January 20

Blog 82 – Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20?

In the past few years, students and adults have pushed to change the names of schools and institutions based upon the namesake’s past history.  Last summer, for instance, the Confederate flag was pulled down from the South Carolina capitol in the wake of the Charleston shootings (the shooter was pictured w/ Confederate memorabilia), and then the South Carolina legislature voted overwhelmingly to take the flag down.  This Economist article examines other particular cases not mentioned in the “Rethinking History” article I gave you.  From another point of view, this article defends leaving the Hoover FBI federal building as it is, though some have come to question Hoover’s tough-minded, illegal wiretappings of students and Dr. King (Cointelpro).

In the article, “Rethinking History,” former Princeton president and 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson is derided because of his racist comments.  He told a black leader in 1914 that “segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you.”  A different example from the article is what the University of Virginia has done in the past decade in trying to honor its slave past.  At least 140 slaves helped build the university, and this fall, Virginia opened up a dorm named after two of the slaves who had worked on the campus before the Civil War.

Presidential candidates say things like this get said today (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump), and some people agree.  Some people go crazy seeing these statements as incredibly vile.  Does this mean that our nation has descended into a politically- correct (PC) world?  Are we finally recognizing the faults of the past and trying to make amends for them, because our nation, though it’s been a melting pot since its inception, is really starting to change?  Or, can we learn something from the past instead of erasing it and blocking the things which we find disturbing?

This brings us to Andrew Jackson.  This NY Times article suggested putting a woman’s face on the 20$ bill.

“Jackson was a slave owner whose decisions annihilated American Indian tribes of the Southeast. He also hated paper currency and vetoed the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve. Jackson is in the history books, but there’s no reason to keep him in our wallets.”

His record with the Indian Removal Act, his battles w/ Nicholas Biddle and the 2nd BUS, and the fact that he was a slave owner all count against him.  But what about his adoption of an Indian boy during one of the campaigns to eradicate the Indians?  Did America actually benefit from not having a central banking system for almost 80 years?  He was a symbol of the common man, those who could newly vote in the elections of 1828 and 1832 voted for him overwhelmingly, because he was a common man at one time.  But he was also an exceptional man, having fought in the Revolution and the War of 1812, amassed a fortune (though off the backs of slaves), and become the 7th president of the United States.  There are very very few people who can claim these achievements.

But if we remove Jackson from the $20 and replace him with someone else, where do we stop?  Using the slippery slope argument (which is always a dangerous fallacy), do we rename Washington D.C. because Washington was a slave holder?  Do we take Lincoln off of the penny or the $5 because he had over 30 Indians executed during the Civil War for sparking an uprising in Minnesota?  Jefferson… we won’t even get into him.

As someone in the “Rethinking History” article states, if we are going to name buildings after people, should we expect them to be perfect?  Maybe we should stop naming buildings after people.  Or can we learn something from these flawed individuals (especially b/c everyone is flawed in some way or another)?

What are your thoughts?  I see three possible alternatives to Jackson on the $20:

1. Keep him there and leave it as it is.

2. Change him out with someone else, especially with a woman of historical significance, and leave Andrew Jackson to be talked about in history classes.

3. Leave him on the bill but conduct education about Andrew Jackson’s legacy – This could be done by the Federal Reserve which makes decisions about currency.

If you come up with another alternative, please include it in your post.

250 words minimum.  Due Monday, January 25 by class. 

September 26

Blog #40 – Was the American Revolution conservative or radical by its nature?

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 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 historical scholars have been debating its very nature of the American Revolution soon after it ended.

As we read over and study chapter 7 in our textbook, many of you are asking questions about the use of my analogy of the American colonies as the spoiled child / teen overeeacting to limits being placed on the adolescent by previously indulgent parent (Britain / Parliament) who now realizes that their child has grown up and needs to take some responsibility.  My attitudes about the Revolution have changed over the past three 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.


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 – external against Britain and internal between social classes (which 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.

Consensus Movement

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 RevolutioFront Covern.  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 7 and 8, provide with me some insight into what you think our American Revolution was – a conservative revolution or truly radical one in nature.  Also, please provide some rationale for your answer. 

Due Monday, October 1 by class time.  Minimum of 250 words.  


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

December 6

Blog #27 – Is History True?

“The use of history lies in its capacity for advancing the approach to truth” – Oscar Handlin, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian

One of the biggest questions that we will encounter as amatuer historians in APUSH is how to tackle the changing nature of history.  One camp emphasizes an analytical approach to history, looking at truth as objectively as possible.  This camp sees truth as absolute and knowable, and that a scientific approach towards writing history is the best way to do it.  Wilhelm von Humboldt explained that the historian’s job was “to present what actually happened.”  The idea here is that, regardless of the time period that the reader lives in (say in 1950 or 2011), specific events occurred and people lived and did certain things.  For instance, we should be able to say with certainty that the Civil War did happen. 

Problems come from a historian’s bias and perspective.  Attaining objectivity is the ultimate goal – examining history without looking at it from a political bias or sharing opinions on what the facts mean.  Depending on an historian’s bias, for instance, he/she can argue that slavery caused the Civil War or economics or states’ rights.   To be clear, historians cannot fall under the pressure of government, media, schools, or corporations to steer history to fit a certain mold or predetermined outcome. Revisionist history has been used by dictators to rewrite history that fits their needs and to reinforce their regimes.


“History will be kind to me,for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill 


The other camp feels a bit different about history.  It feels that “objective” history is impossible because even when objective historians work at assembling their narrative, they have to choose facts, put them in a certain order, exclude other facts (because you can’t put them all in, can you, or are they all even relevant?), they exercise some kind of bias, no matter how slight or small.   Otherwise, the history becomes a catalog of facts, almost like an encyclopedia with little to no interpretation.  “In order to become a history, facts have to be put together into a pattern that is understandable and credible; and when that has been achieved, the resulting portrait of the past may become useful as well.”

Creating history, much like living, is like filtering through the multiple input of stimuli that swarm around us.  Like a natural scientist, a historian searches for patterns whether they know it or not.  If too many facts are included, “useless clutter” will obscure that pattern that the historian sees.

Another criticism of the objective school of history is that much of it has excluded the stories of those who had been marginalized by the march of white male history.  This group has included African-American, Latino, Asian, Native-American and women’s stories.  Plus, if new evidence is discovered of untold stories (say ship manifests of slave vessels or diaries of important or even average people), what should be done with those new stories?  How should they be told?  What if new evidence emerges after someone dies, like how a former states’ rights, pro-segregation U.S. Senator (white man) had fathered a child with an African American woman? 

 Your questions:

1.  Which school of history  – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth?  Why? 

2.  Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right?   Can you do both?  Why or why not? 

Minimum of 250 words total for both answers.  Due Thursday, Dec. 8 (new date).