History Matters: How Historical Research Helped Stop the Coup on January 6

It is now widely known that then President Trump pressured his Vice President Michael Pence to “be like Jefferson” on the morning of the coup, and to refuse to count some states’ electoral ballots. Pence refused, despite intense pressure. Why? Judge J. Michael Luttig advised Pence that he had no historical precedent for refusing to count any electoral votes, that in fact the supposed Jefferson precedent was bogus. But how did Luttig decide? It turns out he read my articles.

Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 5, after I had watched this claim explode both on right wing websites and in the speeches of then president Trump and had investigated its origins, I published two articles, in Backbencher and the Washington Monthly. On the morning of January 6, I watched in cold fascination to see what Pence would do; I was watching him count the electoral ballots when the first windows of the Capitol were broken. And I watched as his daughter posted the letter, explaining how his choice had been informed by history.

On Jan. 8, 2021, I wrote a series of tweets about how crucial historical precedent was in Pence’s decision about whether he could refuse to count electoral college votes as Trump was pressuring him to do. (Read the original Twitter thread.) I also reproduce it here.

Backbencher article: More on this Jefferson nonsense
Washington Monthly article: No, Thomas Jefferson Didn’t Rig the 1800 Vote Count

For more on this history, see Tim Noah’s overview on November 7 2022, in Backbencher. See “Backbencher Saves the Republic.

“In the days leading up to January 6, 2020, President Donald Trump tried everything he could think of to persuade Vice President Mike Pence that Pence had the power to toss out electoral ballots during the official Electoral College tally in the Senate.”

The Royal Geographical Pastime: A Game from 1770

Pedagogy and Teaching with Games

On July 15, 2022, I published an article for the Early American Studies Miscellany, an organization bringing early America into the present. I talk about how I use a 1770 board game with students in my U.S. history classes to have conversations about context and perspective.

My students learn some of the same things from it—though from a different perspective—including what the world looked like then; the products produced by different colonies and nations around the world; and major historical events—from earthquakes to rebellions—during the eighteenth century (which are chronicled in the game). In addition, it also teaches how people traveled, as it tracks actual sailing routes around the world, and perhaps most importantly, it shows the power and arrogance of the elite within the British empire.

Read the rest of the article on EAS Miscellany.

SLP Launch

Join us for the official launch of a new Digital Humanities Project, 

supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (U.S.), 

the American Society for Legal History &

the University of Maryland, College Park History Department

It aims to become a site to share manuscript materials that help us all to understand the connections between Slavery, Law, & Power 

in the British Empire & Early America

See what we have ready to share. 

Consider submitting something or giving us feedback.

When? Tuesday, February 15, 2 pm EST.

Register for our official launch event: 


or visit our website slaverylawpower.orgText

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