“A Christian Land Governed By Christian Principles”

It is a sad day for the teaching of American history in Texas.  Unfortunately, we have a system that allows a dentist and others without any qualifications whatsoever to rewrite American history in a way that satisfies their own agenda.  Fortunately, they’ve been honest about that agenda from the beginning.  In the end, the state Board of Education failed to understand the difference between interpreting the crucial role that religion has played in American history and using history to advocate for a Christian world view.

No amount of prayer changes the fact that the Constitution and Bill of Rights are secular documents.  No, I didn’t arrive at that conclusion through prayer. I had to read important historical studies by such reputable historians as Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, Jack Rakove, Saul Cornell, and Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick.  I think when it comes to understanding the past I will continue to do so.

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Jefferson Davis → Franklin Roosevelt → Barack Obama

Glad to see that everyone had some fun with the Clyde Wilson quiz.  While the list as a whole serves as a case study of how not to frame historical questions, the one I have the most trouble with comes at the very end.  Of course, it is true that President Obama is most commonly compared with Abraham Lincoln.  Obama himself encouraged these comparisons from the beginning when he announced his candidacy for the presidency on the steps of the old statehouse in Springfield, Illinois.  However, if I were a libertarian, paleoconservative, or just plain old neo-conservative I would object to such a comparison.  If it’s the amount of government oversight and intrusiveness that is being measured than I would argue that the proper comparison is with Jefferson Davis.

I just came across a wonderful passage in Stephanie McCurry’s new book that I thought I might share with you.  I’ve made similar points in the past:

The ensuing expansion of state capacity and intrusiveness of the policies adopted by the C.S.A. can hardly be exaggerated.  Historians have been consistently struck, by the irony for sure–this was a republic erected on the principles of states rights, after all–but also by the sheer scale of the state-building project undertaken.  It has been called a “revolutionary experience,” even an example of “state socialism.”  In terms of central state structure and policies, and especially mobilization of national material and human resources, the C.S.A. was far more statist and modern than their counterpart in the Union, almost futuristic” in its assumption of central state power.  Indeed, so “well organized and powerful” was the Confederacy, one historian has argued, that the United States would not see a central government with comparable authority until the emergence of the New Deal. (p. 153)

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American Confederate Heroes

Here’s a nice little Lost Cause tune for ya’ all.  I especially love the following lyric from the beginning of the song: “It’s not founded on old politics or race or slavery.  Those who see no more than that care not for history.”  For some reason poor old Braxton Bragg gets the back of the hand in this tune. Enjoy.

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A Must Read

I don’t usually advertise new books like this, but I wanted to give all of you a heads up regarding Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, which is shaping up to be one of the most thought provoking books of the year.  Over the past few years I’ve read a couple of chapters in edited collections and journals, but it is nice to be able to read this study of Confederate politics in its complete form.  I am about half-way through it, but you will be hearing quite a bit about it in the near future.  Here is the book description:

The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners’ national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people—white women and slaves—and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise.

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Where Should the New Chancellorsville Vistor Center Be Located?

Note: It looks like I did a poor job of reading Eric’s post.  For some reason I was under the impression that there were plans to build a new VC.  That said, I have heard talk about the possibility of a new location so let’s proceed with that in mind.

The new group blog, Mysteries and Conundrums, authored by NPS historians at Fredericksburg has quickly become my favorite Civil War site.  John Hennessy and the gang have done a fantastic job of sharing the challenges associated with interpreting and preserving some of our most important Civil War ground.  I particularly enjoyed reading Hennessy’s last post in which he asks readers to consider a name change to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  Many of the responses reflect deeply held views, but I commend Hennessy for his continued commitment to asking the tough questions.

Eric Mink’s latest post provides some interesting background information on the Chancellorsville Visitor Center; it looks like his next post will let us in on the decision-making process that went into the decision on the location of a new visitor center.  [Update: Just as this was published Eric Mink posted his second installment.]  I’ve brought students to Chancellorsville for the past 8 years and since I am pretty familiar with the battlefield I thought I would take a shot at suggesting a new location.  The best place for a new visitor center would be on ground that covers the fighting that took place on May 3, 1863.

I’ve been bringing students to Chancellorsville for the past eight years and so I am fairly familiar with the ground and have thought quite a bit about how to approach a battlefield tour.  We spend about 5-6 hours touring various sites, beginning at the present VC and proceeding to the Zoan Church, Chancellor House, and the final meeting spot between Lee and Jackson.  From there we walk a bit of the original road that Jackson used for his flank march and discuss tactics and the difficulties associated with fighting in the Wilderness.  We stop at the Flank March spot to discuss ethnicity and the Union 11th Corps along with the effects of Jackson’s attack.  From there we drive back where I do a play-by-play of the events that led to Jackson’s wounding; it’s a narrative that closely follows Bob Krick’s brilliant analysis of this important moment in the battle.  Finally, we make our way over the Fairview where we eat our lunch and discuss the events of May 3.  While there we discuss Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, which helps us to get at issues related to soldier life.

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