Monthly Archives: October 2013

Essay Contest for High School Students

Attention, High School teachers! The Bill of Rights Institute is holding a scholarship essay contest for current high school students. Winning essays can receive prizes of up to $4,000. The teacher of the winning student also may receive a prize of up to $500.

Student essays will be responses to three questions related to ideas contained in the United States Constitution. Complete details about entry, including the three writing prompts, may be found at the contest website.

The entry deadline is December 6, 2013.

Frederick Douglass Speaks to Civil Rights Mass Meeting

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a milestone in building support for thFrederick_douglass-pne landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act; but it also marks the 120th anniversary of an earlier demonstration for racial equality under the law. On October 15, 1883, the Supreme Court issued a single ruling on five cases involving civil rights protections that had been brought to it from a range of state courts. With one sweeping decision, the Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. This action alarmed African American citizens, and within a week black leaders had organized a “Civil Rights Mass-Meeting” at Lincoln Hall in Washington, DC. Frederick Douglass addressed the meeting on October 22, deploring and critiquing the decision.

The 1875 act had barred discrimination in public accommodations for black people, imposing fines and moderate prison terms on those who denied services. The law had not been consistently respected, and the five cases represented refusals of service in hotels, at theaters, and on a passenger train, in localities from the North to the South to the West. The court dispensed with the plaintiffs’ suits by ruling that the 13th and 14th amendments did not mandate equal accommodations for freed slaves; they did not require private citizens to treat African Americans on terms of “social equality.” They only prohibited the enactment of state laws that would deny minorities such rights as those to vote or hold property. In effect, the 1883 ruling gave a stamp of approval to segregationist practices that had become the norm in many parts of the country, but especially in the post-Reconstruction South. Continue reading

Lincoln’s Notes on Slavery

Abraham Lincoln in 1858

Abraham Lincoln in 1858

One hundred and fifty years ago, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But only five years prior, he was locked in an Illinois Senate race with Stephen Douglas, maintaining a position midway between those who would abolish slavery at once and those who would allow the “peculiar institution” to become a permanent feature of the expanding nation. While Douglas would allow the electorate in each newly forming western state to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery, Lincoln argued forcefully against allowing slavery into the new states.

Given the unique logical clarity Lincoln brought to his critique of slavery, students of history in our day often find Lincoln’s reluctance to embrace the abolitionist position confusing. Apparently certain of Lincoln’s contemporaries were also confused. In a short letter Lincoln wrote on October 18, 1858, he strove to clarify his position, by responding to an Illinois politician who had evidently asked Lincoln to explain whether his anti-slavery views implied support for “social and political equality between the black and white races.”

Lincoln penned a draft of the letter in a small notebook he carried about with him during the senate campaign, in which he affixed newspaper clippings reporting on his debates with Douglas, along with notes to himself to be reworked into speeches. It is interesting to compare the letter to J. N. Brown to other entries Lincoln made in his notebook during the fall of 1858, as well as to notes he wrote in 1854 and 1859. In these, Lincoln’s explanation of the principle of human equality admits none of the contradictions seen in the 1858 letter.

Read Lincoln’s notes on slavery:

Fragments on Slavery, April 1, 1854

Fragment: Notes for Speeches, October 1, 1858

Fragment: On Slavery, December 1, 1858

Fragment on Slavery, 1859

The Founding of the First National Anti-Slavery Organization

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

The American Anti-Slavery society was founded in Philadelphia 180 years ago, in December of 1833. The group agreed to a simple “constitution,” prefaced by a brief but eloquent “manifesto” that quoted both the Biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself and the central idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Arthur Tappan became the society’s first president, while William Lloyd Garrison, who had already founded his abolitionist weekly The Liberator, was asked to write a “Declaration of Sentiments” expressing the organization’s aims.

Although the American Anti-Slavery Society was the first national organization of its kind, similar state organizations had already formed. Most of the earliest of these were organized by the Society of Friends, or Quakers. The very first one, The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, had formed in 1774 and helped to pass Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, the first anti-slavery legislation in the United States. Continue reading

Andrew Jackson Vetoes Re-Chartering the Bank of the United States

495px-Andrew_JacksonFor those working through a survey of American history and reaching the Jacksonian era, we reprint here a document introduction by Professor Dan Monroe (Millikin University), one of the Honored Visiting Faculty in the Master of Arts in American History and Government program at Ashland University. Monroe captures the personality of our seventh president and the impact he made on the expanding American republic. Jackson’s comments on the Bank raise issues still disputed in our politics.

An Early Dispute over Federal Involvement in American Finance: Andrew Jackson Vetoes Re-Chartering the Bank of the United States

Andrew Jackson despised debt, banks, and the paper notes that banks issued with all the passion and fury for which he was justifiably renowned and feared.  He had nearly been financially ruined early in his career in land speculation ventures that were a tangled web of dubious deeds, bad paper notes, and shady partners.  Continue reading

Regional Views of the War of 1812

The northern theater of the War of 1812 (Wikimedia Commons)

The northern theater of the War of 1812 (Wikimedia Commons)

The War of 1812 can be understood as a conflict in which the United States reasserted its independence from Great Britain, her former colonial master, who after the War of Independence continued to assert prerogatives it had ceded to the new nation by the treaty of 1783. President Madison emphasized American maritime rights in his war message; the British had been stopping American merchant ships to impress sailors into the Royal Navy and had seized goods from American merchant ships bound for non-British ports, refusing to respect American neutrality in its war with Napoleonic France.  But Madison acknowledged another motive for declaring war: concern that Britain, operating from her colony in Canada, was stirring up Native American resistance to frontier settlements. Historians have argued that this motive out-weighed others, particularly with southern and western members of Congress, who feared British efforts to control navigation of the Mississippi and prevent the young nation’s westward expansion. In this mix of motives one can foresee the sectional conflict that would come to dominate the politics of the first half of the nineteenth century, especially since Southerners called more loudly for war with Britain than did those in the northeastern states who conducted most of America’s maritime trade.

This collection of newspaper editorials, most from the months leading up to the Congressional declaration of War on June 18, 1812, displays the sectional difference. The New York Evening Post and the Boston-based Colombian Sentinel attack the pretense that the war will be fought to protect American maritime trade, and point to the financial losses resulting from disruption of a profitable trade with Britain. Continue reading

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