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.

February 8

Ch. 18 -19 Google Docs

2nd Hour –

3rd Hour –

4th Hour –

5th Hour –

Due Sunday, February 12 by 10 pm.  

Extra credit film, Oklahoma City for PBS –

Extra credit film, Race Underground for PBS –

Extra credit film, Ruby Ridge from PBS (available 2/14) –

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.


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. 

December 12

Blog #44 – Most important turning point

This blog asks you to pick which of the three turning points in the Civil War are the most important and why. 

Turning Point #1 — Battle of Antietam – Sept. 17, 1862 — On this day, America suffered more casualties (23,000) than the total casualties of the Revolution, War of 1812, and Mexican War combined.  At stake was the Confederate invasion of Maryland and General George McClellan’s reputation as the next great American general.  McClellan stopped the invasion and Lee turned back.  Britain and France delayed their vital recognition of the Confederacy (which could have aided the cash-strapped rebels and also provided them with much-needed aid).  In addition, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation four days later which completely changed the scope of the war by making it not just about keeping the Union together but also ending slavery.  With the EP in place on January 1, 1863, freed blacks could now join the Union Army and fight for their own freedom.  And lastly, the momentum swung to the Northern side, if just for a little while.  Antietam animated map. 


General George Meade

Turning Point #2 – Battle of Gettysburg – July 1-3, 1863 — After two crushing defeats, the Army of the Potomac (led by General George Meade, a.k.a. the snapping turtle) finally got one in the win column by defeating General Lee and the Confederacy on a hot, sweaty battlefield in eastern Pennsylvania.  Over three days, the Union Army was able to defend their positions from ferocious Confederate assaults and turn the tide of the war.  The largest and deadliest battle on the North American continent (53,000 casualties), this Union victory slammed the door shut on any chance of foreign recognition that the Confederacy had left.  Also, Confederate hero Robert E. Lee never went on a major offensive again afterwards, b/c his army was too crippled and further large scale attacks would have been futile.  Coupled with the victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Gettysburg dealt a serious blow to the Confederacy’s hopes of winning this war.  They could not continue to lose 1/3 of their best army every time they took on the Union nor lose valuable commanders and field generals.   For many, this July 4 of 1863 had a special meaning as the Union headed towards victory. 


Turning Point #3 – The Election of 1864 – this political battle is considered by James McPherson to be the third turning point of the war because it had still not been decided on the battlefield in the summer of 1864.  Ulysses S. Grant had taken command of all of the Union armies and been expected to bring his pounding style of attack to the eastern theatre of the war (Virginia) like he had done out west in Mississippi and Tennessee.  However, the 4-pronged attack on the Confederacy soon got bogged down in the reality of war and many Americans had expressed their war weariness in many ways.  One of those ways was to support silly peace plans with Jeff Davis that would have ended the war w/o ending slavery. Another way Americans showed their war weariness was by picking Democrat George McClellan to be their presidential nominee.  The Peace Democrats wanted to end the war w/o ending slavery, but McClellan publicly contradicted them by saying he would push for peace through victory – read, war!  Lincoln’s party flirted w/ picking another candidate but never really did that, and by putting Tennessean Andrew Johnson on the ticket as his V.P., Lincoln was trying to be the “Union” candidate.  Luckily for Lincoln (and the country), Union general William T. Sherman captured the pivotal Confederate city of Atlanta in September, and the hits just kept coming.  In October, Union General Sheridan defeated the Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley.  78% of the Union soldiers voted for Lincoln and only 29% of McClellan’s former army, the Army of the Potomac, voted for their old boss.  Lincoln swept up the electoral college 212 to 21 as well.   This was the final turning point of the war b/c the end of slavery and the Confederacy appeared just to be a matter of time.  Lincoln planned on having a forgiving Reconstruction policy as exemplified in his 2nd Inaugural address (   If McClellan had won this election, who knew what would have happened?  Would there have been peace after four long bitter years with nothing to show for it except the dead and injured? 

Pick what you think is the most important turning point in the Civil War and explain why in your own words. 

200 words minimum (except for Tamia!  You know how much you have to do) due by class on Thursday, Dec. 13. 

Here’s the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

November 30

Lincoln Extra Credit

As I watched Lincoln, I couldn’t help but be struck by the honest attempt to portray the 16th president and the tumultuous last months of the Civil War.  Lincoln seemed funny at times, deeply troubled and burdened by leading the country through some of its worst times ever, and also a grieving father and husband.

But what struck me most was what I thought was the parallel between the freedom and rights of freed slaves back in 1865 and today’s struggle for most LGBT equality.  Tony Kushner, the screenwriter, was the author of 1993’s Angels in America, a ground-breaking play that addressed gay and lesbian issues in a very different time (even just twenty years ago) that shocked America.  Back in 1993, people were still afraid of AIDS victims and spurned those who were HIV positive.  Today, gay and lesbian couples struggle for marriage equality, have been turned down for adoption, and are still the victims of harassment and bullying.  The Laramie Project, a play about the life of Matthew Shephard, a gay man who was tortured and killed for his sexual orientation by two straight men, was just at Seaholm a few weeks ago and has had such an impact on the lives of Americans that Matthew’s mother believes that the play has saved more people than all of the hate crime laws in the country. 

 Another thing that I was struck by was the blatant vote-courting done by the men hired by Seward who twisted Democrats’ arms and practically bribed these Congressmen with government jobs (like postmaster of _______, Ohio) in order to get the needed 2/3 number of votes to pass the 13th Amendment.   Part of me was not surprised by these strong-arm tactics, because I know that this was (and is) how things were done, but part of me was startled because I wanted to preserve this ideal that I’d had about Lincoln as being above this kind of political wrangling.   But the one thing I have learned over the years was that Lincoln was not above using politics as a means to his ends, whatever they may have been at the time.  He had promised to gradually emancipate slaves in the border states (even suggesting monetary compensation for slaves) so that they would stay in the Union.  This never happened. 

 A third thing that struck me was the word play and rhetorical sparring in Congress.  Many of those exchanges were funny and enlightening with regards to the way politics played out in the 1860s.  Today’s Congress doesn’t conduct itself like this today (but watching the face-to-face barb flinging in the movie, it’s no surprise that Charles Sumner was beaten by South Carolinian representative after Sumner “insulted” the South’s honor).  I loved Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican from Pennsylvania, who was willing to compromise his desire for full rights for freedmen to get the greater goal of slavery abolished.  Also, I don’t know if the final scene with him is true (no spoilers here!) though Wikipedia and other sources have confirmed it. 

 A fourth thing that really opened my eyes was the troubled relationship between Lincoln and his son, Robert, with Robert’s anger boiling over at not being allowed to fight in the Civil War (and instead enrolled at Harvard).  I wonder if Lincoln didn’t allow his son to fight because of his own fears of Robert’s death (knowing that he’s already lost two sons, Eddie in 1850 and Willie in 1862) or Mary’s own fragile psyche which could fracture with another death (and probably did with Abe’s death in 1865).  Though the oldest, Robert seemed neglected by his father when he comes to visit for the “shindee” after his father’s re-election.  There were scenes that showed Robert being ignored by Lincoln, but by contrast Tad gets all of his father’s love.   One of the more touching scenes was when Lincoln cuddled up with Tad on the floor who had fallen asleep playing war with toy soldiers.  I was also surprised to see Lincoln slap Robert when Robert wouldn’t let his duty to fight drop.  These scenes made Lincoln seem like a real person with flaws and fears. 

 The last thing that I took away from the movie was the battle over giving the slaves equal rights once the 13th Amendment would be passed. What would be the point of freeing slaves if they weren’t citizens of the nation that had freed them?  What’s the point?  No voting?  No civil rights?  This was a preview of what Reconstruction would become: a battle over guaranteeing the rights for freed blacks vs. preserving white supremacy. 


Please provide your insights about the movie.  You can respond to any of my five insights or share your own after you’ve seen the movie.  If you find an interesting movie review, please include the link / url in your blog response.  Minimum of 200 words.  Due by Monday, Dec. 10th at the beginning of your class. 



Sources: – an interesting look at how the actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, developed his speaking voice for his part as Lincoln, and the back and forth between writer Tony Kushner and Lewis as to what phrases and words would be used in the movie. – brief article about the screenwriter’s meeting with Obama after he watched Lincoln for the first time. – A 2010 article about Kushner’s Angels in America plays.

November 5

Writing Contest – Bill of Rights Foundation

This is from an email I received over the weekend. 

Hi Geoff,

I am excited to tell you about our BRAND NEW Scholarship Contest for high school students. The We The Students Scholarship Contest runs through November 16, 2012, so encourage your students to enter today.

Students will grapple with the questions: What role do the ideas of the Constitution have today?  What rights should the government protect?

This is similar to the VFW contest that you were asked to do in Blog #41.  The details of the essay are below.  It’s longer and a lot more detailed (20 points max extra credit). 

To participate in the contest, high school students will answer three questions around the ideas of the Constitution and the role of government. One $4,000 prize will be awarded for first place, one $2,000 prize for second place, and one $1,000 prize for third place. Two $500 prizes will be awarded for honorable mentions. 

At the Institute, we know your impact on students’ lives is invaluable – but in an effort to support your hard work, we have set up the contest with teacher prizes. When your students win, you win! The teachers of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners will each receive a $100 cash prize.

For more information, visit the We The Students Scholarship Contest page.

– Veronica

Veronica Burchard
Vice President for Education
Bill of Rights Institute
200 North Glebe Road, Suite 200
Arlington, VA 22203

Questions to answer for the essay:

1.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution.  That must be maintained for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.”  Please analyze and discuss how ONE of the Founding principles (choose from the list below) found in the Constitution helps preserve liberty, and why that principle is still important today.  (up to 500 words)

  • All men are created equal
  • Limited Government
  • Private Property
  • Representative Government

2.  Most high school students are too young to vote.  However, that doesn’t mean that – as citizens – they can’t actively help to shape our world today.  Based on your beliefs about being an involved citizen, how would you convince an apathetic classmate that they should take an active role in shaping their community and the nation.  Feel free to use personal examples.  (up to 500 words)

3.  Read the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(a) Please provide a critical analysis comparing the United States’ Founding documents and the UN’s Universal Declaration in regard to ONE of the following three categories:  (up to 500 words)

  • The origin of rights
  • The role of government
  • The treatment of property

(b) After comparing the documents, which do you think best protects individual liberty?  Defend your view.  (up to 300 words)

April 21

The Conspirator – E.C. Blog

The Conspirator came out this weekend (No. 9 in movie sales) and told a little known story about the trial of Mary Surratt and the three assassins accused of being involved in John Wilkes Booth’s plan to throw the country into chaos immediately after the Civil War had been won in mid April 1865.  Confederate general Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9, and the country was in the mood for celebrating that Easter weekend beginning with Friday, April 14.  But President Lincoln was killed so suddenly afterwards that there was little time for rejoicing.

One of the things that I wondered before I saw the film was, why was the film being made?  Sure, the film could capitalize on the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war this month.  The film was telling an unknown part of American history, as I mentioned earlier, so at least it wasn’t covering old ground.  As the film started examining the tensions still bubbling under the surface during the trial, it became clearer to me why Robert Redford made the film.

In the aftermath of a very traumatic event, while the country was still in a war mood (the last Confederate army under Joseph Johnston still hadn’t been captured or surrendered yet, nor had Confederate President Jefferson Davis been arrested yet either), Confederate prisoners like Mary Surratt and the assassins weren’t treated like regular prisoners.  They were tried by a military tribunal (with nine military men acting as judges and jury), the prisoners’ rights to due process, a fair trial by jury, a lawyer’s preparation for trial, disclosure of evidence, and other legal rights were violated in these procedures.

Pick two of the following questions to answer:

 – What did you think of the Union’s treatment of Confederate sympathizers / assassins?  Did it seem fair or unjust?  Why?

 – The government’s prosecutor, Judge Advocate Holt argued against any further delay of the trial of the assassins in order to help the nation “heal its wounds.”  Do you think the trial helped this process or prolong the healing of the country?

 – Since the North couldn’t execute the primary assassin, John Wilkes Booth, do you think the nation’s rage and anger became directed at the remaining assassins?  Why or why not?

 – Explain the deeper subtext of the film in a post – 9/11/01 terrorist attack America and the wider treatment of Muslims as suspects (w/ little to no evidence). 

Due Monday May 9.  Max 10 points (200 words minimum).