The Civil War – A Lecture (Part Three)

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve had time to continue this series. Some of you may be under the impression that I have given it up – but trust me, I have not. I would never give up a chance to write about the Civil War. So, without further ado, here it is!

THE CIVIL WAR: PART THE THIRD

153 years after the crack of cannons at Fort Sumter signaled the start of America’s bloodiest conflict, Abraham Lincoln’s public image has undergone a drastic change. In the eyes of many Americans, he was not only a President, but also a Jedi, a Time Lord, and Zeus all rolled into one*. In our country’s popular opinion, the deep-voiced and stately Lincoln singlehandedly stormed the Confederacy, spreading freedom and equality by reciting the Gettysburg Address at his enemies, and/or whapping them in the cranium with a large flagpole.

Actually, this is fairly inaccurate, and not just because Lincoln never whapped anyone’s cranium with anything (‘though a certain politician did – more on that later). Contemporaries describe our sixteenth president as very tall and somewhat ugly, with a squeaky voice and distinct Kentucky twang. (He also shared his birthday – February 12, 1809 – with Charles Darwin. Coincidence? WE THINK NOT!**) And – most importantly – he exactly didn’t start out as an abolitionist. (Okay, well, technically, no one started out as an abolitionist, because – generally speaking – newborn infants do not tend to embrace any particular political ideologies***.) But even as a budding lawyer and Congressman, he didn’t voice outright support of abolitionism****. Instead, he was a free-soiler: someone who believed that slavery should stay contained in the South, and not spread to any new territories America might acquire. He believed that African-Americans had the right to live their own lives – but, for the most part, he also believed that they were naturally inferior to whites, and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to end slavery anytime soon. During the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates, he voiced the opinion that “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races….”*****

Given all this, the South shouldn’t have been too worried. However, Lincoln’s moderately anti-slavery viewpoint set alarm bells ringing in the state of South Carolina. Actually, for that matter, many things set alarm bells ringing in South Carolina, prompting bizarre and often drastic overreactions. In 1859, for example New York Senator Charles Sumner****** gave a rather incendiary anti-slavery speech, insulting a senior senator from South Carolina in the process. Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who happened to be related to Sumner’s target, took offense – so, after the session had adjourned, Senator Brooks calmly confronted Senator Sumner and explained his grievances in detail.

HAHAHAHA no. That is far too sane a route for any politician, especially a nineteenth-century one, to take. Instead, Senator Brooks decided to brain Senator Sumner with his cane in front of a large group of aghast Congressmen (following this scene, all of them immediately quit and joined the circus instead, voicing the opinion that “at least it’s more logical than bloody Congress”).

Unsurprisingly, this event proved to be extremely polarizing – even more so than the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northerners immediately accused Senator Brooks of being unnecessarily violent and foul-tempered – while many Southerners sprang to his defense, claiming that Sumner deserved it all, dammit, because no one badmouths a Southerner’s relatives without getting concussed!

The end result: the Brooks-Sumner debacle, combined with a Northern, Republican, free-soiler presidential candidate, had prompted South Carolina to wake up and smell the foul, conspiracy-laden coffee. The government was out to get them – or, more accurately, out to get their slaves. There was only one thing left to do: threaten secession.

Now, this was pretty old territory for South Carolina: back in 1828, when tariffs were too high for their taste, South Carolinians banded together and claimed that if the hated taxes weren’t lowered, they would secede from the country. At that point, they ended up backing away from their claim, and the Union was saved.

This time, however, they would not be so lenient.

Months passed, and the presidential campaign continued. Due to a feud over slavery, the once-mighty Democratic party had split into Northern and Southern sections, with each running a separate candidate. This greatly weakened their chances of winning the election – and, accordingly, when November rolled around, Abe Lincoln, the fledgling Republican Party candidate, claimed victory.

On December 20, 1860, in a move that shocked many citizens, the state of South Carolina voted unanimously to secede from the United States of America. All eyes turned to the then-president, James Buchanan, who was nearing his last few weeks in office. According to the historical records, President Buchanan’s reaction to South Carolina’s secession was a resigned shrug and a deep swig of whisky.

(Needless to say, President Buchanan was not particularly popular.)

All throughout the winter and spring of 1861, just as Lincoln’s first term began, other Deep South states followed in South Carolina’s wake: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, in that order. Those seven states then banded together to form a new country: the Confederate States of America. Its capital was in Montgomery, Alabama;  its first President was Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and its Vice President was Alexander Stephens of Georgia. (Incidentally, President Davis was only one or two years older than President Lincoln, and had been born just a few miles away from Lincoln’s birthplace*******.)

Then, until April 12, the two countries – USA and CSA – proceeded to have a staring contest of epic proportions. States caught in the middle, such as Virginia and Tennessee, squirmed in their seats and hoped that they wouldn’t be driven to take sides. No actual battles had happened yet, so perhaps there was a chance of peaceful reconciliation-

Oh, who are we kidding? There was about as much chance of peaceful reconciliation as there was when Senator Brooks first pulled his Cane of Doom on Senator Sumner. And sure enough, on April 12, 1861, tensions exploded – in the form of the First Battle of Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. When that state seceded, it claimed all the Federal forts located inside its borders, including Sumter. If Lincoln dared to send troops to defend Sumter, the Confederacy warned, there would be hell to pay.

Lincoln didn’t send troops to defend Sumter. But, in April, he did send troops to supply the soldiers already in the fort. Immediately, the Confederates (commanded by a charismatic Louisianan general named Maria Josepha Johanna von- sorry, I mean Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard) opened fire – and, by the next day, had taken the fort. (Although there were no human casualties during the fight, two men did die during the Union artillery salute…)

This was nothing short of an act of war. Therefore, Lincoln called out for 75,000 volunteers for the army – especially pleading with the states of the Upper South. This, unfortunately, proved to be somewhat of a mistake: four Upper Southern states (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) were so incensed by Lincoln’s request that they, too, withdrew from the Union.

As a popular song from the era, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, put it: “The single star of our bonnie blue flag has grown to be eleven!” The secessionists no longer comprised a tiny percentage of the population. A third of the United States had broken off and formed a new, hostile country, one which had already fired on Federal property and was currently building up an army as fast as it could.

It looked like war was inevitable. 

 

*Some noted historians also believe he may have been Batman.

**Sorry, Watson/Holmes fans, but Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin would be the most BADASS crime-fighting team ever.

***With the exception of certain politicians: I can totally see Michele Bachmann screaming about 2nd Amendment rights a split second after emerging from the womb, can’t you?

****Someone who was much more outspoken on the topic of racial equality was Thaddeus Stevens, a radical Republican Senator from Pennsylvania (we will touch upon him in a later post). But, from what I have gathered, no one actually seems to know who he is, apart from “that wig dude in Lincoln“.

*****Source: http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation

******No, they were not long-lost brothers. Even though they kinda-sorta-maybe looked alike, just a little bit.

The Civil War – A Lecture (Part Two)

Here I am again, with Part Two! This is the part that I didn’t actually script beforehand. It’s also the part during which I explain the lecture’s tagline – “How Hollywood Almost Became Part of Colorado.”

 

THE CIVIL WAR: PART THE SECOND

So, to recap the last episode of the Great Soap Opera of the American Nineteenth Century: Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, walked in on her father with- WAIT! SORRY! WRONG EPISODE! To recap the last episode, the Compromise of 1850 was passed – California was admitted as free, and Utah and New Mexico could choose their status – free or slave.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The Compromise of 1850 had just one more part to it: a tiny little thing, really, called the “Fugitive Slave Act.” The Fugitive Slave Act decreed that any enslaved people who escaped to the free states wouldn’t be free – they’d be labeled “contraband” and shipped back to their Southern owners ASAP. Given the increase of abolitionist sentiments in the North, it was only natural that Northerners bitterly resented the Fugitive Slave Act, and resisted it as much as they could – something that the Southerners whose slaves were escaping did not take kindly. Thus, the so-called Compromise of 1850 only served to deepen the gap between the South and the rest of the country.

The event that really, truly sealed the divide, though, wasn’t a law. It wasn’t a riot. Nope, it was a book. A book that was published in 1852… a book named Uncle Bob’s Cabin.

JUST KIDDING! Its real name was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a pretty famous book… so let’s see how much YOU, dear reader, know about it:

QUICK QUIZ!

True or false:

1) Harriet Tubman, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had never been to the Deep South.

2) Two main characters – a slave and a slave-owner – were both named George.

3) The main antagonist was a Southerner named Simon Legree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWERS:

1) False. The author’s name was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who helped run the Underground Railroad.

2) True. George Harris is a slave and the husband of Eliza Harris – and George Shelby is the son of Uncle Tom’s owner.

3) False. Simon Legree was a Northerner, from Vermont (although he did move to Louisiana).

 

How’d you do? If you’ve discovered that you need a refresher, here’s a quick summary of the book:

Uncle Tom, a middle-aged slave, belongs to the Shelby family of Kentucky. The Shelbys are decent people, and Tom leads a relatively peaceful life with his wife and children. However, one day, the Shelby patriarch realizes that he’s in debt, and decides to sell some slaves. He settles on two: Tom and a toddler named Harry Harris. Harry’s mother, Eliza, finds out about her son’s pending sale – and decides to run away. After a protracted struggle, Eliza, Harry, and Eliza’s husband George manage to escape the slave-catchers and reach the safety of Canada.

Meanwhile, Uncle Tom gets sold “down the river” in Louisiana – originally as a house servant to a kind family in New Orleans, and later (when pretty much everyone in the aforementioned kind family kicks the bucket in a plethora of horrible ways) as a field hand to the dreaded Simon Legree. Legree hates Tom’s Christian attitude, and eventually orders him to be beaten to death. 

 Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly became one of America’s greatest bestsellers, beaten only by the Bible. Millions of people across the country purchased copies, and, touched by the horrific ordeals of Uncle Tom and the Harris family, began to question the institution of slavery.

Naturally, the Southern aristocrats, whose fortunes and livelihoods depended on their slaves, didn’t take too kindly to this. They absolutely panned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and denied that there was any truth in it – claiming that, since the Southernmost state Stowe had visited was Kentucky, she had no right to write about Deep Southern slavery. The book caused such violent arguments that, when he finally met her, Lincoln addressed Stowe as “the little woman who started the big war”.

From then on, the 1850s were one enormous sectionalist disaster. In 1857, Dred Scott – a Missouri slave – sued for his freedom, on the grounds that he and his master had been living on free soil for a few years. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, a Marylander by the name of Robert Taney, struck down the case, declaring that slaves were not American citizens, and therefore Scott had no right to file a lawsuit. Taney’s decision outraged the abolitionists, and drove another wedge into the widening gap between the North and the South.

Let’s take a short interlude here and travel west – to the state of California, far removed from all of this political turmoil.

Or was it? Although the slavery issue wasn’t hotly debated in California, a free state, the situation was far from idyllic. For one thing, the southernmost part of California – including Los Angeles and San Diego – believed that, as they were too dissimilar from the northern part, they should secede and form a new state, Colorado. This was actually their second attempt at secession – the first took place in 1854, and was almost approved; the President rejected it at the last minute. Now, in 1859, what with the dramatic rise in tensions between the North and the South, California absolutely could not be allowed to split up – so SoCal grudgingly agreed to stick with its northern half.

Aaaaand that’s how Hollywood almost ended up in Colorado. Wrap your mind around that for a minute.

Returning to the East: one of the most momentous incidents of the decade took place in 1859, when John Brown, a fervent abolitionist who vaguely resembled an electrocuted hawk, decided to incite a slave uprising in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). Harpers Ferry was a thriving factory town; Brown’s successfully capturing it would pose a serious threat to Virginia and the rest of the South.

Unfortunately for him, most slaves didn’t dare take part in the armed rebellion, and Brown’s group was quickly captured – by none other than then-Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was hanged in Charleston, Virginia; his execution was guarded by Thomas Jonathan Jackson and his cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.

The death of John Brown served as another blow to the country’s already crumbling foundation – but the straw that really broke the camel’s back came in the form of a tall, gangling, rail-splitting lawyer from Illinois.

His name was Abraham Lincoln.

 

END OF PART THE SECOND

UPCOMING: THE CAMPAIGN OF THE CENTURY! SOUTH CAROLINA METAPHORICALLY STICKS ITS TONGUE OUT AT THE REST OF THE COUNTRY! *WAR IS DECLARED!*

The Civil War – A Lecture (Part One)

Or, How To Effectively Torture People With Banjos

On July 29th, I gave my first historical lecture, on the Civil War. Seven people came, only two of them were related to me, and no one attempted to strangle me when I started playing 150-year-old banjo music… so I counted it as a roaring success. For those of you who were not among the seven attendees, the posts that follow will contain the lecture’s transcript. For today… Part 1!

 

THE CIVIL WAR: PART THE FIRST

Hi, guys, and thank you so much for coming to this lecture. I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it – and if you don’t, you better fake it.

Anyway, I’m here today to talk about a very important topic. An event that literally changed America forever. That’s right. I’m here to talk about the publishing of Twilight.

Seriously, though, I’m here to talk about the bloodiest war in American history – the war that created and destroyed our country. I’m here to talk about the Civil War.

In order to set the mood, I’ve prepared a little montage of pictures set to music. Apart from the last three, they’re all photos that were taken during the war. Oh – and if the music makes you wince… remember that this was hot stuff back in the 1860s. This was the Adele and Carly Rae Jepsen of the Civil War.

As you can see from the photos, many of the soldiers who fought in the war were very young. Their average age was 28, and they legally had to be eighteen or over to join the army, but all too often, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds would lie their way into the ranks: running away from home, Civil War style.

And it had tragic consequences. By 1865, America had lost – in Rhett Butler’s words – the flower of its land. An entire generation had either been killed off or turned bitter by the horrors of war. The smell of blood and the screams of dying haunted Americans for decades – and, indeed, still haunt us today.

So how did the war begin? Where did it begin? The answer lies not on the plains of Manassas or the coastline of South Carolina, but in Washington DC, in the year 1820 – with the Compromise that Ripped Us Apart.

As of 1820, there were 22 states in America: eleven free, and eleven slave. But the Missouri Territory – a strongly pro-slavery area, settled by many Southerners (including a Mr. and Mrs. Clemens) – applied for statehood, and America’s delicate political balance came under the knife. If Missouri was added as the twenty-third state, there would be eleven free states and twelve slave states, thus tipping the balance of power in favor of the slave states. If Missouri was admitted to the Union as a free state, then the Missourians wouldn’t be happy, and neither would the South. And if Missouri was denied admission… well, America would still have a whole lot of furious Missourians on their hands.

Thus, the Missouri Compromise was born. Under the compromise, Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, the Maine Territory would be admitted as a free state… and a line – the 36’30 line – would be drawn across the US. Every territory north of this line would be free, and every territory south of it would be slave.

So, for twenty-five years after the Missouri Compromise, there existed a precarious peace between the North and the South. Then Texas came along, and everything started to crumble.

Texas, up until this time, had been part of Mexico – but it was mostly populated by Americans. This was because Mexico, afraid that very few people were actually moving to Texas, started begging Americans to populate the area. Many Americans, delighted at the prospect of cheap land, agreed. There was only one tiny catch: Americans kinda tend to like America more than Mexico. Resultantly, Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 and became its own country. In 1846, under pressure from Texans and Southerners, the Federal government approved the addition of Texas to the Union as a state.

So far, so good. Except that Mexico was a little miffed about America taking Texas. And when countries are miffed, they start wars. So Mexico and America duked it out in the Mexican-American War, from 1846-1848. Despite Mexico’s strong military, America emerged the victor – and the owner of a whole bunch of new territories. Including the one we’re currently standing in – California.

More territories meant, unfortunately, addressing the slavery question. So in 1850, Congress popped out the creatively named Compromise of 1850. According to this compromise, California would join as a free state, and Utah and New Mexico – the other Mexican territories – had to hold a vote to decide if they’d be free or slave.

 

END OF PART THE FIRST

UPCOMING: A FIERY BESTSELLER IS PUBLISHED! SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IS NOT AMUSED! THE COUNTRY DIVIDES!

A Proposal to Officially Legalize the Secession of States from the Union

That’s right. I did it. I wrote this. (But, uh, to you nice folks from the CIA out there, I’d just like to say that I am not plotting anything. Really. Please believe me.)

So the question arises: why did I do this? Well, after months of reading up extensively on the Civil War, and after perusing my pocket copy of the Declaration of Independence/the Constitution, I suddenly realized that secession isn’t quite as illegal as the North made it out to be during Reconstruction.

In fact… it’s legal.

What follows is a short proposal I drafted, which lists out the reasons for my conclusion. Enjoy.

 

 

INTRODUCTION:

Ever since the American Civil War (1861-1865), the idea of States seceding from the Union has been called into question – and, in Texas v. White, declared unconstitutional. However, as proved by the arguments below, the secession of States is not, and never was, unconstitutional. The purpose of this piece is to overturn the ruling that secession is unconstitutional, and officially make it legal.

 

ARGUMENTS:

NOTE: We will hereby adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, so that we may better understand and support the arguments presented below, as well as refrain from making unconstitutional decisions.

 

I. Why Secession is Already Constitutional

 

a.) The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America states that our          country aims for a “more perfect Union.” This does not entail a larger union, especially if this larger union is fraught with internal strife. A perfect union implies a union in which all associated States share similar ideals and interests. If a State wants to secede from our union on the basis of differing ideals, our union is clearly not perfect. Letting that State secede is indeed a step toward perfection. The Preamble also mentions a wish to “insure domestic tranquility.” A union wherein each State has vastly differing ideals, and is often driven to violence with other States due to those ideals, would be in direct conflict with this line in the Constitution.

 

b.) Amendment X states that: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since the federal government does not have the express right to remove states from the union, it can naturally be assumed that this power has been transferred to the States, and therefore it is the States who have the power to remove themselves from the union. And since the people of that State are the ones proposing secession, Amendment X can be reapplied in this situation as well, as it delegates these rights to both the States and their people.

 

c.) I conclude with a short statement regarding the part of the Constitution that states that Congress holds sovereignty over certain territories. Section III of Article IV states that The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. While some may take this to mean that the federal government has the power to regulate each State, and therefore prevent them from leaving the Union, the latter part of this quote disproves this idea. When the quote talks of ‘any particular State,’ it is automatically isolating the States from the aforementioned ‘Territory or other Property.’ Therefore, it can be assumed that this ‘Territory’ refers to areas that have applied for statehood but have not actually become States – thus ruling out this particular section as proof of the unconstitutionality of secession.

 

MORE ON TEXAS v. WHITE:

Texas v. White was an 1869 Supreme Court case that, originally, had to do with the recovery of some bonds that the federal government had paid to Texas in 1850. When Texas seceded, the Confederacy used these bonds to buy materiel during the Civil War. In 1869, the current government of Texas – Unionist men who had been placed in charge during Reconstruction – filed a lawsuit in order to regain these bonds from the private citizens who held them. 

These citizens, naturally, did not want to part with the money, and claimed that since they had been paid after Texas seceded from the United States, Texas could not use federal laws to reclaim the money.

Texas’ Reconstruction government, however, had other ideas. Secession, according to them, was impossible: “The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?”

Of course, Texas won the case – and its money. And as a result of Texas v. White, secession from the Union was declared unconstitutional.

However, the arguments Texas used to win are fatally flawed. The original thirteen colonies were vastly different in every way – the religions and ethnic backgrounds of their inhabitants, their economies, their population sizes. Only just before the Revolutionary War did they temporarily set aside their differences and band together to fight the British. Almost immediately afterward, the newly formed States began squabbling again. Compromises, such as a bicameral legislature – which incorporated both the Virginia and New Jersey plans – and the Three-Fifths Compromise- which sought to appease the South on the slavery issue – abounded. The early nineteenth century only brought more compromises; desperate efforts to hold the already shaky Union together, such as the Missouri Compromise and Compromise of 1850. In the end, none of these could work – the differences between the states were too great to be bridged with a few hasty compromises. Secession by itself might have worked to solve this problem, and ensure peace in America: instead, it was declared illegal and the Civil War was fought, causing the – completely unnecessary – deaths of over six hundred thousand men.

Texas v. White also cites the Articles of Confederation as a document that strengthened the ties between states, and invested power in the country as a whole. However, the Articles of Confederation themselves seem to have a different view. It created a Confederacy, wherein the federal government was weak and the States were free to pursue their own, mostly unregulated courses of action. “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled,” Section II of the Articles – the section on states’ rights – declares. Since nowhere in the Articles does it state that the United States had the power to expel States from the Union, it may be understood that States have the power to expel themselvesin other words, the right to secession.

The final argument Texas v. White makes in order to prove the idea that secession is unconstitutional relates to the Preamble of the Constitution – namely, the phrase “more perfect Union.” Texas v. White claims that “it is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words.” However, Texas v. White does not even bother to explain how, exactly, “more perfect Union” means “indissoluble Union.” This implies that perfection is not about how peaceful or prosperous a country is, but how large it is. Therefore, a large conglomeration of States, characterized by frequent violence, rioting and disagreement between States, is, according to Texas v. White, a perfect Union.

 

CONCLUSION:

 I conclude by repeating that Texas v. White took place in 1869, barely four years after the Civil War ended, and many Northerners were still sore about the South’s secession. It is quite possible that secession was declared illegal precisely because of this. An interesting paradox can be found here, during Reconstruction – the Southern states that had seceded were not readmitted back into the Union until they had ratified the 13th Amendment; and yet the North was vehement in declaring that the South had never properly seceded. This raises the question: how can a State that has not seceded be readmitted to the Union?

 

SOURCES USED:

 1. U.S. Constitution. Preamble

2. U.S. Constitution. Amend. 10.

3. U.S. Constitution. Article IV. Section III.

4. Texas v. White – Supreme Court Case.

5. U.S. Articles of Confederation

6. “Texas v. White”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 11 Aug. 2013 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/589367/Texas-v-White>.

7. Woods, Thomas. “State Nullification: What Is It?” Tom Woods’s LibertyClassroom. LibertyClassroom, 2013. Web. 11 Aug. 2013. <http://www.libertyclassroom.com/ nullification/>.

MAKING HISTORY – 2013 MVHS ANTIETAM REENACTMENT

I was reading up on Civil War reenactments the other day, when it struck me – why couldn’t we do our own reenactment at school? After mulling over it, I realized that we could do it. And so MVHS: Antietam 2013 was born!

In January I teamed up with a friend of mine, Arjun Krishna, and started planning for the event. We assigned roles – I was Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and Arjun was Union General George B. McClellan – and started figuring out some logistics. Costumes were pretty easy: just wear your side’s color. Weapons… not so much. After heated debate on the topic, all the generals decided that gray pool noodles would be the safest option. Unfortunately, we faced a slight problem here – namely, that the pool noodles did not resemble muskets in the least. If the soldiers who fought in Antietam actually carried pool noodles as weapons, it wouldn’t have been the bloodiest day in American history. People would have died of laughter.

But the reenactment was held at school, so therefore, we had to abide by zero-tolerance policies, so therefore, on May 25, we found ourselves commanding 77 people holding flags, hats and gray pool noodles. Our instructions were to “drop down and shoot,” but it’s a bit hard to follow those particular instructions when you’re carrying pool noodles, so people ended up fighting each other in a myriad of interesting ways. These included:

1) Using the pool noodles as rapiers and engaging in enthusiastic sword fights

2) Using the pool noodles as bayonets and attempting to stab each other in the chest

3) Using the pool noodles to repeatedly whack each other on the head

Pool noodle abuse aside, however, the reenactment went splendidly! Like the real Antietam, no one was quite sure which side won (although that might be because everyone gave up fighting and rushed to coo over my teacher’s baby in the end). Like the real Antietam, a good portion of people fell on the battlefield. In fact, so many people died that we had to call an emergency meeting and resurrect a few corpses, since we didn’t have enough living soldiers left to fight.

But all of that is absolutely fine. Because, like the real Antietam, our soldiers were young and inexperienced. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing – they just had to follow their generals and hope for the best. And that, dear readers, is the essence of the 1860s – that feeling of unsureness is exactly what the young men of both the South and the North had to go through when they fought and later, when they rebuilt the country. It doesn’t matter that we fought with pool noodles, doesn’t matter that we ate pizza and drank juice and played video games after it was over. All that matters is that for one precious hour on a Saturday morning, 77 people banded together and made history come alive.

Wish you’d been there to see it? Check out the videos of the reenactment here:

1. Trailer 1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7VYWgKsMEM

2. Trailer 2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOt7oXsJJV4

3. Movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU_cNgWfihQ

If Thomas Jefferson Had Lived In The Time of the Civil War

Dear readers, in this post I shall answer an extremely pressing Civil War question: if Thomas Jefferson lived in the time of the Civil War, what side would he have taken? Based on a number of factors, listed below, we shall figure out the answer.

1. STATES’ RIGHTS

The Civil War started out as a war about states’ rights. The Southern states claimed that the North had continually violated their basic rights as states, while the Northern states maintained that they had done nothing to provoke the South’s complaints. When the South seceded, they formed a confederacy – designed to strengthen states’ power and weaken federal power.

Thomas Jefferson was known throughout the American political scene for his fervent belief in states’ rights. He was an avid supporter of the Articles of Confederation, the document that preceded the Constitution and called for a weak federal government and equal rights for every state. Except for an eight-year lull (his two terms as President), Jefferson harshly condemned the strong executive branch created under the Constitution. Given all of this, it is likely that Jefferson would have stuck with the side that embodied his political ideas: namely, the Confederacy.

2. LOYALTY TO HOME

Robert E. Lee, the illustrious general from Virginia, had been offered a position as commander of the Union’s army. He politely declined the job, stating that he would rather side with his own state. It can be assumed that Jefferson, also a Virginian, would act similarly. This is supported by a letter he wrote, in which he stated some of the differences between Northerners and Southerners. A handy American History website I found* made a chart of the differences he mentioned.

In the north they are In the south they are
cool fiery
sober voluptuary
laborious indolent
persevering unsteady
independent independent
jealous of their own liberties, and just to those of others zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others.
interested generous
chicaning candid
superstitious and hypocritical in their religion without attachment or pretensions to any religon but that of the heart.

Even some of the vices Jefferson mentioned Southerners having sound suspiciously like compliments, especially in contrast to the cold, calculating, sly picture he paints of the North. This rather unsubtle favouritism is another indication that Jefferson would have sided with his home, the South.

3. SLAVERY

If states’ rights was its original cause, the Civil War ended as a war about morals and equality. In 1863, after declaring the Battle of Antietam a victory, the North issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all Southern slaves. (Incidentally, Lincoln had no jurisdiction over the slaves who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, as they were all in C.S.A. territory. Therefore, he didn’t really free any slaves until he won the war in 1865).

This is perhaps the greyest component of the list. The freeing of slaves certainly tied in to the ideals Jefferson propagated in his numerous works. Time and time again, he stressed the importance of equality between men – something he included in the Declaration of Independence as well. He wrote of oppressed servants with slightly condescending compassion, expressing a desire to help them better their lives.

And yet he kept slaves. As the owner of a Virginia plantation, Jefferson owned over 600 slaves throughout his life**. Without them, his plantation would be impossible to run. Though he was not as inhuman as some slave masters, he was certainly severe, and forced even children to work long, hard hours in order to keep his plantation afloat. Despite his soaring words of “freedom for all!”, Jefferson did not free all of his slaves upon his death – and it is highly unlikely that he would have freed any earlier than that. Therefore, Jefferson would probably have supported the Confederacy’s view on slavery.

 

If Thomas Jefferson had lived during the time of the Civil War, history might have taken a considerably different course. Perhaps his lofty rhetoric might have convinced the teetering border states – Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland – to secede, and thus add more manpower and industrial strength to the Confederacy. If that had been the case – if the Confederacy had won – who knows what America would be like today? Or, indeed, if there’d be an America at all?

Other Historical Personas and Their Projected Sides:

1) George Washington: Union

Father of the Nation, anyone?

2) Henry Clay: Union

With a nickname like “The Great Pacificator…”

3) John C. Calhoun: Confederacy

Dude. South Carolina. “Southern Rights!!” He was originally a Unionist, though, so it’s a bit hard to tell. My guess is that he’d go with his state in the end.

4) Benjamin Franklin: Union

He’s from Pennsylvania. Well, okay, he was born in Massachusetts. STILL UNION ALL THE WAY.

5) Preston S. Brooks: Confederacy

(Wikipedia: “Brooks was a fervent advocate of slavery…”).

The South Carolinian who subjected Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner to a brutal beating, all because Sumner made a speech that insulted Brooks’ uncle and the struggle over slavery in Kansas? Yeeeah… can’t see this guy as a Unionist.

*http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl35.php

**http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100216065949AA9JdB5

Three (Extremely Belated) Alternatives to the Civil War

 

Dear readers, Abraham Lincoln was a wonderful president. However, he made a couple of rather disastrous mistakes; namely, the Civil War. What follows is a list of alternatives to said war, suggested by none other than yours truly, that would have been much less bloody and just as effective.

I think.

1) INSTITUTE A SLAVERY-ELIMINATION PROGRAM IN THE SOUTH

Quite a lot of the basic political, economical and social reasons for the Civil War ultimately stem from slavery and its distribution across the United States. While the North was vehemently opposed to slavery, the South relied heavily on slave workers to tend the cotton and tobacco and other agricultural products that made up most of its economy. Candidates from the North had been pressuring the South to let go of the inhumane practice almost since the end of the Revolutionary War, but no concrete alternative was proposed. At least, I don’t think a concrete alternative was proposed. I might have… sort of… you know, skipped a few pages in my APUSH reading.

Anyway! What the North should have done, in my illustrious (and mostly uninformed) opinion, is propose an industrialization program in the South. Though, of course, slaves could still be used in the factories, their numbers would be far fewer than agricultural workers, as evidenced by the industrialized North, where slavery had all but died out.

2) LET THE CSA FLOURISH.

So the South seceded. So what? Their actions, before the 1869 Supreme Court case that decided the matter, certainly weren’t unconstitutional. In fact, the Constitution itself says, in its preamble, that one of its purposes is to “form a more perfect Union.” Not a larger Union. A more perfect one. Meaning that, if it benefits the country if a few states secede, so be it.

But – more importantly – wouldn’t the Confederate States of America have kept slavery if the North hadn’t intervened? Certainly slavery would have flourished for a longer period of time; but in the long run, it would ultimately have died out. Why? Three reasons. One – the South couldn’t stay heavily agricultural forever. At some point, it would have no choice but to industrialize – and with industrialization, at least in the North’s case, seems to herald the death knell of slavery. Two – the CSA had powerful supporters in both Britain and France, who were eager to see America split apart. The CSA, as a new nation, would probably need loans of money as well as trading partners – both of which Britain and France could easily provide. However, it is likely that before aiding the CSA, the two European nations would have ensured that slavery would die out quickly in the new country. After all, both were slave-free nations and hesitated to overtly support any country where slavery was still thriving. Three – the president of the CSA, Jefferson Davis, as well as Robert. E. Lee, the army’s most powerful general, were both confident that slavery would extinguish itself at any rate.

3) HOLD FAIR ELECTIONS.

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, as the new president of the United States of America. He was also elected with zero Southern electoral votes. Zero.

Is this fair? Is this democratic? Am I starting to sound like a Senatorial candidate to you? I think I am. It’s frightening, actually. Anyway, the point is, the South didn’t really have representation in the 1860 election. Perhaps if they had been able to vote for the candidate they wanted – even if he’d lost – a full-blown disaster could have been averted.

So you see, dear readers, how the Civil War could have been averted. We must take into consideration, however, that I am sitting on a chair 152 years after all this happened, clicking away at a MacBook Pro and eating yogurt. Perhaps if I had lived back then, I would have a different idea of things.

(Of course, if I’d lived back then, I wouldn’t be allowed to have very many ideas beyond cooking and sewing, seeing as I’m a girl.)

Introduction

This summer, I visited Manassas, Virginia – the site of First and Second Manassas (also known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run). As my brother’s operating system shut down that morning and refused to do anything but lie in bed and watch Sesame Street, only my dad and I went.

My first thought upon entering the battlefield was hot-hot-HOT-HOT-HOT!!! Indeed, it was extraordinarily hot – and the high, dry grass of the battlefield (which was, in fact, a field) was home to chiggers – a particularly nasty species of Lyme-disease-carrying tick (also known as Trombicula alfreddugesi, or The Critter Smaller Than Its Own Name).

Then the tour started, and I forgot all about the heat and the chiggers. There, in the middle of that grassy, yellow-green plain, with the sun beating down on our heads and making us squint, I first heard the story of First Manassas. How Confederate soldiers picked blackberries while fighting. How Union soldiers’ families, sure that their side would triumph, brought packed lunches to the site and watched the battle. How, when things looked especially grim for the Confederates, they spotted General Thomas J. Jackson’s Virginian troops standing unbroken, like a stone wall, and facing the Union – an act that earned Jackson the nickname “Stonewall” Jackson.

For the first time in my life, I found myself truly interested in an era of American history: the Civil War. The war between two brothers, the North and the South. The war that would change the course of American history – forever.

This page is my tribute.