We the Teachers

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.

Florida Teacher Programs Underway with Our Orlando Colloquium

Over this past weekend the Ashbrook Center unveiled it’s newest program Rediscovering America in Orlando, Florida. Middle and high school teachers from around the state convened at the picturesque Caribe Royale Resort to discuss and analyze Lincoln’s rhetoric and writings with Professor Eric Sands.

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Teachers dissected the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr, Alexander Stephens and referenced those influences upon Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, Gettysburg Address and Inaugural Speech. President Lincoln endured deep crises and his writings and musings reflected his struggle with the moral and legal issue of slavery, states’ rights and constitutional limits.

Over the weekend participants enjoyed profound conversation mixed with levity and laughter within the sessions, as well as into the after hours as well. Half of our teachers had not participated in an Ashbrook program and have already registered for other seminars and webinars.

Please visit our site often to see updates about joining in the conversation or participating in future Ashbrook events. We look forward to seeing you there.

Our Philadelphia Colloquium

Last weekend, the Ashbrook Center hosted a group of U.S. History and Government teachers in Philadelphia for a colloquium on the theme, “Liberty and the Constitution: The Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention”.

In the city where the Constitution was debated and drafted, and where Pennsylvanians examined the document before ratification, our group of teachers explored the critical issues raised by both supporters and opponents of ratification. Participants noted George Mason’s fear that the Constitution would ultimately “produce a monarchy or a corrupt oppressive aristocracy,” and Brutus’ concern that “History furnishes no example of a free republic, any thing like the extent of the United States.”

In exploring the defense of the Constitution offered in the Federalist essays, participants noted that Federalists listed as strengths certain features of the Constitution that Anti-Federalists saw as weaknesses. We paid special attention to Madison’s Federalist 10, in which he criticized the Anti-Federalist vision of small republics where people share what Brutus called the same “manners, sentiments, and interests.” Madison argued it was impossible to give “every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests” without robbing them of their liberty. But where there is liberty, Madison noted, there is disagreement; and where there is disagreement, there can be faction. Madison observed, “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man” – Americans, too, are in danger of falling to the same divisions that had undermined every previous experiment in self-government. Madison’s response to this sobering recognition was to propose something new – an extended, representative, federal republic.

In addition to our discussion, participants had the opportunity to visit what is now known as “Independence Hall,” but what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House. It was in this building where, in the summer of 1787, Washington, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, and others gathered to frame the most frequently emulated form of government in the history of mankind.

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Our Colorado Colloquium in September

Fourteen teachers from around Colorado joined Dr. Chris Flannery to discuss Abraham Lincoln and his views on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, governance, and the crises he faced. Representing grades 1 through 12, this diverse group of educators came from private, public, and charter schools across the state, and from both urban and rural areas.

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Rooted in documents such as Lincoln’s two inaugural addresses, his speech at Peoria in 1854, and works from Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr., the group focused on topics such as Lincoln’s views on equality, the rule of law, and slavery. Participants wrestled with difficult and differing points of view over what the Founding Fathers meant in writing “…all men are created equal…” and how they saw slavery fitting within a country founded on such beliefs. A great deal of time was spent on Lincoln’s ideas, character, and statesmanship, with all discussions firmly fixed on the primary source documents selected for the weekend.

Discussions continued during meals and social time on both Friday and Saturday evenings, providing teachers with new ideas, new contacts, and some well-deserved time to reflect and re-energize for their classrooms.

“Did the Founders Misunderstand Democracy?” Webinar Reflection

Our second webinar of the season occurred last Saturday with over 50 participants! We hope everyone enjoyed David Foster, Ken Masugi and Chris Burkett ponder and expound on the topic, “Did the Founders Misunderstand Democracy?” How did Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson view democracy and was it meant for the masses? We explored several Federalist Papers and discussed factions, political parties and the influences of both on the young republic.

If you missed our engaging webinar please join us October 25th, 2014 at 11:00 EST for our next topic, “Was the Constitution Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery?” Register here.

Register Now for this Saturday’s Webinar!

Don’t forget to register for our next web discussion this Saturday, September 27th at 11:00 AM (EST), Ashbrook is pleased to welcome Prof. Ken Masugi (Johns Hopkins University Krieger School) and Prof. David Foster (Ashland University) to a conversation moderated by Prof. Chris Burkett (Ashland University) on the controversial question, “Did the Founders Misunderstand Democracy?”

Ashbrook’s Saturday Webinars for Social Studies Teachers will focus on American Controversies. Drawing from our list of 50 Core American Documents, and exploring related sources, Ashbrook’s American Controversies webinar series is designed to give teachers deep perspective on the central issues they are expected to teach.

Click here to register today!

There is no cost to participate. Each webinar is scheduled to last one hour and fifteen minutes.

Why Jane Addams Founded Hull House

279-MISS_JANE_ADDAMSOn this day in 1889, Hull House opened in an immigrant neighborhood on Chicago’s near-west side. This first “settlement house” in America was founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who modeled it after Toynbee Hall, a similar experiment in East London founded four years earlier by Samuel and Henrietta Barnet. Settlement houses were what we might today call grassroots efforts to bring education, cultural opportunities, and social reform to the working poor. While those who volunteered their energies to Toynbee Hall were male university graduates, Hull House attracted educated women activists.

In 1892, Addams wrote an essay,The Subjective Necessity of Social Settlements,” explaining the motives that drew privileged young women to participate in this social experiment. In part, she explains it as an effort to recover an earlier idea of American democracy in which, she says, the poor and the prosperous did not live segregated lives. She suggests that in the massive immigration movement of the latter 19th century, those arriving in America had been separated from the culture of their homelands and yet not integrated into the culture of the new country.

The social organism has broken down through large districts of our great cities. Many of the people living there are very poor, the majority of them without leisure or energy for anything but the gain of subsistence. They move often from one wretched lodging to another. They live for the moment side by side, many of them without knowledge of each other, without fellowship, without local tradition or public spirit, without social organization of any kind. Practically nothing is done to remedy this. The people who might do it, who have the social tact and training, the large houses, and the traditions and custom of hospitality, live in other parts of the city. The clubhouses, libraries, galleries, and semi-public conveniences for social life are also blocks away.

Addams saw the need of these struggling immigrants answering the need of a privileged class of women who had been educated but given no meaningful employment:

I have seen young girls suffer and grow sensibly lowered in vitality in the first years after they leave school. In our attempt then to give a girl pleasure and freedom from care we succeed, for the most part, in making her pitifully miserable. She finds “life” so different from what she expected it to be. She is besotted with innocent little ambitions, and does not understand this apparent waste of herself, this elaborate preparation, if no work is provided for her. There is a heritage of noble obligation which young people accept and long to perpetuate. The desire for action, the wish to right wrong and alleviate suffering, haunts them daily. Society smiles at it indulgently instead of making it of value to itself.

For Constitution Day: Madison’s Notes of a Convention Conducted in Secrecy

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in the summer of 1787 to deliberate on a new plan of government to supplant the ineffective Articles of Confederation, the first point on which they agreed was that their deliberations remain strictly private. The matters they were to discuss were highly controversial. There would be little possibility of reaching an agreement–a mutually acceptable compromise–if delegates had to argue under the scrutinizing lens of public report and comment. They would not be able to listen to each other’s arguments, giving differing opinions due consideration, if they had to constantly justify every word they spoke and every vote they took to constituents at home.

So it is fortunate that in this atmosphere of strict secrecy James Madison set out from the beginning to keep a record of each day’s proceedings. Largely because of Madison’s Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, we know today what issues the delegates discussed, what concerns they raised, and through what process they reached the joint agreement that became our Constitution. Madison respected the rule of secrecy during his life, not allowing the publication of his notes before his death. (For more on this and numerous other aspects of the Convention, See Professor Gordon Lloyd’s interactive website.)

This excerpt from Madison’s Notes, part of our collection on 50 Core Documents, includes summaries of major points made in the critical debate on representation in the legislative branch: whether the members of Congress would be elected directly by the people or rather elected as delegates to Congress by the state legislatures. It reveals interesting insights into the positions taken on this question by such key delegates to the convention as Elbridge Gerry (MA), Roger Sherman (CT), James Wilson (PA), George Mason (VA), and Madison (VA) himself. At the bottom of the excerpt from the Notes, you can find a drop-down list of documents related to this debate.

William Penn’s Idea of Liberty of Conscience

Penn_LoC_3a14591rIn an earlier blog (September 4, 2014) we noted that William Penn, while acceding to Pennsylvania colonists’ demand for power over changes to their governing charter, insisted that allowances for liberty of conscience never be removed from the charter. Penn’s commitment to religious toleration was central to his vision for the colony he founded, as can already be seen in an “Act for Freedom of Conscience” passed by the first Pennsylvania Assembly, shortly after the colony’s founding. This act stipulated that all monotheists would be allowed to worship in their own ways. It did not provide for full religious liberty, since it stipulated that office holders be Christian and limited the franchise to Christians. It also specified fines for profanity and other speech offensive to Christians, “to the end that looseness, irreligion, and atheism may not creep in under pretense of conscience in this province.”

That Penn saw religious toleration as a means of reinforcing theistic belief, rather than diluting it, can be seen in the opening of the act, which states his own intent in designing Pennsylvania’s government as to “make and establish such laws as shall best preserve true christian and civil liberty in opposition to all unchristian, licentious, and unjust practices, whereby God may have his due, Caesar his due, and the people their due, from tyranny and oppression on the one side and insolence and licentiousness on the other.”

In the revised design of government, the 1701 “Charter of Liberties,” the very first article reiterates the philosophical basis for religious toleration:

. . . No people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of the freedom of their consciences as to their religious profession and worship. And Almighty God being the only lord of conscience, father of light and spirits, and the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith, and worship, who only does enlighten the minds and persuade and convince the understandings of people, I do hereby grant and declare that no person or persons inhabiting in this province or territories, who shall confess and acknowledge one almighty God, the creator, upholder and ruler of the world; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the civil government, shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or their person or estate because of his or their conscientious persuasion or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place, or ministry contrary to his or their mind, or to do or suffer any other act or thing contrary to their religious persuasion.

Running for Reelection, Lincoln Drafts Explanation of his War Policy

LincolnFeb64_LoC_19305rTwo months before the presidential election in 1864, the reelection of President Lincoln still seemed uncertain. What soldiers and commanders sensed in the field —the inevitable defeat of the South—was not so evident to civilians, and Lincoln’s advisors feared that the Democratic Party platform, which called for peace negotiations, might sway war-weary voters. Fighting in 1864 had already cost over 100,000 Union casualties, and in July Lincoln had had to impose a draft to reinforce the Union army. Also, many Northern voters were ambivalent about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On the other end of the spectrum, Radical Republicans, who feared Lincoln would allow Southern states to reenter the Union without insuring that they respected the rights of former slaves, had not hidden their dissatisfaction with Lincoln as their candidate. They had met in late May to form a splinter party, nominating John C. Fremont to run against him. In June they had passed the Wade-Davis bill, which attempted to dictate sterner terms for reconstruction, in effect publicly rebuking the President. Lincoln had pocket-vetoed the bill, issuing a mildly worded explanation for this action (see our earlier blog post for July 19).

Still, by early September, the had suffered severe defeats:  the surrender of Fort Morgan on August 23rd closed the Confederate port of Mobile Bay, and Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2. Lincoln strove to impress the importance of these victories on the civilian public by calling on September 3 for a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. By September 12 Lincoln was trying to formulate a public explanation of his policy on peace negotiations, taking the occasion of a request for a letter to be read to a “union mass meeting” to be held in New York. A New York politician, Oscar Shermerhorn, had telegrammed Lincoln twice, asking the President to send the meeting an encouraging message. Lincoln began drafting such a letter, but decided not to send it. His draft reveals principled calculations about the importance of his reelection. McClellan claimed to be committed to preserving the Union, but if he won on his party’s platform, the peace he would negotiate would likely come at the cost of consenting to the permanent secession of the Southern states. Lincoln argues that his current policy of continuing the war, and doing so with the help of emancipated former slaves, is the only policy that can save the Union:

Any substantial departure from it insures the success of the rebellion. An armistice — a cessation of hostilities — is the end of the struggle, and the insurgents would be in peaceable possession of all that has been struggled for. Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, sea-men, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it. Nor is it possible for any Administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occasion, they are to be re-inslaved. It can not be; and it ought not to be.

Lincoln’s decision to put the letter aside and instead send a polite explanation that he lacked time to reply suggests his political concerns lest he too explicitly explain his policy.

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