Thursday, October 24, 2013

Civil War Prelude

Recently in class, I asked my students to discuss, analyze, and write about what they felt were the top 4 historical events (out of 15) that helped lead toward the Civil War.  Of course, many students tried to get me to reveal my top 4 choices...I resisted the temptation to tell them my list (before the test) because I didn't want to influence their choices.

Here are my Top 4:

Signing of The Declaration of Independence
(minus the Slavery Clause)

1. July 4, 1776:The Founding Fathers did not eliminate slavery when they had a chance.

I believe Thomas Paine (and not Thomas Jefferson) may have written the famously omitted Slavery Clause:

He [King George III] has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most Sacred Right of Life & Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable Commerce, determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, and that this Assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die, he is now exciting those very People to rise in Arms among us, and to purchase that Liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former Crimes committed against the Liberties of one People, with Crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Battle of Chapultepec
2. The Mexican-American War: Leads to the problem of the new western territories being admitted as states, would they be free or slave...contain or expand...36-30 or popular sovereignty? The "solution", Congress passed the Compromise of 1850 which basically made California free, allowed the people to vote (popular sovereignty) in Utah and New Mexico, and legalized the Fugitive Slave Act.

My student's awesome John Brown artwork
3. John Brown: The radical abolitionist who had been involved in the Underground Railroad and in anti-slavery violence in Kansas, Missouri, and Virginia...his goal to start a slave uprising at Harper's Ferry Arsenal led to deepening anger and uneasiness in pro and anti-slavery factions.

4. The 1860 Election of Abraham Lincoln: The election of Abraham Lincoln (he was not on a single southern ballot...only 40% of the popular vote) served as the immediate catalyst for the outbreak of the American Civil War.  Before Lincoln was inaugurated, seven Southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America...leading to the bombardment of Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Acoustic Kitty

Today, German officials claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies may have been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.  Chancellor Merkel spoke directly to President Obama about the issue, according to her spokesman.  Merkel told Obama that if accusations of the NSA spying are true...
 “I unequivocally disapprove of such practices and
see them as completely unacceptable...a serious breach of trust!"

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the United States "is not monitoring and will not monitor" her phone conversations. Asked if the NSA had monitored Merkel's calls in the past, Carney said he did not have an answer to that question.
This story reminded me of the CIA's (now comical) Acoustic Kitty Project.

In the 1960's the CIA attempted to use cats to spy on the Kremlin and Soviet Embassies. A battery and a microphone were implanted into a cat and an antenna into its tail, allowing this seemingly "feral" cat to eavesdrop on "secret" Soviet conversations.  The first "mission" was to take place outside the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C.   Unfortunately, the cat was hit and killed by a taxi.  Other tests failed most likely because "cats are difficult to control" or the cats decided they would rather hunt for mice than listen to Communists! 


In 1967, after 5 years and over $20 million in surgery and training expenses (and massive bills for Cat Chow)...the project was cancelled!
Next CIA Program?!?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

John Brown:Journey to the Gallows

1800- Born to abolitionist parents in Connecticut.
1812- Witnesses a slave being brutally beaten with a shovel.
1816- Helps fugitive slaves find a place to hide on his families farm.

1831- Reads about and deeply admires Nat Turner's courage to fight slavery.
1836- Moves to Ohio and "begins his life" as a conductor on the UGRR.
1837- Reads about and is deeply influenced by Cinque and the Amistad Rebellion.
1837- Expelled from his church for escorting African-Americans to pews "reserved for whites only.
1837- Takes a vow "to end slavery" during a memorial service in honor of Elijah P. Lovejoy.
1839- Dreams (and begins planning) of leading a slave revolt.

1847- Meets with Frederick Douglass to discuss his slave revolt plans.
1849- Moves to North Elba, NY (America's "first" biracial community) to help fugitive slaves.
1849- Focuses his slave revolt plan on Harper's Ferry Arsenal.

1855- Travels to Kansas to fight pro-slavery ruffians.
1856- Senator Charles Sumner is caned into unconsciousness.
1856- Directs the "executions" of 5 pro-slavery advocates 5 days after the Sumner beating.
1856- Angered by President Pierce decision to allow slavery in Kansas based on the Dred Scott decision.

1857- Travels to Boston to raise money for the raid on Harper's Ferry.
1857- Travels to Kansas to recruit help for Harper's Ferry.
1858- Hides for 3 weeks with Frederick Douglass to avoid arrest. 
1858- Writes a new United States Constitution based on equality for all.
1858- Travels to Missouri and forcibly liberates 12 slaves and takes them to Canada.
1859- Raises more money for Harper's Ferry plan.
July 1859- Arrives in Harper's Ferry to scout and plan...rents a house as a center of the attack.
August 1859- Meets with Frederick Douglass for the last time...begs him to join the raid.
October 1859- Successfully captures Harper's Ferry Arsenal...but later captured and held for trial.
December 1859- Executed for murder and conspiracy to lead a slave revolt.

"If you want my blood, you can have it any moment, without this mockery of a trial." 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A President Who Kept His Promises

Slave Master/ President James Polk

James K. Polk usually ranks as one of the nation's "better" presidents because he is probably the only POTUS to keep all five of his campaign promises! I would just rate him as one of the rankest presidents ever... 

His promises were (followed by my historical commentary):

1. To annex (grant statehood) Texas.
2. To "acquire" the Southwestern Territories and California.

This was a great excuse to instigate a premeditated war with Mexico to take the southwestern territories from them...Texas agreed to annexation and joined the United States in 1845, he ordered U.S. troops into territory long contested (the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers border dispute) between Mexico and Texas. When shots were fired between the troops, Polk immediately declared, "American blood has been shed on American Soil!" and quickly declared war.  The ultimate result was the forced Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo stripping Mexico of over a 1/3 of her territory.

At the same time, Polk secretly sent agents to declare "California Revolution" a means to secure an alliance (and eventual statehood) with California against Mexico.

He also secretly planned to appoint federal judges who were sympathetic to the expansion of slavery and Popular Sovereignty.

"It is our Manifest Destiny to steal your land from you." 

The victory over Mexico gave Polk (a rich southern slaveholder) the opportunity to pressure the North on the expansion of slavery and the right to Popular Sovereignty in the Southwest (increasing Southern political power). 

3. To annex (grant statehood) Oregon.

The agreement to split Oregon Territory at the 49th parallel with Great Britain was done quickly (to avoid a war with GB) to help us prepare for our plan to provoke Mexico into a premeditated war.

4. To establish an independent Treasury Department.

This gave the federal government exclusive management of government funds and required that all payments be made in gold or silver, or in paper backed by gold or silver.

5. To serve only 1 term.

Thankfully, he kept this promise!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What Would Dorothea Dix Do?

Dorothea Dix

Today we studied Dorothea Dix...she was a prominent social reformer responsible for major changes in the care and treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. Dorothea spent her early career as a teacher and volunteered teaching Sunday school class at the East Cambridge House of Correction in Massachusetts. At this prison, she witnessed appalling conditions and inhumane treatment of mentally ill individuals. They were housed with violent criminals, left without clothing or heat, chained to the walls and beaten. Dix began a two-year tour of Massachusetts prisons and found similar conditions throughout the state. In 1843, she submitted a report of her findings to the state legislature and lobbied successfully for a bill to build a state mental institution. Dix devoted her life to the advocacy of prisoner and the mentally ill issues in America and around the world.

How would Dorothea feel if she were alive today?  Our "more civilized" society has once again discarded the mentally ill to the scarp heap of society...forcing them to fend for themselves on the street (roughly 50% of the homeless have a serious mental illness) or incarcerated (roughly 50% of the nation's current prisoners have a serious mental illness) in some of America's most dangerous prisons. 

Watch "Trapped" Clip (7:02) Very troubling!

How could this be that our country does not have adequate care for these our most vulnerable members of society?