Taking a survey history course opened up my view on the history department and what a history major would mean at Davidson College. From this course I have taken an appreciation for not only American History, but for insightful, provocative, and researched discussions surrounding the topic. This being my first collegiate level history course, I have had an incredible and personally unique experience learning the subject material. However, the material itself felt like it stayed railed on the track of White Anglo Saxon male US history, and only occasionally addressing Slavery and especially Native American relation, while conversations in class tended to drift towards these topics. Overall I had a fantastic time in this class and am very happy I chose it to be my first experience with History at Davidson College!!!
In the class to this point we have seen the evolution of America: from the first contact of European natives, to the explosion of Civil War and reconstruction. Underlying this narrative, there are many themes which we can see when we examine the underlying story. I think perhaps the most cogent theme to examine is that of expansion. Expansion, of control over lands, of political hegemony, and of economic power underlies the story of America at this point in time. The beginning brought the Europeans, in their hunger for land, gold, and other riches to expand throughout the Americas, driving out and dominating Native populations. This tradition of expansion was then continued by the newly sovereign United States in the concept of manifest destiny, as the expansion the United States into the western frontier. Further, it was a question of expansion that was the underlying issue that set off Civil War itself. As AJBEANE noted, one of the drivers of the compromises that preceded the civil war was whether the institution of slavery should be allowed to expand. This dichotomy between containment and expansion drove the divide between North and South as each feared that if it were not to have it play out as it wished, it would lead to an expansion of the other’s political power. The drive to expand, in political power, in national land, in economic clout drove many men’s actions as the United States grew out of the seeds of European conquest, it seemed necessary that the nation must expand. This expansionary mindset perhaps drove the frontier mindset as well, as through the view of expansion, there are not fixed borders, but rather fluid boundaries which were merely frontiers to be explored and conquered.
I definitely liked this course more than I thought that I would, and I learned a lot of new material that I hadn’t learned in APUSH.
With that being said, I really think that the role of the white elites in US History set up the rest of the country’s history as a whole. Before the revolution, the white elites wanted to be equal to the elites of the Brits. When that didn’t happen, they fought for what they thought that they deserved. In the early years of the new nation, the government was trying to figure out how to represent its people to set up national success. Luckily, for the common man, the Bill of Rights slipped into the new constitution, and the people felt like they had a say in how their government was run. The question of ‘who do we serve?’ as a government, though was still unanswered. Does the government only serve the elites, or does it serve everyone? Andrew Jackson was the first person to vehemently agree with the latter, and he won the support of the people. As crazy as he may have been, he spoke on behalf of the ‘common man’ and gave the people a sense of citizens’ rights. This idea was the beginning of a sliding slope that eventually led to greater male suffrage, emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and greater equality that we have today. This may never have taken place, or it could have taken a completely different course if the rights of the common man as described through his politics by SYSTRAUSS weren’t, at least in theory, promoted by Jackson. Jackson forever changed the course of American History because of his brand new style of politics.
Throughout this course we have discussed the significance of slaves in the New World. As such, it is fitting that the final reading wrap up this discussion by hypothesizing on the importance and profound significance of emancipation.
Davis concludes his writing by stipulating that while emancipation was a clear turning point in U.S. history, it did not mean that African Americans were free from suffering. Moreover, he concludes that African Americans are still under persecution and must continually fight against the subjection of their civil rights. While Davis ends shortly after discussing emancipation’s effects, I would have liked to read his opinion on Jim Crow, particularly in how it served as an extension of slavery by relegating African Americans to an even lesser existence.
I have to agree with Matt StLawrence as well, concerning Davis’ treatment of Lincoln. I too often think of Lincoln with a classical mythos. We frequently represent him as a selfless individual, striving for humanitarianism and the just treatment of all peoples. In fact, if Lincoln isn’t in your top three favorite presidents list, you’re probably doing something wrong. That being said, it is still important to understand that Lincoln was a pragmatist, not a foolhardy idealist. He was honorable and his death was tragic, but he was still just a man sworn to live the will of the people. Perhaps his ability to so aptly defy the populace – or at least approximately half of the country – is what makes him so memorable and distinctive.
Ultimately, Davis’ handling of slavery was excellent. He aptly summarized both northern passions and southern rationalizations for the peculiar institution, while trying not to inject any bias – an incredibly difficult, but still well executed undertaking.
The last chapter of Inhuman Bondage focused on the sequence of events during the Civil War, the build up to the Emancipation Proclamation, the immediate aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the state of the country after the war.
A major theme of this week’s reading that grabbed my attention was the state of denial that the South entered following their defeat to the North. Davis describes how the Southern people entered into a “dreamland of denial” where they held onto their “wartime triumphs and heroism” and claimed that the Union’s victory was not because of its military strength but because of a larger army and greater pool of resources (303). Davis also compares the post-Civil War South to the state of France in 1870 and Germany in 1918 because the South clung to the belief that their borders and territories would remain intact. More importantly, the war-ravaged South assumed that it would recover from the destruction it had experienced and “resume their former place in the Union as equal partners (with the North)” (303). Overall, Davis does an exceptional job illustrating the angst and frustration that plagued the South but he takes it one step further when he says that those hard feelings motivated the South to establish a land of white supremacy in the future.
An additional aspect of the reading that I found particularly interesting was how Davis shared his final thoughts on the emancipation of the slaves and Lincoln’s reelection. Davis said that “In retrospect…Lincoln and his commitment to slave emancipation were saved by a stunning military victory and a massive soldier vote for the Republicans” (321). To me, Davis essentially said that Lincoln was indeed very committed to a Union victory, an emancipation of the slaves, and continuing to be the President. However, I also interpret Davis’s comments to mean that Lincoln was only able to accomplish such feats with the help of Ulysses S. Grant, the tremendous support of the Union army, and some flat out luck. To an extent, I agree with Davis’s comments. President Lincoln and the Union army were quite close to losing the war, the election, and the country but were ultimately able to win thanks to some good fortune.
Lastly, I would like to address the actions of the North following their victory in the Civil War. As EVFARESE said, the North did show significant mercy on the South by allowing them to recover from the damage that they endured from the war. The Union could have easily decided to deliver a knock-out blow to the South and completely destroy the possibility of another threat. However, the North enabled the South to recuperate from the conflict and begin the lengthy process of reconstruction.
In the final chapter of Inhuman Bondage, Davis discusses the end of the civil war, and the many multitudes of changes which come out of its conclusion. He addresses the ending of the Civil War as a re-birth of America, and the various economic, social, and political changes which were born of this this event. He first discusses the birth of the free Black male, who came riding into Richmond on Horseback with Lincoln to emancipate more slaves. Although this is unquestionably a positive social change, the romanticized language of Davis may stretch the truth as to how the heroic emancipation actually took place. By talking about his immanent death, Davis’s language portrays Lincoln as a selfless, Christlike figure, despite davis’s statement that he does not mean to do this. Davis addresses the social changes which came out of this horrific war, which is shown records of New-Engenders that believed that destructive war was only the first step in purifying the country from non-Godly things. Its getting real crusadish up in here.
speaking of war….
as JUHILL pointed out, this was an especially bad one. The Civil war is depicted by Davis as the birth of the modern, mechanical war, where not only soldiers but Gatling guns, more aerodynamic and heavier bullets, trains, telecommunications, and medical advances both prolonged the war and made it even more bloody and gruesome.
Overall, for a man doing a case study on Slavery, Davis’s view on the end of the Civil War can be considered well rounded, addressing not only the emancipation of slaves, but also many only social and political factors which would push forward civil rights in America for the coming years.
The Civil War is one of those events in American history that still sparks controversy even today. The events that took place, or the reasons for which they took place, are seen through various lenses and perspectives leading to the blame being placed on either the North or South. This blame is something that was prominent at the time of the Civil War and that blame remains even today. One could argue that it was the North’s fault for the oppression of the South, or on the contrary one could blame the South for seceding illegally or in a manner deemed as unconstitutional. Yet, the fact of the matter is that the War did occur and a prominent influence to the War was the institution of slavery.
Lincoln was the president at the time and as it mentions in the reading for Inhuman Bondage, “Lincoln never wavered in his conviction that slavery was a great and moral political evil” (Davis 307). Therefore, Lincoln saw it fit to free the slaves through a means of emancipation. This process was not an easy one for Lincoln, due to the repercussions and unforeseen consequences that could arise. Yet, something to help smooth over Lincoln’s decision was that it would give the Union an advantage in the War in break the backbone of the South. This piece, or document, was something seen as revolutionary as mentioned in Davis especially the biggest revolutionary pronouncement by any president.
The War can be called a number of things as discussed in class earlier today, and the revolutionary pronouncement alludes to the naming of the War as the second revolutionary war. This is a name among many all of which have connotations based off of the perspectives that are viewing the War. As MALANDINI mentions in their post there is an issue with “renaming” War, and that is because it is difficult to find a term that satisfies both parties, the North or the South. The Civil War is the term settled upon, but this does not stop many from viewing it as a War of Northern Aggression or a War of the States or even a War of Secession.
There are many historical events that took place that can lead one to see the War in whatever light they please, especially when digesting these events through a biased lens. Just as there is a difficulty in “renaming” the War there were and there are today difficulties in truly understanding the reasons or motives for the Civil War and the events that ensued.
A major portion of the last chapter in Inhuman Bondage was the actual civil war and how it was handled. The thing that the book speaks on, that is not surprising to me at all, is how a large number of African Americans took part in the fight for the Union side. Another unsurprising note added into the chapter is how they spoke on the African American reactions. Inhuman Bondage talks about how people kneeled at Abraham Lincoln’s feet and he had to tell them “don’t kneel to me. This is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” (298)
A major part that I had never realized until I read this chapter was the monetary importance that slavery carried. Slavery would have been worth almost 80% of the Gross National Product at that time. The slaves worth was more than the national railroads and business investments. To put that much money into the institution of slavery is seemingly impossible, but it also clears the reason that the South was so big on fighting for slavery. With this much invested into an idea that took a major part in funding the economy, it makes sense that the south was willing to go to complete separation and war with the north to continue with their ways.
Another portion of this chapter that I feel should be emphasized is how they describe the actual war. As always, the book speaks on how the Civil war was the deadliest war for Americans, but it also points out the new tactics that were the cause of such violence. The Civil war was the first time we saw trench warfare, booby traps, rapid-firing Gatling guns, and self-igniting shells. (301) The Union completely destroyed confederate lands in order to win the war and devastate those from the south. I feel it is this warfare that leads to the vocabulary spoken about in SaFunderburgs post from this week.
This final chapter of Inhuman Bondage went along very well with Tuesday’s reading and our class discussion. I found Davis’ treatment of the issue of Southern pride stimulating to read. I appreciated his frankness of the South’s postwar state of denial. It was interesting that he compared the defeated South to France in 1870 and Germany in 1918 due to their emphasis on wartime victories and heroism while declaring the North’s victory relatively unimportant (303).
Matt Landini’s post (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/the-war-of-northern-aggression-victimizing-the-challengers/) articulated some great points about the problem of Southern preoccupation of retaining a sense of pride after the Civil War. Matt mentioned that “it is surprising that we continually whitewash history, rather than accepting past mistakes” (referring to the South).
I believe that this “whitewashing” in the aftermath of the South’s defeat was largely a result of the post-war goal of achieving hasty reunion while avoiding the issue of race. Of course, this approach was taken with good intentions of returning to “normal” as quickly as possible while avoiding hostility between the North and South. However, this approach “required repression from memory of the revolutionary realities of the war” (300). As such, not much time or energy was spent on ideological reflection after the war, and more time was spent on nursing the South’s bruised ego. So, as soon after the war was over with, its racial aspects were swept under the rug and the topic of emancipation was all but unmentionable (300). This might be a questionable cause and effect relationship to consider, but I wonder whether the remnants of racism present in the South today are a result of this lack of discourse concerning slavery after the Civil War. It’s pretty interesting to wonder if more current race relations would be different had the South been urged to deal with its defeat more constructively immediately after the war.
Going back to Matt’s post and his mention of Southern pride and their refusal to accept their past mistakes, I think it’s important to realize that the South didn’t feel as though they’d made a mistake by clinging to their slave system. The Union’s victory did nothing to prove to the South that slavery was wrong, it just imposed “the necessity of slave ‘emancipation’” (303). In essence, forced emancipation proved that they would have to implement their virulent racism in a new way, which they ended up successfully accomplishing with the passing of the Black Codes (303). Although Jefferson Davis and others had claimed slavery to be merely an incident and not the cause of the civil war, Jefferson Davis’ overt lamentations about emancipation being the greatest crime of the century suggest otherwise (304). In the end it became clear to leaders on both sides that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War.
I found the most compelling aspect of the final chapter of “Inhuman Bondage” to be the vocabulary Davis used to describe the rationale behind both the Union’s and the Confederate’s wartime decisions. Davis successfully indicated the dangerous rhetoric used during the Civil War while simultaneously eliciting modern comparisons. For example, on page 302 Davis states, “Northerners repeatedly heard the argument that the war offered a transcendent opportunity for purification…” Furthermore, he quotes a Northerner named Josephine Shaw Lowell saying that “this war will purify the country” (302). Although we as readers can be confident that Davis is obviously not a proponent of slavery, this highlighting of dangerous, somewhat propaganda-reminiscent vocabulary used especially by the North may suggest that Davis is attempting to give a fuller picture of the logic of the Civil War rather than just political differences or pro-slavery versus anti-slavery. Davis clearly prefers to view the Civil War from an international perspective (perhaps to be less biased). As Matt said in his post, “the issue of “who” initiated conflict is also of some concern”–this preference is evidenced in that Davis questions all involved in the war, from Lincoln to confederate soldiers. He asks, “Why was it that a democratic nation that prided itself on rational moderation, peace, common sense, expediency, and compromise became the scene of the world’s first “modern” war, pursued by the North until its armies achieved unconditional victory, totally crushing the South?” (300). Again, we as readers have no reason to question that Davis didn’t support abolition, but it is clear that he is only sympathetic to the logical decision, and not the unnecessary psychological and physical destruction that occurred–no matter which side initiated it.