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February 2017

February 2017: Happy 3rd Anniversary to David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American™ Foundation

February 20, 2017 is the third anniversary of David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American™ Foundation, an organization dedicated to restoring enthusiasm in American history — for kids, and adults!

David and I have been privileged to interview the historians at many of the nation's preeminent presidential and historic homes, including George Washington's Mount Vernon, President Lincoln's Cottage, James and Dolley Madison's Montpelier, and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

Then, last July 4, we took another step toward getting students excited about American history when we launched Grateful American™ Kids and started to feature kids as the stars of our videos. If you missed it, be sure to take a look at our first music video, "Grateful American Kids Rock," featuring first, second, and third graders from The Steward School in Richmond, VA.

Last fall, fourth graders from another Richmond school, Sabot at Stony Point, helped bring Revolutionary Era painter Charles Willson Peale to life in the setting where several of his paintings are on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

“Our goal is to have students teach students about what's fascinating, fun, and fantastic about American history,” says Smith, an author and publisher based in Washington, DC, who writes and publishes books about figures in American history. “This year, we’ll be rolling out even more videos to inspire students and their families.”

Be on the lookout: 

  • This winter, students will be heading back to St. John’s Church to interview Patrick Henry about why he proclaimed, "Give me Liberty, or Give me Death."
  • Also at Mount Vernon, they'll cook over a hearth with food historians to learn about how families prepared dishes popular in the 18th century. Plus, students will take us inside Washington's famous distillery and gristmill to learn about the cutting-edge technologies used in the late 1700s to create beer, cider, and spirits.
  • This spring, we will head to Brooklyn with students from New York to interview award-winning sculptor Ivan Schwartz, the artist whose company has given us life-size sculptures of George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison, as well as true-to-life creations of Lincoln's horse, Old Bob, and more.
  • Back in Washington, DC, students will interview award-winning historic children's book author and illustrator Roz Schanzer, who writes about America’s greatest adventurers. Her hits include "John Smith Escapes Again!," "How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning," and "George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen From Both Sides."
  • And this June, we'll visit the Students Opposing Slavery International Summit (SOS) at President Lincoln's Cottage, in Washington. Started in 2013 by four teenagers who believed they had a responsibility to do what they could to end slavery in modern times, this annual summit is an award-winning youth education program for high school students dedicated to raising awareness about modern slavery in their communities.


And that's just for starters!

Be sure to keep watching Grateful American™ TV for these exciting, kid-focused videos. And don't miss an issue of Grateful American™ Magazine, your monthly news source that brings the Founding Fathers and Founding Mothers to life.

Scroll down to read our interview about the genesis of the Grateful American™ Foundation! — David Bruce Smith, founder, and Hope Katz Gibbs, executive producer


Which Federal Holiday in February Is Not Actually Presidents’ Day?

Did you know? The nation has celebrated the birth of its first president since 1885. Since Congress moved the holiday to the third Monday of February in 1968, it has been colloquially known as Presidents' Day. That's partly because Abraham Lincoln's birthday is Feb. 12, but the official holiday is "Washington's Birthday." Interestingly, George Washington was actually born on Feb. 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. The 1752 adoption of the Gregorian calendar shifted his birth date to Feb. 22, 1732. Click on the video above to find out just some of the exciting ways that the Grateful American™ Foundation has been restoring enthusiasm in American history since Presidents’ Day 2014.


Grateful American™ Series

What Inspired David Bruce Smith to Create the Grateful American™ Foundation?

Hope Katz Gibbs: What inspired you to launch the series?

David Bruce Smith: Generally, kids are not being taught history effectively, and with that comes the tendency to slough it off. As grateful Americans, we need to have the same feeling of patriotism that existed after 9/11, but without the framework of a disaster. I think that the concept behind GratefulAmericanFoundation.com and GratefulAmericanKids.com will help stimulate some of those thoughts.

Hope Katz Gibbs: What are your goals for the project?

David Bruce Smith: One would be to encourage the teaching of history in the most interesting, innovative way possible. To do that, schools need to find the most qualified people. Otherwise, kids will turn off—fast.

Hope Katz Gibbs: Do you think textbooks, which can be less than riveting, are part of the problem?

David Bruce Smith: Textbooks can be part of the problem in that many of them cover the sweep of history unevenly or not at all. Sometimes, they are also too complicated and verbose. I think it's good to mix standard texts with films, biographies, diaries, and guest speakers.

Hope Katz Gibbs: Adults don't seem to know much more than kids when tested on their knowledge of American history. Do you think this is really a problem, and if so, why?

David Bruce Smith: Adults having little knowledge about American history? I think this shows the problem has existed for a long time. It's hard to fix those deficiencies, but you can make it up by educating this generation and the upcoming one, conscientiously. A standardized test is not going to fix it, because all that means is cramming in a lot of dates, which are quickly forgotten.

Hope Katz Gibbs: What are some solutions to getting more kids and adults excited about knowing American history, and re-igniting our passion for the people who founded the country?

David Bruce Smith: Qualified teachers, and more visits to historical sites. School budgets are tight; I don't know why local and national businesses don't contribute funds to make these outings possible. It would be an investment in their future employees. I would also encourage more interactive lessons, and getting historians, authors, and key people from the presidential homes to visit schools.

Hope Katz Gibbs: Through the Grateful American™ Foundation, you are interviewing the leaders of the nation's biggest presidential homes—including Monticello’s Vice President Andrew O’Shaughnessy (pictured right), President Lincoln's Cottage Executive Director Erin Carlson, and Benjamin Franklin House, London, Founding Director Dr. Márcia Balisciano. What are some of your favorite things about each home?

David Bruce Smith: Except for President Lincoln’s Cottage, all of the homes were owned by Founding Fathers. These were the men who made it possible for all of us to live in this wonderfully free society—in the best country in the history of the world.

Hope Katz Gibbs: Who is your favorite president, and why?

David Bruce Smith: Definitely Abraham Lincoln. Ever since I was a little boy, Lincoln has been my favorite for one reason: He freed the slaves. Had he not, it would have been many years before anybody else would have been bold and brave enough to do it.

Hope Katz Gibbs: You also have a passion for the first ladies, and the women who shaped America's early history. Why is that, and what are some of your favorite stories about these ladies?

David Bruce Smith: Some of the first ladies are under-recognized for their contributions to their husband's successes. For example: Had it not been for Abigail Adams, I don't think John Adams would have become president. He was difficult and moody, but she evened him out. Dolley Madison filled in the weaknesses of James Madison. He was bookish and scholarly, but she had personality and she was a wonderful hostess. As a couple they were a perfect combination. Mary Todd Lincoln, even with her justifiable mental illness, was intelligent, advised Lincoln well, and was prescient. Thirty years before the inauguration, she informed the Todd family that one day, Abraham would be president. Nancy Reagan was the nonpathological version of Mrs. Lincoln. I think that because she was not able to make it in the movies, she channeled all of her ambition, love, and energy into his career. Eleanor Roosevelt was probably the best first lady in history. She was FDR's legs, ears, and trusted adviser.

Hope Katz Gibbs: If you could accomplish one thing with the Grateful American™ Foundation, what would it be?

David Bruce Smith: To develop an appreciation for history. This shouldn't be a difficult thing to do, especially if the challenge is properly framed. If one thinks about the whole—or a piece—of America’s history as an Ancestry.com on the country, it should make more sense, and be fun to learn.


About David Bruce Smith

David Bruce Smith has a bachelor's degree in American Literature from George Washington University, and a master's in Journalism from New York University. During the past 20 years he has been a real estate executive and the editor-in-chief/publisher of Crystal City Magazine.

He is the author of 11 books: “In Many Arenas” • “13 Young Men” • “Tennessee” • “Three Miles From Providence” • “Conversations with Papa Charlie” • “Afternoon Tea With Mom” • “Letters to My Children” • “Building the Community” • “Continuum” • “Building My Life” • and his most recent, “American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”

His company, David Bruce Smith Publications, specializes in creating, designing, and composing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects: authors, historic figures, artists, and leaders. Several are about the amazing, true-life story of real estate developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith. David Bruce Smith Publications is committed to educating young children through books, literature, and historic sites.

For more information, visit davidbrucesmith.com.

 
This month in history

What is National Freedom Day?

February 1, 1865 — Today is National Freedom Day, which celebrates the signing of a resolution that proposed the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which outlawed slavery.

It declares: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Congress passed it on Jan. 31, 1865; it was ratified by the following December.

Maj. Richard Robert Wright, Sr., a former slave who founded the National Freedom Day Association, played a crucial role in creating the observance. A community leader in Philadelphia, Wright hoped to see a day dedicated to celebrating freedom for all Americans.

 

Read more…

History Matters

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens: Feb. 7, 1812

Charles John Huffam Dickens (Feb. 7, 1812 – June 9, 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognized his literary genius. His novels and short stories remain popular.

Born in Portsmouth, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years; wrote 15 novels, five novellas, and hundreds of short stories and nonfiction articles; lectured and performed extensively; was an indefatigable letter writer; and campaigned vigorously for children's rights, education, and social reforms.

Dickens's literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of “The Pickwick Papers.” Within a few years he had become an international celebrity, famous for his humor, satire, and keen observation of character and society. His novels, mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, pioneered the series genre — the dominant mode for the publication of novels in the Victorian era.

Read more…

Words of Wisdom

“On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that ‘all men are created equal’ a self-evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim ‘a self-evident lie.'”

— Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to George Robertson, Aug. 15, 1855

Read more…

Book Club

“Washington: A History of Our National City”

"Washington: A History of Our National City"
By Tom Lewis
560 pp., Basic Books
$26.66, hardcover

Reviewed by Dr. Márcia Balisciano
Founding Director, Benjamin Franklin House, London

In Tom Lewis' immaculately researched history, "Washington: A History of Our National City," we get a chronology of the people, political wrangling, and racial injustice marking the creation and evolution of Washington, DC.

Lewis relates that the idea that a national capital should arise at the junction of the Colonial North and South was not a fait accompli. It was the fruit of bargaining between those like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — who wanted a southerly seat of national government — and Alexander Hamilton, who desired a US Treasury and congressional assumption of Revolutionary War debt as a way of ensuring the political and economic survival of the new nation.

Read more…

In The News

What were Benjamin Franklin’s Four Steps to Becoming a Great Writer?

January 18, 2017 — In today's issue of intellectualtakeout.org, reporter Annie Holmquist writes: If Twitter or Facebook had existed during the Colonial period, Benjamin Franklin likely would have been one of its wittiest contributors, as evidenced by his pithy words of wisdom in Poor Richard's Almanac.

But Franklin wrote far more than witty slogans. In fact, his personal correspondence, policy proposals, and other writings take up a full 37 volumes in the online collection, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. So how did Franklin get to be such a prolific, proficient, and admirable author? The answer is simple: He taught himself.

In his autobiography, Franklin explains that while he loved the printed word, his original writing was far from praiseworthy. This changed, however, when he took the following four steps.

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This Month's Events

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