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.

April 28

Blog #63 – Are you willing to go to jail?

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.” – Martin Luther King, Jr, Autobiography

 * emphasis is mine.

Initially going back to the 5th Century, St. Augustine stated that “an unjust law is no law at all”  giving some theological weight / heft to earthly laws. Henry David Thoreau suggested that we obey our conscience when we decide to obey or disobey a law.  He went to jail during the Mexican War and wrote his famous essay on civil disobedience.  Gandhi used Thoreau as inspiration, and King used Gandhi as an inspiration.  Gandhi and King used religion to inspire and their followers.  Here’s a quote from Dr. King from a sermon in the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

… I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing.

If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.
If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.
If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth.
If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning.
My friends, we are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

But we can’t necessarily have people going around disobeying laws that they don’t like.  There has to be some standards.  Right?  According to Dr. King, he stated that the difference is:

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

He further elaborates on this and states that: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Assumption: Since we cannot argue and fight with every law that we think goes against “the harmony of moral law” or disobey laws at whim (for instance, I might think that one day, the speed limit downgrades my personality, therefore I am going to take a principled stand against it by not obeying it), we have to assume that most laws need to be obeyed.

But what are unjust laws today??

1. Abortion?  Or restrictions on abortion?

2. Wars or other military actions?

3. Immigration laws like the one in Arizona?

4. Gay rights? Or restrictions on gay rights?

5. Economic stuff like taxes?  Or lack thereof on companies, individuals, etc.?

6. Military draft (don’t worry, we don’t have one)?

7. Environmental damage?  Or lack of environmental laws?

8. Jobs or a lack of jobs?

9. Software and music / movie downloading -piracy?

10. Behavior / actions of an American company (sweatshops, illegally drilling, dumping, etc.)?

11. ????

Questions to answer:

a. Would you be willing to go to jail to protest unjust laws like the Civil Rights workers had done many times during the 1950s and 60s?  (Consider the ramifications of a felony or misdemeanor on your record, and its impact on your possible future career).

b. After consulting the list above, which laws would you be willing to fight against?  Why? (feel free to add to the list if you see any missing).

c. Do you agree with Dr. King’s reasoning w/ what makes a law just or unjust?  Why or why not?

Due Friday, May 2 by class.  300 words total. 

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.

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.

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?

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

November 10

Blog #6 – Was the War of 1812 the 2nd American Revolution?

The War of 1812 is called America’s 2nd War for Independence by our textbook, “but a footnote to the mighty European conflagration…with huge consequences for the United States” (Kennedy 222).  The reasons are numerous:

1. America, as a young nation, gained a newfound respect from the European belligerents through the “hot breath of their [ships’] broadsides” and the defeat of the British army at the Battle of New Orleans (Andrew Jackson video).  This was a diplomatic and military victory for our country (222).   After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Europe receded into a “peace of exhaustion…[with a] return to conservatism, illliberalism, and reaction” (222). 

2.  “Sectionalism…was dealt a black eye” and exhibited the “folly of sectional disunity” in which the biggest casualty was the Federalist Party b/c of its association with New England’s support for the British.   In a way, the war helped unify the country by getting rid of one party and ushering in the Era of Good Feelings. 

3. American manufacturing exploded b/c of the embargo, and in a sense, this war gave America a stronger sense of economic and diplomatic independence and less dependent upon European manufactured goods. 

4. Kennedy, et. al. felt that  the development of American nationalism was the “most impressive by-product” of the war.  This nationalism showed itself in a national literature like Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper.  A tide of national pride also helped with the renewal of the Central Bank of the U.S. in 1816 and more capital was invested in the burgeoning economy. 

These are all good and valid reasons why they call the War of 1812 another American war for independence.  But, these reasons are all short term gains for the United States and neglect much more severe long term effects that have more dramatic consequences for the country. 

1.  By the time of the Civil War, the American military was still a small force but was much better educated because of the West Point Academy where most of the CW officers were trained.   That a ragtag band of Americans won at New Orleans in 1815 is testament to not only the great leadership of Andrew Jackson but of poor leadership of the British generals as well.   These West Point grads were seasoned on the battlefields of Mexico and out West fighting the Indians as America grasped to the Pacific Ocean for land. 

2. Sectionalism never died, it predominantly moved South.  I think that this is the most ridiculous of their arguments – that sectionalism faded away. Yes, the Federalist Party died, but the Whig Party emerged within 15-20 years after disagreements over federal spending projects.  

 – Sectionalism soon flared up in 1819 and 1820 when it was time to figure out what to do w/ Missouri and the rest of the Louisiana territories when determining their slave status.  It would rear its ugly head almost every time slavery came up – the tariff issue in 1832-33, the Mexican War, the Wilmot Proviso, Compromise of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott decision, Lecompton constitution, Lincoln-Douglas debates, Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and then the 1860 Election w/ 4 candidates. 

3. Though American manufacturing grew stronger during the war, the British dumped their excess cheap goods on the American market in a crude version of economic warfare.    The economic battle eventually led to the tariff fight of 1828-1833 and America’s first brush w/ nullification and secession. 

4. Nationalism is an important aspect of a country’s development like a nation’s literature or its economy.  However, the Central Bank was dismantled by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s soon to be followed by the Panic of 1837.  The loss of this bank may have hindered the development of American capitalism before and after the Civil War and could have prevented or forestalled the Depressions of 1877 and 1897. 

5. Overall, America’s main goal of this war at the very beginning was to capitalize on Britain’s attention being directed at France and therefore we had hoped to seize Canada as part of our next great American land grab.   Since that goal was thwarted by 1815, American attention turned southward towards Mexico, Cuba and other territories.  Remember, the Mexican War didn’t start because innocent American soldiers were fired upon while they were walking along the Rio Grande River.  They were acting on direct orders of the president to invade the disputed border area of Texas when they were fired upon.   The War of 1812 set a dangerous precedent in American foreign policy with our country acting as the imperialist.  We have invaded smaller, weaker nations to exploit their economic, geographic or physical resources since the Mexican War, and it could have started in 1812 if the Canadians hadn’t stopped us. 

6. Lastly, the War of 1812 left the Native Americans to fend for themselves with the American government and the ever-expanding U.S. ppopulation.  Our need for land rubbed against Indian sovereignty, and as historian Robert Remini explained in his book, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, the removal of the Native Americans from the East Coast was also a homeland security issue.  3 times in the past 75 years had various native tribes risen up amongst us and sided with American foes when those European forces invaded our shores (F & I War, Revolution, and 1812).  To prevent this internal security threat from happening again, reason said that they needed to be moved far away from the coast where they wouldn’t be much of a threat (and as an added bonus, more valuable land was freed up for settlement in the process). 

What do you think? 

Was this War of 1812 a 2nd war of American independence?  Or was the war the beginning of American expansionism / opportunism that flew in the face of Washington’s advise to stay out of foreign entanglements?  Or is there another interpretation for the war of 1812 that could combine both? Explain. 

200 words minimum.  Due Friday 11/12/10.