American History Lecture Five

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Reminders on exam or homework questions:

  • Understand the question first. Students are missing points for not completely understanding the question. Pause a moment after you read a question. Read it twice. Ask yourself, what’s the point of the question?
  • Skip the tough question and answer the other questions first. On your written homework, you may use extra resources although the answers are in the lecture, event list, textbook or perhaps a dictionary.

Tips in learning history:

  • Beware over-reliance on authority. Unless we’re talking about the Bible, authority is not always going to be correct. Our book in this course is correct 99% of the time. But sometimes it’s wrong. Matt R. pointed out that on page 103 of the Kaplan text, James Madison is called Federalist, but on page 112, he is called an Antifederalist. The term “Antifederalists” only applies to people who opposed the Constitution in 1787-88. It’s not a political party. Madison wrote part of the Federalists Papers. Later he became a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He did not become an “Antifederalist”. Jefferson also supported the Constitution. He was not an “Antifederalist,” but he was the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party.
  • Learn history in small pieces. I can’t grade all the papers in this course at one time, or even in one day. After about an hour or two, I burn out. But doing this in 45 minute periods each day, it is very enjoyable. The material is easier to digest. Could you eat one and only one meal each day? No, we eat three meals so it’s easier to digest. Same with learning history. 45 minutes each day for 5 days will be much easier than over 4 hours in one day. You’ll retain the material much better if you spread it out.

Quick question:

  • Consider this sequence: 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, ??, ??, ??, ??
  • What goes in the question marks?
  • The answer is below.[1]

Why are there so many “1” as we approach the Civil War? Imagine of riding the raging bull at the rodeo. 4 seconds, 5 seconds, is good. No president could be reelected amid all the pre-Civil War turmoil.

Quiz: historians’ list of the biggest mistakes by presidents:

  1. 7: Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, a self-imposed prohibition on trade with Europe during the Napoleonic Wars because both England and France were attacking our ships. The embargo was a total disaster, causing our trade to fall 80% and devastating farmers in the U.S. Farmers in the north had to move to factories and everyone was furious with Jefferson. It didn’t do anything to help us with England or France. Jefferson rescinded it 14 months later, just before he left office.
  2. 6: James Madison's failure to keep the United States out of the War of 1812 with Britain.

Go through the Presidents, beginning with Washington. Know that list by memory.

Inevitability of history in the list of presidents: Adams had to fill Washington’s shoes, too big; foreign policy issues too difficult; expectations too high.

Last time we got up to Jackson, who represents the common man. He was a “Democrat”. The masses elected their military hero. The Whig Party arose just to oppose Jackson.

Jackson and the bank. The common man: he’s against a national bank.

Jackson and the Indians. Jackson is a military hero, and was cruel to the Indians.

Jackson and the South. Though Jackson was a Democrat, he opposed nullification and secession.

Jackson’s VP then becomes president: Martin Van Buren. He was the only person of non-British (or non-Irish) descent ever to become president. Then there was the financial panic of 1837, perhaps due to Jackson’s refusal to allow a national bank.

In the election 1840, the anti-Jackson Whig party was clever. Van Buren was no military hero, and he had been hurt by the economic problems. Historians say that the outcome in virtually every presidential election can be predicted by looking at how the economy is doing. When the economy is struggling, the incumbent loses. When the economy is thriving, the incumbent wins. Van Buren was hurt by a poor economy, with many voters out-of-work. Watch out for all those farmers on election day!

Whigs won in 1840 with a slick campaign strategy. They picked a military hero, William Harrison, who had beaten the Indians in Ohio at Tippecanoe, as their nominee. Pick John Tyler, a Virginian, as their VP. Then the Whigs used clever slogans. Van Buren was “Van, van the used up man!” (think the economy). The Whig candidates were “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” If military heroes are good for the Democrats, then the Whigs can play that game too.

Harrison, however, insisted on giving participating in his inauguration in frigid weather, without a coat or hat. He caught pneumonia and died a month later. The first succession of VP to President then occurred, as Tyler took office. He ruled like a Democrat, vetoing a national bank. The Whigs were angry once again. Tyler was just a one-termer. In fact, every president from Van Buren until the Civil War was a one-termer.

The Democrats officially won back the presidency with James Polk, who won on a platform of annexing Texas to the United States. By then Manifest Destiny had become big.

Polk, a Democrat supported by the South, wanted more southern territory. So he initiated (debated) a way to ignite a war with Mexico by sending Zachary Taylor down with some soldiers to stand close to the border with Mexico in 1846. The Mexicans eventually attacked, and Polk worked up the American people into a frenzy by saying that the Mexicans shed American blood on our soil! Whigs opposed the war. Polk eventually considered taking all of Mexico in addition to all the western territories. Polk also worked himself to death, dying just a few months after leaving office. He used to see every visitor to the White House!

But real leaders were arising outside of the presidency: Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Douglas was the Jacksonian Democrat, while Lincoln was initially the anti-Jackson Whig. Everything between President Jackson (1836) and the Civil War (1861) can be understood through the eyes of Douglas and Lincoln. Both were from Illinois, a state that was ideologically in the middle between the North and the South.

Illinois was a key state because it was just across the Mississippi river from Missouri, which was a slave state under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Elijah Lovejoy was a newspaper editor in Alton, Illinois, which is located right on the river. I grew up in that town. In 1837, Lovejoy wrote articles against slavery. A mob came over from St. Louis and destroyed his newspaper, and killed him. This violence shocked the North.

So Illinois became the breeding ground for politicians to debate the slavery issue. They were opposites in every possible way. Lincoln was very tall, while Douglas was very short. Lincoln had lots of dark hair, Douglas had thinning gray hair. Lincoln was initially a Whig, Douglas was a Democrat. Lincoln was a wealthy attorney for the powerful Railroads. Douglas was a government attorney for the State. Both were extremely ambitious, constantly running for public office. Both were smarter than most in politics, and both were good public speakers (unlike, for example, Jefferson, who avoided public speaking). Truth be told, Douglas was really the better speaker: more compelling in style, and funnier.

Douglas quickly became leader of the Illinois Democratic Party, and he was originally inspired by President Andrew Jackson. Douglas was elected at the young age of 22 to be the state’s top attorney. By age 28 he became an Illinois Supreme Court Justice; by age 29 he was elected to the House of Representatives in Congress. At age 34 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and won every reelection until he died in office. In the U.S. Senate, he became very powerful and earned the nickname “Little Giant.” His speeches would attract huge crowds in the galleries of the Senate. Politically, he was almost unbeatable.

As a Jackson Democrat, Douglas favored “manifest destiny” and acquiring as much property westward as possible. The Mexican War was a way to obtain more property, so he favored it in the mid-1840s.

At the same time, Abraham Lincoln was rising as a Whig in the Illinois. In contrast to Douglas, Lincoln lost virtually every election he entered. But he kept trying, again and again. Unlike Douglas, Lincoln opposed the Mexican War because the Whigs saw it as a way for the South to gain more slave territory. Lincoln disputed the claim that Mexicans had shed American blood on American soil, and introduced the “Spot Resolutions” in Congress disputing where the bloodshed occurred.

Economic views: Lincoln sought economic unity (remember, he represented railroads); Douglas did not care as much, but also wanted to keep the country together.

Which person, Lincoln or Douglas, is going to be more sympathetic to slavery? Is either going to be entirely pro-slave or abolitionist?

Both Lincoln and Douglas looked for ways to avoid the coming Civil War. Many Americans, beginning with Jefferson, started to worry about how slavery was ripping the country apart. Jefferson used to wake up in a cold sweat with a nightmare of where the United States was headed.

Toughest question of the entire course: could Civil War have been avoided? Historians just took a poll on the biggest presidential blunders. At the top of the list is the failure of President James Buchanan for keeping the Union together just prior to the Civil War. What do you think?

The Whig Party broke up over slavery: the northern, abolitionist Whigs founded the Republican Party, and the southern, pro-slavery Whigs (such as wealthy plantation owners) joined the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party was founded in 1854 in a reaction and opposition to the concept of “popular sovereignty” pushed into law by Douglas in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. “Popular sovereignty” meant that each new territory should make its own decision, by popular vote, whether to allow slavery. The new Republican Party took its name from Jefferson’s Republican Party, because like Jefferson the new Republican Party opposed slavery in the new territories. The Party brought in Whigs and members of the small “Free Soil Party,” which had been based on the Wilmot Proviso (which passed the House but not the Senate). The Wilmot Proviso stated that none of the territory acquired from Mexico should be opened to slavery.

Almost immediately after enactment of popular sovereignty in the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), it is put to the test in 1855 in Kansas. Civil war in Kansas broke out between free and slave forces. In early 1856, pro-slavery forces burned down the “Free State Hotel” and destroyed the offices and presses of antislavery newspapers. One man was killed. In retaliation, the fanatical white John Brown took four of his sons and two others and went to Pottawatomie in Kansas and executed 5 proslavery colonists.

In the “Crime against Kansas” speech, abolitionists senator from Massachusetts Charles Sumner described the slave oligarchy and insulted and humiliated the absent and elderly Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina. In retaliation, Butler’s nephew, Preston Butler, who was a congressman, went into Sumner’s chambers and beat him senseless with a cane. It took Sumner many years to recover. Preston Butler immediately resigned but was such a hero to the South that he was unanimously reelected by his district.

In 1857, the new Democratic President Buchanan deferred to popular sovereignty, and tried to get Kansas admitted as a slave state. The “Dred Scott” decision was the Supreme Court’s attempt to resolve it: the Court held that African-Americans have no rights in the United States. This was an outrageous, shocking decision. Northerners accused Buchanan of agreeing secretly with Supreme Court Justices to render a decision in favor of the South.

In 1858, Lincoln said in a speech before the Republican state convention: “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” quoting the Bible. He copied the application of this concept to slavery from many others who had used it previously.

Lincoln became the “Rail Candidate” for president in 1860 because he opposed slavery in the territories but accepted it (as the Constitution did) in the South. He “rode the rail” of that principle right to the White House. As a former attorney for the railroads, the image stuck to him.

Douglas lost the support of both the North and South due to his “Freeport Doctrine,” which was a position he took in a debate with Lincoln at Freeport, Illinois in their contest for U.S. Senate from Illinois (in which Lincoln won the popular vote, but Douglas was chosen by the Illinois legislature to be the Senator, as was the practice then). After the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott decision that a slave is property who cannot be taken away from the slaveowner, Lincoln asked Douglas, “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?” In his answer, Douglas adopted a position in the middle between Lincoln’s view that slavery should not be allowed in territories and the Supreme Court’s view that slavery must be protected everywhere as property. Douglas said that the people in each territory can decide whether to allow slavery, and if they prohibited it then as a practical matter the slaveowner could not keep a slave there. This angered the South and also further alienated Douglas from the North. Douglas could then win only one state, Missouri, in the presidential election of 1860. Lincoln coasted to victory in the presidential election. Why did the South think it could win the Civil War?

South had a feeling of invincibility from its tremendous economy, which was based on high prices for “King Cotton” and other crops, such as tobacco and sugar cane. The South also felt that the North lacked a will to fight and, if it did, Britain and France would recognize and help the South due to their dependence on its exports like cotton, tobacco, rice and sugar cane. The South also had strategic advantages: controlled the mouth of the Mississippi and need only defend rather than conquer. The South considered its men in much better condition to fighting. The South had better generals, and would have done far better had its generals like Stonewall Jackson not died in battle.

But the North benefited from railroad system, heavy immigration and a much more balanced economy. Opposition to immigration in the 1850s had arisen in the North through the American (Know-Nothing) Party, but the greater numbers from the immigration ended up helping the North in the War. The North also had control of the United States Navy, which proved to be useful.

References

  1. Answer: 1, 1, 1, 1 – this sequence represents the number of terms that each president (including his vice president if he died) served, starting with George Washington.