US History Discussion


Instructions  Students are required to complete short supplemental readings and respond to the discussion question in at least 400 words each discussion.  Postings should show evidence of consideration regarding the problem presented and cite the week’s readings and historical information.  Quotes are fine, but keep them short Introduction: First Discussion Instructions One of the most hotly debated topics in American history concerns the primary reason for the Civil War. Was it a case of state sovereignty vs. federal power? Was it only over slavery as an institution? Was it primarily over economics and the imposition of tariffs over one section of the country or another? Was it a case of dueling civilizations? This week we’re going to explore the causes of the American Civil War. I’ve included two of the most important documents in American history, the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession and The Cornerstone Speech from Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America. Be sure that you read them. Please email me if you have any questions about what you’ve read. Question for this Writing Assignment: What do you think was the primary cause of the American Civil War? Readings for this Writing Assignment:  1) Intro: Reasons for Secession Polls from The Civil War Trust:  2) Jeff Schweltzer’s OP ED “Slavery and the Civil War: Not What You Think in The Huffington Post:   Note: although this is a left-leaning news source, his POV is balanced and more about “States’ Rights” theories. 3) Primary Source Readings and Maps: Part 1: Excerpts from the Republican Party platform (1860) “5. That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehensions, in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of sectional interest, as especially evinced in its desperate exertions to force the infamous Lecompton Constitution upon the protesting people of Kansas; in construing the personal relations between master and servant to involve an unqualified property in persons; in its attempted enforcement everywhere, on land and sea, through the intervention of Congress and of the Federal Courts of the extreme pretensions of a purely local interest… That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom: That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that “no persons should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law,…” That the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy… That we brand the recent reopening of the African slave trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity and a burning shame to our country and age… Part 2: Ordinances of Secession A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union (1861). In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory. The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France. The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico. It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion. It tramples the original equality of the South underfoot. It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain. It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst. It has enlisted its press, its pulpit, and its schools against us until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice. It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better. It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives. Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England. Part 3: Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia’s “Cornerstone Speech,” 21 March 1861  “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.  Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.” Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery and subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”     Secession Maps Second Discussion  Introduction: One of the more hotly debated historical topics concerning the Gilded Age asks whether or not the titans of the day, such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, were “Industrial Statesmen” or “Robber Barons.” Consider this short Historical Perspectives paper: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES: INDUSTRIAL STATESMEN OR ROBBER BARONS? Middle-class Americans who enjoyed the benefits of increased industrial production, new consumer goods, and a higher standard of living generally admired the business leaders of the age, viewing them as great industrial statesmen. University professors gave intellectual respectability to this view by drawing upon social Darwinism to argue that business leaders’ success was due to their superior intelligence and fitness. Did they not, after all, make the United States the leading economic power in the world? In the early 20th century, however, a growing number of citizens and historians questioned the methods used by business leaders to build their industrial empires. Charles Beard & other Progressive historians called attention to the oppression of farmers and workers, the corruption of democratic institutions, and the plundering of the nation’s resources. Their critical view of 19th-century business leaders received support from historians during the 1930s, which was the decade of the Great Depression. Some historians popularized the view that John Rockefeller and others like him were robber barons, who took from American workers and small businesses to build personal fortunes. The robber barons were presented as ruthless exploiters who used unethical means to destroy competition, create monopolies, and corrupt the free enterprise system. Any positive contributions that might have been made were merely unplanned by-products of the industrialists’ ruthlessness and greed. The prevailing wisdom of the 1930s shifted in the 1950s, as Allan Nevins urged other historians to right the injustice done to “our business history and our industrial leaders.” Nevins & other revisionists argued that the mass production that helped win two world wars and that made the United States an economic superpower far outweighed in significance any self-serving actions by business leaders. Another approach to the era was taken by historians who analyzed statistical data in an effort to judge the contributions of industrialists and big business. They asked: Were big corporations essential for the economic development of the United States? Did monopolies such as the Standard Oil Trust advance or slow the growth of the U.S. economy? Some used statistical data to prove that railroads were not indispensable to the economic growth of the era. Despite these studies, critics of big business and the robber barons maintain that, in the final analysis, the quantity of economic growth was less important than the quality of life for the average American. Question for Discussion: Were the business leaders of the Gilded Age “Industrial Statesmen” of “Robber Barons?” Be sure to use sufficient historical evidence from Roark, Chapter 18 and your own outside research to back your opinions.

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