The Cornwallises Send Regrets
Historical Commemoration in the 1950s
History, long prescribed as cod-liver oil for civic irregularity, remained as a sovereign remedy during the Cold War. While policymakers often rummaged for ancient precedents and lessons, some leaders wanted more of history than that. Seeking to root Americans in their past, they stressed less history's pragmatic lessons than the inspiration to be derived from early heroes, less tested solutions than ancient values. On frequent occasions little analyzed by historians, cold-war America paid homage to a variety of hallowed places and olden times. 1
Patriotic activists turned to history especially in times of turmoil. The aftermaths of the two world wars produced similar anxieties--and responses. Beside Red Scares, both eras displayed a softer side in efforts to instill patriotism by applying the balm of tradition to current social eruptions. On September 17, 1919, Constitution Day was marked under the aegis of the National Security League, a bulwark of "one-hundred-percent Americanism" during the war and the Red Scare. In 1920, with due pomp, Secretary of State Robert Lansing placed original copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution on display.
Similar preservationist ceremonies followed World War II. In 1951, these two charters were enclosed in helium-filled cases to halt their dete-