Was Abraham Lincoln an Actor or Reactor?

I give fairly regular quizzes in my classes.  In my Civil War course I tend to give students a question that integrates their reading for the week.  I am interested in both whether they’ve retained the relevant content and the extent to which they can evaluate it.  Last week we concentrated on the events that led to Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862.  We discussed the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the actions of Generals Butler and Hunter, pressure from Radical Republicans, the movements of fugitive slaves, the end of slavery in Washington D.C. and the territories and, of course, the flow of events on the battlefield by mid-summer 1862.  It is very important to me that my students get beyond the “Great Emancipator” view of Lincoln.  Students should understand the complexity of events that led to emancipation and they should be asked to evaluate Lincoln’s place in this overall process.  I agree that the “Who Freed the Slaves Debate” has been played out, but that should not prevent us from continuing to reevaluate Lincoln’s importance in this important process.  With that in mind I decided to ask my students to respond to the following question:

To what extent was Abraham Lincoln and an actor or a reactor in the chain of events that led to his issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862?  Your answer should include references to relevant individuals, events, and concepts.

Want to take the quiz?  Go ahead and I will even give you a grade. :)

Just in Time For the Sesquicentennial of the “War For Southern Independence”

The Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans is gearing up for the sesquicentennial with a series of commercials that will air on the History Channel in December. These videos will fit perfectly in between Ice Road Truckers, American Pickers, Pawn Stars and various documentaries about UFOs and Hitler’s Bunker. The first video offers an outline of what the war was about:

  • Men and women of the South courageously stood for liberty in the face of insurmountable odds.  Is this meant for black and white southerners?
  • The South peacefully seceded just like the Founding Fathers did in 1776.
  • All the South wanted was to be left alone to govern itself.
  • Lincoln fought to maintain taxes and tariffs.
  • Men like Jackson, Forrest, and Lee fought valiantly and were often outnumbered 5 to 1.  You would think that the Georgia Division would reference military leaders from their home state.

Additional videos include:

As I was going through the videos I realized that this series will make for a very interesting assignment in my Civil War Memory course, which I am teaching next trimester.  I am going to split up the class into groups of two and assign a video to each group.  Their assignment will be to critique the video by consulting relevant recent scholarship on their respective topics.  Students will be responsible for surveying both the strengths and weakness of these videos.  For instance, one of the videos on slavery goes into restrictions on free blacks in states like Indiana as well as offering a few points about the place of slavery in the North and involvement in the international slave trade.   At the same time the video almost completely ignores the place of slavery in the South.  The video on South Carolina’s secession makes no mention of its own Ordinance of Secession.  They can write up an analysis and present it to the rest of the class or make a video response and upload it to YouTube.  Thanks Georgia SCV.

James Loewen on the Myth of the Lost Cause

This is an interview with James Loewen, who is the co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” About the “Lost Cause” published by the University Press of Mississippi.  I already use most of the documents that are included in this reader, but it is nice to have such a collection available to high school and college instructors.  It will definitely come in handy for my course on Civil War Memory next trimester.

A talk with James W. Loewen from University Press of Mississippi on Vimeo.

Richard Dreyfuss’s Opus

The other day I thought about Richard Dreyfuss and wondered what he’s been up to since his visit to my school last year.  You may remember that I was less than impressed with his method of engaging students as well as his overall message [and here].  Well, it looks like he finally has a website up, but if you take some time to explore its contents you will notice that it is void of any curricular materials or much of anything at all to assist teachers and students in the teaching of civics.  From what I can tell Dreyfuss has done little more than continue his whirlwind tour of America’s classrooms where he has impressed upon students the importance of understanding the Constitution and the importance of rational debate.  Who would disagree with that?

This past week Dreyfuss was honored with the 2010 Empire State Archives and History Award.  I don’t know anything about this award, but it seems to me that this is a sign of what’s wrong with our society and education.  As much as I applaud Dreyfuss for bringing attention to this issue there are people who work day after day in the trenches teaching this material.  Organizations promoting the teaching of civics are a dime a dozen and there are already more than enough curricular materials for the classroom. Can someone please tell me what Mr. Dreyfuss has done to deserve an award?  We give these people awards as a quick fix rather than taking the time to acknowledge the deeper problems within our education system.

In the meantime may I suggest that Mr. Dreyfuss find a more appropriate outfit to wear in the classroom.  Some of us consider ourselves to be professionals when we walk into our classrooms.

Teaching Limited v. Hard War

Update: The debate went extremely well.  Both groups did an excellent job of articulating their respective positions and pointing out what they perceived to be shortcomings in the other.  I had to remind them that, in the end, they were on the same team.  That is what I find so interesting here.  In the same theater of operations you have very different approaches being employed, which gives students a window into the evolution of the war as a whole.

My Civil War class is now focused on the crucial summer of 1862.  Students now have a solid grasp of the major campaigns along the river systems out west as well as in the crucial military theater of Virginia through mid-July 1862.  We’ve spent a good deal of time examining the evolution of war during this period through a careful reading of Chandra Manning’s study of Civil War soldiers and slavery as well as the push by certain commanders in the field to broaden the scope of the war.  It’s impossible to keep a discussion of slavery out of the picture, but I am trying to hold off on a discussion of the First and Second Confiscation Acts, the actions of Fremont and Butler as well as Lincoln’s announcement of a preliminary emancipation proclamation until next week.  It’s not a perfect plan, but it does follow Brooks Simpson’s approach in his short introductory text, which students are reading.

Today students will debate the merits of a limited v. and expanded or hard war approach through a reading of two documents.  The plan is to divide the class in half with one group reading General George McClellan’s famous Harrison’s Landing letter to Lincoln of July 7, 1862 and General John Pope’s General Orders No. 5, 7, 11, and 13.  Students will be expected to debate the scope of warfare outlined in these documents based on the information known at the time.  In other words, Lee’s army is still outside of Richmond and Lincoln has not issued a proclamation.