2007 Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award Recipient
The American Historical Association takes great pleasure in presenting its fifth Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service to Richard A. Moe.
Richard Moe had been a political party leader in Minnesota and Chief of Staff to the vice president of the United States, when in 1980, a change in the US political winds sent him into temporary exile in a Washington law firm. While he was there, he made good use of the relatively slower pace of life to research and write a book about the Civil War—The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers (Henry Holt, 1993). Praised by Ken Burns and James McPherson, Moe’s book was a labor of love for an amateur historian devoted to the study of Lincoln and of the Civil War. It also made him an anomaly in the political world of Washington: his next job was not the result of political networking or influence. Instead, in 1993 his scholarship brought him to the attention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which was conducting a search for a new president. It was a perfect fit for both. Under his leadership over the past fourteen years, the Trust has become the premier preservation organization in the United States and an international force as well.
He began his tenure in the midst of a firestorm—less than a year into his new job, the Disney Corporation announced its plan to build a theme park in the immediate vicinity of the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. As one author put it, “Disney seemed unstoppable—until Richard Moe put pen to paper and made Disney’s America a national issue.” The amateur Civil War historian proceeded to lead the charge, rescuing one of the most hallowed grounds of American history—and providing a model for creative preservation activism that continues to be studied and emulated today. Richard Moe has moved the Trust far beyond America’s traditional notions of preserving the past—beyond distinct historic homes to the Doo-Wop motels in New Jersey; beyond individual battlefields to a 175-mile “Hallowed Ground” corridor from Gettysburg to Charlottesville traveled by Native Americans, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Civil War soldiers. Like Theodore Roosevelt, his love of the outdoors and especially of the West has inspired a particular dedication to preserving some of the most fragile footprints of the earliest Americans. Last summer, in a speech in Denver on the 100th Anniversary of the Antiquities Act, Moe urged the federal government to provide more resources to the Bureau of Land Management to protect “the rock art, cliff dwellings, pueblos, kivas, and other remnants of the earliest civilizations that flourished here…They represent the heritage of the first Americans, and thus are part of our heritage as well.” Like Woodrow Wilson (whose post-presidency Washington, DC, home is a property of the National Trust), Moe’s vision is international in scope. While the Trust’s mandate is US-centric, in 2005 Moe encouraged the organization to preserve American history outside this country’s borders for the first time. As a result, it placed Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba on its highly visible “11 Most Endangered Places” list, and began an historic joint effort with Cuban preservationists.
Most importantly, however, Moe’s passion for history brings to every project a focus on its potential to educate. The most recent example of this is in his deep personal commitment to the restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC. A 19th-century “Camp David,” it was home to President Lincoln and his family for fully one-quarter of his presidency; he commuted daily by horseback to the White House. It is the only site in Washington unique to Abraham Lincoln’s life and not his death, and it has legitimate claim to nurturing the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation. As a result of Moe’s dedication, this remarkable addition to the known Lincoln universe will open to the public on President’s Day, February 18, 2008. But even this contribution to public history only scratches the surface of Richard Moe’s vision for the Lincoln Cottage. In addition to tours and exhibits and a fully staffed educational program focused on the neighborhood and DC elementary schools, the cottage will be the heart of the Center for the Study of the Lincoln Presidency, which will bring together distinguished and nascent scholars who are studying Abraham Lincoln and his world.
Richard Moe would be the first to remind you that he is not a professional historian, and he would be the last to claim personal credit for the many significant preservation successes of the Trust. But those who know him know that this modest, passionate, amateur historian has made incomparable contributions to public understanding of American history. We are all in his debt.