We the Teachers

American Controversies Webinar – “Did Lincoln Violate the Constitution?”

Ashbrook’s latest installment in the ‘American Controversies’ series of webinars took place on Saturday, 13 December 2014, on the topic of whether or not President Lincoln violated the Constitution through his use of executive authority before and during the Civil War. Professor Chris Burkett of Ashland University moderated the discussion between professors Eric Sands and Jonathan White, taking questions from many of the 105 people from across the country who viewed the live webinar.

Of particular interest was the idea that, in light of the Article II’s generally vague explanation of executive authority, the extent to which – if any – Lincoln violated the spirit of the Constitution versus what it actually says. You can view an archived copy here, along with the documents used during the discussion.

November ‘American Controversies’ Webinar

Last Saturday, November 15th, the Ashbrook Center hosted its latest ‘American Controversies’ webinar, this time focusing on the issues of nullification and secession, and whether or not there is a right to either with the American system of law and government. Relying on a collection of documents including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and numerous speeches and letters from throughout the first half of the 19th Century, scholars discussed the issue and worked through a number of excellent questions from the many participants. Of particular interest were the attempts by Southerners at a legal or moral rationale for secession, and whether or not any of them were truly valid. The entire 86-minute session is archived, along with links to the documents referenced.

To listen to this archived session, please click here.

Register for future webinars here.

Securing Wisdom & Virtue in Government One-Day Seminar in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida hosted the Ashbrook Center Seminar on the Federalist Papers last Saturday, November 14th, 2014. The esteemed Prof. David Foster provided his scholarly knowledge to local high school teachers who joined us for the day.

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The Federalist Papers are considered some of Americas most important documents as written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. They are complex and often difficult for a student (and adult) to comprehend, however, local teachers came together and discussed some of the basic ideas of the Federalist Papers. What is virtue, or energy and how are these concepts necessary to good governance? Madison and Hamilton acknowledge the vices of human nature such as factions and passions as well and wrote about the mechanisms needed to keep those elements in check.

Teachers enjoyed profound conversations and discussed not only the intent of Framers when writing these Papers, but also their relevance today. Participants discussed at length Federalist 57 with particular attention to, “I answer, the genius of the whole system, the nature of manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.” What does “manly spirit” mean and how does it nourish freedom?

Laurie M. from Weston stated “this seminar helped me to better focus my understanding and appreciation of the Federalist Papers.  I am energized by new and different (and much more interesting) ways to use the Federalist Papers in my classroom.”

Perhaps you would like to ponder these great texts yourself. Please visit the selected reading below to experience the writings of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

Session 1 – The House of Representatives:

Session 2 – The Senate

Session 3 – The Executive and the Judiciary

Reconstruction One-Day Seminar in Denver, CO

Last weekend ten teachers from around Colorado took part in a discussion about Reconstruction, led by Professor Scott Yenor of Boise State University. The three sessions and documents chosen for each helped participants focus on the justifications used by the South to account for secession fully understand the challenges that Lincoln and the country faced in trying to re-unite the country after the war.

Of particular interest during the discussion was the problem of self-government in the South: as a cornerstone of the American system, how could it be ensured if it meant that it would enable those states to undercut the goals of Reconstruction? Participants also unpacked and discussed in detail, through selected documents, the practical challenge of determining criteria for readmission to the Union for individuals and states, and the conciliatory tone struck by Lincoln’s original plans for Reconstruction.

Overall, we came away with a much greater appreciation for just how difficult was the challenge Lincoln faced in trying to win the war, and win it in a way that would enable him to rebuild the country – politically, economically, and socially.

To view a selection of readings discussed at this one-day seminar, please visit the links below -

Early Reconstruction and Union:

Reconstruction During the War:

Reconstruction at the End of the War:

Our John Adams Colloquium in Boston, Massachusetts

To end October, the Ashbrook Center hosted a group of American history and government teachers from around the country for a colloquium on John Adams.

Participants were able to explore the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts, touring the home in which John Adams was born (in 1735); the home into which he moved as a young man with his wife Abigail (and in which John Quincy Adams was born); and the Old House at Peacefield into which John and Abigail moved in 1788 – and which was the home to four generations of the Adams family.

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We also had the chance to dig deeply into the life, ideas, and legacy of America’s second president. And while the second president cannot claim to have been “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen,” perhaps Adams is justified in claiming to have been America’s first or primary advocate for independence from Britain.

Participants got to know the young John Adams, who preferred to be tilling fields than attending class under an uninspiring teacher, but who flourished when he found a teacher who challenged and encouraged him. We traced his career as a lawyer and explored his incendiary response to the Stamp Act, the (forbiddingly titled, but provocative) “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”. In this, Adams warned his fellow citizens not to permit the British empire to encroach further on their liberties, and claimed, “The true source of our sufferings has been our timidity.”

We explored his “Thoughts on Government” and the Constitution of Massachusetts, of which Adams was the lead author. The Massachusetts Constitution has the honor of being the world’s oldest continuously operating constitution, and participants were surprised to learn how much the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 drew from this source.

Throughout the weekend, though, conversation kept coming back to the question of why Adams has not received the credit that other leading American Founders have. Some participants concluded that Adams was simply overshadowed by the aristocratic Virginians, who were born and bred into positions of authority. Others thought that Adams, a product of Puritan New England, was simply too critical of democracy and too demanding of civic virtue to be warmly embraced by modern Americans. In any event, participants enjoyed exploring Adams’s life and legacy.

“The Revolution of 1800” One-Day Seminar in Jacksonville, Florida

This past Saturday, November 1st, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville hosted the Ashbrook Center’s latest seminar “The Revolution of 1800” with Professor Michael Schwarz as lead scholar. Florida educators arrived from around the state and engaged in conversations about Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s politics of the 1790’s. It was a tumultuous and oft forgotten decade of American politics for the tender and fledgling nation.

Through the use of primary sources, educators discussed the rise of political parties, questioned the motives of Hamilton and Jefferson, and pondered the political balance between national, federal and state roles in this developing new nation. How much power did Hamilton expect to grant to the national government with the “Necessary and Proper Clause”? What recourse and options did states have and what did Jefferson and Madison intend when they wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions? Participants enjoyed a day of thoughtful conversations with documents that still have relevance in today’s current political debates regarding States versus National power.

To view a selection of readings discussed at this one-day seminar, please visit the links below:

 

“The American Founding” One-Day Seminar in Charlotte, North Carolina

Historic downtown Charlotte, North Carolina provided the venue of another great Ashbrook Center Seminar on Saturday, October 25th on the topic of “America’s Founding”.  Teachers explored the evolution from American Colonies, Independence,  The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution as written by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Dickenson and Abraham Lincoln.

Seventy-five percent of the teachers in attendance were new to an Ashbrook Center Seminar and stated that they could utilize the documents and discussions in their classrooms.  The conversations between educators and the scholar provided insight on the difficult topics such as universal and natural rights, slavery, and structure of good government.

A lively discussion ensued over the recent academia shift from calling this critical war the American Revolution to the new term War for American Independence.   Was it so Revolutionary or merely a continuation of a British model?  Would you agree or disagree?  The Ashbrook Center would like to see you take part in such a thought provoking dialogue.

To view a selection of the readings that provoked these conversations please follow the links below.

 

“Political Parties & Presidents” One-Day Seminar in Colorado

On Friday, October 24th, teachers from around Colorado met in Colorado Springs for a one-day seminar entitled ‘Political Parties and Presidents,’ and spent the day discussing the evolution of the relationship between presidents and political parties. Primary source readings focused on three general phases of these relations: during the earliest years of the republic, when parties were in their infancy; in the mid-19th Century, when parties controlled the nomination and platform development processes; and in the early 20th Century, as presidents rose about parties in power and prominence.

Participants, ranging from 5th to 12th grade teachers, made the sessions lively and interesting with questions and comments about the evolution of parties, platforms, and presidents. Those in attendance reported that the day helped them see these topics from new angles, and the documents in the reading packet would be helpful in their classes.

To view selected readings from this One-Day Seminar about ‘Political Parties and Presidents’ please follow the document links below:

Saturday Webinars – “American Controversies” Series

On Saturday, October 25th, The Ashbrook Center presented another outstanding webinar, this time focused on whether or not the Constitution was pro- or anti-slavery. Christopher Burkett, Associate Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, moderated a discussion between Peter Myers, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Lucas Morel, Professor of Ethics and Politics, Washington and Lee University. If you missed it, you can listen to a recording of the entire program here, and you can register for future webinars, held monthly, here.

Lincoln’s View of Reconstruction in July 1864

Abraham_Lincoln_seated_Feb_9_1864_slideshowIn July of 1864, the Civil War was in its fourth summer, its end point uncertain but its enormous cost in human life painfully clear. The Union Army had not yet achieved the decisive victory that would insure the vindication of Lincoln’s understanding of the Union as unbreakable. And the people of the North were questioning the war’s human cost. Looking ahead to the fall presidential election, Lincoln thought it unlikely that voters would return him to office, and he expected that his Democratic opponent, if elected, would begin negotiating peace on Confederate terms–probably allowing slavery to continue and implicitly or explicitly acknowledging the right of individual states to nullify federal law or withdraw from the Union at will.

Hence we can infer that a bill pushed through Congress by radical Republicans just before it adjourned for summer recess seemed to Lincoln intemperate and impractical. The Wade-Davis bill tried to predetermine the policy for the reconstruction of the South that would follow a Union victory in the war. It would have stipulated that only those who could swear an oath that they had never given aid to the Confederacy be allowed to vote in the reconstructed states. It would also have required any state readmitted to the Union to have abolished slavery. Lincoln had shown through the Emancipation Proclamation that he now saw the abolition of slavery as a necessary outcome of the war, but he wanted that abolition to be made permanent by Constitutional amendment, and securing the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives was proving difficult. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but he went on to issue on July 8 a proclamation explaining this action, in which he said he was

unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration; and . . . I am also unprepared to declare, that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for nought, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort; or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States, but am at the same sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted . . . .

On July 18, Lincoln issued a letter evidently intended for the Confederate leadership but refraining from addressing them as such, lest he imply their political legitimacy. Instead, he advised those “To Whom It May Concern” that he would entertain and consider “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States.”

New Teaching Resources on the Federalist Papers

Roots of Liberty

Roots of Liberty

The Cornerstone Project has just introduced The Roots of Liberty: Unlocking the Federalist Papers. This is a comprehensive curriculum for teaching about the Federalist Papers, and it includes:

  • a student text featuring ten essays written by scholars unifying key topics and themes throughout the Papers (20 copies included with each classroom set)
  • an accompanying teacher’s discussion guide with multiple tools and activities
  • companion videos corresponding to lessons

Topics Include:

  • the doctrine of enumerated powers
  • separation of powers
  • federalism
  • the independent judiciary
  • how the U.S. Constitution enables public officials to make good decisions
  • political freedom
  • economic freedom
  • religious freedom
  • the Constitution as a defense against foreign aggression

To learn more, or to access a free lesson, click here.

New Resources for Catholic School Teachers

If you teach in a Catholic school you may want to be aware of a new opportunity from Sophia Institute for Teachers. The organization has just launched a website for teachers to upload and download lessons they’ve created. While they are building it out, they’re paying $10 for every resource that is accepted for publication.

The Curriculum Exchange already contains several resources for teachers of American History and government, such as this lesson on the Declaration of Independence and Just War, and this DBQ on Martin Luther King, Jr and non-violence.

You can find more info on the $10 per lesson offer here.

Ashbrook Teachers Converse with “Silent Cal”

This past weekend, the Ashbrook Center hosted eighteen history and government teachers for a discussion about the life and presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

Teachers at Calvin Coolidge Library and Museum, Northamptom, MA

Teachers at Calvin Coolidge Library and Museum, Northamptom, MA

Overshadowed by more activist presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and tainted by the assumption that the “Coolidge Prosperity” in the mid-1920s led ineluctably to a stock market crash in 1929 and to nearly a full decade of economic depression, Coolidge is rarely given the opportunity to speak to us on his own terms. Participants in last weekend’s colloquium found in Calvin Coolidge a man who, despite the nickname of “Silent Cal”, said much about America’s uniqueness – and said it with great eloquence.

To Coolidge, as to his Puritan ancestors, America was still very much an experiment in self-government. The Puritans, he wrote, came to the New World “undecked with orders of nobility,” eager to create a new society without the inherited class distinctions and ranks of the Old World. “They cared little for titles,” Coolidge explained, “still less for the goods of this earth; but for an idea they would die.” Like Coolidge’s father and family, and generations of his ancestors and friends in the rugged mountains of Vermont, the Puritans knew the meaning of labor; with their hands, Coolidge says, “they wrung from the soil their bread”. But from their humble beginnings, Coolidge marveled at the results. “What an increase, material and spiritual, three hundred years has brought that little company…. No like body has ever cast so great an influence on human history.”

With collectivist and socialist movements gathering strength in the Old World of Europe, Coolidge labored to create a vision for his fellow Americans of a nation that could continue to avoid class enmity, and the extremes of oligarchy or anarchy threatened by class conflict. As Governor of Massachusetts, he was confronted with the very real danger of anarchy in the form of a strike by members of the Boston Police Department. Arguing for better working conditions and benefits, some members of the Boston Police attempted to unionize, and went on strike. Endorsing the Boston Mayor’s decision not to rehire striking police, Coolidge explained that the success of their strike had “meant anarchy” and that striking officers “dispossessed themselves. They went out of office.” Coolidge’s popularity soared nationally as a result of his response to the strike, earning him a place on Warren Harding’s presidential ticket in 1920, and setting the stage for his election as President in 1924.

His response to the strike also revealed something about Coolidge’s political principles. Denouncing the striking police, Coolidge wrote, “No man has a right to place his own ease or convenience or the opportunity of making money above his duty to the State.” Coolidge was guided by the vision of an America without class distinction, an America in which the law was made in the interest of a sovereign People – not for the benefit of private interests (by which term he meant not only business interests, but also labor, and even those from previous generations who argued for a right to own slaves).

It was in the interest of the people as a whole that Coolidge presented his fiscal policy. Shortly after assuming the presidency in the wake of Harding’s death, Coolidge noted the cost to Americans of their involvement in Europe’s Great War. “For seven years the people have borne with uncomplaining courage the tremendous burden of national and local taxation. These must both be reduced. The taxes of the Nation must be reduced now as much as prudence will permit, and expenditures must be reduced accordingly. High taxes reach everywhere and burden everybody. They wear most heavily upon the poor. They diminish industry and commerce. They make agriculture unprofitable. They increase the rates on transportation. They are a charge on every necessary of life.” Despite this, Coolidge did not hesitate to encourage the federal government, prudently, to fund certain public improvements and public buildings which promised to make commerce and administration more efficient.

Throughout his life and presidency, Coolidge retained a great respect for the role of educators, especially civic educators. He called education “the cornerstone of self-government,” and he wrote that “Teaching is one of the noblest of professions.” His explanation of this deserves to be read and cherished by all who have taken up that noble profession:

It requires an adequate preparation and training, patience, devotion, and a deep sense of responsibility. Those who mold the human mind have wrought not for time, but for eternity. The obligation which we all owe to those devoted men and women who have given of their lives to the education of the youth of our country that they might have freedom through coming into a knowledge of the truth is one which can never be discharged. They are entitled not only to adequate rewards for their service, but to the veneration and honor of a grateful people.

Last weekend’s colloquium was the last offered by Ashbrook in the 2013-14 school year. We will begin accepting applications for 2014-15 colloquia late this summer. To be notified when the application period opens, please click here and submit your name and email address.

Prof. Gordon Lloyd presents: The Ratification of the Constitution – April 11, 2014 (Reagan Library, Simi Valley, CA)

Gordon LloydThe Ashbrook Center and The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center at the Reagan Library are pleased to sponsor Professor Gordon Lloyd for a series of presentations on the Ratification of the Constitution, Friday, April 11, 2014. The lectures will be hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.

Dr. Lloyd is Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and he is creator and editor of a series of Online Exhibits on the American Founding hosted at the Ashbrook Center’s TeachingAmericanHistory.org website.

Through extensive study of Madison’s notes and artifacts from the Founding Era, Professor Lloyd has developed an unparalleled understanding of the Framers and the events that took place leading up to the signing and ratification of the Constitution. Professor Lloyd will help audiences navigate through the vast and complex Founding Era and provide an intimate look at the ratification of the Constitution. This lecture series will take the audience back in time to 1787 and offer the audience a glimpse at the debates surrounding ratification through two lenses: “out-of-doors” in newspapers and pamphlets throughout America’s thirteen states and “in-doors” in the state ratifying conventions. Participants will receive complementary admission to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum,  Air Force One, and a special exhibition: Baseball: Celebrating Our Great American Pastime. This free event is open to teachers, students and the general public.

Lecture Schedule:

Session 1 The Six Stages of Ratification: Yes? No? Maybe?
Session 2: The In-Doors Debate: Principle and Compromise
Lunch- Optional Lunch Box (vegetarian option available)
Session 3: The “Out-of-Doors Debate I”: Constitutionalism and Human Nature
Session 4: The “Out-of-Doors Debate II”: Constitutionalism and Institutions

To learn more, or to register, click here.

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