Gearing Up For CWI’s 2012 Gettysburg Conference

I recently accepted an invitation to take part in the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College, which will take place from June 22-26, 2012.  Unfortunately, my move to Boston prevented me from taking part in this past year’s institute so I am very excited about being able to attend this time around.  The theme this year is “The Civil War in 1862″ and it will explore, among other things, Civil War tactics in 1862, The war in the West, debating self-emancipation, and the 1862 campaigns of U.S. Grant.  I’ve seen a preliminary schedule and the sessions look to be very interesting and the presenters are all well-respected scholars.  I will be taking part in a panel with Brooks Simpson and Keith Harris on Civil War blogging so that should be a lot of fun.

While I am looking forward to hearing all of the speakers, what I am looking forward to the most are the breakout sessions.  To supplement the sessions many of us were asked to choose a primary source on any subject related to 1862 to be used in small group discussions.  I decided to look at Northern racism on the eve of emancipation and chose to look at a congressional address by Ohio Democratic Samuel S. Cox, who outlined a horrific scenario in the event of slavery’s demise:

Slavery may be an evil, it may be wrong for southem men to use unpaid labor, but what will be the condition of the people of Ohio when the free jubilee shall have come in its ripe and rotten maturity? If slavery is bad, the condition of the State of Ohio, with an unrestrained black population, only double what we now have[,] partly subservient, partly slothful, partly criminal, and all disadvantageous and ruinous, will be far worse.

I do not speak these things out of any unkindness to the negro. It is not for the interest of the free negroes of my State that that class of the population should be increased. I speak as their friend when I oppose such immigration.

Neither do I blame the negro altogether for his crime, improvidence, and sloth. He is under a sore calamity in this country. He is inferior, distinct, and separate, and he has, perhaps, sense enough to perceive it. The advantages and equality of the white man can never be his….

I lay down the proposition that the white and black races thrive best apart; that a commingling of these races is a detriment to both; that it does not elevate the black, and it only depresses the white…. The character of these mixed races is that of brutality, cowardice, and crime, which has no parallel in any age or land. If you permit the dominant and subjugated races to remain upon the same soil, and grant them any approach to social and political equality, amalgamation, more or less, is inevitable….

One of the difficulties that I’ve found while teaching the Civil War is getting students to appreciate the distinction between slavery and racism – that one could have firmly believed in the immorality of slavery while holding tight to a wide range of racist beliefs.  Many of my students come to class with a naive view that pits evil southern slaveholders against a virtuous north.  I am looking forward to discussing this subject with the teachers specifically.  While we want our students to appreciate moments of insight and clarity into the past we also want to complicate their understanding and introduce questions that are not so easily answered.  The document will allow us to talk about a number of issues, but what I want to emphasize is the extent to which it reflects the fears of white northerners in the event of emancipation.  In that sense the document reminds me of the apocalyptic scenes laid out by the secessionist commissioners that Charles Dew so effectively covers in his book, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War.  Most importantly, Cox’s speech helps us to connect the Civil War era to later periods in American history by reminding us of the difficulties associated with the African American experience in the north at the turn of the twentieth century as well as the long process and pain involved in their becoming more fully integrated into civic life.  It should be an interesting discussion.

The conference is capped at 300 so don’t dilly dally.  Register Now!  And to the teachers out there encourage your students to apply as well.

It looks like I will also be in Gettysburg for a teachers conference organized by the National Park Service in July.  More information on this will be forthcoming in the near future.

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