The Anniversary Americans Ignore

Today is the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. It was the former Confederate state of Georgia that sent the amendment over the edge. Unlike other anniversaries acknowledged over the course of the Civil War sesquicentennial this one has unfortunately garnered very little attention.

I offer some thoughts about this in my latest essay at The Daily Beast. You should also take time to read the excellent op-ed by Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle in The New York Times.

The North’s Civil War: A Research Seminar

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but at the end of the year I will be leaving high school teaching behind to explore other opportunities in history education. I plan to say more on this in a future post. For now, I want to share one new adventure that I will embark on in September. Earlier this year I was invited to create a research seminar for honors undergraduate students at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester for this coming Fall semester. If I remember correctly, around twelve students from area colleges will be admitted to the seminar. This was certainly not something I anticipated, but I jumped at the opportunity.

Since 1978 the AAS has invited scholars to introduce students to the research process through a seminar focused on a specific historical subject. It’s been quite some time since I taught a college course, but given the emphasis that I’ve placed on primary source research throughout my teaching career and my own experience in the archives I feel up to the challenge. This will also give me the opportunity to explore the AAS’s collections for my own research projects. I am embarrassed to admit that I have yet to visit. Continue reading “The North’s Civil War: A Research Seminar”

“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””

A View of Emancipation From South of the Border

Emancipation MapOver the past few weeks my survey courses have been examining the political debates over the expansion of slavery in the United States as well as the experience of the slaves themselves. As part of the introduction to my Civil War unit today I tried to emphasize just how unexpected the end of slavery was in this country. Few Americans could have anticipated its abrupt end in 1860 given the continued rise in the value of slaves, the amount of wealth slave labor generated, and the extent to which it had become infused in American society.

I also shared with my students that some historians, including William Freehling, have speculated that without a war slavery could have continued into the twentieth century. This last point took them for a loop. They were unable to imagine the United States in the twentieth century with slaves. One student suggested that the system of slave labor always appeared incompatible with a modern economy. A few other students simply had trouble with the idea of the leader of the free world still holding onto slavery.

At that moment I decided to photocopy a short excerpt from Ed Baptist’s new book, which I will share tomorrow, but in the meantime I asked students to consider the image below. I wanted them to understand that even in 1865 (the year slavery ended) the United States was far from the leader of the free world. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I found this image, but it certainly left an impression on my students.

We will continue the discussion tomorrow.

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”