This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
The Rock Island Public Library board minutes for 1902 do not indicate how many votes George Bancroft received to earn his place on the frieze of the new library building alongside Homer, Dante, Emerson, and the others, but it has to have been more than the none he would have received today.
In the public's eye, in 1902, Bancroft was still the premier historian of the United States. His great six-volume History of the United States had occupied his entire life. Professional historians, however, had begun to question his version of United States history as soon as it began to appear. They ridiculed his belief in the moral progress of the human race, and his faith in the average citizen’s ability to make good choices.
Even his popularity with the public might not have gotten him enough votes for a place on the frieze, had he not had the foresight to actually show up in Rock Island back on June 5th, 1854. That day, George Bancroft was a member of a delegation of twelve hundred easterners who arrived in Rock Island aboard the first train to reach the Mississippi River and board a steamboat for a grand trip up to St. Anthony's Falls. The party included former President Millard Fillmore and other notables, but it was Bancroft whose speeches helped made the tour famous, "the most magnificent excursion ever taken in America" one newspaper said.
The trip earned Bancroft a place on the frieze. But for George Bancroft, there was an even greater reward. By 1854, Bancroft was only halfway through his great history of the United States, but professional criticism was already creating some self-doubt. Was his view of human nature too positive? The trip to Rock Island provided an answer. Here along the Mississippi Valley was visible progress. Davenport was building 300 new homes when Bancroft arrived. And the excursion itself, by rail and steamboat, was one, he wrote, "for which history has no parallel, and such as no prince could possible undertake." A thousand people had been transported easily a distance greater than New York to Liverpool. The trip to Rock Island put Bancroft's name on a frieze, but more important, it renewed his faith in the United States.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.