I pledged a fraternity in college and did a number of stupid things that to this day surprise me as to the level of irresponsibility achieved. Such occurrences are inevitable when you put a bunch of young men together in a house away from home. But this story out of the University of Pennsylvania ought not to be brushed off as simply one of those moments of youthful exuberance and irresponsibility. [click to continue…]
I arrived home today to find a review copy of Don H. Doyle’s new book, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War, waiting for me. As I was perusing the introduction I came across this passage, which I thought was appropriate for sharing given the last post and the conversation in the comments section.
“America is not only America, one place or one race more on the map, it is yet and especially the model school of liberty. If against all possibility it had perished, with it would fall a great experiment.” — Eugene Pelletan
Some readers may feel such unqualified admiration of America was undeserved. the Union, everyone knows, had been painfully slow to embrace emancipation, and America’s deeply ingrained racial prejudice would long outlast slavery. These were only some of the egregious flaws in the nation foreign admirers hailed as the Great Republic.
Yet we miss something vitally important if we view Pelletan and other foreigners who saw America as the vanguard of hope as naive or misguided. Foreign admirers typically regarded the United States not as some exceptional city upon a hill, but as exactly the opposite: an imperfect but viable model of society based on universal principles of natural rights and theories of government that originated in Europe but had thus far failed to succeed there. In the 1860s they were horrified to see government of the people seriously imperiled in the one place it had achieved its most enduring success. Abraham Lincoln was hardly boasting when he referred to America as the “last best hope of earth.” His was a forlorn plea to defend America’s–and the world’s–experiment in popular government. (pp. 10-11)
This looks to be a good one.
I’ve said it before that I often find it difficult to teach my students the concept of Union as it was understood during the Civil War era by the vast majority of Americans. We have some sense of why white Southerners took up arms for the Confederacy. It’s a tangible explanation that each of us can easily empathize with, but Union often seems abstract. Arguably this difficulty tells us much more about our own views of the federal government and the level of trust we place in our elected leaders since the 1970s. [click to continue…]
I was honored to give this talk back in 2008. This year the mayor of Fredericksburg spoke on the anniversary of the battle. It’s an incredibly thoughtful presentation, which includes this passage about her family’s connection to the town and its history.
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I would love to know what book(s) have made an impression on you this year. Feel free to share titles that go beyond the field of Civil War history and even history altogether. Don’t know about you, but I sometimes get caught up in books about the Civil War for months at a time and fail to come up for air.