The prospects for social advancement of black freedmen, especially in the South, were uncertain in the period immediately following Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws did not become nearly universal until after the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. Likewise, measures to disenfranchise black voters through poll taxes and literacy and property qualifications—offset by “understanding” and “grandfather” clauses that allowed poor whites to vote—were not widespread in the South until the 1890s. Reconstruction had been marred by violence that threatened black advancement, but some reformist leaders saw hope for gradual and steady advancement in the economic and social position of American blacks.
Booker T. Washington advocated the advancement of the race through industrial education. His Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded in 1881, provided a powerful model of the kind of education he proposed. In a speech before the National Education Association in July 1884, he explained the work of the Institute and optimistically predicted increasing racial harmony in the South as black citizens learned skills that white citizens valued and would buy. A more shadowed forecast was offered by the aging abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, in an essay published the same month in The North American Review.
Read Booker T. Washington’s 1884 speech, “The Educational Outlook in the South.”
Read Frederick Douglass’ “The Future of the Negro.”
Henry George, a printer and self-taught political economist, gained international attention after publishing his 1879 book, Progress and Poverty. It investigated the reasons why material progress in America’s capitalist society did not bring rising quality of life to all, but rather produced a widening gap between rich and poor. George, whose ideas have been claimed as influences on very different schools of economic thought—both libertarians and socialists—concluded that the problem lay in a complex system of taxation on production; he advocated a single tax on unimproved land. While his prescription for wider prosperity has been disputed by later economists, his isolation of the problem in the introduction to his 1879 book remains compelling, posing in eloquent fashion the question that troubled the progressives of the late 19th century and early 20th century and that continues to perplex us today.
Read “The Paradox of Capitalist Growth,” from the introduction to Progress and Poverty.
CraftingFreedom.org is a new resource exploring the African American experience during the era of slavery. Featuring lesson plans and a variety of classroom resources including videos, slide shows, and student handouts, Crafting Freedom relates the slave experience through the narratives of those who lived it. Based on these primary source documents, the site is an excellent way to apply Common Core standards in your classroom.
Crafting Freedom grew out of a popular National Endowment for the Humanities workshop, Crafting Freedom: African American Artisans, Entrepreneurs, and Abolitionists of the Upper South. Additional web resources will be released at NEH’s EDSITEMENT website in 2014.
You’ve likely seen Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents project online at TeachingAmericanHistory.org. We’re pleased to release a new paperback book edited by Ashland University professor Christopher Burkett. The book contains all fifty documents, a brief introduction to establish context, and several questions suitable for your own private musing or for classroom discussion.
Looking for a gift for that teacher, student, or history buff in your life? Order a copy today!
Bill of Rights Day, the day on which the first ten amendments to the constitution went into effect upon their ratification, is December 15th. In addition to TeachingAmericanHistory.org’s own interactive resources on the Bill of Rights, our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have a plethora of related interactive and documentary resources designed for use in secondary school classrooms. Among these are animated games and exercises, quizzes, videos, SMARTboard activities, and lesson plans.
Learn more at the at BRI’s Bill of Rights Day page.
Sunday, December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, being the anniversary of the day in 1791 on which the document became an official part of our Constitution. When Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the document, these first ten amendments to the Constitution took effect. For a detailed exploration of the philosophical origins of the Bill of Rights and the political process by which they came to be adopted, visit the exhibit Gordon Lloyd prepared for our site, as a companion to exhibits on the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist-Antifederalist Debates, and the Ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights completed the design for our government given us by the Founders, since it provided additional restraints on the federal government thought to be needed by those who were hesitant to ratify the Constitution.
James Madison, who played a pivotal role in insuring the ratification of the Constitution, also took the lead in calling for the Constitution’s first set of amendments. Madison outlined the need for a Bill of Rights in a speech before the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789. We reprint below Professor Christopher Burkett’s comment on Madison’s “Speech on Amendments to the Constitution.” It is part of a new collection of primary documents in American history edited by Burkett and published by the Ashbrook Center, 50 Core Documents: Required Reading for Students, Teachers and Citizens.
The difficulties undermining the project of Reconstruction are suggested in this letter of President Ulysses S. Grant to South Carolina Governor D. H. Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a Republican who had been elected Governor in 1874 on a reform platform; he had won support from Democratic “fusionists” for his election by promising to fight excessive spending and patronage under the existing Republican and Reconstruction government of the state. But he also intended to defend the civil rights of freedmen. During his tenure the Democratic party laid plans to regain power in the 1876 elections, in part through the targeted use of violence against black officeholders. In July 1876, the local militia in the town of Hamlet, which was made up of freedmen, were attacked by “Rifle” and “Sabre” clubs made up of white men, and five freedmen were murdered. Governor Chamberlain appealed to President Grant for federal troops to secure the peace. Grant would send the requested help, but President Hayes, succeeding him in office the next year, would withdraw the troops after a disputed gubernatorial election in which both Chamberlain and Democrat Wade Hampton claimed victory (Hampton’s majority was inflated by fraud, especially in two counties where the numbers voting for him exceeded the number of registered voters.) When federal troops withdrew, Chamberlain resigned the governorship, aware he could not hold it without federal protection. He left the state and Reconstruction in South Carolina effectively ended.
On December 2, 1823, during his annual message to Congress, President James Monroe articulated a foreign policy stance for our nation that would become known as the Monroe Doctrine. He proclaimed a policy of non-interference in the affairs of foreign nations, except in cases when European powers interfered in the Western hemisphere. To communicate the US intention to continue a stance of neutrality in the wars of Europe, he stated:
Our policy in regard to Europe . . . is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.
However, he now warned that the US would not remain neutral when European governments attempted to overthrow newly independent states in the Americas:
It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected . . . . We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers [ie., European monarchies] to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. Continue reading
A sermon preached 115 years ago on Thanksgiving Day voiced a protest against a new era in American foreign policy that was launched by the Spanish American War of 1898. Pastor Henry Van Dyke of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City took the occasion of this annual day of prayer to question the US acquisition of the Philippines, which before the naval war had been a colony of Spain. While not criticizing the US decision to intervene in the Cuban revolt against Spanish rule, Van Dyke saw the US assumption of territory in the China Sea as an “abandonment of the American ideal of national growth for the European ideal of colonial conquest.” Van Dyke warned that in becoming an imperial power, the US would lose its commitment to republican principles. Read “The American Birthright and the Philippine Pottage.”
Abraham Lincoln called for national days of Thanksgiving more than once during the Civil War. On April 10, 1862, after the union victory at Shiloh and the fall of the Confederate fortress at Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River, Lincoln called for sabbath-day thanksgiving observances; and following the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, he called for a national day of “Thanksgiving, Praise and Prayer” to be observed on August 6, 1863. On both occasions he emphasized the hope that these partial victories gave: “that the Union of these States will be maintained, their constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored” while also calling for prayers of intercession for those who had suffered during the war and for prayers of repentance—a tacit acknowledgement that the conflict was in some sense due to a sin committed by the nation as a whole.
But when Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving in November of that year, he did so in a way that recalled Washington’s similar proclamation in 1789. He issued the proclamation on October 3rd, as Washington had, and like Washington he chose the fourth Thursday of November for the celebration. And, like Washington, whose pointed to the “tranquillity, union, and plenty” the nation had enjoyed since the conclusion of the Revolution, Lincoln emphasized the blessings the nation had enjoyed in the midst of civil war: peace with foreign powers, maintenance of civil order away from the battlefield, and the continuance of farming and industry. As long and wearying as the war had proven to be, it had not undermined the fundamental character and purposes of Americans, and the nation seemed “permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.” As Washington had called for thanksgiving that an unprecedented attempt to establish republican government had actually succeeded, now Lincoln asked Americans to thank the divine power that seemed willing to allow the republic to continue, even while punishing it with a costly civil war.
We think of our national celebration of Thanksgiving as rooted in the harvest feast of seventeenth century Pilgrim settlers. But as an official government holiday, the celebration was inaugurated by George Washington, following a resolution of Congress, in 1789. Though he issued the proclamation on October 3, he set the date of the celebration for the fourth Thursday in November, a tradition we follow today.
Washington notes in the beginning of the Proclamation that “both Houses of Congress have by their Joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’” In fact, Congress was then an almost brand-new institution, having convened for the first time the previous March. The new Constitution had not become the working blueprint of our government until late in July 1788, by which time the necessary eleven of the original thirteen states had ratified that document. Hence in issuing the Proclamation, Washington was no doubt expressing a sense of relief and jubilation that the young nation’s extraordinary process of inventing a republican form of government had actually succeeded. The new government united regions with differing economic interests, led by statesmen with sharply different views of what a republic would require for its survival.
Professor Gordon Lloyd, who created our online exhibits on the creation of the Constitution and its Ratification, underlines the uniqueness of this achievement, which required Antifederalists to quell their very real concerns, well before a Bill of Rights was hammered out and agreed to:
“Historians tell us that the importance of the 1800 election is that it’s the first peaceful exchange of power from one party to another. Yes, that is extremely important. Here is another thing that’s important. What other country prior to the United States is informed that its government doesn’t work, sits for four months in convention, comes back for an entire year and debates and debates, and not a drop of blood was spilled?”
Something else to think about as we count our blessings next week.
Today, on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, it is difficult to conceive that the most often memorized political speech from our history was not immediately hailed as a masterful summary of American ideals. Yet, as Chris Pascarella blogged on November 15, a retraction published by the central Pennsylvania newspaper, The Patriot and Union, abashedly admits that their editors in 1863 called the oration “silly remarks.”
One of the fallen soldiers at the battle of Gettysburg (Photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan. Library of Congress)
A related feature story quotes Lincoln scholar Martin P. Johnson, who speculates that the silly remarks mentioned were those Lincoln made the night before, upon arrival in Gettysburg, in response to a serenade played below his hotel room. The editors may have deliberately conflated the two speeches, wanting to undermine Lincoln’s rhetorical achievement; they make clear in their commentary that what they most object to is Lincoln’s effort to express the high purpose of what they called a war fought “to upset the Constitution, emancipate the negro and bind the white man in the chains of despotism.” The Patriot and Union editors also held a grudge against Lincoln, having been arrested and charged with sedition the year before because of a handbill printed on their presses that the administration feared could spark a race riot. But they were not the only paper to criticize the speech; you can read here the editorial in a Democratic Chicago paper that denounces Lincoln for not honoring the Confederate dead equally with the Union soldiers slain in the battle. These contemporary reactions, so odd to the eyes of readers 150 years later, remind us that in his determination to push through emancipation, Lincoln fought against widespread criticism and fear of the new social order that freeing the slaves would bring about.
A question for etymologists out there: the Chicago Times editorial uses the word “Dawdleism” to describe Lincoln’s funeral oratory. Does anyone know what the word meant at the time? Since Lincoln certainly didn’t lag in stating his point, we wondered if this was a reference to the months that elapsed between the battle and the cemetery dedication? Or is “Dawdle” a character in 19th century literature who emphasized partisan goals when speaking on solemn occasions—as the editorial accuses Lincoln of doing? We can’t find the name in character lists for Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, or Sir Walter Scott. If you have a clue, let us know!
In 1863, the editors of the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot & Union newspaper published what became a notorious opinion of President Lincoln’s remarks of that November 19th, as he dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The editors Lincoln’s remarks “silly” and suggested “that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
Since that time, generations of American students have memorized Lincoln’s succinct and powerful words and the glimpse they provide of the nature and meaning of freedom and equality in America. As we approach the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address, the paper’s modern editors have published a retraction of that editorial on November 14, 2013, calling their predecessors’ commentary “…a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring….”
You may read the full editorial at the Patriot & Union website.
Lincoln in November, 1863; photograph by Alexander Gardiner (Library of Congress)
One hundred fifty years ago this fall, advance planning for the reconstruction of the rebelling Southern states began. In the fall of 1863, after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Congressmen assumed the war would soon end. President Lincoln had regarded the secession of southern states from the union as logical contradiction of their original binding ratification of the Constitution and maintained that the Civil War was fought primarily to prevent the union’s dissolution. So it should perhaps not be surprising that Lincoln proposed a means of readmitting states when only a small minority of their constituents—10 %—voted to reestablish republican governments that acknowledged the authority of the Constitution. Those forming these governments must swear allegiance to the Union and also swear their acceptance of acts of Congress and Presidential proclamations regarding slavery—that is, the reentering states must accept emancipation. To his non-abolitionist critics, Lincoln had justified emancipation as a war measure; now he stated that to abandon the decision to free the slaves “would be not only to relinquish a lever of power, but would also be a cruel and an astounding breach of faith.” Continue reading
Today is Veteran’s Day, a day in which the nation commemorates and honors the efforts and sacrifices made by American servicemen and service women, past and present.
In 1954, Congress changed the name of the November 11th Armistice Day holiday to Veterans Day, rededicating the day to the memory of the service personnel of all wars of the United States. In a proclamation published in the Federal Register, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issues an official proclamation directing citizens and the federal government to observe the day and suggesting that, “…all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to to join hands in the common purpose.”
Read the President’s entire proclamation.