The State of The Nation at 150

On this day in 1865 the first issue of The Nation was published. The first sentence of the first story of the first issue read; “The week has been singularly barren of enticing events.” Thus was born a magazine that valued candor above marketing savvy.

The editorial in that first issue marked its place in time. “Before this meets the eyes of our readers, the Fourth of July will have been celebrated. We celebrate not simply the national independence, but the close of the agitation about slavery, and the extinction of slavery itself.”

The NationIn April of this year, The Nation published its 150th anniversary issue, a 268 page digest of stories that have appeared in The Nation along with a “Radical Future” section. I don’t ordinarily blog about magazines. But this is no ordinary magazine.

In a digital age, The Nation remains committed to print even if it is on the cheapest paper known to man. In an age of visuals, The Nation focuses instead on the words. And why shouldn’t they when their list of contributors has included E.L. Doctorov, John dos Passos, Alan Ginsberg, Henry James, Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck and Gore Vidal.

The Nation is not neutral. It is left-of-center advocacy journalism. In her introduction to the anniversary issue long-time editor Katrina vanden Heuvel lets you know what to expect as she describes the issues she is passionate about:

  • “Only an organized people can avert the theft of our country by oligarchical money and dismantle the rigged system that cheats too many working and poor people.
  • “Democracy without women is not democracy, and
  • “We’d be wise to get our own house in order before remaking the globe.”

In one of the testimonials, Harry Belafonte comments. “The Nation brought to the table of human needs a menu of truth. Its stories enlighten us, give us choices for ascertaining how to deal with the complexities of daily life, and fuel our need for honesty.”

The 150th anniversary issue is not just the history of The Nation. It is also a history of our nation. And it is a history not written in the dry and dreary style of textbook writers, but by some of the finest American writers of their time, as well as newsmakers like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Nader.

Here’s a taste of what The Nation has produced in its 150 years of continuous publishing:

Mr. Walt Whitman, by Henry James, Nov; 16, 1865

“It has been a melancholy task to read this book (Drum-Taps); and it is a still more melancholy one to write about it. It exhibits the effort of an essentially prosaic mind to lift itself, by a prolonged muscular strain, into poetry.”

The Hue-and-Cry Against the Indians, Lewis Henry Morgan, July 20, 1876

“We admire the gallantry of General Custer and his men; we mourn their loss; but who shall blame the Sioux for defending themselves, their wives and children when attacked in their own encampment and threatened with destruction? This calamity is simply a chance of war – of a war waged by our government upon these Indians, nothing more and nothing less.”

The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Langston Hughes, June 23, 1926

“Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America, the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul – the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in the white world, a world of subway trains and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. We younger Negro artists who create now stand to express our dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful.”

The Men Who Made the Nation

The Men Who Made the Nation, Howard Cook, May 6, 1963

Dust Changes America, Margaret Bourke-White, May, 22, 1935

“The migrations of the farmer have begun. We passed them on the road, all their household goods piled on wagons, one lucky family on a truck. Lucky, because they had been able to keep their truck when the mortgage was foreclosed. All they owned in the world was packed on it; the children sat on a pile of bureaus topped with mattresses, and the sides of the truck were strapped up with bed springs.”

The Safe Car You Can’t Buy, Ralph Nader, April 11, 1959

“It is clear that Detroit today is designing automobiles for style, cost, performance and calculated obsolescence, but not for safety. Doors that fly open on impact, inadequately secured seats, the sharp-edged rearview mirror, pointed knobs on instrument panel and doors, flying glass, the overhead structure – all illustrate the lethal potential of poor design. Automobiles are so designed as to be unsafe at any speed.”

The Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders, Hunter S. Thompson, May 17, 1965

“Ever since World War II, California has been strangely plagued by wild men on motorcycles booming along the highway and stopping here and there to get drunk and raise hell. Most of the cyclists are harmless weekend types. But a few belong to what the others call ‘outlaw clubs.’ Despite everything the psychiatrists and Freudian casuists have to say about them, they are tough, mean and potentially as dangerous as packs of wild boar.”

His Master's Voice

His Master’s Voice, Victor Juhasz

The Last Steep Ascent, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 14, 1966

“Slums with hundreds of thousands of living units are not eradicated as easily as lunch counters or buses are integrated. Jobs are harder to create than voting rolls. Negroes expect their freedom, not as subjects of benevolence but as Americans who were at Bunker Hill, who toiled to clear the forests, drain the swamps, build the roads – who fought the wars and dreamed the dreams the founders of the nation considered to be an American birthright.”

Letter From Ground Zero, Jonathan Schell, Oct. 15, 2001

“I live six blocks from the ruins of the north tower of the World Trade Center, which is about as close as you can be to ground zero without having been silenced. My specific neighborhood was violated, mutilated. As I write these words the acrid, dark, rancid stink – it is the smell of death – of the still smoking site is in my nostrils. In an instant and without warning on a fine fall morning, the known world has been jerked aside like a mere slide in a projector, and a new world has been rammed into its place.”

Is Texas America? Molly Ivins, Nov. 17, 2003

“Well, sheesh. I don’t know whether to warn you that since George Dubya Bush is President the whole damn country is about to be turned into Texas (a singularly horrible fate) or if I should try to stand up for us and convince the rest of the world we’re not all that insane.”

This entry was posted in Book reviews, History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The State of The Nation at 150

  1. MaryHill says:

    I loved reading this magazine when in college. I could only find copies there, usually. I loved the depth of writing and history unfolding. Thanks for sharing on Literacy Musing Mondays.


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