE SAID: “I contend that the strongest of all governments is that which is most free.” This quote from Harrison reflects his belief in the fundamental principles of democracy and the importance of freedom in governance. WHY HE MATTERED: Despite his short time in office, Harrison’s election was significant. It marked the first time in U.S. history that a presidential candidate utilized a campaign portraying himself as a man of the people. He also was the last president born

John Hay

John Hay

John Hay (1838-1905) WHO S/HE WAS: John Hay began his political career as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary. He went on to serve as the U.S. secretary of state for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. WHAT S/HE SAID: It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune which loves the brave. WHY S/HE MATTERED: In the context of _America Becomes a World Power_, Hay took part in the peace negotiations to end the Spanish-American War, contributed to the Boxer Rebellion, promoted an “Open Door” policy in China, and negotiated the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty with Great Britain, giving the United States the rights to build a canal across Panama’s isthmus.

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) WHO S/HE WAS: William Randolph Hearst was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher who played an active role in late 19th century politics. WHAT S/HE SAID: In the run-up to the Spanish-American War, Hearst sent the legendary illustrator Frederick Remington to Cuba to cover the insurrection. Finding nothing to report, Remington cabled Hearst saying there was no war to cover. Hearst allegedly replied: Please remain. You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Hearst’s New York City newspaper, the _New York Morning Journal_, became known for sensationalist writing and for its agitation in favor of the Spanish-American War. The term yellow journalism (a pejorative reference to scandal-mongering, sensationalism, jingoism and similar practices) was derived from a color comic strip, The Yellow Kid. The above quote, possibly apocryphal, was a response to war correspondent, Frederick Remmington, whom he had dispatched to Cuba

President James A. Garfield

President James Garfield

James Garfield (1831-1881) WHO HE WAS: James Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States, known for his brief but impactful presidency. A scholar and military leader, he championed civil rights, education, and economic reform during a pivotal time in American history. WHAT HE SAID: Reflecting on the importance of education, Garfield emphasized: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained. WHY HE MATTERED: James Garfield’s dedication to progressive values left a lasting impact on the nation. His tragic assassination raised discussions about presidential security and the potential of his unfulfilled vision for the country.

Sam Houston: Architect of Texas Independence

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (1793-1863) WHO HE WAS: Sam Houston was an American soldier and politician, renowned for his pivotal role in securing Texas’s independence from Mexico. He served as the first and third President of the Republic of Texas, was a U.S. Senator after Texas’s annexation, and became the governor of two different states: Tennessee and Texas. His military victory at the Battle of San Jacinto cemented his status as a Texas hero. WHAT HE SAID: “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.” WHY HE MATTERED: Houston’s leadership and victory in the Texas Revolution were instrumental in the formation of the Republic of Texas and its later annexation to the United States. He also worked to protect Native American rights and sought to avoid secession during the build-up to the Civil War, reflecting his complex legacy.

Victoriano Huerta

Victoriano Huerta

Victoriano Huerta (1854-1916) WHO S/HE WAS: General Victoriano Huerta was a military leader, counter-revolutionary, and dictatorial President of Mexico for seventeen months, beginning in 1913. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Although Huerta’s military government took control over civilian life, he significantly increased spending for education particularly for indigenous Mexicans, set up an agricultural ministry, favored British oil interests (they recognized his regime) over those of the U.S., and established a National Labor Office. Some of the roots of subsequent administrations can be found during the 17 months of Huerta’s tenure..

Washington Irving, colorized illustration from original black and white

Washington Irving

Washington Irving (1783-1859) WHO HE WAS: Washington Irving was an American short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is known as the first American man of letters, and he is credited with introducing the short story as a new genre in American literature. Irving is best remembered for his stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” WHAT HE SAID: “A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.” WHY HE MATTERED: Irving crafted a uniquely American narrative voice and is often called the father of American literature. He was instrumental in shaping the identity of American culture through his prolific storytelling, which combined elements of myth, legend, and history.

Andrew Jackson - A Controversial American President

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) WHO HE WAS: Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States, serving from 1829 to 1837. Known as “Old Hickory” for his tough demeanor, he was a military hero who became a symbol of the American frontier and democracy. His presidency marked the rise of the common man and the Democratic Party. WHAT HE SAID: “I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.” WHY HE MATTERED: Jackson’s tenure was defined by his advocacy for populist democracy, his strong executive leadership, and controversial policies like the Indian Removal Act. His legacy is a complex tapestry of democratic expansion and aggressive policy decisions with lasting impacts.

John Jay, First Chief Justice and Founding Father

John Jay

John Jay (1745-1829) WHO HE WAS: John Jay was an influential American statesman and a Founding Father of the United States. He co-authored the Federalist Papers, served as the first Chief Justice of the United States, and was the Governor of New York. His diplomatic efforts were crucial to the establishment and early governance of the new nation. WHAT HE SAID: “To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.” WHY HE MATTERED: Jay was integral in shaping the foreign and domestic policies of the fledgling United States. He negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, and his advocacy for a strong federal government helped to shape the Constitution. His role in founding American jurisprudence is also a significant part of his legacy.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) WHO HE WAS: Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States. An advocate of democracy, individual rights, and education, Jefferson also made significant contributions as a diplomat, Vice President, and the Secretary of State. WHAT S/HE SAID: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” This quote encapsulates Jefferson’s deep commitment to liberty and human rights. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Jefferson’s vision shaped the United States’ principles of liberty and self-governance. As president, he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the nation, and he sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore this new territory. His influence extended to numerous areas, including architecture,

King David Kalakaua

King David Kalakaua

King David Kalakaua (1836-1891) WHO S/HE WAS: King Kalakaua was the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. He served in office from February 12, 1874 until his death in San Francisco, California, on January 20, 1891. WHAT S/HE SAID: In 1899, in the wake of the Spanish-American War, Addams spoke-out against American imperialism: Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the language of the Hawai’ian people. WHY S/HE MATTERED: Around 1887, Kalakaua came into conflict with a group of planters and prominent Hawaiians—the Hawaiian League—who wished to annex Hawaii to the United States. That same year, members of the league, armed with guns, assembled together and forced Kalakaua at gunpoint to sign the new constitution. This new constitution, nicknamed the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, removed much of the king’s executive power and deprived most native Hawaiians of their voting rights.

Stephen Watts Kearny


Media Rich Learning makes history and social studies programs for K-12 and post-secondary classrooms. We aspire to help students develop an understanding of historic events and connect them to larger themes. Our Streaming Room™ offers a curated collection of premium educational content.
Streaming Room™