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. 

October 15

Blog #56 – Did America “win” the War of 1812?

America went to war with Britain and Canada over three main issues:  1. freedom of the seas for trade; 2. gaining new land like Canada; 3. dealing with Indian issues.

Since the French Revolution, British and French navies seized American ships and sailors who had been caught up in trading either in the West Indies or in Europe.  In order to keep America out of these situations, President Jefferson approved of the Embargo Act of 1807 which ended all American trade with the world.   Even the dust-up with the American (Chesapeake) and British ship (Leopard) in 1807 ten miles off the coast of Virginia raised Americans’ blood pressure.  When we began trading with the rest of the world (Non-Intercourse Act and Macon’s Bill No. 2), more impressment and interference made American shipping a difficult business.

The War Hawks saw Canada as a great prize to be taken if the Americans attacked.  They thought that with Britain distracted by Napoleon’s war, the Canadians would be an easy target for a coordinated American invasion.  American forces invaded not once but twice, in 1812 and in 1813, and the only successful win was the Battle of the Thames where Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed. In 1814, the Canadian capitol, York (modern day Toronto) was burned by American forces, but Canada proved to be extremely difficult to capture – we invaded Canada with only 5,000 soldiers/ militia while in Europe, Napoleon invaded Russia with half a million soldiers and still lost!  In addition, the southern and western War Hawks wanted to capture Canada to stop the New Englanders from illegally trading with Canada (seen as a traitorous act b/c we were at Britain / Canada).

Lastly, Americans on the frontier (Northwest territory, Southern territories like Alabama and Mississippi and Spanish File:Battle of tippecanoe, battlefield map.jpgFlorida) had been fighting the Indians and white Americans continued to encroach on their territory.  For instance, Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison negotiated the transfer of 3 million acres in Indiana with the Treaty of Fort Wayne signed with the Pottawattomie, Lanape, and Miami tribes in 1809.  This treaty had angered Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa) who wanted Indians to not sign treaties with America, and return to their old ways by getting rid of alcohol, finished clothes, farming, and Christianity.  Harrison’s forces kill the Prophet at Tippecanoe in 1811, and Tecumseh continues to fight until 1813 when he was killed at the Battle of the Thames.  Andrew Jackson also defeated Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 in Alabama before heading to New Orleans to defeat the British.  Jackson would later campaign into Florida a couple of years after the War of 1812 and seize the territory by defeating the Seminoles and taking the Spanish capitol, Pensacola.

 

The Treaty of Ghent was essentially an armistice, or an end to the fighting.  The British didn’t get their Indian buffer zone in the Great Lakes area nor did they get Maine and Minnesota like they had originally proposed.  The British had stopped impressment of American soldiers after the Napoleonic Wars were over in 1814.  And Canada remained safe from American invasion, so the borders all remained where they were before the war.  The treaty released all prisoners and seized ships, and Britain and America gave back territory that they had held at the end of the war (including Fort Mackinac).

So, looking at the three goals that America had going into the war, the only one that we had achieved was dealing with Indian issues.  The British and the French stopped impressment of American sailors without us having to resort to much naval warfare.  We failed in our attempt at taking Canada from the Brits, so why is this war considered an American victory?  Or should it be considered a tie, much like the Korean War where after three years of bloody fighting (1950-53), an armistice was also signed and little if any land changed hands.

Canadians don’t think of this as an American victory; they see it as a joint British / Canadian victory.

What’s your opinion on the War of 1812?  Is it a victory (a second war for American Independence like the book mentioned) or is it a defeat like the Canadians believe?  Or should it be regarded as a tie between Britain and America (which, considering the relative military might of both countries, may be considered a win for America)?   Explain your answer in at least 250 words

Due Monday, October 21 by class time. 

October 30

Blog #42 – Slavery disqualifier?

“All men are created equal…” Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]… we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”  Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Holmes

An argument that discredits some of the Founding Fathers, including men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison among others is that because these men owned slaves yet fought for freedom, they are hypocrites.  The line of reasoning goes – “how could someone who so courageously advanced the cause of human freedom still be a slaveowner?  They can’t possibly be both for and against freedom.”   The next point in this line of thinking is that because of this hypocrisy, some of Founding Fathers, especially the Virginians, are racist because they neither had the courage to free their slaves or that they profited from their slaves’ labor. 

One of the most biting quotes about this dilemma is from this time period (not ours) by Englishman Samuel Johnson:

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” (Ambrose 2).

But were our FFs neglectful of this slavery dilemma?   It appears not.  When Jefferson describes the perpetuation of slavery in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, he talks about how the slavemaster attitude is passed on down to his children:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise in the most boisterous passions…The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to his worst passions, and thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny…”

Here, the child of the slaveowner learns how to treat slaves like chattel, and the cycle is perpetuated.  But modern critics say, how could Jefferson recognize this contradiction in American society and not do anything about it?   Even in the same book where he criticizes slavery and its depravity, Jefferson embraces the racism of the time by asserting that slaves hadn’t produced any real literature, they smelled bad, and engage in sex constantly (Ambrose 4).  Yet, confoundingly, Jefferson also wrote a passage into the original draft of the Declaration of Independence that condemned slavery, and he also signed the bill that outlawed the international slave trade in 1808. 

“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].” —George Washington

Then there’s Washington.  He was the only one of the nine slaveowning president who had freed all of his slaves (neither Adams owned slaves).   He held the nation together through the force of his personality and will during some of the darkest times.  But that didn’t stop a school in New Orleans from being renamed in the 1990s from George Washington Elementary to the Charles R. Drew Elementary(Dr. Drew is the developer of hemoglobin) (Ambrose 11). 

 

Ben Franklin and Benjamin Rush, FFs from Pennsylvania, helped found the nation’s first anti-slavery society in Philadelphia.  Rush is quoted as saying: “Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity… It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father.”

On the other side, there’s the assertion by Michelle Bachman, former Republican presidential candidate, who said that  the FFs “know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”   Specifically, Bachman mentions John Quincy Adams as one of these tireless founders, our 6th president. 

Questions:

 1. What is happening here to the Founding Fathers?  Why are some people quick to attack and blame them for allowing slavery to exist at the foundation of a freedom-loving nation?  And why do some people defend the FFs with every ounce of their being? 

2. Do you think the FFs are being judged by today’s standards or by the standards of the day in which they lived?  Have the FFs become some kind of political football that candidates use for their own purposes?  Why?

Answer both questions by Thursday, class time, November 1.  300 words total. 

Sources:

Ambrose, Stephen E. To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print

http://theweek.com/article/index/216841/did-the-founding-fathers-really-work-tirelessly-to-end-slavery  The Week.

November 2

Blog #5 – Founding Fathers distrust

Well, the more and more that I read about the Founding Fathers (a term coined by President Harding, a huge fan of alliteration), the more that I disturbed by how much that they distrust the “people” or the masses of unwashed, uneducated voters. 

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 A people’s-led revolt like Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 that came on the heels of Hamilton’s call for a second look at the Articles of Confederation to be scheduled in Philly in May 1787 seemed to “confirm Thomas Jefferson’s fear of democratic despotism… An elective despotism was not the government we fought for” (Pageant 177).  Apparently, civic virtue or public responsibility to follow the rules, the textbook authors wrote, was no longer strong enough to stop people from being greedy or “self-interest[ed].”  Hmmmm… people shouldn’t follow their self-interest?  They shouldn’t pursue happiness, to paraphrase TJ? 

Haven’t we been taught from a young age that the Fathers wanted to guarantee the freedoms for which they had fought the British?  Haven’t we been taught that this was a fight for the rule of law, for civil rights, for all to be free and equal (except if you were a slave)?   As historian Bernard Bailyn stated our revolution’s main goal was “the destruction of privilege and the creation of a political system that demanded of its leaders the responsible and humane use of power” (Zinn 101). 

 

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But here’s  James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” arguing in Federalist #10 that a strong central government will be able to keep the peace because the passions of the people will be too diffused or spread out: “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member [state] of it” (Zinn 97). 

 

Whose interests are the Fathers protecting?  The people?  What did the Fathers fear would happen if the people were totally in charge? 

To quote Alexander Hamilton, ”

The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact.  The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.  Give therefore to the first class [of people] a distinct permanent share in the government…“” (Zinn 96). 

 

To curb the excesses, the unbridled passions of the publicly elected House of Representatives, the Senate was created as that check.  In Federalist #63, a Senate was “sometimes necessary as a defence the people against their own temporary errors and delusions…[b/c] there are moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or illicit advantage, or misled by some artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn” (Zinn 98). 

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** The bold type is mine.  I think this could apply to both of the political parties in today’s election, or worse yet, the money behind both political parties. 

 

I think the Fathers’ concerns comes from several sources, but mainly from the idea that these men who made the Constitution were elitists and designed a system that protected private property from being taken away arbitrarily by a voting public.   We have heard them say time and time again that property = liberty.  With a solid system in place, founded on the traditions of English law, America has been able to prosper because property has been guaranteed for over 200 years by courts and the government.  If our private property hadn’t been guaranteed by these safeguards, then investments would probably be worthless, and our future would have been dicey.  People with money would have taken their money elsewhere or pushed for a different form of government. 

 

This pattern has repeated itself time and time again in many of the Latin American countries that have emulated us with their Constitutions since they overthrew the Spanish in the 19th Century, but because there isn’t a consistent turnover of power or protection of civil rights, the wealthy in those countries have gotten behind any strong man who promises order.  In America, we believe in the rules even when those rules frustrate us or look as if they are being abused b/c in the long run, we believe that it will all work out. 

For this blog, please answer the following questions:

1. Do you think the Founding Fathers were right to distrust the passions of the American people when they wrote the Constitution?  Why or why not?

2. What passions / fears are swaying the American people right now as they currently head towards the polls today?  Provide specific examples. 

250 words minimum.  Thanks.

Due Wednesday, November 3. 

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