Sunday, December 15, 2013

Constructing Reconstruction

The process of reuniting the states after four years of a bloody civil war proved to be a daunting task.  First, re-admitting southern states was challenging.  Since secession was viewed as illegal by Lincoln and the United States government, what legal process should the country follow to bring back seceding states?  How long should the military occupy the South?  Should ex-Confederates be prosecuted?  How would the South be re-built, and who would pay for it?  These questions marked the first of many battleground issues for Reconstruction.

Furthermore, with slavery now abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, how would former slaves be integrated into free society?  What role would they play in this process?  Would African-Americans receive the right to vote?  These questions became more challenging to address as bitter political debates turned into vigilante violence in the South.  Though Radical Republicans entered the Reconstruction process with the lofty goals of racial equality, when Reconstruction ended in the mid-1870s, race relations were worse, not better.

The effects of Reconstruction lingered on well into the twentieth century.  

For this important topic, my students gathered as groups to write blog posts on various topics related to Reconstruction.  I would like to feature a few of these as guest bloggers here.

- Mr. Michael Broach

The Vision of Radical Republicans at the End of the Civil War:
See this nicely formatted document, including a fake Facebook wall made for Radical Republicans linked here.
Guest Bloggers (E mod): Emily, Margaret, Julie, Reagan, Kathryn

Race Relations during Reconstruction:

Guest Bloggers (C mod): Kayla, Elizabeth, Janel, Mariam, Kennedy; Primary Source Team: Victor, Danny, Reagan, Philip, Javier

"Ole missus used tu read de good book tu us, black 'uns, on Sunday evenin's, but she mostly read dem places whar it says, 'Sarvints obey your masters,' an' didn't stop tu splane it like de teachers; an' now we is free, dar's heaps o' tings in dat ole book, we is jes' sufferin' tu larn."

Race relations were extremely tense during the period of Reconstruction. The South still considered the blacks their property and had a hard time adjusting to life without slavery. In order to reinvent a South without slavery, Southern states enacted "Black Codes" that limited black freedoms and regulated many aspects of their lives.Angry Southerners also founded the Klu Klux Klan in order to scare the blacks into abandoning their new participation in politics and government. Though the blacks struggled with the KKK and black codes, they did succeed in their personal lives through schooling and the development of their own communities. The Freedmen's Bureau was developed by black sympathizers in order to provide them with schools and education. Blacks were also able to develop their own community in the South, expanding on the cultures that they had developed during their enslavement.

In order to control the freed Blacks, many Southern states passed Black Codes, laws aimed at keeping the Black population in submission and workers in the fields; some were harsh, others were not as harsh. The Black Codes aimed to ensure a stable and subservient labor force for the freed black. The codes also sought to restore as nearly as possible the pre-emancipation system of race relations. Freedom was legally recognized, as were some other privileges, such as the right to marry. forbade Blacks from serving on a jury and some even barred Blacks from renting or leasing land, and Blacks could be punished for “idleness” by being subjected to working on a chain gang. Nowhere were blacks allowed to vote.

As racial tensions began increase due to African Americans gaining political office, many secret anti-black societies started to emerge. The most notorious of these societies was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). These white southern men wanted to rid the American political system of blacks. They ultimately hoped that the social system would revert to pre-Civil War standards. In efforts to remove these blacks, the members of the KKK would impose violence. They would first try and scare the blacks. If this did not work, they would employ force which could potentially lead to the death of blacks.

The Freedmen's bureau was intended to help the welfare of African Americans. It was to provide food, clothing, medicine, and education to freedman and white refugees. Its greatest achievement was in the education department, which enticed some to become more religiously educated.

However, even with the limitations being faced by freedmen during reconstruction, African Americans strived to develop their own societies and express their newly found freedom.  They were able to develop their own churches and organizations that helped support their communities.  In addition, they were made capable of forming their own businesses, which allowed them to develop a sense of economic independence.

Northern Reactions and Why Give Up on Reconstruction?

By the mid-1870s, many moderates and average Americans in both the North and West were ready to give up on Reconstruction.  Just as Lincoln faced opposition to emancipation during the war, many were tired of dealing with the costs, political debates and effects of Reconstruction by Grant's second term.

For this topic, a group of students in one class creatively made a Twitter account for Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate for President in 1876.  What would "Moderate Sam" tweet?  Check out his Twitter profile here: 

Guest Bloggers (B mod): Angela, Maddie and Blythe

While many people think of Reconstruction from a viewpoint of African Americans or radicals forcing everyone to get along and be accepting, the Northern moderates were much more realistic. They knew other important things were going on at the time, such as the Panic of 1873, political corruption, and the Industrial Revolution. Northern Moderates were becoming frustrated with the lack of progress being made with Reconstruction and played a major role in ending the push for Reconstruction. If Samuel Tilden, a northern moderate had a twitter in 1870, these would be his tweets.

This was a fun project and I enjoyed the creativity and collaboration of all of my students as they discussed this important topic in U.S. History.  This was certainly an #eduwin!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lincoln, Kennedy and the Field of History

This week, the nation commemorated the anniversary of two important and monumental events in American History - the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.  These two events - and the national discussion this week - illustrate how history impacts each of us and is relevant to us today.  I am writing this post from the National Council of the Social Studies Annual Conference in St. Louis. These two commemorations have been the subject of several sessions this week and certainly a hot topic among historians and history educators.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address redefined the meaning of the Civil War.  Lincoln gave this speech months after the epic battle and even though it had been months, there were still bodies left to be collected on the battlefield.  A celebrated speaker of the day spoke for two hours, Lincoln followed him with a speech of only two and a half minutes.  His brief yet eloquent remarks defined the Civil War as a "test" to see whether this nation, built as a constitutional republic of "the people," would survive.  As Joy Hakim, author of Freedom: A History of US, remarked in her presentation yesterday, Lincoln's short speech illustrated how the presidency had transformed him and how he became the great moral leader of the nation, even if he did not recognize it.  As I have mentioned in class and written here before, Lincoln's greatest strengths in guiding the nation through the trauma of this war rests in his incredible vision to see the conflict through, his ability to unite or at least manage his political rivals for the common cause of union and his astounding ability to phrase powerful messages in so few of words.  Lincoln was passionate at saving the nation and preserving the entire union, as well as achieving a peace that finally put slavery to rest yet ensured the future harmony of the republic.  Of course, Lincoln's vision evolved as the office transformed him and he transformed the office.  The Gettysburg Address illustrates this transformation and demonstrates Lincoln's deep, reflective intelligence shaped by the traumatic events of the war and the sadness in his personal life.  In this regard, Lincoln and Kennedy share some similarities towards the end of their lives.

The Kennedy Assassination a century later also demonstrates an important turning point in American history.  The decade of the sixties represents another upheaval in our nation's history where Americans were challenged by the fears of the Cold War, the pursuit of equality in the civil rights movement, a dramatic change in American culture and the trauma of the Vietnam War.  The Kennedy Assassination leaves us with many questions.  Was Oswald the lone assassin or part of a wider conspiracy?  How would the 1960s have been different if Kennedy had lived?  What is the true legacy of the Kennedy presidency?  These and other questions have been the subject of several sessions here in St. Louis and of course, in the national media this week.  In addition to the presentations here and the television coverage, several historical organizations and news sites have been posting a minute-by-minute account of the Kennedy assassination on Twitter using the hashtag #JFK50.  Even though I was born in 1980 and not alive for the event, I have been able to re-live those days through social media.

Both of these events demonstrate how history also evokes controversy.  The Gettysburg anniversary may have passed with a national discussion focused solely on Lincoln and the Civil War.  However, President Obama not attending the event in Gettysburg and then, dropping the phrase "under God" from his re-reading of the speech in a video message set off a political firestorm where the focus shifted away from the event of 150 years ago to a discussion of more recent politics.  

Yesterday, I attended a session with film director Oliver Stone (JFK, Born on the Fourth of July) and Dr. Peter Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States.  When the session began with a remark on how terrible our nation had become under George W. Bush, I knew immediately where this one was headed.  At the end of the session, Oliver Stone recommended that education and the nation would be better if we could get "those damn Republicans" out of office.  Will that evoke controversy? Yes, but it brings up an important lesson.  Learning history is exhilarating.  What do we really know about the past?  Who writes history?  Why are the events of the past so relevant to us today?  Where do we stand on the controversial event and/or controversial interpretations of history?  The other lesson is to always recognize that everyone has a bias.  Tread carefully.

In yesterday's presentation, we heard Oliver Stone's perspective on the Kennedy assassination as a major conspiracy.  In fact, government involvement - maybe even Lyndon Johnson himself - was implied, or at least Stone raised the question.  Today, I listened to David Keck who has spent years researching the event who disagrees with many of the key points of Stone's speech and the JFK film.  What does this tell us?  This is what makes learning history so compelling. 

To understand history is not to learn a chain of events or a particular interpretation of history.  When we simply study stories of history in a classroom, we only learn one interpretation - the interpretation of the one choosing the stories.  My challenge as a history teacher is to teach the skills of historical inquiry, to teach students to think like historians and sometimes not like historians - to question what we know.  These anniversaries and related controversies illustrate the need for good historical inquiry, grounded on factual evidence.  Students, help me to be this teacher - ask questions, challenge what we learn.

Post note: Tonight, I will be listening to Harold Holzer and "The Making of Steven Speilberg's Lincoln."  Tomorrow, we plan to attend Mass at the Old Cathedral, visit museums and then make the journey home.  I will post pictures of St. Louis later in the week.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dream

As readers of my blog recognize, I love milestone anniversaries of historic events.  These public anniversaries bring the conversations of history out of the typical academic settings and into the forefront of mainstream, public discussion.  They engage Americans in our shared past.

Today marks the 50th anniversary since the famous March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  Fifty years later, we are now at a tipping point where less Americans are old enough to have directly experienced the civil rights movement.  For the masses of younger Americans who did not experience this time period first-hand, we are the beneficiaries of this era.  But as we assess Dr. King's speech, we must ask: Is the dream fulfilled?  Does American society today reflect what this speech envisions?  If the answer is no, then why not and what must change?  These are just a few challenging questions that important historical anniversaries raise and important questions to raise as we shape the future of our great nation.


Saturday, July 20, 2013


Attached here are the pictures from my trip to Boston last weekend.  I had the opportunity to attend a Group Leader orientation with EF Smithsonian Student Travel and get to experience Boston and the surrounding areas.  This was such an enjoyable trip and I was so impressed by EF Smithsonian!  They have such a remarkable staff and every part of the weekend was well planned, well executed and quite fun.  I am very excited for taking my first group of students on tour to Washington in April with this great company.

For more on the trip to Washington in April 2014, click here.


Monday, July 15, 2013

The Gilded Age

When I first began my teaching career, if I were to pick one time period where I had the least amount of knowledge, it would have been the "Gilded Age" from 1877 to the turn of the century.  While I had studied some related topics in college, such as U.S. foreign policy and the "New South," I never developed a depth of knowledge for this period as I had for other time periods in United States history.  Since then, however, it has become one of my favorite time periods to study mostly because of its importance in bridging early U.S. history to the modern age of the twentieth century.  A couple weeks ago, I finished reading The American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism by H.W. Brands.  Brands presents an excellent analysis of the time period and the conflicting themes of democracy and capitalism in the decades following the Civil War.

I have found that my early trepidation with teaching the Gilded Age is fairly common among history educators because the period is complicated and often confusing to students.  As I tell my students, almost every textbook on United States History presents this era differently and usually breaks from chronology favoring a more thematic focus instead.  However, the importance of that thematic focus cannot be overlooked.

I begin the era by asking students to imagine that we are getting into a De Lorean.  Then, I have to explain what that is - I suppose that illustrates our generational divide (okay, for those who still don't get it - click here).  Once I get through that explanation, I ask students to go back in time and look at what life was like at the end of the Civil War.  Native Americans and buffalo still freely roamed the Plains, it took a wagon to get to the Pacific, dirt roads and horse travel defined transportation in American cities.  Further, the South was destroyed and African Americans now freed from bondage were hopeful for what free life would bring.  Industry was beginning to expand due to the war, but businesses were mostly local affairs where the business owner still directly managed the business and worked hard to make a living.  

Next, I ask students to "kick it up to 88" (still, they don't get it) and fast forward to 1900.  By the end of the century, just a short 35 years, life in America was dramatically different.  Native American culture was almost gone from the Plains and so were the buffalo.  Several transcontinental railroads stretched across the Plains reaching to the Pacific, along with the "golden wire" of the telegraph - America's first "Internet."  Many farmers who had fled to the Plains with the hope of opportunity and free land offered by the Homestead Act found themselves broke from mounting debt caused by overproduction, deflation and a multitude of other challenges.  Major industries now dominated the national economy and the industrial titans like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan were the most influential men in the country, not the presidents or politicians of the Gilded Age.  Cities grew up and out with the development of skyscrapers, streetcars, suspension bridges and mass transit, with automobiles coming soon.  Pollution and poverty followed with the massive surge of immigrants pouring into the cities in the last decades of the century, along with an emerging labor movement now influenced by socialism and radicalism.  A more modernized culture developed in urban areas with spectator sports and amusement parks, while the rural South moved to eliminate the gains made by blacks during Reconstruction and create a segregated society defined by "Jim Crow" laws.  Though the frontier had been declared "closed" in 1890, Americans now looked outward on the world and became a global power following the territorial and political gains of the Spanish-American War.  A truly different America existed in 1900 than 1865, an illuminated and connected national economy and culture ready for the dynamic twentieth century. 

Resources to share:

The Men Who Built America - outstanding series by the History Channel, short clips available online are good supplements for classroom discussion.

Best of History Websites - The Gilded Age (this is always a good EdTech site to look at for teaching U.S. History)

For fun, two students in my summer school class found this video of a teacher singing a jingle about the Gilded Age.  The whole class started singing along!

Monday, July 1, 2013

A New Birth of Freedom

Battle of Gettysburg from Harper's WeeklyAs the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, Americans also commemorate the 150th anniversary of the two key turning points of the Civil War - Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  Lee had planned his second invasion of the North to be a "Yorktown" for the Confederacy's war for independence.  Striking a major blow in Pennsylvania and possibly capturing its capital would have sent shock waves in the North and may have forced Lincoln to negotiate, possibly even accept compromise.  However, Lee's plans were thwarted at Gettysburg and those final charges from Seminary Ridge on July 3rd represented the "high tide of the Confederacy," the subtitle of historian Carl Smith's book on the battle.  Never again would Lee command such a force and never again would he have such an opportunity to win the war making the secession of the southern states permanent.  The losses at Gettysburg were staggering with casualty numbers approaching 50,000 lives.  While devastating to both sides, the Confederacy had more to lose.

Though Gettysburg remains the more famous of the two turning points, especially because of Lincoln's immortal address there four months later, the capture of Vicksburg also on July 4th, 1863 is just as significant in turning the tide in favor of the Union in the Civil War.  Vicksburg was the Confederacy's last stronghold on the Mississippi and after months of a difficult siege, General John C. Pemberton saw no other option but to surrender the city to Ulysses S. Grant.  With this capture, the Union now firmly controlled the Mississippi River, surrounding the Confederacy and literally starving it into eventual surrender as control of the waterway severed the cattle supply from Texas.  As Lincoln later remarked, "the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea" undoubtably noting the importance of the river to the commerce of the entire region (Goodwin, Team of Rivals, 2005).Surrender of Pemberton to Grant

These two Confederate losses culminating on such an important day of heritage for both sides delivered a crushing blow to southern morale and effectively doomed any realistic hope for southern independence.  More importantly however, these two federal victories brought about a change in Union tactics that would ultimately lead to victory, a victory that secured a "new birth of freedom," the ending of slavery, and proved that our republican form of government would "not perish from the earth."

A century and a half later, Americans are learning about these key events in a variety of ways.  On Twitter, I followed a lecture delivered at Gettysburg by my former Civil War professor, Dr. Aaron Sheehan-Dean now of the University of West Virginia.  I shared several quotes from his lecture with my followers this past weekend.  With the advent of the History Channel, social media and other sites, more Americans are easily able to engage in history and examine artifacts that a few decades ago were only accessible to a small number of historians.  This makes for a very exciting anniversary and one in which ordinary Americans can gain a better appreciation for the consequential decisions of the Civil War that brought the nation from the brink of schism and on a path of dramatic growth in the years to follow.


Twitter hashtags: #CW150 #Gettysburg150 #Vicksburg150

Recommended to follow: @prologuepast, @gettysburgNMP, @SmithsonianCW, @CWTrust150

Technology on the Gettysburg battlefield

A Cutting Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg

Photographs of the Civil War from the Library of Congress

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Video Tributes

Last week, I embarked on an experimental project-based learning activity with my standard and honors classes.  As mentioned in my previous post, the students amazed me with their creativity, collaboration and their willingness to work through challenges to create video presentations.

Below are the videos they created.  Overall, the results are remarkable!  Some of these videos are very powerful, some are entertaining and all are fascinating.  The videos are ordered as follows:

  • September 11th - very powerful!
  • Cold War: Nuclear Disasters, Cold War Intelligence and the Space Race
  • Protest and Rebellion: Civil Rights, Woodstock, Hippies
  • War: World War II and Vietnam
  • The Sixties: Tribute to JFK and 1960s Overview
  • The Twenties: Roaring 1920s and Women of the 1920s
  • Local History: Jacksonville

Saturday, May 18, 2013

#eduwinning - A Great Week to be a Teacher!

This has been an extremely busy, yet very rewarding week as a teacher!  I am extremely fortunate to be doing a job I love and to be able to work at an outstanding Catholic, college-preparatory school (of course, I'm biased because Bishop Kenny is my alma mater).  But, this week in particular has been quite fun in and out of the classroom.  Let me re-cap...

For my AP U.S. History students, we began the week by finishing our review for Wednesday's AP exam.
In addition to review time in class, many students stayed after school on Monday for an additional (and optional) hour and a half review session.  Despite being a long day, they were energetic, knowledgeable and they impressed me with their understanding of history.

When they came out of the exam on Wednesday, the consensus was that they were well prepared.  I'm hopeful that nine months of hard work and analysis will pay off with good results on this exam.

Students entering the Castillo de San Marcos
We finished the week with a trip to St. Augustine.  This is a great time to visit St. Augustine as the oldest city
prepares to celebrate its 450th anniversary in 2015 and Florida continues its 500th anniversary celebration.  We had a very ambitious schedule, yet we accomplished all of our objectives and had a great time.  The students did everything I had hoped: they represented themselves well, they learned from the historic sites and artifacts, they asked questions and explored the city.  Even more, they seemed to really enjoy themselves!

In the coming week, I will blog more specifically about the trip with pictures from our various stops.

For my standard and honors U.S. History students, the week was also just as exciting.  On Monday, we wrapped up our last units of material and spent the rest of the week in our school's wireless computer lab working on a video creation project.  This project was an experiment for me.  Last year, I directed a project with my honors classes where each class produced a video "tribute" to a generation.  The project resulted in two videos, one dedicated to the "Greatest Generation" and the other to the "Baby Boom Generation."  In completing these videos, I directly managed the design and production.  This year, I decided to let the students have full control of the project from start to finish.

On the first day in the lab, each class was divided into three or four teams.  Each team had to pick a topic, choose a team leader and begin work.  I was amazed at how quickly students became engaged in their work.  Each group demonstrated creativity, collaboration and patience as we experienced several technical issues in the lab.  Despite the challenges, most groups finished by the end of the week - even while I was away on Friday.  We still have a couple groups that will upload Monday and Tuesday due to some technical issues in the lab.  Once all videos are uploaded, I will make a separate blog post to showcase all of their videos along with more details about the mechanics of the project.

While all of this was going on, I continued to grade oral history papers from my standard and honors students.  This is an annual paper assignment where I ask students to interview someone who experienced a historical event first-hand and then write about that experience, the event and the historical significance.  While it takes me a few weeks to grade these papers, I thoroughly enjoy reading the stories.  Already, I have read some fascinating stories from war veterans and average citizens who experienced life-changing events.  This is one of my favorite assignments because it allows me to learn new information and new perspectives.  I also hope that the conversation with an older family member, friend, teacher or acquaintance is a meaningful experience for each student.

Overall, I walked out of the classroom Friday evening with a big smile on my face and a longing to get back to work on Monday.  I am grateful to my students for being so willing to learn and making each day exciting.

I can certainly mark this week as an #eduwin !  If you don't know what that means, check it out as a hashtag on Twitter or see this site:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Florida 500

Juan Ponce de Leon
Image Credit:
Today is the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida. In search of a "fountain of youth" and the obligatory Spanish goals of God, Glory and Gold (and not always in that order), Ponce de Leon landed on the east coast of Florida on April 2nd, 1513. The discovery was named Pascua de la Florida after the Easter "Feast of Flowers."

The first permanent settlement did not come until 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in today's St. Augustine. There, his chaplain celebrated the first Catholic Mass in today's United States.

This is a replica of the baptismal font used
to baptize Ponce de Leon in Spain in 1474.
This replica arrived at the Cathedral-Basilica of
St. Augustine in time for the Anniversary Mass
to be celebrated on April 3, 2013.
The initial discovery of Florida five hundred years ago set off a very rich history for this peninsula, as well as shaping the colonial and naval development for three imperial powers - Spain, France and Britain. Florida provided a vital role because of its location to the Gulf Stream, an oceanic highway of sorts that connects shipping lanes of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico back to Europe via the North Atlantic. Spanish Florida expelled French Huguenots from Ft. Caroline on the St. John's River and the colony became a thorn to its British colonial neighbors to the north. After the Seven Years (a.k.a. French and Indian) War, Florida entered a 20-year period of British rule (1763-1783). Spanish and British architecture is still evident in St. Augustine today. After the U.S. War for Independence, Florida returned to Spanish rule and Loyalist exiles from  the British North American colonies were expelled, causing their second major migration in only a few years. After decades of shaky Spanish rule and an invasion by Andrew Jackson, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. The territory gained statehood status in 1845. By that time, the capital had moved from St. Augustine to Tallahassee. This was considered an ideal location as it was mid-way between the two most important cities at the time, St. Augustine and Pensacola. In 1861, Florida seceded from the Union, following the lead of six other slave states of the Deep South. Though Florida did not serve a central role in the Civil War due to its sparse population, its geographic location was vital. Florida was a cattle-rich state and its cattle fed the Confederacy. The Battle of Olustee and the occupation of Jacksonville were intended to cut off the cattle supply for the Confederacy, one segment of the Union's "Anaconda Plan." After the Civil War, Florida experienced a tremendous period of growth from the late 1800s well into the twentieth century. Jacksonville flourished as a tourist destination and the trade port of Tampa grew exponentially. Former Rockefeller associate Henry Flagler built railroads in the state. With a railroad to South Florida in the early twentieth century, combined with canal projects that made the land habitable, the development of the Miami region began.  This set off the largest period of growth in the state and a century that would witness an explosion of population due to the country's "sunbelt" migration as well as new job opportunities, including those created by NASA.  Florida's warm climate and sandy beaches already attracted plenty of tourists.  Tourism would explode in the state with the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. Today, Florida continues to attract both tourists and new residents and remains one of the fastest growing states in the union.

This is simply a short summary of Florida's very rich and dynamic history.  Florida also has a very rich Catholic history which also will be celebrated this week, including a Mass celebrated tomorrow at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.  The Bishop of St. Augustine, the Most Reverend Felipe Estevez, is certainly well-versed in Florida's Catholic history as evident by his homily given at his installation in 2011 (linked here).  Check out the resources below for more information on Florida history!

Viva Florida!

Book Recommendations:
I had the opportunity to read several books on Florida history as a student at the University of North Florida.  I had the privilege of learning under Dr. Daniel Schafer, one of the leading historians of state history and author of several books on key people in Florida History.  Here are a few of my favorite books on Florida:

  • The New History of Florida edited by Michael Gannon (1996)
  • The Oldest City: St. Augustine Saga of Survival edited by Jean Parker Waterbury and published by the St. Augustine Historical Society (1983)
  • Patrick D. Smith's A Land Remembered (1984).  This is a historical fiction novel set in Old Florida.  The novel portrays three generations of the MacIvey family who experience the frontier history of Florida from the 1860s through the twentieth century.  This book presented such a gripping story that I easily journeyed through its 400 pages in only a few days.  
  • James B. Crook's Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars (2004).  I am certainly an enthusiast for my hometown and this is a great recent history book on Jacksonville!
  • A good read on the Catholic history of St. Augustine is Charles Gallagher's Cross & Crozier: A History of the Diocese of St. Augustine (1999).
Web Resources:


  • Hashtags: #florida500, #vivaflorida
  • @VivaFlorida - Official Twitter handle for the State's 500th Anniversary
  • @StAugustine450 - 450th Anniversary of St. Augustine
  • @FLMemory
Past Blog Posts:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lincoln and Emancipation

Last week, I finished Doris Kearns Goodwin's comprehensive book, Team of Rivals. The central theme of this book is the "political genius of Abraham Lincoln." Goodwin meticulously examines the lives of Lincoln and his cabinet from their youth to the 1860 Republican Convention and throughout the four-year struggle of the Civil War. While the focus is on Lincoln, she also closely examines the lives of his political rivals who became part of his official political family - the cabinet. Assembling a cabinet of Republican rivals and Democrats, all who believed in 1860 that Lincoln was unqualified to be chief executive, truly was a strike of genius, especially on the brink of the worst crisis ever experienced by our nation. Though at times it seemed that Lincoln was swayed or even controlled by some in the cabinet, especially Seward, Lincoln truly was the captain at the helm. He utilized the diversity of his cabinet and even their competitiveness to strengthen the Union cause and effectively manage a challenging war, despite numerous obstacles and setbacks.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
(M. Broach, 2005)
Goodwin's book became the basis for Steven Spielberg's blockbuster hit, Lincoln, now appearing in theaters. Both the film and the book capture Lincoln's uniquely dynamic and attractive personality. It truly was Lincoln's charisma, insightful leadership and appealing good nature that made him the ideal president for guiding the union through four years of bloody civil war. It is hard to imagine how the nation would have fared if a Stephen Douglas, William Henry Seward or Salmon Chase had been president. Though Lincoln certainly could be moved on particular issues, he usually had a strongly formed position on the major issues of the day and then guided the nation, a union of radicals, moderates and conservatives, towards that position. He timed major decisions well and was uniquely able to disarm critics with an anecdote or story to prove a point. Even some of Lincoln's harshest critics came to see the wisdom of his vision: an indivisible nation that fulfilled the dream of the Founding Fathers - a republic of the people dedicated to the "proposition that all men are created equal."

This is a picture of the actual
Emancipation Proclamation (photo:
M. Broach, 2005)

Scanned Version
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This single act catapulted Lincoln to the fame he enjoys today and served as the critical turning point of the Civil War, making the Union cause one of freedom instead of simply political reunion. From early on, Lincoln detested slavery and viewed it as a moral evil. However, as a lawyer and politician, he held the view of many that it was a constitutionally protected institution in the South. As president, in the absence of war, he could only forbid slavery in lands controlled by the federal government - the western territories. This was his platform in the Election of 1860.  After the first shots of the Civil War, Radical Republicans and abolitionists pushed incessantly for emancipation. However, Lincoln hesitated, citing the cause of union as more important and questioning whether or not he had the legal authority to make such a bold move. As the war progressed and Union commanders began confiscating slaves as enemy property, the concept of emancipation loomed heavily on Lincoln and his cabinet. Lincoln took the wise view that he could not make any move until the Union had a significant victory on the battlefield. Furthermore, Lincoln still believed that any blanket emancipation order might drive the border states to the Confederacy or be held as legally invalid once the war concluded. Therefore, when the Emancipation Proclamation was announced in September 1862 after the victory at Antietam, it only applied to areas still in rebellion against the United States as of January 1, 1863. Lincoln was able to justify his legal qualms by using his extraordinary powers as commander-in-chief to issue this proclamation as a military measure in suppressing the rebellion. While some abolitionists criticized this move as a weak response to demands for ending slavery, Lincoln wisely knew that this action would help put slavery on the path of extinction. This proclamation also opened the door to the enlistment of colored troops, a critical dynamic in filling Union troop needs and as a powerful symbol to the South. Furthermore, by changing the nature of war from one of suppressing rebellion to one of ending slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation effectively closed the door to potential diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy by Great Britain or France.

The Thirteenth Amendment
(National Archives)
While the Emancipation Proclamation was Lincoln's tool for suppressing rebellion and winning the war, it was the first critical step in permanently ending slavery in the United States, especially with the promise that slaves would be "thenceforward and forever free."  As the Union finally began to turn the tide against the Confederacy and victory seemed near, Lincoln worked hard - despite warnings from his cabinet members - on a final solution to the slavery question, the Thirteenth Amendment. While some believed that Lincoln should wait for the end of the war to work on such an amendment, he instinctively knew that the promise of freedom for those African-Americans already freed by the Emancipation Proclamation must be secured before the end of the war less they be returned to bondage. The only way to ensure that he achieved the vision of finally ending slavery was to have the constitutional protection of freedom passed before the political debates of Reconstruction could take away the hopes of millions of slaves and former slaves.

The ending of slavery made the Civil War a second revolution, finally achieving the ideals espoused by the Founding Fathers.

As always, I conclude with additional resources:

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