John Ashworth on Confederate Errors

17 02 2011

In a post on the NYT’s Disunion blog, Professor John Ashworth  explores the critical errors that led the Confederacy into a disastrous war with the Union.  Ashworth is a professor of American history at the University of Nottingham and the author of Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic.

Ashworth’s post, which makes some great points about pro-slavery propaganda, contains some great images, such as this one from the image collection of the Library of Congress:

Eric Foner on Lincoln

11 02 2011

In this video, famous historian Eric Foner speaks about his new book about Lincoln’s attitude to slavery.

Choctaw Confederates

10 02 2011

I have been following the New York Times’s live blogging of the Civil War. Today’s blog post, the Choctaw Confederates, is about those First Nations who supported the Confederacy in the Civil War.

20,000 or so Choctaws – especially those whose families had intermarried with whites – now considered themselves not just Native Americans, but also Southerners. A significant number of tribal leaders owned black slaves.

For more, see here.

The contributor of this post is Adam Goodheart is the author of the forthcoming book “1861: The Civil War Awakening.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Why South Carolina Was the First Southern State to Leave the Union

8 02 2011

The New York Times is live blogging the Civil War, albeit with a 150 year delay. In effect, the paper is carrying stories about key events in the conflict 150 years to the day after they happened. The blog posts are rich in images and material drawn from the paper’s archives. (The NYT was established in 1851). They also include insights from academic historians.

150 years ago this week, the actual Civil War had not yet broken out: the United States was still in a political crisis caused by the secession of the Southern States. Lincoln, who was President elect, had not yet assumed office. Nobody was clear about what he would do once he took the reins of power.

South Carolina was the first southern state to secede from the union. Its declaration of independence triggered a wave of secession votes throughout the Deep South. On Sunday, the NYT’s Disunion blog carried an essay by Manisha Sinha explaining why this particular state took the lead. Sinha is an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the author of “The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina.” She is writing a history of abolition.


Video Clips of Historian James M. McPherson

1 01 2010

In this video, noted Princeton historian James M. McPherson discusses Abraham Lincoln as a military leader.  McPherson has published many books on the Civil War, including his Pullitzer-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.

In this video, McPherson talks about Reconstruction and the legacy of the Civil War.

New Book From John Majewski

12 12 2009

John Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation

This looks like a book that every historian interested in North America in the 1860s should read. I’ve ordered it and shall share some thoughts once I’ve read it.

Here is the blurb from the publisher:

“What would separate Union and Confederate countries look like if the South had won the Civil War? In fact, this was something that southern secessionists actively debated. Imagining themselves as nation-builders, they understood the importance of a plan for the economic structure of the Confederacy.

The traditional view assumes that Confederate slave-based agrarianism went hand in hand with a natural hostility toward industry and commerce. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, John Majewski’s analysis finds that secessionists strongly believed in industrial development and state-led modernization. They blamed the South’s lack of development on Union policies of discriminatory taxes on southern commerce and unfair subsidies for northern industry.

Majewski argues that Confederates’ opposition to a strong central government was politically tied to their struggle against northern legislative dominance. Once the Confederacy was formed, those who had advocated states’ rights in the national legislature in order to defend against northern political dominance quickly came to support centralized power and a strong executive for war making and nation building.”

This might be read alongside my study of the political economy of the Canadian constitution of 1867.

My Teaching This Week

26 11 2009

On Monday, I spoke to the students in my pre-Confederation Canadian history survey course about the impact of the Civil War on British North America. I spoke about the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, anti-Americanism, Canadians who fought on both sides in the Civil War, the Trent Crisis, Confederate raiders who operated from Canada, Reciprocity, Jefferson Davis, and the Fenian Raids. I tried to explain why so many decent people in British North America were sympathetic to the southern cause in the Civil War. I made it clear that they did not approve of slavery, but merely felt that British North America’s interests would be advanced by the division of the United States into two or more sovereign entities. Canadians in the 1860s were anti-Yankee rather than pro-Southern. I stressed to the students that the paramount goal of President Lincoln and most Republicans was the preservation of the union, not the extinction of slavery. I also noted that anti-Black racism was very common in the northern states and that some Northerners wanted to free the slaves and then deport all Blacks! These are important facts for the students to know if they are to evaluate the actions of Canadians during and after the Civil War. The lecture also discussed Anglo-American relations from 1860 to the Treaty of Washington. The Civil War lecture allowed me to show some real cool photographs to my students. Thank god for PowerPoint!

Confederate Dead, Chancellorsville, Virginia 1863

On Wednesday, I spoke about Canadian Confederation, providing students with a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the conferences, elections, and personalities of the period between 1864 and 1867. I spoke about the Charlottetown Conference, the Quebec Conference, and the London Conference, as well as Macdonald, Brown, Cartier, Tilley, Tupper and, of course, Joseph Howe.

In the lecture, I adopted an anti-Confederation posture as a way of being the devil’s advocate. In arguing against Confederation and expressing support for the position of Joseph Howe, I was trying to get the students to think critically the celebratory narratives of Confederation developed by historians based in Ontario universities. I showed that many people in French Canada, the West, and the Maritimes were opposed to Macdonald’s centralizing vision for British North America. I also hammered home the point that Confederation in 1867 did not make Canada independent of Great Britain. I went on a little digression about the 1931 statute of Westminster. I think that I made it clear that any student who wrote that “Canada became an independent country in 1867” on the final exam would be summarily executed!

At the end of the class, I returned marked essays to the students. These essays were on the journals of Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish scientist who visited Montreal as part of an extensive tour of North America. Kalm kept a diary or journal during this tour. This diary was published in Stockholm in the 1750s and read by Swedes curious about conditions in North America. An English translation of Kalm’s journals was published in London in 1770. In 2002, the 1770 edition of Kalm’s journal was digitized by the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society. My students read the sections of the journal related to his visit to Montreal. I asked the students to assess whether Kalm’s journal is an unbiased source of information on life in 18th century North America. Most of the students were able to detect that Kalm had an anti-English bias and that his comments on New France thus have to be taken with a pinch big scoop of salt. My students appear to have enjoyed the challenge of reading an 18th century primary source.

In my fourth-year seminar on Confederation, the focus was on aboriginal history. Our readings were on Duncan Campbell Scott, “Indian Affairs, 1840-1867” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces; Barry M. Gough, Gunboat Frontier : British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-90 (Vancouver : University of British Columbia Press, 1984), 1-24; Sidney L. Haring, “The Common Law is Not Part Savage and Part Civilized: Chief Justice John Beverley Robinson and Native Rights” in White Man’s Law : native people in nineteenth-century Canadian jurisprudence (Toronto : Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, 1998), pp.62-90. The students liked the reading by Gough, but I think that the one by Haring was a bit too complex, even for students in an honours seminar. We also listened to student presentation on the lives of Joseph Brant Clench, a 19th century Indian Agent, and Jean-Baptiste Assiginack, a First Nations leader.

On Thursday, I met my graduate student to discuss her research on the fur trading post at La Cloche. She has found excellent material in the microfilmed records of the post.