“Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude”

One hundred and fifty years ago Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment and paved the way for ratification by the states. With a roll call and signatures roughly 240 years of slavery ended and yet as a nation we do nothing to publicly acknowledge this milestone. It’s striking given our collective embrace of a narrative that places the United States at the forefront of freedom. Even Steven Spielberg’s celebratory narrative about the build-up to this very moment in Lincoln has done little to increase awareness and interest. Why do we look beyond this moment?

I don’t have any firm answers, but the tension I often feel in my own teaching of this important event perhaps offers a few clues. On the one hand there is something quite remarkable about the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. You would have been hard pressed to find Americans in 1861 predicting the end of slavery and that same year Congress passed a never-ratified amendment protecting slavery from future amendments. Lincoln backed it. Even in 1862 it is easy to imagine how a military victory might have resulted in a reunited Union with slavery largely intact. From this vantage point the end of slavery in 1865 appears to be nothing less than an achievement. Continue reading ““Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude””

Walking in Lincoln’s Footsteps

I had an incredible time in Springfield, Illinois this past weekend. Thanks to Sam Wheeler, who is the Research Historian for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, for inviting me to speak at Friday’s Luncheon. Sam was an incredibly gracious host. My talk on Louis Martin and the Crater went over very well. The audience asked thoughtful questions and I even managed to sell some books. Most of my time, however, was spent walking through the city and touring sites associated with Lincoln. It was such a thrill walking through Lincoln’s home, the Old State House, and his final resting place. I also visited the Abraham Lincoln museum and will write up a short review very soon. Continue reading “Walking in Lincoln’s Footsteps”

The Future of Civil War Memory Only Recently Arrived

No one has done more to remind me of the importance of the experiences of immigrants during the Civil War era than Patrick Young. More importantly, Pat has convinced me that future efforts to keep the Civil War front and center in our collective memory must take seriously the changing ethnic dynamic of our nation. More specifically, educators and public historians will have to think carefully about how to make the Civil War relevant to new Americans who desire to build new roots in this country? Continue reading “The Future of Civil War Memory Only Recently Arrived”

John Marszalek Reflects on 1864’s Person of the Year

This past February the Museum of the Confederacy hosted its annual “Person of the Year” for 1864. As you already know the audience selected William T. Sherman. The event was broadcast this weekend on C-SPAN. Here is John Marszalek reflecting on Sherman’s victory. Marszalek offers some interesting thoughts at the beginning in response to a question of whether he was surprised by the audience’s choice. I agree with his response in that it tells us as much about the profile of the audience as it does about the relevant history.

Again, congratulations to “Uncle Billy.”

Rethinking Lincoln and Colonization

Update: Thanks to Brooks Simpson for taking the time to respond to this post.

This past week Brooks Simpson posted an interesting item concerning a dispute between Allen Guelzo and the authors of a new book about Lincoln and colonization. Philip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page argue that Lincoln continued to push for the colonization of African Americans after January 1, 1863. I’ve known about their book for some time, but have not had a chance to read it. Continue reading “Rethinking Lincoln and Colonization”