Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North

Jennifer L. Weber offers the first full-length portrait of this powerful faction to appear in almost half a century. Weber reveals how the Copperheads came perilously close to defeating Lincoln and ending the war in the South's favor. Indeed, by the summer of 1864, they had grown so strong that Lincoln himself thought his defeat was "exceedingly likely." Passionate defenders of civil liberties and states' rights--and often virulent racists--the Copperheads deplored Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, his liberal interpretation of the Constitution, and, most vehemently, his moves toward emancipation. Weber reveals how the battle over these issues grew so heated, particularly in the Midwest, that Northerners feared their neighbors would destroy their livestock, burn their homes, even kill them. Indeed, some Copperheads went so far as to conspire with Confederate forces and plan armed insurrections, including an attempt to launch an uprising during the Democratic convention in Chicago. Finally, Weber illuminates the role of Union soldiers, who, furious at Copperhead attacks on the war effort, moved firmly behind Lincoln. The soldiers' support for the embattled president kept him alive politically in his darkest times, and their victories on the battlefield secured his re-election.

Disgraced after the war, the Copperheads melted into the shadows of history. Here, Jennifer L. Weber illuminates their dramatic story. Packed with sharp observation and fresh interpretations, Copperheads is a gripping account of the fierce dissent that Lincoln called "the fire in the rear."

A well reviewed book.

Slavery and Politics

Robert noted that the battle over slavery goes back to the late 18th century and I found this title, which looks very interesting:

Giving close consideration to previously neglected debates, Matthew Mason challenges the common contention that slavery held little political significance in America until the Missouri Crisis of 1819. Mason demonstrates that slavery and politics were enmeshed in the creation of the nation, and in fact there was never a time between the Revolution and the Civil War in which slavery went uncontested.

The American Revolution set in motion the split between slave states and free states, but Mason explains that the divide took on greater importance in the early nineteenth century. He examines the partisan and geopolitical uses of slavery, the conflicts between free states and their slaveholding neighbors, and the political impact of African Americans across the country.

UNC Press also has The Transformation of American Abolitionism by Richard S. Newman covering a similar time period.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Suggestions for the Next Reading Group?

Not to rush our current discussion on Team of Rivals, but what would persons like to read next? Some of the titles that have been suggested include:

Nixonland by Rick Perlstein, although this review suggests his book on Goldwater is better.

The Ascent of George Washington by John Ferling

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life by Hugh Brogan

Renegade: The Making of a President by Richard Wolffe

feel free to suggest your own titles.

Our Lincoln by Eric Foner

In the wake of the 2008 election and on the eve of an inaugural address with "a new birth of freedom," a phrase borrowed from the Gettysburg Address, as its theme, the Lincoln we should remember is the politician whose greatness lay in his capacity for growth. Much of that growth stemmed from his complex relationship with the radicals of his day, black and white abolitionists who fought against overwhelming odds to bring the moral issue of slavery to the forefront of national life.

Until well into the Civil War, Lincoln was not an advocate of immediate abolition. But he was well aware of the abolitionists' significance in creating public sentiment hostile to slavery. Every schoolboy, Lincoln noted in 1858, recognized the names of William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe, leaders of the earlier struggle to outlaw the Atlantic slave trade, "but who can now name a single man who labored to retard it?" On issue after issue--abolition in the nation's capital, wartime emancipation, enlisting black soldiers, amending the Constitution to abolish slavery, allowing some blacks to vote--Lincoln came to occupy positions the abolitionists had first staked out. The destruction of slavery during the war offers an example, as relevant today as in Lincoln's time, of how the combination of an engaged social movement and an enlightened leader can produce progressive social change.

You can visit Foner's site here. Nice essay on Obama as well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dred Scott's Revenge

I was looking to see what was available on Dred Scott and came across this strange title. Napolitano is apparently a Fox commentator, who fancies himself a constitutional law expert having served a few years on the New Jersey Bench. He has been prolific in his titles, arguing the conservative line. I'm not sure how to "read" these texts. Judging by the reviews, it seems Napolitano has a partisan interpretation of the case and how it relates to American race relationships over the years.

The sad part is seeing Juan Williams (who provides a review of this book) attached to so many conservative rags and news programs these days, as I had thought of him as a more liberal voice until some of the comments he made on the O'Reilly Factor.

As Eric Foner noted in his book Who Owns History, there appears to be a redemption taking place in the wake of the Civil Rights legislation of the 60's. He notes the way the Republicans have tried to invert and re-interpret so much of the legislation and the rise of "original intent" in determining the degree of constitutional authority. Seems Napolitano comes from this ideological bent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Ascent of George Washington

Even compared to his fellow founders, George Washington stands tall. Our first president has long been considered a stoic hero, holding himself above the rough-and-tumble politics of his day. Now John Ferling peers behind that image, carefully burnished by Washington himself, to show us a leader who was not only not above politics, but a canny infighter, a master of persuasion, manipulation, and deniability.

I think it was William Lee Miller who noted that one of Lincoln's treasured books was Mason Locke Weems's The Life of Washington. The brief description of Ferling's new biography would appear to indicate that Lincoln modeled his administration to a large degree on that of Washington, who likewise found himself having to balance a "team of rivals."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers

Hon A B Lincoln...

Dear Sir

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin's. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York

I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye

Grace Bedell

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

House Divided Speech (1858)

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places, and by different workmen- Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance-and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly matte the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different l pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece. too many or too few,-not omitting even scaffolding-or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in-in such a case we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.

Lincoln's "framed timbers" analogy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dred Scott Case Collection

In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that the Scotts remained slaves. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War. For more information on the history of the case, visit the History of Dred Scott page.

The records displayed in this exhibit document the Scotts' early struggle to gain their freedom through litigation and are the only extant records of this significant case as it was heard in the St. Louis Circuit Court. The original Dred Scott case file is located in the Office of the St. Louis Circuit Clerk.

This collection is an expanded and updated version of the original Dred Scott Case Collection. The collection, was expanded from eighty-five to one hundred and eleven documents, over 400 pages of text. In addition, the collection is now a full-text, searchable resource that represents the full case history of the Dred Scott Case. Please visit the About the Collection page for a complete project history.

Nice site on the famous case, with plenty of links.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Meander Where You May

It's the weekend......

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Traditional History Classes Disappearing?

To the pessimists evidence that the field of diplomatic history is on the decline is everywhere. Job openings on the nation’s college campuses are scarce, while bread-and-butter courses like the Origins of War and American Foreign Policy are dropping from history department postings. And now, in what seems an almost gratuitous insult, Diplomatic History, the sole journal devoted to the subject, has proposed changing its title.

For many in the field this latest suggestion is emblematic of a broader problem: the shrinking importance not only of diplomatic history but also of traditional specialties like economic, military and constitutional history.....


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Finding Faulkner

Cleanth Brooks' study of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County arrived, but as yet no Team of Rivals. Most frustrating. Anyway, I found myself leafing through this handsome first edition and feeling myself transported back in time.

Meander Where you May

A weekend special....

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sewards's New Folly

Sarah Palin will be in Auburn NY on sat to participate in a celebration of Alaska's 50th year as a state.There will be a parade and then reception at the Seward Mansion historical site.The date has no significance for Auburn or Alaska but there it is.The Seward Mansion is now smack in the middle of Auburn surrounded by buildings and streets but it is still an interesting visit.I'm hoping that she states she can see"Mexico" from there on a clear day.Mexico is a small burg up near Lake Ontario near Oswego.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Making of a President

"Renegade" tells the whole amazing story, restating how unlikely it seemed, only two years ago, that President Obama would ever be identified as such. When the campaign started, he was 99th out of 100 senators in seniority. In 2000, he couldn't even gain admission to the Democratic convention, and his credit card was declined when he tried to rent a car in L.A. Wolffe explores all of the ups and downs of 2008, relaying anecdotes both new and familiar. There are not quite as many flashbulb revelations as I expected, beyond a horrifying glimpse into just how directionless the Bush White House was at the time of the economic collapse last fall and some provocative suggestions that the Obama marriage was in trouble around 2000, when his political ambitions were surfacing.
Judging by the reviews, like this one by Ted Widmer, this seems to be the best of the crop of books on how the White House was won.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Team of Rivals Reading Group

''Team of Rivals" is also an America ''coming-of-age" saga. Lincoln, Seward, Chase et al. are sketched as being part of a ''restless generation," born when Founding Fathers occupied the White House and the Louisiana Purchase netted nearly 530 million new acres to be explored. The Western Expansion motto of this burgeoning generation, in fact, was cleverly captured in two lines of Stephen Vincent Benet's verse: ''The stream uncrossed, the promise still untried / The metal sleeping in the mountainside." None of the protagonists in ''Team of Rivals" hailed from the Deep South or Great Plains.

From a review by Douglas Brinkley, 2005