Google Docs due Saturday night by 10pm.
One of the primary themes that I’ve wanted you to consider over this unit on the American Revolution was the concept of whether or not it was a conservative revolution (people trying to keep powers/rights that they already have been exercising for years) or whether it was truly a radical revolution (people striking out on their own by overthrowing an existing political or social order and creating a new one). American historians have been debating the very nature of the American Revolution soon after it ended.
My attitudes about the Revolution have changed over the past seven years since I’ve started teaching APUSH and have become more nuanced. What I mean by that is that I used to believe what most of you have probably been taught – we were right and the British were tyrants, and it was just a matter of time that we asserted our unalienable rights by breaking away from the British empire to become the greatest nation in the history of the world.
The more I study the Revolution, the more I see numbers like the taxation issue (Brits were taxed 26 shillings to the colonists’ 1 shilling), and I wonder what the big deal was. Parliament wasn’t asking the colonies to pay the debt of 140 million pounds sterling that the empire had accrued during the French and Indian War – just 1/3 of the 100,000 pounds that it cost for the soldiers to be there to protect the Indians on the other side of the Proclamation Line of 1763. Part of me sees the Stamp Act riots as an overreaction, the Boston Tea Party as vandalism not patriotism, and that the Revolution was about how indebted the wealthy were to the British.
The pre-Civil War era (1840-1870) was filled with historians who saw the Revolution as a quest for liberty, and the most important scholar was George Bancroft who wrote a ten-volume History of the United States. Bancroft felt that the Revolution was a “struggle between liberty and tyranny… represent[ing] one phase of a master plan by God for the march of all mankind toward a golden age of greater human freedom” (Bancroft 13). Bancroft represented a national historian who told America’s epic story in an ultra-patriotic way. After the Civil War, however, historians wanted to reassess the Revolution in light of the country’s amazing industrial growth.
Imperial and Progressive Schools
The Imperial School believed that political and constitutional issues brought on the Revolution. Britain’s colonial policies were not as unjust as Bancroft had said. There were benefits and burdens with the Navigation Acts, and the colonists benefited under Salutary Neglect too. Also, Imperial School historians felt that the British were justified in taxing the Americans b/c it was British blood and treasure spent during the Great War for Empire 1754-63. American colonies were moving in the direction of more home rule which, in essence, was revolutionary, by nature.
The Progressive School emphasized that it was the economic split caused by the competition between the colonies and the mother country. Not only that, but the Progressives placed a great emphasis on class conflict, so this Revolution was actually two revolutions – external against Britain and internal between social classes (which social class would rule America after the British left?). Historian Arthur Schlesinger noted that usually conservative merchants played a key role in kick-starting the Revolution b/c they feared what would happen to their positions if the lower classes won the internal Revolution.
Historians in the 1950s, the consensus school of history, feel that there wasn’t class conflict during this time period, but that a “shared commitment to certain fundamental political principles of self-government” was what bound the colonists together (Bailey 140). It was these ideas – liberty, voting, representative government, trial by jury, habeas corpus – that bound Americans together. The leading historian of this movement was one of my favorites, Daniel Boorstin. It was these grand, shared ideas that bound the varied colonial interests together and minimized the social and economic
conflicts that could have torn the colonies apart.
After the 1950s, historian Bernard Bailyn focused on ideological and psychological factors that drove the Revolution. He had read hundreds and hundreds of pamphlets from the Revolutionary era and discovered that not only were the colonists extremely literate, they were very knowledgeable in political theory. These American writers also grew suspicious (some say too sensitive) of conspiracies, and this hypersensitivity led the colonists to begin armed revolt in 1775 at Lexington and Concord.
New Left (1960s, 70s)
Another one of my favorite historians, Gary Nash, has examined the social and economic forces that moved the Revolution along. He pointed out the increasing gap between the social classes and lack of social mobility before the Revolution, especially among the people who lived in the countryside. Attacks by the poor (the Paxton Boys in PA and the Regulators in N.C.) on the wealthy before the Revolution are prime examples of the frustration and resentment that laborers felt at being left out of the rapid economic change. Unlike the Progressive historians, the New Left historians like Nash don’t pin all of the conflict upon economic conflict but include social changes as well.
Not only have you gotten a lesson in historiography (the history of the history – of the Revolution in this case), you can see that history is not a static thing and changes over time. The history usually reflects the political and social conditions of the writers / historians living at that time.
Using what you’ve read here and in chapters 4 and 5 (“The American Revolution”, pgs. 132-33), provide with me some insight into what you think our American Revolution was – a conservative revolution or truly radical one in nature. Don’t forget the handout, “Conflicting Views” too. Also, please provide some rationale for your answer from the ideas above and the Gary Nash article, “The Radical Revolution from the ‘Bottom Up'”.
Bailey, Thomas Andrew, David M. Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.
Wood, Gordon S. “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution.” The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. London: Penguin, 2011. 25-55. Print
Using the 1970s’ definitions of liberal and conservative, I’d like you to figure out whether President Richard Nixon was a liberal, conservative, or some combination of both – a moderate.
At that point in the 1970s, a liberal is someone who believes in positive governmental action to solve societal problems and to ensure equality for all. Liberals also see the government as the guarantor of civil liberties and human rights. Generally, liberals believe that government can solve society’s problems because sometimes they are too big to be solved by individuals, charities (non-governmental organizations), or private businesses. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to believe in limited governmental actions and spending, traditional American values, a strong defense, and a belief that capitalist free markets can solve economic inequality. Conservatives want to empower the individual to solve his / her own problems and not rely on the government for help. There is also a major divide about how much of the past / present should be preserved in order to benefit the future. Liberals are willing to try new ideas or approaches to adjust to the changing times, while conservatives want to preserve working structures / traditions and carry them forward into the future. Also, liberals tend to come from historically marginalized groups (think women, African American, etc.) while conservatives tend to come from the dominant groups in American society (white and male).
To make the case that Nixon is a liberal:
Nixon raised the minimum wage by 40% in 1974. He also proposed a couple programs that never came to be but seem amazingly liberal – a guaranteed minimum annual wage for families (Family Assistance Program), and an expansion of Medicare / Medicaid so that everyone would be covered by a government health care program, in which all employers would have had to provide health care for their employees or make up the difference for those employees who couldn’t afford it. “Herbert Stein, Nixon’s chief economic adviser, who once wrote, ‘Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon Administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal.'” In 1971, Nixon imposed price and wage controls in order to curb inflation, and also took America off the Gold standard. These price and wage controls, like Stein said above, was the most overt control of the American economy since FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression. Nixon also signed the Clean Air Act and created the agencies, Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nixon also expanded the food stamps program from $610 million in 1970 to $2.5 billion in 1973.
This quote is taken from the National Review (a traditionally conservative magazine) in 2013: “In a 1983 interview, [Nixon] told historian Joan Hoff that his many liberal initiatives as president (from the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to his calls for universal health insurance) reflected his own background and association with the “progressive” wing of the Republican party. In private, Nixon was scathing about conservatives ranging from Ronald Reagan (he considered him a showy “know-nothing”) to William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review.” Nixon told this to an aide: “The trouble with far-right conservatives like Buckley,” Nixon told Whitaker, “is that they really don’t give a damn about people and the voters sense that. Yet any Republican presidential candidate can’t stray too far from the right-wingers because they can dominate a primary and are even more important in close general elections. Remember, John,” Nixon lectured, “the far-right kooks are just like the nuts on the left, they’re door-bell ringers and balloon blowers, but they turn out to vote. There is only one thing as bad as a far-left liberal and that’s a damn right-wing conservative.”
Foreign policy-wise, Nixon was not like Reagan’s 1st term. Reagan hated detente because he thought that the agreements like SALT I and II were immoral. Nixon normalized relations with China and kicked Taiwan to the curb, even supporting their dismissal from the United Nations. Nixon also left our ally, South Vietnam, in the lurch after signing a dubious treaty to get us out of the war. Yes, we did make South Vietnam’s army the #4 biggest army in the world after we withdrew, but it wasn’t enough to stop the North Vietnamese from invading and seizing the country in 1975.
Nixon also famously said this in the groundbreaking Frost / Nixon interviews:
Frost: “Are you really saying the president can do something illegal?”
Nixon: “I’m saying that when the president does it, it’s not illegal!”
This sweeping interpretation of presidential powers is nowhere written in the Constitution, unless you widely interpret the President’s war powers.
To make the case that Nixon was a conservative:
Nixon originally campaigned in 1968 during the chaos of that year as a “law and order” candidate, as someone who championed the “silent majority” who supported American values but didn’t protest the Vietnam War or burn bras or participate in marches / riots. This technique tended to be something that conservatives would do – promote strong crime strategies like capital punishment, more prisons, and stricter penalties and prison terms (think of the the Willie Horton ad from 1988 Bush vs. Dukakis). Nixon swayed white Southern Democratic voters away from the Democratic Party with his “Southern Strategy” in which he sought a fine line between integration and segregation. To many younger voters and war protestors, he appeared to be an authoritarian figure who escalated the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971. Under his watch, the FBI also launched COINTELPRO, a systematic wiretapping and disinformation campaign that targeted anti-war and Civil Rights groups from 1965-1971. Another one of Nixon’s programs, New Federalism, sought to push some programs out of the federal realm and into the states’ responsibilities. He felt that it was more important for states to have control over some federal programs and be able to oversee how the money was spent – the idea being that the states know better what they need and should spend it how they want to rather than the distant federal government.
Also, Nixon nominated 4 Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Warren Burger (1969), future Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1971), Harry Blackmun (1970), and Lewis Powell (1971). Nixon’s conservative influence would be felt for decades. Chief Justice Burger was critical of the previous Court’s expansion of rights for criminals in cases like Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona. Despite many conservative rulings, the Burger Court also included such liberal decisions like Roe v. Wade (allowing 1st term abortions to be legal), Swann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Ed. (supporting busing to integrate schools), Furman v. Georgia (postponing all death penalty cases for four years), and U.S. v. Nixon (forcing the president to turn over his recordings in the Oval Office).
Why did Nixon do all of this? Some historians have argued that he was poll driven, and because America had gone through a very liberal phase in the 196s0s (Great Society, Civil Rights legislation), he was responding to America’s demands for environmental laws, work place improvements, and the energy crisis / inflation. Other historians have argued that Nixon was an opportunist who wanted to focus on his foreign policy in Vietnam, the Soviets, and China. That Nixon was cynical enough to let the domestic agenda items pass in order to become the great foreign policy president that he strove to be.
Here’s the video of Nixon on Trial that we saw together in class.
So, in your own words,
The film, Marshall, is about a trial in the early career of the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall. He is also well known for having argued the Brown v. Board of Ed., Topeka, KS trial in front of the Supreme Court. This particular case is like a famous novel by Richard Wright, Native Son, in which Bigger Thomas, a poor Black man working for a wealthy white family in Chicago, is accused of killing a young white lady. In the film, it only focuses on one part of his long career as a lawyer for the NAACP, defending Joseph Spell from accusations by Eleanor Strubing of rape.
The power dynamic between Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman – a.k.a. The Black Panther, also Jackie Robinson in 42) and Sam Friedman (played by Josh Gad) inverts the normal race relations of the time with white on top and black on the bottom. Marshall is an self-possessed, extremely confident alpha male while Sam plays his sidekick (in some regards). One of the things that the movie shows is that racism isn’t limited or secluded in the South; it’s all over the country, and when a white woman’s integrity is threatened by the big Black man stereotype, the ugly side of American racism comes out.
If you want this to go on the first trimester, please make sure your comment is posted by 11:59 pm on Sunday night, November 26.
If you want this to go on the second trimester, please complete this by December 11 by class.
After we’d watched the American Experience video on the Chicago Convention in 1968 on Friday, it struck me how much that the clash encapsulated many of the tensions in the 1960s. The clash between students and police on the outside of the convention, and the clash between the Peace platform candidate, McGovern, vs. pro-war candidate, Vice President, Humphrey, both appeared to be like a symbol of how divided the nation was in 1968. See this link for a day-by-day calendar of the tumultuous events of 1968. For instance:
– The class differences between Chicago’s working class police officers and the “spoiled brats” as U.S. Attorney Thomas Moran called the college students who had gathered in Chicago to protest the war that could directly affect any of these young men with the draft on either side of the riot line (though truthfully, the police officers were most likely to get drafted and not be able to a deferment from a doctor or university);
– the rise of violence, disorder and chaos in daily life that impacted the political process like the deaths of John Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965), and Dr. King and Robert Kennedy (1968). There had been riots in Watts, Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark, N.J., and across the country after Dr. King’s death in April 1968.
– The rights to free speech and freedom to peaceably assemble were directly challenged at this convention by the Chicago Police Dept. and the Illinois National Guard. Furthermore, the indirect censorship of the TV coverage by not allowing more than one live feed from the city (infringement of freedom of the press) so that the TV news couldn’t cover both the convention and the protests at the same time;
– The differing tactics of the anti- war protesters as symbolized by David Dellinger and Rennie Davis (non-violence) vs. Tom Hayden (“by any means necessary”) and the outcome of the marches and even legal protests at Grant Park.
1. Do you think the police used “reasonable force” when dispersing the protestors during the week of the convention? When? Why or why not?
2. Do you think the protesters crossed the line by fighting with the police? Why or why not?
3. Do you think that the peace delegates / McCarthy’s followers would have been satisfied if President Johnson had allowed VP Humphrey to make some concessions over the Vietnam War? Why or why not?
4. How do you think that the images from this convention influenced the outcome of the 1968 election w/ Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace? Why?
Blog due Monday, November 6. 300 words minimum for the total blog.