187 episodes

In each episode of In The Past Lane, the history podcast, we take up topics in American history and explore them through feature pieces, interviews, book and film reviews, and more. Our guiding philosophy is that history is not just about the past - it's about our world, here and now. History explains why things are the way they are, everything from our economy, religious practices, and foreign policy, to political ideology, family structure, and rates of poverty. Our aim is to be both informative and educational, as well as entertaining and funny. We hope you'll join us for memorable journeys In The Past Lane.

In The Past Lane - The Podcast About History and Why It Matters Edward T. O'Donnell

    • History

In each episode of In The Past Lane, the history podcast, we take up topics in American history and explore them through feature pieces, interviews, book and film reviews, and more. Our guiding philosophy is that history is not just about the past - it's about our world, here and now. History explains why things are the way they are, everything from our economy, religious practices, and foreign policy, to political ideology, family structure, and rates of poverty. Our aim is to be both informative and educational, as well as entertaining and funny. We hope you'll join us for memorable journeys In The Past Lane.

    187 The 15th Amerndment Is Ratified

    187 The 15th Amerndment Is Ratified

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we take a look at Reconstruction, specifically the ratification of the 15th Amendment which took place 150 years ago this week. It was the third of three amendments added to the Constitution after the Civil War and it was specifically intended to protect African American voting rights. In these early years of Reconstruction, formerly enslaved people registered to vote, voted, and won election to office, including Congress. But just a few years after the 15th Amendment was ratified, southern whites, with the acquiescence of white northerners, dismantled the accomplishments of Reconstruction, including black political power, and re-imposed white supremacy.
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the onset of the1918-1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic and Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech against the Vietnam.  

    Feature Story: The Ratification of the 15th Amendment
    On March 30, 1870 - 150 years ago this week - the US Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, certified that the required 3/4 of the states had ratified the 15th amendment to the Constitution and it was now in effect. This was the third of three amendments added to the Constitution in the wake of the Civil War. The 13th amendment abolished slavery. The 14th amendment defined US citizenship, established voting rights for African-Americans, and established the principle of equality before the law. The 15th amendment was intended to strengthen the right of African-Americans to vote. It read: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
    For African Americans and their white Republican allies, the 15th amendment was hailed as a key achievement in reshaping the US political system into a multiracial democracy. As President Ulysses S. Grant put it, the 15th amendment “completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event that has occurred since the nation came to life.”
    Grant and his fellow Republicans were right in celebrating the revolutionary nature of the amendment, but some of them expressed an unfounded and naïve optimism about its ability to empower African Americans. They claimed that with the 14th and 15th Amendments in place, black Americans no longer needed federal protection from vengeful white southerners who bitterly resented the end of slavery and black freedom and equality.
    Rep. James Garfield of Ohio, the Speaker of the House and future president, said the 15th Amendment “confers upon the African race the care of its own destiny. It places their fortunes in their own hands.” The message was clear: African Americans now had everything they needed to succeed. And if they failed to secure their place in American life then it was their own fault.
    Well, let’s hold that thought for a moment. We’ll return to it shortly.
    For now, let’s consider what had already happened in the years leading up to the ratification of the 15th amendment. First, African Americans had already gained the right to vote in 1867 under a Civil Rights Act passed by Congress. And this right was then made permanent in 1868 under the 14th Amendment.
    Immediately, formerly enslaved people seized this new freedom. Some 700,000 African-Americans registered to vote, nearly all of them as members of the Republican party - the party of Lincoln, emancipation, and now civil rights.
    And the results were remarkable: More than six hundred formerly enslaved men won seats in state legislatures and to other state and local offices. Still hundreds more served in all manner of posts, from register of deeds to justice of the peace. Some even went to Congress. Between 1869 and 1901 twenty-two African Americans would serve in the U

    • 16 min
    186 The Vanderbilt Ball Ushers in The Gilded Age + This Week in US History

    186 The Vanderbilt Ball Ushers in The Gilded Age + This Week in US History

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we take a look at one of the signal events in late-19th century America, the opulent Vanderbilt Ball of 1883 that announced the dawning of the Gilded Age. One thousand of the richest people in America attended the costume ball that celebrated the opening of the Vanderbilt’s new mansion on Fifth Avenue. It was a conspicuous display of wealth and power never seen before in the US and it marked a sharp departure from traditional republican values of egalitarianism and restraint in favor of conspicuous consumption and pretensions to aristocracy.   
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the 1915 quarantining of Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid. And birthdays, including
    March 24, 1834 – explorer John Wesley Powell
    March 24, 1919 – poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti  
    March 25, 1934 – feminist activist Gloria Steinem

    Feature Story: The Vanderbilt Ball Ushers in The Gilded Age
    On March 26, 1883 – 137 years ago this week – Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt hosted a gala ball at her mansion on 5th Avenue in New York City. There had been opulent balls and parties in NYC in the past, but nothing compared to this one. The event was held to celebrate the completion of the Vanderbilt’s new mansion, which in truth was more of a palace in the style of Louis XIV than a mere mansion. And then there was the price tag for the ball - $250,000 – or $6 million in today’s money. The Vanderbilt Ball of 1883 announced a new era in the US, one we now call the Gilded Age. And with this new era came new norms and values, ones that we are now quite familiar with in the 21st century.

    So who was Mrs. Vanderbilt and what was she up to? Mrs. Vanderbilt was born Alva Erskine Smith in Alabama. She married William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of THE Vanderbilt, that is, the great railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Like his grandfather, he was one of the wealthiest men in America. Alva Vanderbilt had it all.
    Well, not quite. People like the Vanderbilts had one problem. They had boatloads of money, but no elite heritage like the old money families like the Astors and Roosevelts. So one of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s motivations behind her grand ball was to gain entry into elite society. The problem was that elite, old money New Yorkers shunned the nouveau rich like the Vanderbilts.
    So Mrs. Vanderbilt worked up a plan. New York’s high society was dominated by Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, the queen of the old money set. She had taken it upon herself to determine who was “in” and who was “out” in terms of society. Her confidant and consultant in this matter was a guy named Ward McAllister who claimed that the TRUE elite in New York only numbered “Four Hundred.” Mrs. Astor was especially determined to prevent the Vanderbilt’s from entering this inner circle.
    But then a crisis emerged. Carrie Astor—Mrs. Astor’s daughter – did not receive an invitation to the Vanderbilt Ball, while all her elite friends did. Alarmed over the implications of this snub, Mrs. Astor made some discreet inquiries. It turned out that Mrs. Vanderbilt’s response was that since Mrs. Astor had never formally called upon her, they were not formal acquaintances and thus it would be improper to invite her daughter to the ball. It was a brilliant move, for Mrs. Astor, seeing no alternative, swallowed her pride and called upon Mrs. Vanderbilt. The next day, Carrie Astor’s invitation to the ball arrived. The Vanderbilt’s were IN!
    Mrs. Vanderbilt’s big bash was a costume ball. She invited 1,000 of New York’s wealthiest citizens to attend and they responded with ingenuity and enthusiasm, spending lavishly on their costumes.  Some came dressed as animals and others as figures from history or literature, but the m

    • 15 min
    185 The St. Patrick's Day Scandal of 1888 + This Week in US History

    185 The St. Patrick's Day Scandal of 1888 + This Week in US History

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we take a look at a curious but revealing scandal that emerged in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day n 1888. The mayor refused to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade and to fly the flag of Ireland over City Hall and paid a heavy political price.  
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and Amelia Earhart’s final flight. And birthdays, including
    March 16, 1751 - 4th POTUS James Madison
    March 18, 1837 - the 22nd and 24th POTUS Grover Cleveland
    March 17, 1777 - SCOTUS justice Roger B. Taney

    Feature Story: The St. Patrick’s Day Scandal of 1888
    On March 17, 1888 – 132 years ago this week - the mayor of New York City made a huge mistake. It was St. Patrick’s Day and yet, Mayor Abram Hewitt made good on his recent pledge to not review the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and not to fly the Irish flag over City Hall. The Mayor framed his decision as a stand for pure, enlightened political leadership that was above pandering to what he considered petty, special interests. But the city’s enormous Irish population did not see it that way and Hewitt would soon learn a painful lesson in late-nineteenth century urban politics. 

    Abram Hewitt was a wealthy industrialist and former congressman who had won election as mayor of New York in 1886.  Although a member of the elite, “silk stocking” set, he ran as the candidate of Tammany Hall, the legendary political organization that drew its power from the city’s immigrant masses - especially the Irish.  Tammany officials had selected him out of panic, because the election of 1886 had featured a stunning challenge by an upstart Labor Party that had selected as its candidate the reformer Henry George, a man immensely popular with the city’s laboring masses. Just as Tammany had hoped, Hewitt’s respectable image helped him garner just enough votes to narrowly defeat George.
    Although elected on the Tammany Hall ticket and to a large degree by the Irish vote, Hewitt was a blueblood who abhorred the idea of ethnic politics.  Unfortunately for him, he lacked the political good sense to keep this disdain to himself.  So when a delegation of representatives of Irish organizations came calling on March 6, he did little to conceal his contempt. 
    The delegation had come in response to rumors that Hewitt would not review the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “The majority of Irishmen vote the Democratic ticket,” they reminded him, “and your vote came largely from Irishmen, a considerable portion of whom belong to the societies who will parade on St. Patrick’s Day.”            
    Hewitt was clearly irked by their suggestion that he owed the Irish an appearance at the parade.  He snapped back, “Now let us understand each other.  I am mayor of this city.  You ask me to leave my duties and review your parade –”
    At that moment he was interrupted by one of the delegation. “But Mr. Mayor, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday.”

    “It is not a legal holiday,” continued the mayor testily. “You ask me to leave my duties and review your parade, and you speak of the vote cast by the Irish in your societies for the Democratic candidates.  I may be a candidate for mayor or for President next fall and may want all the votes I can get … But for the purpose of getting this [Irish] vote, I will not come down to the level of reviewing any parade because of the nationality represented.  I will review no parades, whether Irish, German, or Italian as a Democrat.  I will review parades only as mayor of the whole city and irrespective of party considerations.” 
    The delegation of Irishmen left the meeting angry and empty handed. 
    When word of the mayor’s refusal to review the parade hit the paper

    • 14 min
    184 Washington Defuses the Newburgh Conspiracy + This Week in US History

    184 Washington Defuses the Newburgh Conspiracy + This Week in US History

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we take a look at one of the most perilous moments during the American Revolution: The Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783 that threatened to plunge the new republic into civil war. That is until George Washington intervened and defused the would-be revolt among officers of the Continental Army.  
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the 1862 battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia and FDR’s first fireside chat in 1933. And birthdays, including
    March 10, 1867 - progressive reformer and nurse Lillian Wald
    March 12, 1922 novelist and poet, Jack Kerouac
    March 15, 1767 - the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson

    Feature Story: George Washington Defuses the Newburgh Conspiracy
    On March 15, 1783 – 237 years ago this week - Gen. George Washington arrived at Newburgh, NY, which was the winter quarters of Continental Army. A peace treaty with England had yet to be signed, but combat between American and British forces had ended sixteen months earlier in October 1781 with the British surrender at Yorktown. But the mood among the men and officers was decidedly not celebratory. They were angry at Congress for not paying them and for providing poor provisions. They felt disrespected and ignored by the national government.
    But Washington had not come to Newburgh to cheer them up. He had come to thwart a scheme that threatened to destroy the young republic that had just earned its independence.  One of the key figures in that scheme – what came to be called the Newburgh Conspiracy - was Major John Armstrong, aide de camp to Washington’s chief rival, Horatio Gates. Five days earlier, Armstrong had issued an inflammatory address in which he said the time for politely pleading with Congress to fulfill its obligations to the army had come to an end. The officers of the army, said Armstrong, should issue an ultimatum. If Congress did not act, the army would either disband, leaving the nation vulnerable to renewed British attack, or it would refuse to disband once a peace treaty had been signed. This latter option was a thinly veiled threat of a military coup.
    When Washington learned of Armstrong’s address and talk of mutiny among the officer corps, he sent a message urging the men to keep their cool and not do anything rash. He sympathized with the men and understood their anger, but he also feared that any unauthorized action could lead to civil war and the end of the American republic. Washington, like most of the Founders, knew that many revolutions in history were followed by a civil war, as the factions that had united against a common foe turned on each other.
    To defuse this perilous situation, Washington called a meeting of the officers at Newburgh for March 15 to discuss the matter, implying that he would not be in attendance.
    One can only imagine their surprise when, as their meeting was getting under way, in strode General Washington. The atmosphere was tense. A hush fell over the room and Washington began to speak, urging the men to resist the call to mutiny. For if they did act illegally, they would squander all the good will they had accumulated during the war:
    “Let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained; let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress.… By thus determining — & thus acting, you will pursue the plain & direct road to the attainment of your wishes. You will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more
    distinguished proof of unexampled p

    • 11 min
    183 The Boston Massacre at 250 + This Week in US History

    183 The Boston Massacre at 250 + This Week in US History

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we take a look at the Boston Massacre on its 250th anniversary. In particular, we learn about the stories of two of the five men killed in that famous clash, and why we know their names today.  
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the 1807 law that ended the US participation in the African slave trade, the controversial election of 1876, and the Bloody Sunday clash that occurred in Selma, Alabama 55 years ago. And birthdays, including
    March 2, 1904 Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss
    March 3, 1847 inventor Alexander Graham Bell
    March 4, 1888 football legend Knute Rockne

    Feature Story: The Boston Massacre at 250
    On March 5, 1770 – 250 years ago this week - British troops stationed in Boston found themselves face to face with a jeering crowd of men. The soldiers had been sent to rescue one of their number who had been cornered by the crowd near the Customs House. Bostonians hurled epithets, as well as snow and ice, at the soldiers, but there was little about the incident to suggest that blood would soon flow.  That changed when one of the soldiers fired his musket – likely by mistake.  Immediately his fellow soldiers, thinking an order to fire had been given, opened fire on the crowd, killing five and wounding six more.

    The Boston Massacre, as the incident became known, did not come out of nowhere. Tensions had been rising steadily in colonial cities like Boston at least as far back as 1765, the year the British government imposed the Stamp Act to compel the colonies to pay some of the costs of their defense by the British military during the recently concluded French and Indian War. The colonists, having grown accustomed to little British interference in their affairs for most of the eighteenth century, protested the act and the many more that followed. Although the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, Parliament followed it with the Townsend Acts of 1768 which also imposed taxes and fees.  This act likewise touched off protests and acts of vandalism in Boston. It also led to a boycott of British goods that was organized by the Sons of Liberty. In response to these disturbances, the British government sent 2,000 troops to Boston to maintain order.  For a city of just 16,000 residents, 2,000 soldiers represented a major show of force and intimidation by Parliament.

    Not surprisingly, Bostonians treated the soldiers with scorn from the very start. Minor altercations on the streets between citizens – usually young tradesmen and dock workers – and soldiers occurred frequently. By early 1770, tensions were running high. In early March several brawls broke out between workers and soldiers, fueling rumors of an impending crackdown by the soldiers on Sons of Liberty activity and a plan to cut down the Liberty Tree in South Boston.

    This was the essential background to what led to the events of March 5, 1770. The “Boston Massacre,” as the more zealous patriots termed this clash, enraged colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia. This fury was stoked by skilled propagandists who quickly wrote and distributed a pamphlet titled, “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.” As the title indicates, they framed the incident not as one marked by confusion and miscommunication, but rather one where the British soldiers acted with malice and intentionally murdered the five victims. Paul Revere then added the final touch – an engraving that purported to show what happened on the night of March 5, 1770. It shows a crowd of well-dressed and well-behaved Bostonians on the left being shot – as if by firing squad – by a tightly organized line of British soldiers on the right. Both the pamphlet and image circulated widely throughout the thirteen colonies.

    In Boston, officials moved quickly to prosecute the s

    • 14 min
    182 Racism, History, and “Gone With The Wind” + This Week in US History

    182 Racism, History, and “Gone With The Wind” + This Week in US History

    This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, we learn about the film “Gone With The Wind,” its dark racist themes, and how African Americans organized protests against the film when it debuted in 1939.
    And we also take a look at some key events that occurred this week in US history, like the landmark Supreme Court decision, Marbury vs. Madison, the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by members of the American Indian Movement, and the swearing in of Hiram Revels as the first African American member of the U.S. And birthdays, including
    February 24, 1928: Michael Harrington
    February 26, 1846: Buffalo Bill
    February 27, 1902: Marian Anderson
    For more information about the In The Past Lane podcast, head to our website, www.InThePastLane.com 

    Feature Story: Racism, History, and “Gone With The Wind”
    Eighty years ago this week, on February 29, 1940, the film "Gone with the Wind" swept the Academy Awards. The blockbuster film, one of several classics to come out in the remarkable year of 1939 (which also included "Stagecoach" and "The Wizard of Oz"), was based on the best-selling book by Margaret Mitchell. 
    Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1900.  Her parents imparted to her very different influences. From her father, a prominent lawyer and president of the Atlanta Historical Society, she grew up listening to stories about old Atlanta and glories of the Confederacy.  From her mother, a women of more radical leanings who was active in the suffrage movement, Mitchell developed her independent personality. After studying briefly at Smith College in Massachusetts, she returned to Atlanta and became one of the first women to land a job as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal.  In 1925 she married John Marsh and one year later, while recovering from an ankle injury, she began writing a work of fiction that became Gone with the Wind.
    Mitchell actually finished the 1,000-page manuscript in 1926, but had trouble finding a publisher.  The book was finally published in 1935 and became an instant hit, selling one million copies within six months.  The following year it won the Pulitzer Prize.  By the time of her death in 1949, more than eight million copies had been sold in forty different countries.
    The essential story is by now familiar to most.  In the beginning, the reader is immersed in a idyllic world of the antebellum South and the plantation-owning elite.  But when the Civil War breaks out, the brave sons of the South march off to fight the Yanks and the old South begins to crumble.  Within this drama is the story of the tempestuous Scarlett O'Hara and her fight both to save her family plantation, the much-loved Tara, and to win the heart of the strong and dashing Rhett Butler.
    With the success of the book, a film adaptation was inevitable.  Mitchell sold the film rights to the producer David O. Selznick for $50,000, and later received another $50,000 in royalties. News of the forthcoming film generated a lot of excited anticipation among fans of the book. But not all Americans were thrilled. African Americans rightly understood Mitchell’s book as a deeply racist depiction of a “Lost Cause” version of slavery, the Confederacy, and Reconstruction. In her telling, enslaved African Americans were simple-minded people who were content with slavery and loved their white owners. And she celebrated the Ku Klux Klan as an organization that rescued the South from the alleged depredations of emancipated blacks and Northern carpetbaggers.
    African Americans knew that it was this twisted version of the Civil War and Reconstruction that was used by white supremacists to justify Jim Crow, lynching, and segregation. So, they mobilized against GWTW long before the filming began. They wrote letters to David Selznick, the film’s famed producer, urging him to drop the project. "We conside

    • 15 min

Customer Reviews

MarkThyme ,

Entertaining and educational

Host Edward T. O'Donnell brings us fabulous issues, books, and speakers on American History. His sense of humor is greatly appreciated. We've had many family discussions and connected to many books we might otherwise have overlooked. Thank you!

Brad in Michigan ,

Great history podcast

Amiable and engaging. Great interviews.

Matt - US History Teacher ,

Simply the Best

A professor at Holy Cross College reads novels by various historical writers, provides a short introduction for context, and delivers an excellent interview with insightful questions that dig to the heart of each topic. Edward T. O’Donnell is my go-to podcast for United States History. I’ve enjoyed his work through long drives, long hours at a summer job, and as a means of lesson planning. I began listening as a student teacher of Social Studies, and now as I am in my first year of teaching, his work proves to be a useful classroom tool, both to educate my students and myself. I find that his approachable podcasts are useful for any age or learning level. In the Past Lane is, with no question, my favorite history podcast. I highly recommend.

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