Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, and the Civil War: A CWI Fellow’s Response

By Ryan Bilger ’19

In an interview for Sirius XM Radio released this Monday, May 1, President Donald Trump made some intriguing comments regarding the reasons why the American Civil War took place. He started by describing his beliefs on how 7th President Andrew Jackson would have influenced the events leading up to the Civil War:

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that he saw what was happening, with regard to the Civil War. He said, there’s no reason for this.

President Donald Trump. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, and the Civil War: A CWI Fellow’s Response”

Holding the High Ground at Harpers Ferry

By Andrew Vannucci ‘15

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Dwight Pitcaithley’s article, “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the American Civil War,” discusses the evolution of interpretation at Civil War parks that has moved toward a more complete, nuanced telling of Civil War history and the backlash against it. Before recent changes in NPS policy, most parks focused their interpretation solely on the military elements of their story. Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans interpreted this as appropriate deference towards honoring the men that fought in these battles. They saw moves toward setting battles in the context of social history (i.e., slavery) at these parks as taking attention away from and detracting from the sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers.

A memorial dedicated in 1931 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor the memory of Heyward Shepherd, a free African American, and the first person to die in connection with John Brown’s Raid. Photo credit Andrew Vannucci.
A memorial dedicated in 1931 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor the memory of Heyward Shepherd, a free African American, and the first person to die in connection with John Brown’s Raid. Photo credit Andrew Vannucci.

There is no doubt that military history is the essential component in programming at battlefield sites. Often, the most significant story to be told at battlefield sites is about the battle that took place there, the men who fought there and the men who died there. Hearing these stories and honoring veterans is important, but without setting these battles within a greater historical context battles loses their meaning in the bigger picture of American history. The preservation of an accurate historical memory and understanding of the war and the preservation of the physical sites themselves are equally important tasks. Pitcaithley’s article makes clear that Lost Cause influences contributed to the avoidance of this broader picture for a long time, but current programming at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park reveals just how substantial the transformations of recent years have been. Continue reading “Holding the High Ground at Harpers Ferry”

Vandalism and Symbolism

By Steven Semmel ’16

The world of social media has been buzzing over the topic of the Confederate flag, creating a scary divide of opinions over it. The whole debate/argument started over the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter had the Confederate flag posted all over his social media sites, creating some disturbing images of hatred. Instead of focusing on the race war the shooter was trying to start, many focused on the Confederate Flag he had in his pictures online. Tempers flared and many sought the removal of the Confederate flag from in front of the Capital Building in Charleston during the funerals of the victims.

However, this was just the beginning. Soon many people wanted more, to remove the flag all across the country. Apple, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart joined the event by removing Confederate flag items from being sold. The announcement made many people feel that their “Southern Heritage” was being suppressed and people were “too soft and offended by too many things in today’s society.” Then the Gettysburg National Park Service announced the removal of sole Confederate flag merchandise from their book store. The same people now thought that the government was trying to oppress the Southern perspective of the Civil War and were going to remove Confederate flags from all museums. The people for the removal thought it was about time that the flag was removed because it stood for slavery and a national divide. They also brought in the argument that Germany banned the Nazi flag from flying, so why was the Confederate flag still flying to this day. But what does this flag mean and what is the appropriate way to respond to this debate? Continue reading “Vandalism and Symbolism”

Event Review: “The Coming of War”

by Emily Weinick, ’13 On October 17th in Kline Theater, Dr. Allen C. Guelzo delivered ???The Coming of the War???, the first lecture in his four part series entitled ???A Walk Through the Civil War???. Dr. Guelzo guided the audience through the sequence o…

By Emily Weinick ’13

On October 17th in Kline Theater, Dr. Allen C. Guelzo delivered “The Coming of the War”, the first lecture in his four part series entitled “A Walk Through the Civil War”. Dr. Guelzo guided the audience through the sequence of events leading up to the Civil War. He told the story of the Industrial Revolution, slavery, territorial expansionism, political turmoil, and secession. He absolutely captivated the audience with his spellbinding speaking.  

Guelzo began his lecture at the turn of the nineteenth century by describing how the invention of steam-powered machines made the world a smaller place. In 1775, farmers ate what they grew, made their own clothes, and were unaware of the world outside of their farms and communities. However, by the 1780s, the Industrial Revolution began to replace human and animal power with steam powered machines. The steam engine promoted a globalized market, encouraging entrepreneurs to pursue business ventures. Thomas Jefferson initially resisted this new economic world. However, as Guelzo went on to say, Jefferson quickly changed his view on Industrialization with the invention of a machine that would change American industry: the cotton gin.

The invention of the cotton gin went hand-in-hand with the resurgence of slavery in America. In nineteenth century America there was plenty of work and not enough hands to do it.  Slavery was a quick fix to the problem. But, as Guelzo pointed out, slavery was an expensive proposition and paradoxical for many Northerners. Those who did not have the land or funds to support a host of slaves could not rely on slave labor and the institution of slavery smacked hard against the ideals of the Revolutionary War – independence from the tyranny of others. Many thought slavery would disappear as the land was becoming over tilled: large slave states like Virginia even saw a reduction in slaves. But, as Dr. Guelzo reminded us, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. With Southern soil supporting the growth of cotton, soon 57% of all American exports would be slave-cultivated cotton. By mid-century, as Guelzo said, “slavery was expanding, not dying.”

With this resurgence in slavery, there was also an increase in opposition to it. The Missouri Compromise seemed to assuage Northerners fear of the expansion of slavery as it limited which states could hold slaves. However, the Compromise of 1850 changed this. Now settlers of the newly acquired Mexican territories would decide what type of state they wanted to be – slave or free. With this compromise, Guelzo pointed out two issues. For one, a decision on slavery would be delayed until settlers filled the territories.  More importantly, the idea of popular sovereignty was a precarious one. In the wake of the Compromise of 1850 the Republican Party was formed.

The 1860 election proved crucial and Lincoln’s election the catalyst for war. The secession of southern states led to a political crisis for the new president.  Guelzo indicated that neither Jefferson Davis nor Lincoln wanted war in the spring of 1861; however they each wanted different things. Davis wished for a peaceful secession, one in which the southern states were left alone. Lincoln wished for peace, but he also wanted to abide by the federal constitution and preserve the union.

Neither President got what they wished for. On April 12 of 1861, Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina was bombarded by the Confederates. The Fort symbolized a domination of the Union over the Confederacy and mocked their secession. Guelzo explained that Lincoln was forced to punish the Confederacy for their actions. His punishment came in the form of a hodgepodge army that invaded Virginia in the first battle of Bull Run. The equally disorganized Confederates managed to drive back the Union and they returned to Washington unsuccessful. Guelzo ended the lecture explaining that Bull Run did not convince Lincoln that war was futile, but that a new and organized army with an experienced general was necessary.

We will hear a continuation of Professor Guelzo’s “A Walk Through the Civil War” on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at Gettysburg College.