February 26

Post #95 – Why We’re Still Fighting the Civil War

You’re in an Advanced Placement U.S. History class that analyzes different approaches to history.  As we have learned, history’s interpretation can change – use the formation of the Constitution’s interpretation as an example (Blog #93).  History can also be used as a weapon to support or discredit opponents like the way Richard Nixon / Watergate, Frederick Douglass, and Japanese internment camps are being used to discredit President Trump.  In the same way that history can be weaponized, the history of the Civil War has been discussed and fought over ever since General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.  Using the article, “The Way We Weren’t,” author David Von Drehle dissects the way Americans have viewed the bloodiest conflict in our history.

People in 2011 were polled in the 11 states of the Confederacy, and they answered that the primary cause of the Civil War was states rights, or in this case, the primacy of the states over the federal government, despite what the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause said.  However, as we have seen with the recent history we’ve studied, states rights was not just a Southern thing.  Northern states and cities resisted the new Fugitive Slave Law (and the federal government) and tried to foil sending slaves to their original owners.  Eminent Civil War historians like James McPherson and David Blight state that almost everything in the events leading up to the Civil War dovetail w/ slavery.

Confederate soldiers and citizens, the losers in the conflict, had to mentally hold onto their “due pride” after fighting so hard, so they invented the states rights cause.  Many historians, novelists, and filmmakers were willing to go along with this denial and write narratives that supported the states rights cause.  Confederate generals wrote their memoirs in the post-war world which distanced their sacrifice from slavery and attached it firmly to something more noble (in their minds) like states rights.  Insidious inside the states rights cause was the Lost Cause, the belief that slavery was a benign institution and that Black people had it better under slavery than freedom.  Freedom, as defined by the profit-hungry, industrial North, included working for tiny wages and ruthless competition. In Jefferson Davis’s book about the war, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, he portrays the South as hopelessly outgunned and outmanned (which it was) and compares the North to the serpent infiltrating the Garden of Eden (the South) where slave owners lived with their slaves in paradise.

However, this is not to blame the Civil War on just the South.  Yes, they were treasonous.  Yes, they killed hundreds of thousands of Northern soldiers, but EVERYONE was complicit in slavery.  As mentioned in the article, many Northern states, including Wall Street, benefitted dramatically from it.  Check out the New York Historical Society’s online exhibit, Slavery in New York.  There should be little doubt that the war was a long time coming, exacted a horrific toll on the nation, and still leaves us with a legacy that we are dealing with as a nation.

 

CSA states evolution.gif
By User:GolbezOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Questions to answer:

  1. Why was the Lost Cause or denial of slavery as the central cause so attractive to Americans in the aftermath of the war (even up until the 20th Century Civil Rights Movement)?
  2. On page 40 (1) of the article, it mentions several different causes of the Civil War:
    • Northern aggressors invading an independent Southern nation;
    • High tariffs like the Tariff of Abominations;
    • Blundering statesmen like Stephen Douglas, Roger Taney, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan;
    • Clash of industrial vs. agrarian cultures;
    • Caused by fanatics like John Brown and Southern “fire eaters”;
    • Representive of a Marxist class struggle – Southern aristocracy vs. Northern factory workers.

Which of these is most persuasive as a cause and which is the least persuasive cause?  Why?

3. The article focuses a lot on Bleeding Kansas as the pivotal point in which the Civil War seemed inevitable.  Would you agree with this assertion?  Why or why not?

Image result for gone with the wind

4. What are some major arguments that poke holes in the Lost Cause?  Think of movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind  and their portrayal of the South.

5. When and why did America finally start to break away from the Lost Cause mythology (a.k.a. The Dunning School of Post War America)?

Pick 4 of the questions (including #1) and answer them in 400 words minimum total.  Due Friday, March 3 by class. 

February 8

Ch. 18 -19 Google Docs

2nd Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tqXMoSfpu0mn2BdKeob0pf4ignp_3SyT6tQzn4SRAnA/edit?usp=sharing

3rd Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GVbv66VPIs2qviHGuORZpUhOkH-OqYnHDz_M2ovTNFY/edit?usp=sharing

4th Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tCDob5LKLQF0TphMLyltPA0dX-wGsfSwOafz0LPSO5w/edit?usp=sharing

5th Hour – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1IvdNJw4R1aVniJbgQNiLSiIZOiY0uTfUyQNK56yLcWM/edit?usp=sharing

Due Sunday, February 12 by 10 pm.  

Extra credit film, Oklahoma City for PBS – http://www.okcityfilm.com/

Extra credit film, Race Underground for PBS – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/race-underground/

Extra credit film, Ruby Ridge from PBS (available 2/14) – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/ruby-ridge/

All extra credit films are due 2 weeks after they’ve aired, so Race is due 2/14, OKCity is due 2/21, and Ruby is due 2/28.  Minimum 1/2 page summary, minimum 1/2 page connection to APUSH.

 

February 10

Blog #83 – Was the Civil War inevitable?

It’s easy to look back from the vantage point of 150 years ago and say that the Civil War was inevitable.  That there was no denying that a clash over slavery would eventually occur, that the compromises would only last so long or work so well until something else came up to shatter the delicate balance that the Northern and Southern states tried to perpetuate.

And looking back over the past ten to 15 years before the war began, events like the Wilmot Proviso, the Mexican War, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the new Fugitive Slave Law, Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry all take on additional significance because with the aid of time, historians can look back and see which events were more pivotal and which ones weren’t.

And the last year before the war, 1860, so many things had to click into place for the war to happen.  What if Lincoln wasn’t nominated or hadn’t won?  What if there was only John Bell or Stephen Douglas to win votes in the South instead of splitting up those Union votes in many parts of the South?  Could the election have gone to the House of Representatives if Lincoln hadn’t won the majority of the electoral votes, and what would have happened?

Other questions abound when I think of the last year before the war?  What if the Charleston Mercury editorial hadn’t been printed?  What if President Buchanan had been stronger in resisting the secession of the first seven states?  He tried to resupply Fort Sumter in January 1861 but the ship was fired upon and returned to Washington w/o resupplying Major Robert Anderson and his men at the South Carolina fort.  Buchanan didn’t think he had the power to stop the states from seceding, but he said it was unconstitutional. Or was Buchanan just leaving the job to Abe Lincoln (see cartoon below, courtesy of Aldo B)?

Did the Southern states actually have to leave or could they have done something else beginning in December 1860?  They must have felt that working within the system of the established Constitution was not working even though that document guarantees slavery.  The election of Lincoln had additional significance for these Deep South states b/c not all slave states left the Union right away (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware stayed, and North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee left ONLY after Lincoln called for troops when Fort Sumter was bombed).  Were these Deep South states trying to resist Lincoln or were the resisting his party’s anti-slavery platform?  He was the first president elected since John Quincy Adams in 1824 that was avowedly not a Southerner or a Northerner soft of slavery, so he must have been perceived as some kind of threat.  Another thing people should take into consideration is that the Republicans, after Lincoln was elected, would be in charge of appointing almost 1,000 governmental jobs, including marshals, post masters, and others that had been appointed for the past 8 years under the Pierce and Buchanan administrations.

I know there are a lot of questions here that I’ve raised, and that’s b/c I wanted you to think about the inevitability of this whole stream of events that led to the bombing of Fort Sumter.  Please answer the following two questions:

1. Was there ONE thing in the time period (1846-1861) that you think impacted the start of the war more than any other event or thing?  Why?

2. Which event or action in the last 16 months (1860 – 61) had the greatest impact on starting the war?  Why?  Did this event make the Civil War inevitable or not?  Why?

Due Tuesday, Feb. 23 by class time.  300 words minimum.

December 6

Blog #58 – Discuss causes of the Civil War

One of the main things that I hope that I have taught you over the past couple of weeks (going back to the Mexican War controversy) is that asking the question “What caused the Civil War?” is not a good question.  The question seems to indicate that there’s only ONE cause that can be found among all of the political compromises, peoples’ actions, economic forces, and differing social / cultural norms of the North and the South.  This oversimplification insults the intelligence of anyone who has studied the CW like we have, because there is no single, simple answer.

http://danmillerinpanama.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/civil-war-soldiers.jpg

In the past, historians have tried to blame the war on agitators – the abolitionists or the Slave Power conspiracies.  Both sides had radical “fire-eaters” who were unwilling to accept compromise and wanted it the Frank Sinatra way, “I did it my way!”  Also, past historians have tended to blame it on economic forces or states’ rights.  The threat of losing slavery meant the loss of billions of dollars of investment in people and land for the southern economy, and so the Deep South states pushed it to the brink to be left alone from federal interference (though Lincoln wasn’t going to interfere, he claimed that he just wanted to stop the spread of slavery out west).  This dove tails nicely with the idea that Stephen Douglas and others had championed – it was up to the states to decide what to do with slavery b/c the federal government (Congress) was prohibited from interfering with slavery.  Therefore, it was a state’s right to do with slavery what it wished since the federal government had its hands tied by the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

http://www.permaculturenews.org/images/slavery_chart.jpg

Other historians, more recently, have placed the blame for the CW squarely on the shoulders of slavery. Many Northerners felt that slavery was on its decline or would be limited in its area of growth by the Missouri Compromise (1820), but with the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, Compromise of 1850, and Kansas Nebraska Act, that small area had quickly expanded over the course of 35 years.  Then the Dred Scott decision seemed to say that slavery could exist anywhere within the country.  Those Northerners were now angry (for many different reasons, racism being one of them) that their politicians seemed to betray them.  This anger might explain the popularity of the Republican Party in the 1850s, an avowed anti-slavery party that appealed to many Northerners by 1860.  At the center of all this anger and controversy is the volatile subject of slavery and its spread.

Modern historian Edward Ayers, a Southerner, has divided up these historians into two camps: the fundamentalists who claim that the Civil War was a struggle over the future of the United States between slavery and freedom, and the revisionists who say that the Civil War was caused by the disintegration of the Democrats, the failure of compromise, and the election of Abraham Lincoln (the first Northern president elected who wasn’t pro-slavery since John Quincy Adams in 1824).  For the fundamentalists, slavery is the main cause, while for the revisionists, slavery is buried beneath layers of white ideology and politics.  Ayers feels that slavery was a crisis of immense magnitude but didn’t lead to war.  He said that the “war came through misunderstanding, confusion, miscalculation.  Both sides underestimated the location of the fundamental loyalty in the other.  Both received incorrect images of the other in the partisan press.  Political beliefs distorted each side’s view of the other’s economy and class relations.  Both sides believed the other side was bluffing, and both sides believed that the other’s internal differences and conflicts would lead it to buckle” (134).   He wraps it up by saying that Southern whites didn’t fight for slavery, they fought for a new nation based upon slavery.  Northerners didn’t fight to end slavery, but they did fight to preserve the integrity of the Union.

Question:  Where do you find yourself when it comes to the cause(s) of the Civil War?  Do you find yourself in the fundamentalist camp or with the revisionists?  Why?  Do you think that slavery, economics, or states rights was the primary cause of the war?  Why?

http://raymondpronk.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/civil-war-cause.png

Your answer is due Monday, December 9 by class time.  Minimum of 300 words, please.