Is Secession “Legal?”


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In his final chapter, Wilentz discusses the various political ideas supporting secession. I think that we sometimes have the tendency to group all Southerners and secessionists together and not realize the political complexity of secession, so I’m glad that Wilentz addressed this in detail. However, ANBURTON pointed out the “debate between ‘the preservation of a traditional Southern heritage and states rights vs. the preservation of slavery’ as the main cause for secession,” but also asserted that they are “completely interconnected.” I agree with this, but would also like to look at the idea of secession itself.

The first group mentioned is the militant secessionists, or the fire-eaters.  Their stance was based on the idea that “secession was perfectly legal and represented nothing radical” (Wilentz 439).  They believed that when a state secedes, it is only exercising its right to act as a sovereign state, exactly as the states did when they signed the Constitution and formed the Union.  The only difference would be that the states are breaking away from the alliance with USA instead of Great Britain in order to form a different sovereign nation.  In a way, these secessionists were acting in defense of the Constitution.  They saw the Northern Republicans as the aggressors who violated the “original constitutional agreement that left slavery undisturbed” (439).

A different group of secessionists fully embraced the illegality of secession, but they did not believe that this lessened their right to do so.  “Secession was a replay of the American Revolution, a new War of Southern Independence that aimed to vindicate, not repudiate, the struggles of the founding generation” (439).  Just as the colonists did not have the legal right to rebel from England, the Southerners also did not have this right.  Nevertheless, the American colonists rebelled successfully.  According to this view of secession, the Southerners shared the aims of their revolution with the colonists: to preserve their definition of liberty.

Even though they recognize its illegality, I see a much more legitimate justification for secession in the second, more moderate viewpoint.  The fire-eaters claim their rights as sovereign states, but to me it seems like they gave up a significant part of that sovereignty when the US switched from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution with a more powerful federal government.  It would be more difficult to argue or prove their sovereignty to either the Northerners or Southern Unionists.  On the other hand, the colonies did rebel against England, so these secessionists have a similar success story at which to point.  It would be easier to convince fellow Southerners of the legitimacy of this cause.  Moral issues on slavery aside, I believe that either on the grounds of state sovereignty or right to revolution, individual states have the right to withdraw from the Union if its citizens deem it necessary, but that the idea of “a new War of Southern Independence” would be more successful at gathering public support for secession (439).

Irish-Americans, Southern Style


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I found Joyce’s essay on Irish-Americans in the South very interesting, mostly because I haven’t given the subject much thought before.  People tend to associate Irish immigrants with urban working class in the North, but I hadn’t considered their presence here before.  It reads fairly smoothly, and I appreciated how clearly the author laid out the points in the beginning.

It also struck me how the Irish felt the need to gain sure footing in the social world because of prior experiences in the North and previously in Ireland. Joyce said that they “took constrained actions to place themselves in positions of best advantage within existing social networks” (193). Additionally, as wirobertson said, “Irish-Americans desperately longed for inclusion and a sense of superiority,” and they found this inclustion through their support of slavery.  To me, this seems like a classic part of the melting pot idea.  They retained much of their Irish culture, but made a conscious, directed effort to fit smoothly into the “existing social network”  of Charleston (Joyce 193).

Additionally, the role of the Catholic church was fascinating.  I hadn’t previously thought of the Catholic church as a particularly influential force in the South, but it certainly had an impact on the attitude of the Irish with regard to slavery.  Joyce said, “Southern Church leaders validated and gave divine sanction to the slave system and provided their constituents with an explanation of Southern social relations” (190).  To this group of people, the church was a way to connect with people like them, and it also helped ease the transition into a new culture.  If the church had taken a less accepting stance with regard to slavery, I doubt that the Irish-Americans would have been received as easily in the South.  However, they were able to relate to other white Southerners on this cause and create a sense of cultural identification across different cultural backgrounds.

Texas Annexation and Polk


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Since we read about Polk this week, I thought ya’ll might enjoy this song about his presidency:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StTiCU_fqCg

I found the annexation of Texas to be an interesting story, particularly the variety of reasons supporting and opposing it.  Annexation appealed to several groups of people for a variety of reasons.  Manifest Destiny appeared as a means of spreading democracy and American ideals onto the rest of the continent, and the expansionists believed that democracy “was a universal value that should- and could- rule the world” (Wilentz 296).  Additionally, bringing Texas into the Union could defend against Great Britain’s imperial powers.  Houston was considering joining with England after the United States rejected annexing them the first time (298).  People such as Upshur and Andrew Jackson supported annexation as “the only practical check on Britain’s ambitions” (295).  Third, Southern slaveholders approved of this move because it would expand their influence.  However, slavery also affected opposing arguments.  The anti-slavery advocates feared that Texas would offer too much power to the South.  Additionally, some of the eastern slaveholders also opposed Texas annexation because it would cause a westward diffusion of slaves and lessen the consolidation of power on the Southern east coast.  Finally, others were opposed to Texas entering the union because it would bring on a war with Mexico.

On either side of the issue, slavery and war came into play.  Some wanted to avoid the spread of slavery; others wanted to spread their slave influence.  Some people wanted to avoid a war with Mexico; others wanted to combat English imperialism.

Polk aligned with those that saw Texas annexation as an important move to protect against Great Britain. Rather than associating himself with the spread of slavery and risking alienation from anti-slavery advocates, his pro-annexation stance was based on protecting the United States from the English and spreading democratic values westward.  As a classmate mentioned in his post (spedwards), Polk did not have the intention of favoring one group over the other, but Texas unfortunately ended up becoming an issue about slavery.

Influential Ghosts and Coercion


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In Alfred Young’s essay, “The Pressure of the People on the Framers of the Constitution,” he wrote about the influences from people that were not present at the Constitutional Convention.  Young related the influences to the “ghosts” of Thomas Paine, Abraham Yates, Daniel Shays, and Thomas Peters (150).  At the convention, radical democracy, new men in power, rebellion, and slaves were all current issues that the delegates were familiar with and that needed to be addressed.  Young says that the delegates dealt with these issues either with coercion or accommodation.  Additionally, the delegates had to balance their own political views with the needs and desires of the people, as mentioned in the post (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/the-constitution-the-intentions-of-the-framers-and-the-realities-of-the-new-government/).   The concerns of farmers and slave rebellions were handled with coercion, and the delegates “gave the national government the power to ‘suppress insurrections’ and protect the states from ‘domestic violence’” (Young 151).  This method of approaching slave revolts and other rebellions does not seem to have changed much over time.  The difference is that now the federal government can use force to “suppress insurrections,”  whereas before, the task was delegated to individual slave owners or British officials.  The federal government later abuses this power during the Whiskey Rebellion, and they use full force to put down a relatively small revolt.

Also, I found the concept of a “”mixed government”” interesting (Young 150). It seems that the founding fathers were still attempting to remain connected to their British roots by striving for “a perfect blend of ‘aristocracy’ and ‘democracy’” (Young 151).  Even after the revolution, the delegates showed through the Constitution that they did not perceive Britain’s system as completely flawed when they strove to keep the idea of aristocracy alive.

Maybe the Spanish Really Are a Black Legend


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In Chapter 19, Taylor again portrays the Spanish as much worse than the British. As Janewton mentioned, the Spanish brutality appears to be a recurring theme. Similar to their earlier colonization, the Spanish focus on converting the natives more than any other imperial power.  I found Taylor’s description of Fray Junipero Serra on page 457 interesting.  Serra practiced self-mutilation as a means of furthering his faith: “He wore rough hair shirts augmented with metal wire points, periodically flagellated his bare back until it was bloody, and burned the hair on his chest with a lighted candle.”  Furthermore, he refused treatment of a wound on his leg.  I think that having Serra as a leader of a mission helps to explain why the Spanish were so brutal to the natives.  If Serra despised his own mortal body to this extent, he must have had much less respect for the lives of natives who were not even Christian.

On the other hand, Taylor presents a stark contrast between the Spanish missions the British explorer James Cook.  Taylor says, “Cook was no conquistador come to plunder, conquer, enslave, and convert” (469).  Instead, Cook appeared to hold himself to the higher standards of the Enlightenment.  He treated the natives with respect, but inadvertedly could not avoid infecting them with disease.  Earlier in colonization, the British used “The Black Legend” to describe the Spanish brutality and minimize their own damages. But this sentiment does not seem to be held by the British alone. Throughout the book, Taylor portrays the Spanish as consistently more devastating to native life and culture. Perhaps the British were right, and the Spanish were truly more cruel than the other countries.

The Relationship Between Witch Trials and the Great Awakening


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In Sherwood’s post, he argues that the rise of evangelicalism in the Northeast is linked to the witch-hunts in the same region several decades earlier. For the most part, agree with this assertion; however, my views are slightly different in some aspects.

Although the witch trials and Great Awakening were two similar events in the same region, I do not see them as having a cause-and-effect relationship.  Certainly, they shared contributing factors that the South also lacked: mainly small, tight-knit communities and strong religious beliefs.  These qualities allowed the witch-hunt to flourish in the same way they allowed the rise of evangelicalism.  The close communities allowed for both witch accusations and new preaching styles to spread quickly to different families and parishes.  Likewise, the strict standards of the Puritan faith created an extremely God-fearing civilization; in fact, their culture of discipline, hard work, and high morals is based around their religious beliefs.  Their fear of God goes hand-in-hand with a fear of the devil.  When the devil supposedly manifests himself in their neighbors, the people are terrified and act senselessly.  Similarly, a primary reason for the success of evangelicalism was the fear that a person would not obtain salvation and spend eternity in hell.

In summary, small towns and a strict religion are two reasons that both the Great Awakening and the witch-hunts flourished in the Northeast instead of the south.  Although I agree that it may be a contributing factor, I do not believe that these commonalities prove that the paranoia of the witch trials caused the Great Awakening.  In my opinion, these similarities are characteristic of the New England society, and the two events are merely the effects of that social environment.

Inhuman Bondage, Chapters 4 and 5


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In the reading from Inhuman Bondage, a section in chapter 4 relates to a subject that we have discussed in another of my classes, Popular Music of the United States.  This section refers to the fact that the Portuguese enjoyed hearing the native African music.  They “enlisted the slaves to perform at plays and other types of public entertainment, even at royal functions” (94).  In contrast, the British forced the slaves to dance to bagpipe music on the ships in an effort to force cultural assimilation.  Ironically, the British as well as other European nations became much more interested in authentic African culture and music, especially from the mid 1800s to 1920s.  In New York City, young Scottish and Irish men imitated African culture as a means of social critique in a form of musical theater called minstrelsy.  They used the African American’s situation to highlight the discrimination they faced as Scotch-Irish.  However, the original purpose of minstrelsy changed to fit an upper middle class audience in both America and Europe.  Minstrelsy troops attempted to portray an authentic view of slave life on plantations through skits and music, but often there was more Scotch-Irish and European influence than African, and life on plantations was always idealized.  It is interesting that the Portuguese displayed this interest in African culture so much earlier than the emersion of minstrelsy and that this interest remained prominent in both America and Europe until the early 1900s.  It is also ironic that although the British attemped to assimilate the Africans’ music, their ancestors were later intrigued by an imitation of authentic African culture.

On a separate note, I think the issue that “mihan” raises the in post about the “Curse of Ham” is very interesting.  It seems common for Europeans to use religion as a means of justifying slavery as well as colonization, but it also appears that in this way, they possibly twist the meaning of their religious texts merely to suit their own intentions.

Chapters 3 and 5


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In Chapters 3 and 5 of American Colonies, Taylor focuses specifically on two different European powers that colonized America: the Spanish and the French.  These two countries dealt with the colonies in radically different ways due to several factors such as, their purpose in the “New World,” their military capabilities, and the influence of the overseas government.  In many ways, these three factors are linked to each other.  For example, Spain’s purpose was to discover gold and become wealthy, in addition to ‘saving’ the native’s souls by conversion.  In order to accomplish this goal, the Spanish were able to conquer by force because of their wealth and military prowess.  However, the militaristic campaign spread quickly as the greed of the conquistadors increased, and individual conquistadors and encomiendas began to gain power.  As a result, the Spanish monarchy worried that these individuals would become too independent and powerful.  To check the growth of sovereignty overseas, the government imposed exceedingly strict regulations on the colonial government.

On the other hand, the French colonies enjoyed more freedom from their European government.  This luxury was possibly a result of the intent of their colonization.  The French were less focused on establishing a permanent settlement and a new colonial hierarchy than simply trading with the Indians to make money from furs.  Additionally, the French government was less wealthy and powerful than the Spanish, and it would have been more difficult for them to wage such an expensive overseas war, not to mention detrimental to making trade allies for fur.

While I agree with “maspeed’s” statement that Taylor’s focus on different countries shows their differences in dealing with the natives and the land, but it also led me to consider that it also indicates a single perspective.  By categorizing the history with regard to specific countries, the text leans toward the European history viewpoint.  However, Taylor does acknowledge that the Indians did not always differentiate between European nationalities as we do today.