Categories
American History

A New Look at the Failures and Successes of Reconstruction

The era of U.S. history known as Reconstruction brought rapid and significant changes to the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. While the moderate policies of Abraham Lincoln, and later Andrew Johnson, supported a deliberate and relatively slow process of promoting political and economic change in the South, a more radical contingent of Republicans pushed for rapid change and a virtually complete overhaul of the politics and economics of the South. These Radical Republicans supported the rights of post-slavery Freedmen, affording them the right to vote and to engage in political activity. By most accounts, the era of Reconstruction was a failure, and many of the policies and changes pushed by the Radical Republicans were quickly reversed. Historians disagree about what forces were primarily responsible for the failure of Reconstruction; some maintain that individual and institutional racism undermined the Reconstruction efforts, while others assert that larger economic policies were the root cause of the failure of many components of Reconstruction. The truth seems to lie somewhere in between these competing views or Reconstruction: racism, economics, and politics were all factors in the failure of some aspects of Reconstruction, though it may be too simple to say that any one factor was the most significant, just as it may be an oversimplification to see Reconstruction as a complete failure.

            LeeAnna Keith writes about the battle at the Colfax Courthouse in Louisiana, and points to this event as a tipping point when the efforts by the Radical Republicans to overhaul the political and economic systems of the Southern states began to fail. The Colfax Courthouse had become a symbol to many disgruntled Whites in the South of the newfound political and economic freedoms afforded to the Freedmen (the former slaves) by the Radical Republicans in Congress. Anger and distrust was building among many Whites, and an organized group of men, some of whom belonged to groups like the “Old Time Ku Klux Klan” attacked the Freedmen who were holed up in the Courthouse on April 5, 1873. Dozens, or possibly hundreds, of Blacks were killed in the attack. According to historians such as Keith, this assault and slaughter became a symbol and a rallying cry for the Whites who opposed Reconstruction, and would mark the beginning of a growing movement to bring an end to the changes imposed on the South by Congress.

            Historian Heather Cox Richardson takes a different view on the failures of Reconstruction, claiming that political and economic circumstances in the North had as much or more to do with the situation as did the racism of Southern Whites. Richardson argues that Whites in the North opposed aspects of the labor movement associated with Freedmen, such as the redistribution of property and other decisions that the Northern Whites believed showed special favoritism to Southern Blacks. While many Whites in the North supported the notion of granting “Civil Rights” to Blacks, these rights were specifically about the rights to own property, to vote, to use the legal system, and other similar processes. At the same time, many Whites in the North believed that Freedmen, as well as some politicians, were attempting to write and pass legislation that would afford Blacks privileges that had not been individually earned. The opposition to this was based on the belief that Whites had to earn their own places in society and that the laws should not be used to grant Blacks special favors or privileges.

            Discrimination against Blacks by Northern Whites may not have been as strong or as violent as that of Southern Whites, but many in the North still opposed the idea that Blacks and Whites were socially equal, and believed that Radical Republicans who were trying to enforce the rights associated with labor were also trying to push for social equality for Blacks that was not earned. In a sense, the racism of Southern Whites and Northern Whites helped to undermine Reconstruction, and when combined formed a force of opposition that was too great for the changes of Reconstruction to withstand. Despite the fact that many of the changes brought about by Reconstruction were undone or reversed, however, those few years of relative freedom for many Blacks gave them a glimpse of the possibilities that could be theirs. This realization did not die with the end of Reconstruction, and would serve to support the eventual rebirth of the civil rights movement in the following century. By that measure, then, Reconstruction was not entirely a failure, though it would take nearly a century before the rights of Blacks that had been lost at the end of reconstruction would eventually be restored.

Categories
American History

THE ROLE OF RAILROADS IN THE GREAT WEST SETTLEMENT

Introduction

The rise of the railroad system in the American West between 1865 nand 1900 was integral to the region’s economic development and the Great West settlements. In addition, the railroad system was also instrumental in promoting ethnic diversity in the American West, as it drew Caucasian settlers from the East, African-American settlers from the Deep South, and Chinese settlers to work on the railroads[1].  The Great Plains and the Far West were popular settlement locations brought about by industrialization, partly fueled by the railroads. The railroads were also integral in the implementation of new developments, as well as encroaching economic adjustments in the area that led to the eventual defeat of the western Indians and southwest Hispanic communities. However, this also led to the growth of the presence of Asians, Mexicans, and Europeans who migrated to this area. Also, it is reported that railroad operations in Indian Territory in Oklahoma sparked competition by district settlers, and this led to the implementation of the Homestead Act of 1889 which opened the door for many settlers to gain occupancy and ownership of the land[2].

What the Railroads Accomplished

            The invention and building of the railroads in the American West accomplished many siginificant events, such as improved transportation, imports, and exports. This gave way to the extension of capitalist initiatives, as well as new business and innovation, causing the growth and expansion of the settlements, as gold, mercury, agricultural products, livestock, and other forms of wealth were easily funneled into the West[3].

References

Henrietta. A Maturing Industrial Society, 1877–1914. Bedford St Martin, 2009.

Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900. n.d. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/riseind/west/.

Schwantes, C. A., and J P. Ronda. The West the Railroads Made. 2008. http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/SCHWES.html.


[1]  (Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900 n.d.)

[2]  (Henrietta 2009)

[3]  (Schwantes and Ronda 2008)

Categories
American History

The Great Depression

The world experienced its most severe economic crisis of the 20th century beginning at the end of the 1920s in the United States and extending into the 40s in some countries2. This period of time is known as The Great Depression and is often used as a yardstick for the comparison of current financial environments. The era also serves as a warning about the sustained cycles of despair that can result from such an economic downturn. Historic accounts of the crisis provide evidence about the multitude of variables that led to and sustained The Great Depression and could threaten contemporary economic markets if left unchecked. Similarly, records also contain important pieces of information regarding the measures that led to the end of the crisis and could therefore provide clues of the actions that could be taken to pre-empt or quickly respond to indications of a similar situation emerging in the present and future.

Categories
American History

The Gorilla and The Snub

For this paper I have chosen McPherson’s treatment of General George B. McClellan in regards to two specific incidents, both of which first appear in the same page and paragraph of his book Ordeal by Fire (McPherson J. M., 1982). They appear to be rather minor, at least at first, and I will have to justify discussing them. They deal with the general’s personal relationship with President Lincoln and that publicly seen relationship and that relationship as seen by historians. However, I would argue that the two seemingly minor matters I have selected are actually as important as any other point of history, as they touch upon the matter of what I will call “the assumption of accuracy” in historical texts. By this I mean the assumed accuracy of reported facts and conclusions drawn from those facts. Interpretation, being subjective, changes over time, and with the discovery of new facts and documentary sources, history books themselves become obsolete, requiring new editions dealing with well-known events and subjects. It seems the only saving grace for a history book’s relevance is how long its accuracy holds out along with its literary quality. McPherson’s book has survived in classrooms and probably will continue to do so as long as he is writing and teaching.

Categories
American History

Bob Woodward’s “The War Within”

In “The War Within,” journalist and author Bob Woodward looks behind the scenes of the administration of George W. Bush and examines how the members of the administration handled issues related to the Iraq War. From a chronological perspective the book focuses primarily on Bush’s second term; by this time the Iraq War had been underway for several years, and as Bush was running for reelection there was little hope that the war would conclude any time soon. Woodward’s book emphasizes the roles played by those at the top of the administration, noting that the members of the Bush team often disagreed vehemently among themselves about how to manage Iraq. The divisions among the members of the administration were what prompted Woodward’s title “The War Within.” The overarching theme of the book is that the jumbled mess that was the Iraq War in that period was largely a reflection of the jumbled mess within Bush’s administration. Woodward does trace how the Bush team eventually settled on the idea of a “troop surge” as a countermeasure to combat the Iraq insurgency, and agrees to an extent that such am insurgency was useful and by some measures even successful. Despite the relative success of the troop surge, the prevailing message left by “The War Within” is that Iraq began as, and continued to be, a poorly-planned and poorly-managed operation due largely to the disagreements, personality clashes, and unchecked egos of the members of the Bush administration.

One of the most telling moments in the book comes early on, when Woodward describes Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley’s approach to briefing Bush: Hadley “believed his task was to ascertain Bush’s wishes and then bring the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, the chief of Intelligence and others into line” (Woodward, p9, 2008). Hadley’s handling of his position as NSA was completely different than the historical antecedents of those who advised earlier presidents; it had historically been the duty of the NSA to present as clear and broad a picture as possible to the President, while Hadley believed that Bush’s advisors should first reach “consensus” (Woodward, p9) before briefing Bush. As Woodward makes clear throughout the book, this approach was difficult and even dangerous for a number of reasons; for one, reaching consensus was virtually impossible among a group with so many countervailing views; for another, it clearly prioritized assuaging the President’s ego over confronting the full reality of the situation.

At the heart of the problems the Bush administration had in dealing with the Iraq War were the strong, forceful, and often unmanageable personalities of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Robert Gates, and the often-conflicting views and advice offered by military leaders such as General David Petraeus and General George Casey. As early as 2004 General Casey had been advising Bush that the U.S. military needed to hand control of Iraq security over to the Iraqi military as quickly as possible; this view was largely shared by Bush’s first Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bush’s first Secretary of State, by contrast, famously believed that by “breaking” Iraq, the U.S. effectively “owned” the troubled nation, and would have to stay for the foreseeable future to secure and stabilize the country and the region (. Condoleeza Rice, who succeeded Powell, was primarily concerned with the political side of things, and was a staunch supporter of establishing a democratic government in Iraq as the only viable path to security there. General Petraeus differed from Gates, believing that a more aggressive military stance would better serve Iraq and the U.S. than would a rapid drawdown.

At the core of the problems associated with Iraq was the lack of agreement and resolution among the military and civilian leadership. When Rice testified before Congress about the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy, which she described as “Clear, Hold, Build,” the military leaders such as General Casey were flabbergasted; they had no idea what this policy was supposed to mean in practical terms and it had no viable connection to the military reality in Iraq. Woodward describes a conversation between Casey and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq wherein both men discuss the fact that they had never heard of such a strategy before Rice’s public statements to Congress (Woodward, p32). Throughout the book Woodward cites numerous examples of similar circumstances, making it clear that communication among members of the administration and Bush’s military advisers was insufficient and ineffective.

Also at odds were the public statements the President was making about the war in the months leading up to the announcement about a “troop surge” and the private reality of what was happening in Iraq. According to Woodward, Bush was well aware that the war was not working, and that the situation in Iraq was growing untenable. The troop surge strategy that was developed to counter the insurgency in Iraq was, like virtually every other decision made by Bush and his administration, a source of controversy and disagreement. Many of the discussion about the surge were made in secret by the administration without the input of the military leaders; as such, it was a decision that was not entirely supported by the military. General Gates “had been largely a bystander in the process” of planning the surge (Woodward, p325), and he, like many other military leaders, believed it was a bad idea. The Bush team would eventually bring in General David Petraeus to lead the troops in Iraq and oversee the insurgency.

Although Woodward concludes that the surge was a qualified success, his book paints a portrait of the Bush administration and its handling of Iraq that is less than complimentary. At the heart of the problems associated with Iraq is President Bush himself; as Woodward describes it, the majority of the decisions made about Iraq were done so at the whims of the President, leaving the military to do its best to shape real strategy and tactics around those whims. Compounding this problem was the disarray and constant disagreement among Bush’s advisors, each of whom had very different views on how to handle Iraq. This combination of factors and circumstances led to a situation where much of what was done in Iraq was poorly planned, or was carried out to repair problems rather than avoid them. The overall theme of Woodward’s book is that the Bush team bungled the Iraq War from the outset, and that even the few-and-far-between military and political successes were, at best, stopgap measures that simply slowed, but did not stop, the bleeding wound caused by the decision to invade the nation in 2003.

 

Work Cited

Woodward, Bob. The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Print.

 

Categories
American History

Edward Zwick’s “Glory”

Edward Zwick’s 1989 Civil War film Glory bears a title that follows explicitly from its underlying content. The film tells the story of the first Volunteer infantry unit to be made up entirely of African-Americans. Obviously, this has a clear ideological significance in the context of the Civil War: here, African-Americans explicitly stand up against the racist policies of the South, and thus by taking arms against the Confederates for the Union, a deeper philosophical current underlies this very decision: this is a decision to actively assert one’s humanity against an ideology that discounts this same humanity. In this sense the title “glory” precisely means the efforts to defend a certain dignified and ideal version of humanity, to defend an ethical position that is higher than the common discourses of hatred, discrimination and prejudice.

Categories
American History

U.S. Political System Strength and Weakness

The greatest strength of the U.S. political system is the separation of church and state. I am still amazed at the wisdom of the founding fathers of the U.S. who understood that true freedom and rights for every citizen, especially those from minority groups, could only be ensured if the state endorses no particular religion. This may be the reason why U.S. particularly attracts talent from all around the world because religious prejudice is at quite lower levels as compared to many other developed and developing nations. European Jews particularly came to the U.S. during and after holocaust because they knew they will not face religious persecution here and if U.S. was like most other countries, we would never have Einstein, Andy Grove, and many others. In addition, this has also helped minimize ethnic and religious conflict in the country.

Categories
American History

Glory

Introduction

The 1989 film ‘Glory’ was based on the true event of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry battle against the Confederate troops set in the midst of the American Civil War. It has come to represent the suffering of war and the triumph of courage in the face of opposition, especially in the terms of its namesake, ‘Glory’.

Definition of Glory

In personal terms, the word glory is defined as honor earned by the notable achievement of a person or people. It is only given or received after a major struggle or major success, and is often observed by many. In the film, glory is gained by the individuals of the 54th regiment, by their persistence to win the war, despite the odds.

Particularly, the courage shown by Robert Gould Shaw, the captain of the regiment, and Private Trip, a former slave-turned-soldier are the symbols of glory at the height of the battle to capture Battery Wagner. Despite being outnumbered and encountering heavy losses, these two men fought until their final breath, and inspired their troops to do the same. Humanity has also taken a leaf out of such a lesson, not just in war, but also in life. The same struggle exists between the minority and the majority, whatever the situation may be; and the one who continues until the end achieves ultimate glory.

Qualities of Leadership

As aforementioned, the leadership exemplified by Captain Robert Gould Shaw is worthy of note, especially in regards to the quality of his leadership characteristics. There are three qualities of a good leader: trust, communication, and inspiration. Robert Gould Shaw is forced to prove his trustworthiness throughout the film, particularly to his General, Charles Garrison Harker. The General does not treat the African-American counterparts in the 54th regiment as equals with the Caucasians, which leads to Robert Gould Shaw’s confrontation with him to led the regiment lead the battle. This ultimately earns the trust of his fellow comrades. Communication between Robert Gould Shaw’s troops initially becomes heated when the African-Americans are integrated into the army. It is up to Robert Gould Shaw to make ends meet, and he does so by ensuring that both sides work together. Indeed, it is his courage and resistance to fear that inspire his comrades to continue the battle when he dies at the hands of the Confederates. In this last act to his troops, he ‘hands over the banner’, and lets the 54th regiment continue what he left behind.

Private Trip

As one of the main characters, Private Trip joins the 54th regiment, but is distrustful of Captain Robert Gould Shaw. In one of the scenes, Private Trip goes Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), and is berated by Robert Gould Shaw and is ordered to be flogged in front of the troops as a lesson. However, Robert Gould Shaw reverses his decision after he sees Private Trip’s back riddled with scars from when he was beaten as a runaway slave. As an abolitionist, Robert Gould Shaw ultimately pleads on Private Trip’s case, and gets provisions for his African-American soldier, who have been overlooked in favor of their Caucasian counterparts. This act of assistance allows Private Trip and Captain Robert Gould Shaw to become comrades, gain the mutual respect of each other, and fight side by side until they die together.

Overall Theme and Conclusion

In summary, Glory depicts the war as a struggle between power and equality, with the most courageous receiving the crown of honor. By leading the 54th regiment to work together, fight together, and die together, they gain the respect of the Union and the country, and ultimately, gain the glory. It is for this reason that people of all backgrounds have embraced the concept of glory, and hold it in high honor.

Categories
American History

Civil War and the American Behavior

Civil war per se is characterized as the social uprising of the people due to the impending condition that is resulted from a particular situation that has been presented to the people. For instance, the manner by which particular rights of the people are being controlled or at some point are being limited may result to the irritation of the society. This situation would thus confer to a reaction that would cause them to unite and set plans that could provide them the chance to be heard and cause change on how they are being governed upon. In line with the history of the American people, several civil wars have been noted to have occurred through time. This is perhaps the reason why Lincoln was moved to say that if there were any particular elements that could define the American people’s general behavior, one of them would be that of the civil war.

Categories
American History

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

During President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he delivers one of the shortest and yet most powerful speeches in United States history. Fresh off the end of the Civil War, which killed countless Americans, as well as pitted brother against brother, literally in some senses, Lincoln’s powerful words serve a few main purposes: first, to reunite the nation with his relatable metaphor, second, to ensure the same problem never arises again, and third to ensure the continuity of the Union.

Categories
American History

Thomas Jefferson’s Inaugural Address

In Thomas Jefferson’s first Inaugural Address he spoke of his own ideas of an ideal government, placing a major emphasis on partisans to put aside their differences in an effort work for the greater good of the republic. Jefferson spoke of equality for all people, a wise and sensible government that was devoid of frivolous spending, peace and friendship amongst all the citizens as well as between the United States and foreign countries, as well as equality amongst different religions. Jefferson’s speech can best be captured by a quote from his address: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Categories
American History

Questioning the Presence of HAMAS on the U.S. State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations

The Palestinian organization HAMAS, an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, is currently on the United States State Department’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

HAMAS’ main political objectives, according to its Official Charter, are detailed in Articles 9 and 10 (Sections entitled “Objectives” of the Charter), whereby the organization seeks to provide “support to the weak, a defense to all the oppressed” (HAMAS Official Charter, Article 9) and “discarding the evil, crushing it and defeating it, so that truth may prevail, homelands revert to their owners, calls for prayer be heard from their mosques, announcing the reinstitution.” (HAMAS Official Charter, Article 10) Whereas these objectives can be considered somewhat and perhaps deliberately ambiguously phrased, when taken in the context of Palestine, the objective to have “homelands revert(ed) to their owners” (HAMAS Official Charter, Article 10) clearly indicates the aim to reacquire Palestinian lands from the state of Israel. Furthermore, the charter has more explicit references to Israel outside of the articles outlining “Objectives”, such as an explicit critique of Israel that reads as follows “The Zionist invasion is a mischievous one.” (HAMAS Official Charter, Article 28)

Categories
American History

Positive Leadership Qualities Of Great U.S. Army Leaders

 

Military leadership, while necessarily incorporating many of the attributes associated with the role in general, is nonetheless a unique form of leadership. It is typically more emphatic because its demands are more urgent, and the consequences of it have impacts not generated by other types. Even a cursory examination of several United States leaders of the armed forces illustrates this distinction, and despite differences in agendas and eras. Individual force of personality is certainly one primary component, but there are others as well common to such leaders. Variations in approaches and traits aside, it may be asserted that U.S. army leaders invariably exhibit the qualities of absolute commitment, commanding presence, and a consistent regard for the welfare of their troops.

Categories
American History

The Progressives

Progressivism believes that by employing less political corruption, regulations, reform, social justice and control, brings equality for both men and women, regardless of race or cultural and social background.1  The Progressives were a group of Americans that began to form a movement of reform during the early twentieth century. The group of Americans were not a specific group of people, but many different types of individuals with different backgrounds, such as journalists, social workers, educators, and politicians.2   The lead to Progressivism was caused by the rise of businesses and the degraded treatment of the workers, such as factory workers. The workers began to receive low compensation along with long hours in unsanitary environments, while the businesses prospered. The businesses gained control and power by forming alliances with political parties. In addition, the Progressive movement became a movement to not only help with the protection and better treatment of the workers, but for slavery and women’s rights as well. The Progressives, therefore, had different levels of reform, such as local and labor reforms.1