Friday, July 31, 2009

Meandering with the Presidents

I was so smitten with this series of photos (linked above) and the fact that I could get started on TR online that I subscribed to Vanity Fair. Time will tell if all issues live up to these two samples, but it does seem like they have interesting stories from time to time.

This photo booth snapshot may be from the Kennedys' honeymoon.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Pursuit of a Dream

Joseph, the brother of Jefferson Davis, was of a very different stripe. He sold the family plantation at Davis Bend to Benjamin Montgomery, a freedman, allowing him and his family to have full reign of the former plantation, which they turned into a profitable farm. Sadly, the sale was later challenged in Mississippi courts by Joseph's children after his death, and ultimately nullified. I picked up this book while I was reading Eric Foner's book on Reconstruction. Well worth reading, especially from a Reconstruction point of view.

The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government

I don't know how this tome stacks up with Gibbon's classic text, but Jefferson Davis seemed intent on drawing a parallel. David Blight notes how Davis compared the Confederacy, albeit a very short-lived one, to the Greek and Roman Empires. At 1200 pages it would take an incredible amount of patience to go through a book like this, but I thought it was worth noting, as Blight states that this pretty much served as the base text for the Southern Redemption after Reconstruction.

Blight notes that Davis was one of many unreconstructed Southern leaders, and how he and other former Southern Leaders (Breckinridge to name one) saw Reconstruction as the second civil war with the redemption of the Southern states seen as a victory over Northern "industrial imperialism." Rather than promoting a "Lost Cause," per se, they promoted "Redemption," which in effect they won, considering their cause noble and true.

Ironically, his brother, Joseph, turned his plantation over to his emancipated slaves, who briefly made it into a thriving cooperative farm before Davis' heirs challenged his will.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Souls of Black Folk

I don't know how widely read this book was at the time, but some eminent persons weighed in on DuBois' study of Blacks in America, including William James, who was one of DuBois' teachers at Harvard. Interesting to read that William James sent his brother, Henry, a copy of the book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Richard Hofstadter's Tradition

If anyone wants a tonic to the highly favorable portraits of Lincoln that Miller and Goodwin provide, I can think of no better book, or I should say chapter from, Richard Hofstadter's An American Political Tradition. He spends about 60 pages on Lincoln, pretty much sizing him as a very shrewd politician who essentially caved on any moral position he had in regard to slavery. It is a rather cynical portrait of the beloved President, with heavy references to Herndon, although I suspect Hofstadter took only the most biting references, as it is quite apparent that he wanted to bring Lincoln down to size.

Hofstadter focuses mostly on the many contradictions in Lincoln's speeches, noting how he would appeal to a more liberal crowd in Chicago but then tone down his rhetoric when in more southern Charleston, Illinois, during his debates with Douglas, leading Douglas to comment that he couldn't live with himself if he had so many contradictions. Hofstadter says that the great art of Lincoln's speeches was his ability to appeal to abolitionists and "negrophobes" alike by making the issue of slavery in the territories that of diminishing the rights of whites by allowing slavery to seep into every nook and cranny of American society and making all the states slave states. Yet, Hofstadter notes, Lincoln didn't express such anxieties over the Fugitive Slave Bill that affected far more people in the North than the territorial slavery question, which Douglas apparently felt would get voted down by the territories anyway, as free settlers far outnumbered slave-holding settlers, but then the Lecompton Constitution showed just how easily such votes could be rigged.

Anyway, interesting reading, especially from the perspective of 60 years after Hofstadter wrote his most famous book.

Friday, July 24, 2009


A little early for the weekend, but am sitting here on my deck enjoying an unexpected summer rain after days of near 100 heat. This is not from my deck, but looks like it could be from around here -- maybe the Flathead Reservation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Letter to Mrs. Stowe

I found this letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Beecher Stowe, which he read to the Colored National Convention in 1853. There is only this passage specifically addressing the novel,

Dear Madam, my deep sense of the value of the services which you have already rendered my afflicted and persecuted people, by the publication of your inimitable book on the subject of slavery. That contribution to our bleeding cause, alone, involves us in a debt of gratitude which cannot be measured; and your resolution to make other exertions on our behalf excites in me emotions and sentiments, which I scarcely need try to give forth in words. Suffice it to say, that I believe you have the blessings of your enslaved countrymen and countrywomen; and the still higher reward which comes to the soul in the smiles of our merciful Heavenly father, whose ear is ever open to the cries of the oppressed.

I wonder if that made Frederick Douglass an "Uncle Tom?"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Uncle Tom's Shadow

I found this interesting essay in The Nation which looks at how Uncle Tom's Cabin has been interpreted over the years,

Nor is Uncle Tom an "Uncle Tom." He is a Christ symbol. This pivotal character needs to be understood both in the context of religious nineteenth-century America and Stowe's contrapuntal narrative. In the midst of this very violent book, the religious Uncle Tom is the calm at the eye of the storm: patient, tolerant, unwilling to use violence himself even when--a point conveniently overlooked--he approves of other slaves' decision to stage overt revolt. Uncle Tom encourages George and Eliza to flee. Knowing no other way of life, he chooses to resist the slave system by small acts of kindness and moral persuasion. The vast majority of American slaves would never flee their plantations. Stowe is contrasting two forms of resistance (which in many ways parallel the philosophical differences between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X): the Bible and the gun.

Quoted from Darryl Lorenzo Wellington's essay. However, this essay will be a spoiler for those who haven't finished the novel.

Scopes Monkey Trial

It remains interesting how much attention this trial gets. From what I've read, the trial was essentially set up to challenge the Butler Act, which expressly made Divine Creation the only theory to be taught in Tennessee schools, with Scopes intentionally teaching evolution at the instigation of the ACLU, knowing he would have a heavyweight lawyer defending him. As it turned out, it set up one of the most compelling courtroom dramas in American history with Clarence Darrow facing off against William Jennings Bryan. I never saw Inherit the Wind, but I remember a television remake with Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas as the great lawyers.

Here's a NYT review of one of the more recent books on the trial, Summer for the Gods, by Edward Larson.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Looking at the Lost Cause

The Birth of a Nation, based on Rev. Dixon's The Klansman, was screened in Woodrow Wilson's White House, making The Lost Cause into Hollywood material. Other films followed, with arguably the most memorable being Gone With the Wind. Even Disney's Song of the South perpetuated many of the same myths with Uncle Remus presented as a revisionist version of Uncle Tom. But, there were many other movies, including a more direct version version of Dixon's The Klansman with Lee Marvin, Richard Burton and O.J. Simpson, among others.

However, one of my favorite movies is Ross McElwee's Sherman's March, in which he casts a sardonic eye on The Lost Cause, charting his own growth in the South as he follows the wake left by Sherman's March to the Sea with a number of fascinating images and observations along the way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Seeing the anniversary of the Women's Rights Convention brought to mind the book reading we did on Mary Wollstonecraft back in the New York Times.

Foner devoted a lot of attention to the women's suffrage movement in his book on Reconstruction, noting the bitterness that seeped into the movement when black men were given the right to vote but not women. He focused primarily on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Happy Birthday SpongeBob SquarePants

He's 10 years old. Meander as you can....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Being Ronald Reagan

James Mann has now turned his eye on Reagan, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan, focusing largely on his relationship with Gorbacev to read this review in The Economist. It seems Mann has a largely favorable view of the role Reagan played in the breakdown of the Soviet Union. This book follows Richard Reeves' inner view of the mind of Reagan in President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, which received mixed reviews, pretty much following the same formula he used for his compelling biographies on Kennedy and Nixon.

There was a time when historians appeared flummoxed as to how to approach Reagan, as Michiko Kakutani noted in his NYT review of Reeves' book. No more, it seems. Historians seem to be lining up behind Lou Cannon, who long held a favorable impression of The Great Communicator, and whose book, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime is still considered the best on the subject. Even Douglas Brinkley has gotten into the act by editing The Reagan Diaries.

I read Edmund Morris' Dutch sometime back, which I see is being reevaluated after some of the scathing criticism Morris took for introducing fictional characters into his narrative. I kind of liked it because Reagan is a hard figure to pin down and seemed to work more on the collective imagination of America than in any kind of empirical sense. While it may be "bad history," it is good storytelling.

Anyway, I'm not suggesting we take up Reagan, but given he is undergoing a transformation into icon status with attempts to put him on the ten-dollar bill and prefixing Washington's National Airport with his name, you get the sense Reagan will become a major part of our collective imagination for better or for worse.

Disney's America

Speaking of Lost Causes, the anniversary of Disneyland, in Anaheim, brought to mind the 1993 proposal by Disney to create an "America" historical theme park in Prince William County, Virginia. As you can imagine, quite a battle ensued as the park would have competed with the numerous national battlefield sites and Colonial Wiliamsburg. There was also the issue of how Disney would interpret American history in Michael Eisner's press release. Here's a website devoted to the controversy that surrounded the proposed park, which Disney was ultimately forced to withdraw.

The Lost Cause

The term "Lost Cause" emerged at the end of the Civil War when Edward Pollard, editor of the Richmond Examiner, popularized it with his book The Lost Cause, which chronicled the Confederacy's demise. The term swiftly came into common use as a reference not only to military defeat, but defeat of the "southern way of life"—a phrase that generally referred to the South of the antebellum period, when plantation slavery was still intact. Since the late nineteenth century, historians have used the term "Lost Cause" to describe a particular belief system as well as commemorative activities that occurred in the South for decades after the Civil War. Commonly held beliefs were that the war was fought over states' rights and not slavery, that slavery was a benevolent institution that offered Christianity to African "savages," and that the war was a just cause in the eyes of God. Commemorative activities included erecting Confederate monuments and celebrating Confederate Memorial Day.

from the Encyclopedia of Alabama

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jump Jim Crow

Come listen all you galls and boys I's jist from Tuckyhoe,
I'm going to sing a little song, my name's Jim Crow,
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

Oh I'm a roarer on de fiddle, and down in old Virginny,
They say I play de skyentific like Massa Pagannini.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

I went down to de riber, I didn't mean to stay,
But dere I see so many galls, I couldn't get away.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

I git upon a flat boat, I cotch de uncle Sam,
But I went to see de place where de kill'd Packenham.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

And den I do to Orleans and feel so full of fight,
Dey put me in de Calaboose and keep me dare all night.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.
Lyrics by Thomas "Daddy" Rice, 1828

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Anti-Tom" or Plantation Literature

The two most famous anti-Tom books are The Sword and the Distaff by William Gilmore Simms and The Planter's Northern Bride by Caroline Lee Hentz.

Simms' The Sword and the Distaff came out only a few months after Stowe's novel and contains a number of sections and discussions that clearly debate Stowe's book and view of slavery. The novel focuses on the Revolutionary War and its aftermath through the lives of Captain Porgy and one of his slaves. Simms novel was popular enough that it was reprinted in 1854 under the title Woodcraft.

The Planter's Northern Bride by Caroline Lee Hentz was published two years after Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hentz's novel offers a defense of slavery as seen through the eyes of a northern woman — the daughter of an abolitionist, no less — who marries a southern slave owner. As with other books in the genre, Hentz's novel tries to show that black people lacked the ability to function well without oversight by whites. Her novel also focused on the fear of a slave rebellion, especially if abolitionists didn't stop stirring up trouble.

Simms and Hentz's books were two of between twenty or thirty pro-slavery novels written in the decade after Uncle Tom's Cabin. Other well-known authors who published anti-Tom novels include John Pendleton Kennedy.

Mary Henderson Eastman's Aunt Phillis's Cabin was one of the bestselling novels of the genre. Published in 1852, it sold 20,000 to 30,000 copies. In a note in the book, Eastman proudly stated she was a descendant of the First Families of Virginia.

Little Eva: The Flower of the South, by Philip J. Cozans, was a rare example of anti-Tom literature, in the sense that - whereas most anti-Tom novels were written for an adult audience - Little Eva was in fact an anti-Tom children's novel.

quoted from wiki with book links added.

Not surprisingly, Cozans seems to have taken his title from one of the characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Eva St. Clare, also known as "Little Eva," while Eastman plays on the title of the famous novel. It also seems that Hentz took her idea from one of Stowe's character, Ophelia St. Clare, a Vermont Quaker, who travels South to help her nephew at his Louisiana plantation.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Fool's Errand

It must have felt like A Fool's Errand going against the mainstream views of the 1880's, which demanded a reconciliation between the North and South.

Albion Tourgée is probably best remembered for defending Homer Plessy in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case, the decision of which opened the door to further segregation laws in the South. He was also a prolific writer, defending Reconstruction and actively criticized the post-Reconstruction policies in the US, particularly those in the South.

In Race and Reunion, David Blight draws on Tourgée's books, in particular A Fool's Errand and An Appeal to Caesar to counter the spirit of reconciliation that prevailed after the Civil War.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Uncle Tom's Cabin

This is a review from The London Times from September, 1852:

The object of the work is revealed in the pictorial frontispiece. Mrs. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE is an abolitionist, and her book is a vehement and unrestrained argument in favor of her creed. She does not preach a sermon, for men are accustomed to nap and nod under the pulpit; she does not indite a philosophical discourse, for philosophy is exacting, is solicitous for truth, and scorns exaggeration. Nor does the lady condescend to survey her intricate subject in the capacity of a judge, for the judicial seat is fixed high above human passion, and she is in no temper to mount it. With the instinct of her sex, the clever authoress takes the shortest road to her purpose, and strikes at the convictions of her readers by assailing their hearts. She cannot hold the scales of justice with a steady hand, but she has learnt to perfection the craft of the advocate. Euclid, she well knows, is no child for effecting social revolutions, but an impassioned song may set a world in conflagration. Who shall deny to a true woman the use of her true weapons? We are content to warn the unsuspecting reader of their actual presence!

I thought it might be a good read between now and September, as it explores at least one of the literary themes from the Lincoln era, and, as David Blight noted, affected much of the writing in regard to summing up the Black Man at the time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Genesis of the Civil War

One of the first person accounts I have of the Civil War is that of Samuel W. Crawford, the surgeon at Fort Sumter at the time of the 1861 seige. I read it while I was documenting Fort Sumter for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1991. You can view the drawings through the link provided. It is a fascinating account as he appeared to be striving for the type of accuracy Blight said many veterans were at the time. Crawford wrote the book in 1887.

Crawford was also at Antietam, Gettysburg and a number of other battles during the Civil War. He also was involved in efforts to preserve the Gettysburg Battlefied after the war.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

The 388 articles by 226 authors are accompanied by 197 well-drawn maps, nearly 1500 engraved illustrations, statistical summaries, orders of battle, and editorial notes inserted by Johnston and Buel. The engravings are among the best related to Civil War history and were done by a team of artists and illustrators that includes Edwin Forbes, Winslow Homer, Allan C. Redwood, William I. Sheppard, James E. Taylor, and Alfred R. Waud.

-Eicher and Gallagher, The Civil War in Books

Rebirth of a Nation

You had mentioned this title, avrds. It covers the turbulent period between 1877 and 1920, seemingly from an industrial angle, although Lears appears to cover quite a bit of territory in the process:

Lears is at his inspired best when he discusses the anti-imperialist intellectuals such as Mark Twain, Jane Addams and William James, who rejected the fantasy of civilizing the Filipinos, as Twain put it, by way of "Maxim Guns and Hymn Books." Equally intriguing is Lears's treatment of the young cultural critic Randolph Bourne. During World War I, as most progressive intellectuals were seduced by the notion of regeneration by way of the bloodbath on the Western Front, Bourne remained "a champion of ambiguity." He stuck to his belief that the war would only produce state repression and inhumanity, famously observing: "War is the health of the state." "Rebirth of a Nation" is dazzling cultural history: smart, provocative and gripping. It is also a book for our times, historically grounded, hopeful and filled with humane, just and peaceful possibilities.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ford's Theatre

Here is a link to Ford's Theatre Museum, which was converted into a theatre from a Baptist Church in 1861. It lay in a seamy side of town, known as Hooker's Division, and nearby was Murder Bay, which no doubt added to Stanton's concerns. Seems John T. Ford was capitalizing on the swelling population of Washington during the war, which rose from 60,000 to over 200,000 persons. Lincoln first visited Ford's in May, 1862, which as Goodwin noted, provided him a welcom reprieve from the horrors of war.

The Business of Slavery

The Slave Trade avoids the sensationalism and moral outrage that have accompanied so many popular accounts. He achieves this by focusing on the development of the trade as a branch of European and, later, American commerce. He locates its origins in the ancient Mediterranean and medieval Islam, and then covers the beginning, growth and apogee (in the late 1700's) of the Atlantic trade. The emphasis is on the spread of the trade from the European perspective -- the international rivalries, the contacts with Africa and the colonization of the Americas.

Thomas then pauses to look at the trade as a business, with chapters devoted to the nautical details of ships, the kinds of people who were traders, the commodities brought to Africa and a thorough examination of the histories and locations of trading posts. He studies the means by which people were enslaved in Africa, and conducts a careful survey of the business practices of the trade on the coast, where European buyers met African sellers face to face. Only one chapter is devoted to the Middle Passage and the sale of slaves on the auction block, a sensitive but relatively bloodless account of the moral core of the trade. Throughout, Thomas treads carefully on touchy issues involving the role of African wars in generating slaves, the relationship between those wars and the demands of the slave traders, and the overall profitability of the trade to ship owners and captains.

The remainder of the book covers the continuation of the slave trade well into the 19th century and its final demise in an era when the last slaves crossed the Atlantic in steamships after having received smallpox vaccinations. This section is particularly devoted to the slow growth of the moral sentiments in popular religion that linked the abolitionist movement and evangelical Christianity, and is especially strong on showing the growth of abolitionist sentiment (or the lack of it) on the Continent, specifically in countries with overseas possessions.

This is an excerpt from NYT review from 1997. I have the book floating around somewhere. It is an exhaustive account of the slave trade from its early origins to its pirate days. Good reference material.

Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

I found this on-line copy of Sherman's Memoirs with the second half of the book devoted to the Atlanta Campaign.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Race and Reunion

I currently find myself reading this book, which I think does an excellent job of summarizing the process of remembering and forgetting that took place after the Civil War. Blight breaks his narrative down into 10 essays that demonstrate various aspects of this process and how the black man faded into the background of the battle of narratives that took place afte the war. Below is an excerpt from a NYT review by Eric Foner:

David W. Blight demonstrates that as soon as the guns fell silent, debate over how to remember the Civil War began...Blight's study of how Americans remembered the Civil War in the 50 years after Appomattox exemplifies these themes. It is the most comprehensive and insightful study of the memory of the Civil War yet to appear...Blight tells this story in a lucid style and with an entirely appropriate measure of indignation...Race and Reunion demonstrates forcefully still matters very much how we remember the Civil War.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney

I don't know the viewpoint (seems like Taney) taken in this title, but it focuses on the Lincoln-Taney relationship, which Goodwin pretty much ignored except for a reference to the Dred Scott Case.

This surprisingly taut and gripping book by NYU law professor Simon (What Kind of Nation) examines the limits of presidential prerogative during the Civil War. Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney saw eye to eye on certain matters; both, for example, disliked slavery. But beginning in 1857, when Lincoln criticized Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case, the pair began to spar. They diverged further once Lincoln became president when Taney insisted that secession was constitutional and preferable to bloodshed, and blamed the Civil War on Lincoln. In 1861, Taney argued that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was illegal. This holding was, Simon argues, "a clarion call for the president to respect the civil liberties of American citizens." In an 1862 group of cases, Taney joined a minority opinion that Lincoln lacked the authority to order the seizure of Southern ships. Had Taney had the chance, suggests Simon, he would have declared the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional; he and Lincoln agreed that the Constitution left slavery up to individual states, but Lincoln argued that the president's war powers trumped states' rights. Simon's focus on Lincoln and Taney makes for a dramatic, charged narrative—and the focus on presidential war powers makes this historical study extremely timely.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Emancipation Statue

I started to put this in the Reading Group section, but wanted to include this photo.

"He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.

In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states.

He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity....

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined."

I agree with Douglass that Lincoln sort of ruled from that weird middle ground. I think this is a great speech: