May 30

Blog #138 – Prediction about the Snapchat Cheerleader SCOTUS case

First thing, please listen to this podcast from the NYT The Daily podcast –

It’s about 20+ minutes long and shares some more details that we haven’t looked at yet, including the oral arguments before the Court last month.   You’ll want to take some notes on this podcast b/c I’m asking that you use some evidence from the podcast in your answer.

The Supreme Court's clear message to President Donald Trump: Stop - CNNPolitics

Don’t forget that you have read the intros to both Mahanoy School District’s and Brandi Levy’s legal briefs.  We have summarized them in our Google slides file for each class.  Feel free to jump into their full briefs here (Mahanoy) and here (Levy).

Your job:  Predict how SCOTUS will rule when they release their ruling in late June / early July (see format of answer below) Things to consider:

  1. Will SCOTUS make a sweeping ruling about whether off-campus speech that is not political CAN be disciplined by the public schools?  Things to keep in mind – how will they define where off campus speech begins?  If the schools can do this, what does this say about parental rights to discipline their own children for vulgar or lewd speech?   How can this ruling, if it is done, be reconciled w/ the concept of in loco parentis?  Also, what will a broad, sweeping ruling do to all of the existing state and federal laws that require schools to discipline harassment or cyberbullying off-campus speech?

A cheerleader talks on the phone as a disembodied hand covers her mouth and other disembodied hand steals her phone.

2. Will SCOTUS make a narrow ruling that only deals with this case, especially since it doesn’t involve cyberbullying or harassment like the school district asserts?  Stopping harassment has been one of the big reasons why Mahanoy and other school districts have signed onto this case with all of the additional amicus briefs supporting Mahanoy’s right to discipline off-campus speech.   But does this case rise to that level of harassment?  By making a narrow ruling that only deals with this particular case, it would not affect any existing state and federal laws that require public schools to monitor / discipline off-campus speech.  But it doesn’t solve the problem for future cases.

3. Does this case rise to the level of causing a “substantial disruption” at Mahanoy High School like is required in Tinker?  How do Fraser, Morse, or Hazelwood apply to this case, if at all?


Your answer should look like a SCOTUS legal brief:

  1. Briefly summarize the situation including the procedural history.
  2. Briefly summarize Mahanoy and Levy’s arguments for their side.
  3. Connect any of the four previous SCOTUS rulings to this case.
  4. Prediction time: What do you think SCOTUS will do?  Provide specific reasons why.  Cite evidence here from any of the readings, videos, and the podcast we have listened to.  Feel free to use any of the additional resources listed below.

Your brief is due Wednesday, June 2 by midnight.  It should be a minimum of 400 total words. 

Additional resources:

A list of all of the briefs filed in this case:

SCOTUSBlog article on how the Court might be considering a narrow ruling on the case –

Oral arguments for the case argued April 28, 2021 on YouTube –

National Constitution Center’s We the People podcast (5th one down) – Snapchat and the Schoolhouse Gate –

May 23

Blog #137 – Learning about American history from the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission Report

So we spent some time reading both the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission Report, and both had a lot to say about American history, much of which was contradictory.  One expressed a pessimistic view that anti-Black racism was in America’s DNA while the other one asserted that despite the awful things that have happened in the past, the great American ideal of equality has helped guide us through the tough spots.

What is 1619 Project mentioned by President Trump?

There has been a lot of criticism aimed at both projects as well.  Out of context quotes.  Lack of nuance.  Broad generalizations.  No historians working on an historical document.

And on Thursday, May 20, a few Republican members of the Michigan Senate introduced Senate Bill no. 460 that would ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) which we are tackling after the free speech case as well as specifically the 1619 Project or any other “anti-American and racist theories.”

Now that you’ve had time to digest both, please answer the following questions:

  1. What are the major strengths and weaknesses of both documents?  Give specific examples for each strength and weakness.
  2. Which criticism was the harshest for both projects?  (See this Google doc w/ excerpts).  Be specific.
  3. How do we balance these documents?  In essence, what is something positive that can be taken from each document to support an American history curriculum?  Be specific.  Or is finding a balance impossible – meaning there’s nothing redeemable about one or the other or both?  If so, explain why with specifics.

Due Wednesday by class.  Total words for all three answers should be at least 400 words.  

Chicago State University Prof Slams 1776 Report | WBEZ Chicago

April 15

Blog #136 – Who Started the Cold War?

Please read the John Lewis Gaddis article, “Who Started the Cold War?” (found in the calendar event as well as in your Cold War / 1950s folder) and answer 4 of the following questions (one of the four answers must include letter E):

A. Why do you think isolationism didn’t work anymore? Why did the U.S. think only they were capable of fixing the world?

B. What is collective security? Where do we see it in today’s world?

C. Why was communism seen as dangerous to the U.S.? Do you agree with the historians that this perception was all about a misunderstanding? Why or why not?

Cold War: Summary, Combatants & Timeline - HISTORY

D. Why were these “suggestions” unlikely to happen in the 1940s?

E. Was the Cold War inevitable? Explain. What was Gaddis’s (the author) answer? (required as one of your 4 answers)

F. What is Gaddis’s answer about American or Soviet flexibility to avoid the conflict?

Total word count for all four answers should be a minimum of 400.  Due Sunday night (4/18) by 11:59pm.  

From Ally to Enemy: The American Perception of the Soviet Union from 1920  to 1950 | National Geographic Society

March 12

Blog #135 – Reflections on the year 2020-2021

For the purposes of this blog, I’m just referring to the years 2020-2021 that began on March 12, 2020 for those of us in Michigan when Governor Whitmer announced that schools would be closed for 3 weeks and other pandemic protocols were put into place and bring it up to today, March 12, 2021.  This date holds obvious significance for me b/c it’s my birthday, but this year, it’s also the one year anniversary of when everything we took for granted started to go sideways.  Just thinking about the past 365 days makes my head hurt because SO MUCH STUFF happened in that time span.  Just as a sample:

  • The Covid pandemic officially hit the U.S., in-person schools were shut down for a while, and stay-at-home orders were issued several times
  • The economy was smashed by the rolling waves of the pandemic as businesses had to shut down and others had to reinvent their way of doing things over night – we still haven’t recovered from this yet.
  • A Black man, George Floyd, became the latest victim of police violence against unarmed POC and the sudden explosion of Black Lives Matter protests around the world
  • There was a genuine attempt at looking at the country to see where white privilege existed and change things to benefit all people
  • A strange presidential campaign which didn’t include the usual stuff of canvassing door to door and mass rallies (for the most part), including a sadly bizarre disappointing 1st presidential debate
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden wins this strange election along with the first woman (and woman of color) as his VP, Kamala Harris
  • Numerous unfounded claims and charges that there was widespread voter fraud which would result in over 60+ lawsuits that were all found not to have any merit or substance behind them
  • Liberal icon and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a month or so before the election
  • Thousands of President Trump’s supporters, inspired by his words, storm the Capitol while Congress attempted to certify the election, in essence, trying to overthrow the normal functions of our Constitutional government
  • A second unsuccessful impeachment of Donald Trump
  • The successful development and limited distribution of a Covid vaccine by at least 3 different companies
  • For most of this time span, the inept federal (and sometimes state) leadership over dealing with the pandemic as it cycled through three different waves in different parts of the country (We were hit in March and April and then again around Thanksgiving through the New Year)
  • Congress passed three Covid aid packages, with this latest one could do an amazing amount of good for regular people in poverty and in need around the country
  • As of writing this blog this morning (3/12/21), over 530,000 Americans have died from the disease (total worldwide deaths at 2.63 million), and over 29 million positive cases (over 119 million positive cases worldwide).

Questions I would like you to answer (my answers are below):

  1. If you could go back to March 11, 2020 and give yourself some advice, what would it be and why?  This can be funny, serious, whatever.
  2. What were your thoughts as the BLM protests spread across the country (along with some amazing changes and actions by companies and institutions)?
  3.  What were your thoughts about Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders in the spring and then again in late fall?
  4. What is your best and worst memories of this past year?  Why?

400 words minimum for all four answers.  Due by class on Thursday, March 18.

  1. Advice – I don’t even know where to start with this.  First thing would be to not worry about wiping down all the groceries or not opening delivered boxes for a day or two.  Being out in public during those months in the spring was terrifying but I had to go shopping.  Second, your job will become immensely difficult and the district will change what it wants / expects of you and the students numerous times (and is still doing so), so don’t waste any emotional energy worrying about it.  Just do the best by your kids and make sure that they learn and are doing ok.  Third, I would tell myself that a Democrat would win in November so don’t freak, just not the one you want.  Fourth, buy Game Stop stock in early January and then sell it at its peak on January 27.  Borrow money to do this if you have to.
  2. Sadly, I was not shocked at the death of another unarmed Black man.  What horrified me was the way he was killed and that the network news kept showing it OVER and OVER again.  When the protests started, I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked at how widespread the protests were.  Then I was pleasantly surprised when the Confederate monuments started coming down.  Also shocked at how quickly terms like “white privilege” and “institutional (or structural) racism” were being used and discussed in candid ways.  There were some very surface level changes like getting rid of the Aunt Jemima syrup or changing the name of the NFL team in Washington.  But I was also pleased to see that the vast vast majority of the protests were peaceful and that most people were wearing masks.  I just hope that we can see some real systemic changes that advance equity initiatives across the country for all people.  Elevating marginalized groups doesn’t mean taking away from the dominant group.  It’s not a zero-sum thing.
  3. I understood the first few stay-at-home orders in March through April.  In the beginning, there was so much conflicting evidence as to what to do to keep yourself safe.  What kinda surprised me was the spread of orders to close schools down for the rest of the school year around the country.  I regularly consulted a website that kept track of this, and I knew that because we had been hit very hard by the first wave in March – May, I knew it would be a matter of time before we were shut down for good.  I was really disappointed (but not shocked) at the number of selfish people who wanted the state reopened quickly and rebelled against mask-wearing.  For many businesses that were forced to close for three months, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for them to survive.  A number didn’t survive, despite the inadequately funded PPP loans for small businesses.  So I get why business owners wanted to reopen.  But other people who wanted to do their gardening in early April or get their nails done?  SMH.  By June, I was ready to go back to a restaurant and sit down for dinner.  I was tired of cooking all the time.  And when the next shut down order came right before Thanksgiving, I wasn’t surprised.  Cases in the state had been going back up to unsustainable numbers.    I’m not gonna argue over how much was too much or that, but I really was surprised that we did not have physical school for ten months (minus summer vacation).  And I was anxious going back, even w/ my first dose of the vaccine, and am still anxious about fully going back next week.
  4. One of my favorite memories was participating in the Senior Drive-By in June so that we could say goodbye to the Class of 2020.  It was a beautiful day and I loved seeing a bunch of the seniors in their caps and gowns drive by.  I had coached some of them for two years in powder puff and some of them were in my classes.  Another favorite memory was the day in late July when we picked up Scout.  We didn’t know which of the three little girls we would pick, but it seemed that she was the one who gave us the most affection.  So she kinda picked us.  I will preface this part about worst memories by saying that I have not lost a loved one to the virus or been thrown out of my job because of the economic collapse, so I’m coming from a privileged standpoint here.  One of my worst memories of this time was easily the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.  To me, this was one of the greatest threats (if not the greatest) to democracy that I had seen in my life.  I didn’t live through World War II or the Civil War or the Great Depression, but I can now imagine this would have been something similar.   For my entire life, I realized how much of the functioning of our democracy I had taken for granted and was horrified at by how close we came to a catastrophe there.
February 19

The Post – Extra Credit

I really hoped that you enjoyed the movie, The Post, this weekend.  I think we got to see some pretty smart acting, decent writing, and a slice of 1971 politics and newspapers.  As we saw, the Washington Post was trying to become more than just a regular, “local paper” as they called it, when Katherine Graham, the publisher played by Meryl Streep, looked to sell stock in the company and raise $3 million to hire 25 new reporters.  At the same time that this stock offering is getting ready to go, the New York Times began publishing the opening series of the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000 page report detailing American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 – 1967.  Ben Bradlee, the editor in chief for the Post, played by Tom Hanks, wants those papers too, since he sees the Times as his paper’s biggest competitor.  Image result for the post movie reviews

Please answer the following questions:

  1. A lot of the movie tries to be faithful to the 1971 time frame – pay phones, newspapers, teletype, black and white TVs, the clothes, etc.  How has life changed since then, and is this movie glorifying an age (the age of crusading newspapers) that may never come back?  Why or why not?
  2. Examine how the film portrayed Katherine Graham as the lone woman in a sea of powerful male players – lawyers, bankers, etc.  Provide specifics from the film as it shows her growth from socialiImage result for the post movie reviewste publisher to powerful player.
  3. The film’s reviews – many have made the case that this film is timely and completely relevant to today.  Freedom of the press is something that must be fought for, again and again.  You could see that Nixon had tried to muzzle the press with the injunctions against the Times and the Post, but the Supreme Court had rescued the press w/ its 6-3 decision in U.S. v. New York Times.  With what’s going on w/ the media (“fake news”) and other issues, how do you see this film as relevant and timely?  And why is freedom of the press so important?
  4. The film shows both Graham and Bradlee conflicted over pushing former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (who had worked for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) to divulge or hand over the Vietnam War study that the New York Times had broken first.  Bradlee had regular weekly dinners at the Kennedy White House and Graham was good friends w/ McNamara.  Do you think that these kinds of cozy ties between journalists, editors, and publishers with the actual politicians compromise the integrity of publishing damaging information about those politicians?  Why or why not?


400 words total for all four answers.  

Due Friday night, March 5, by midnight. 

January 22

Blog #134 – Reconstruction as relevant as ever

I don’t like to give you just a two-pronged choice, because logically, there are more than two choices to choose from.  So, what I’d like you to do is weigh the evidence that we looked at during our debate, in the Reconstruction stations activity, Dr. Foner’s article on why Reconstruction matters still, your chapter 15 reading, and make your own decisions about Reconstruction’s successes and failures.

In the old school or William Dunning interpretation (or Group A’s position in the debate), Reconstruction was a miserable failure that blundered in giving freedmen their rights (which they weren’t ready for for a variety of reasons, but usually racist theories about intelligence and human nature), but Andrew Johnson and the Klan were portrayed as the heroes of the era because they tried to ease the country back together painlessly (Johnson) and pushed for restoration of home rule (Klan).   Reconstruction governments were filled with scalawags and carpetbaggers who corrupted the states and raised taxes.  The true victims here during this period were Southern whites.  In this old school, we see a major critique of the federal government’s expansion and exercise of federal power over the states.  Behind much of this interpretation is the opinion that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century that white people of Anglo-Saxon (English) or Northern European descent were superior to the rest of the world.  We see a lot of this nonsense in the silent blockbuster from 1915, Birth of a Nation (link here if you wanna check it out), and the epic Gone With the Wind in 1939.  Part of the reason that this Dunning School of Reconstruction had such a lasting impact was that there was a huge push towards reconciliation in the late 19th Century, all the way into the 1950s when younger historians began reexamining the records of the times and came to different conclusions.

The Black Experience During the Reconstruction Era | by Vanessa Holloway | Arc Digital


Black historians like W.E.B. DuBois in the early 20th Century depicted Reconstruction as a tragedy (much like Group B in the debate) because of its failure to secure civil rights for African Americans throughout the country in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction (link to the audio book on YouTube here).  While he stated that there were minor successes like education for Black Americans, he lamented the violence that racist whites inflicted upon Black Americans – lynching had reached peak numbers in the 1890s, and white society attributed this to inherent Black criminality (but we all know the real story). Reconstruction | Definition, Summary, Timeline & Facts | Britannica


Under some of the new interpretations, especially the Progressive and Neo-Progressive / New Left historians in the 20th Century, the Dunning interpretation is flipped on its head.  Andrew Johnson was a racist who stood in the way of the idealist Radical Republicans who wanted to give freedmen their full and equal rights.  The Klan was not the protector of the South but a haphazard terrorist organization that kept blacks from voting and intimated both whites and blacks in the South.  And the Southern state governments, Republican by nature, may or may not have helped out the freedmen.  One thing is certain: the governments, from the local (Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall) and state all the way up to the federal level (see the Grant administration) were corrupt.  Moral standards were low during this time period and many people (as we’ll see in one of our next units) are in it to make a quick million or two.  Here is an extended interview with historian Eric Foner on Reconstruction.

Klan newspaper cartoon

Your task: Discuss your interpretation of Reconstruction on its successes and failures.  Use specific evidence from the notes, articles, and readings that we have used to back up your ideas. 

Due Monday, January 25th by class.  Minimum of 300 words for your total answer.  

January 15

Race – Extra Credit film

Race is a multi-layered film about a famous African American athlete, Jesse Owens, coming into his own on the Ohio State University track team, running the 100 and 200 yard dashes and doing the long jump as well. He encounters much bigotry and racism as he struggles to establish himself as the #1 college athlete in the country, and then the #1 athlete in the world.  However, the Olympics in 1936 are held in Berlin, and Hitler hopes to make those games the showcase for German / Aryan superiority.  Owens shatters that myth by winning four gold medals.Race Movie vs True Story of Jesse Owens, Fact-Checking Race

Please answer three of the following questions:

  1. Describe Jesse’s relationship with his coach, Larry Snyder.  Is Larry racist?  What drives Larry to push Jesse to do great things?
  2. How does Jesse’s relationship with German long jumper Luz transcend the racial and political tensions of the Olympic Games in 1936?
  3. Describe examples of the racism that Jesse and other black athletes faced in both Ohio in the 1930s and in Berlin in 1936.
  4. Describe the conflict between the German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl and German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.  Why is there tension between Riefenstahl and Goebbels?
  5. How does the film portray Jesse Owens as a complex character?  Use specific examples from the film.
  6. Examine the multiple meanings of the word, race, included in this film.  Use specific examples from the film.

Minimum 300 words for all three answers combined.  Due by Friday, January 29 by 11:59 p.m.

How the 1936 Olympics were recreated for Race

December 11

Marshall – Extra credit movie

Marshall: The True Story Behind the Thurgood Marshall Movie | Time

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.

Marshall Movie on Twitter: "Thurgood Marshall's words resonate as deeply today as they did forty years ago. #StandUpForSomething #MarshallMovie… "

The power dynamic between Marshall (played by the recently deceased 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 to or just a product of the South; it’s all over the country, and when a white woman’s integrity is threatened by the dangerous Black man stereotype, the ugly side of American racism comes out.

This is one of my favorite Thurgood Marshall quotes – “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody — a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns — bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Link to History Channel’s website on Thurgood Marshall –


  1. How do the Marshall / Friedman dynamic resemble how minorities (Black Americans / Jewish Americans) were treated in 1941?  Provide specific examples.
  2. Why was (and what was) Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown of This is Us and The People vs. O.J.) so afraid that he would admit, under police questioning, to a rape that he didn’t commit?
  3. Do you believe that the judge in this case was racist?  Or extremely grumpy?  Something else?  Why did he limit Marshall’s scope in this case?  Explain w/ specific evidence from the film.
  4. Why doesn’t Sam Friedman want to join this case?   What does he stand to lose?  Explain w/ examples from the film.
  5. How is the systemic racism in the 1940s American justice system shown throughout this case?  Explain w/ specific examples from the film.

Pick three of the questions and answer them in a minimum of 350 words total.  

Due by midnight of Saturday night, 12/26/20. 

December 9

Blog #133 – 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 and a half 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?

The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 - Essential Civil War Curriculum

Check out this chronology here –

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.

Election of 1860 - HISTORY

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 Saturday night, Dec. 12 by midnight.  300 words minimum combined for both answers.

November 3

Blog #132 – Who was the better democrat – Jefferson or Jackson?

What I am asking you to do with this blog is something that historians typically engage in – a comparison / contrast between two important figures pertaining to an agreed-upon set of standards.  In this case, we will be comparing the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson to see who was the better democrat (small d, not the Democratic Party, though both are seen as the forefathers of today’s modern party) and promoted democratic policies and ideas during their time in office.  As for democratic principles, we should work from the following list:

  • Who promoted political involvement for the average person, for instance, the expansion of the right to vote?  How was this done?
  • Who was considered for political office?  Who chose the presidential candidates during their time?
  • How did each man view the federal government’s role in promoting the economy?
  • How did each man view the relationship between the federal and state governments?  Did they exercise limited power as the executive?

The Common Man and Political Involvement 

Jefferson believed in an agrarian vision for America.  Remember the notes on Jeffersonian agrarianism – we saw that he believed that independent yeoman farmers who had easy access to abundant farmland would provide the bedrock of American democracy.  These farmers owned their land outright and that land provided the basis on which they could vote in all manner of elections (though in many states, the average voters did NOT choose the electors of the Electoral College).  During Jefferson’s presidency, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 which, when settled, would allow for new generations of American farmers to establish their own farms and be able to vote.  Also, to Jefferson, education was important for these farmers to stay informed on political topics, and so he promoted public schools while governor of Virginia and president.  However, during his time, political parties only functioned at the national level.  Lastly, unlike the Federalists, Jefferson trusted the common man to make the right decisions politically and didn’t view them as an unruly mob incapable of making rational decisions.

Print showing a crowd at the White House at Jackson's inauguration.

Before and during Jackson’s presidency, suffrage, or the right to vote, expanded as new western states eliminated property requirements to vote and eastern states began to modify their state constitutions to allow for more urban workers and landless white men to vote.  For some African American men, their voting rights were taken away  or a very high bar for property requirements were demanded like in New York in 1821 or outright took away their vote in Pennsylvania in 1833.  Under the guidance of NY Senator Martin Van Buren (soon to be Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President), the new Democratic Party expanded its base to include not only Southern slave owners but urban workers and immigrants in the North, Western and Northern small farmers.  Van Buren also expanded the party system to include state and local branches that coordinated their actions with the national party.  When Jackson first ran in 1824 and again in 1828, American men were voting for the president or the electors in the Electoral College.  Jackson also worked to expand the amount of land that white farmers could own by forcibly removing Native tribes from the southeast part of the country and relocating them west of the Mississippi River.

Painting showing a large crowd at a county election.

Eligibility for Federal Office and Choosing the Presidential Candidates

Under Jefferson, candidates were usually chosen based upon the ideal of a democratic republic – educated, usually wealthy landowners (and sometimes slaveowners).  After taking office, Jefferson did not remove many government officials but did work with Congress to try to limit the power of the federal courts (remember Adams’ midnight judges during his lame duck time in 1801).    During Jefferson’s time, the duty of an elected official was to vote on what he believed to be the best choice for the country and not vote primarily for regional interests.  They feared that tyranny came from exercising the will of the majority over the minority (whether it be slave owners, small states, or the wealthy).  This did change by the time Jackson became president in 1829.  Also, during Jefferson’s time, each party’s Congressional leaders held a caucus during the election year and nominated their top candidate(s).  This also changed under Jackson.  Beginning in 1824 and starting a long standing tradition in 1828, the party’s national convention named the presidential nominee.  As the right to vote expanded before and during Jackson’s tenure, almost any white male of voting age was seen as a proper candidate for office. More and more officials were decided by the voters including state and local judges, members of the electoral college, and state governors.  Jackson removed dozens of government officials as well once he became president, viewing those offices as for and by the people and not ones that should be held exclusively by that office holder. Furthermore, under Jackson, he and other elected officials saw themselves as carrying out the will of the people while in office.   Tyranny, in Jackson’s time, was seen as elected officials ignoring the will of the people and imposing their own values and views on issues. Jackson believed that the people could “arrive at right conclusions” and “instruct their… representatives” accordingly.

Role of Federal Government in Promoting the Economy

Jefferson initially fought Hamilton’s Bank of the United States but eventually came to accept its existence.  He also believed that manufacturing, commerce, and shipping were important, but, as mentioned before, the agrarian economy took precedence over those aspects of the economy.  We see this in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory.  We also see that during Jefferson’s presidency, he worked with Congress to lower the whiskey taxes and then eventually eliminate them.  He also kept government spending under control, though this was done through his cooperation with a Republican-dominated Congress and not through vetoes of bills (Jefferson didn’t veto any bills during his presidency).  However, Jefferson’s biggest knock against the economy was the devestating Embargo Act of 1807 that killed American exports, dropped agriculture prices, but ironically, spurred on domestic manufacturing to meet the needs of the American people.

Jackson, on the other hand, fought with the BUS and wielded the veto against it to kill it in 1832.  He also weakened it by removing the deposits of government funds from the BUS between 1832-1836.  This battle with the BUS and its eventual end, coupled with the Specie Circular and bad banking news from Britain sparked the worst depression in American history until 1893 (but that happened after his presidency).  Of his other 11 vetoes, more than half of those stopped federal government spending on internal improvements around the country, which probably would have benefitted the American economy.  Jackson believed in a limited federal government debt as well.  So it appears that both men didn’t subscribe to pro-business policies and would eventually damage their country’s economic prospects.

Print showing a street scene, with the American flag flying over unemployed young men, drunkards, families begging, and pawn shops.

The Exercise of Federal Power 

As previously mentioned, Jefferson did not veto any bills during his two terms, but he did steer a course that he thought would protect American interests abroad.  When the Barbary pirates continued to seize American shipping in the Mediterranean, Jefferson sent American warships and mediators to deal with this threat to American neutrality and commerce.  Jefferson acted as a guide to Congress in order to get his policies passed.  In the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, he moved away from his strict interpretation of the Constitution and took a more expansive or loose interpretation of his foreign affairs power.   Additionally, enforcing the Embargo with the U.S. Navy contradicted the Republicans’ traditional view of the narrow use of federal power.  Jefferson explained his abandonment of strict interpretation of the Constitution like this in 1810:

“…a strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen: but it is not the highest. the laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. to lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property & all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” 

Jackson, on the other hand, believed in a limited federal government (Congress and the Courts) but an expansive and vigorous executive branch.  Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions at least twice (McCulloch, Worcester) and vetoed 12 bills from Congress, more than the previous six presidents combined.  He was also a strong nationalist and during the tariff crisis with South Carolina, was ready to march on the state once they decided to nullify the tariff in 1833.  Granted, Congress did give him authorization to do so with the Force Act, but even if they hadn’t, some historians agree that he likely would have gone to South Carolina and enforced the collection of the tariff anyway.  He let the responsibility to defend the nation squarely on his shoulders.  In addition, when abolitionists started mailing anti-slavery newspapers and other publications to Southern religious and political leaders in the South, Jackson initially asked Congress to pass a law to stop these mailings.  When Congress refused, he ordered all American postmasters to remove anti-slavery material from the U.S. mail.  Part of this expansive use of executive power came from Jackson’s view of the presidency as a “tribune” of the people who would do their will.

So, after having read these areas of similarity and difference, in your mind, who was the better democrat and why?  Provide specific examples from the blog and your own notes and reading to support your assertion.

350 words minimum.  Due Friday, November 6 by class.