Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lives on the Frontier

By examining the lives of four people who lived in the "frontier west," we will examine the effect of the frontier myth upon their lives, and what their lives tell us about the lives of others living in the West.

Becoming a man
Of the four, Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps the best known person. Born in New York City in October 1858. Roosevelt was extremely sickly as a child, suffering from chronic asthma probably induced by allergies to smoke and dust--two things extremely prevalent in 19th century New York City. Treatment prescribed included smoking cigars and drinking strong hot coffee. Despite this ridiculous remedy, Roosevelt lived into adulthood, although his delicate condition precluded him from attending school outside his home until he was an adolescent. Spurred on by a fatherly talk at age 10 about "bucking-up" to overcome his sickness, Roosevelt embraced what he called the "strenuous life"--boxing, shooting, and riding horses at breakneck speeds. Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway Lee in 1880 (immediately after graduating from Harvard), and entered politics, becoming a New York assemblyman. In 1884, his wife became pregnant, but at the birth of his daughter, tragedy struck. Shortly after giving birth, his wife became extremely ill, and died just before he arrived home from Albany; even more tragically, his mother passed away that same evening from an illness she contracted. Disconsolate, Roosevelt left "Baby Lee," his newborn daughter, to the care of his older sister, and left for a ranch he had purchased in North Dakota. Roosevelt rode with his hired hands, performing much of the same work--but at the same time, he was the man who paid the wages. Roosevelt seemed mainly to use his experience to assert his manhood (including punching out loutish drunks when the occassion presented itself).

Deadwood Dick

Nat Love (pronounced Nate) was born in Davidson County, Tennessee. After the end of the Civil War, Love's father, Sampson, a tobacco farmer, died. Being the oldest boy, Love felt that he had to provide for his family, so by the age of fourteen, he not only brought in the crop his father planted, but also took a second job. Several years of working odd jobs in the area, Love won a horse in the raffle. Love sold the horse for $100, gave half to his mother, and used the other half to leave Tennessee for points west. Landing in Dodge City, Kansas, Love caught on with a group of cowboys heading back to a Texas ranch; his skill as a horseman prompted the others to begin to refer to him as "Red River Dick." Love worked with this group for several years, and was part of a group that drove a heard north from western Texas to Deadwood, South Dakota. At a rodeo held there on July 4, 1876, Love proved to be the superior cowboy in town, winning the grand prize of $200, and prompting the townspeople to begin calling him "Deadwood Dick." While you may have heard of someone named Deadwood Dick, but not someone named Nat Love, because cowboys like Love have been written out of the history of the west--because Love was a former slave, and African American.


Mary Harris was born near Cork Ireland, probably around August 1, 1837--although she claimed a birthdate of May 1, 1830. Mary immigrated to Canada with her family when she was about 14 or 15 years old, and finished her education in Toronto. After graduating from school, Harris obtained a job teaching at a Roman Catholic convent in Monroe, Michigan, but left after several years, first to Chicago, and later to Memphis, Tennessee, where she married George Jones in 1861. Between 1862 and 1867, she and George Jones had four children together. After the end of the war, Memphis was the scene of a great deal of turmoil, with freed slaves and others moving into the city that could provide them neither with adequate housing or services. In 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, killing hundreds--including George Jones and the four children, but sparing Mary. Bereft, Mary moved first back to Chicago, where she took up the dressmaking trade again, until she lost her shop and most of her possessions, in the Great Chicago Fire in 1872. By the late 1880 she had moved to Denver. After several years, her named dropped off the rolls of the city directory, which indicates that she probably fell on hard times; her enemies later in life claimed that she was a prostitute during these years, a charge she, not unexpectently, denied. Little is known about her life from this period until she emerged, just before the turn of the 19th century, as an organizer with the United Mine Workers known as Mother Jones.

Big Bill

William D. Haywood was a true son of the West, born in Salt Lake City in 1869 to a former Pony Express rider and his wife. Haywood's father died when he was just 3, however, and the family quickly fell into poverty. At the age of nine, after an accident with a knife left him blind in one eye, Haywood went to work in a nearby mine--work that would occupy much of his life into his early twenties. Deeply affected by the Haymarket Square riot and the subsequent trial of those accused of planning it; the Pullman Strike in 1893 also played a role in shaping Haywood's growing conviction that the United States government, as it was then constituted, favored the rich over the working class. In 1896, after hearing a speech by the Western Federation of Miners president Ed Boyce, Haywood joined the group, and began a rapid ascent up the ranks of the union, eventually becoming first vice-president. Haywood's conviction that government favored the interests of capital over workers was based upon his experience as a miner, when strikes were often put down without negotiations taking place by police and state militias. Haywood advocated violent resistance to such tactics, which made him a target for state action when followers seemed to take his advice. The most serious charge Haywood faced involved allegations that he was involved in the assassination of the former governor of Idaho. Haywood was arrested by Colorado authorities, and the put on a private train--essentially kidnapped--before an extradition hearing could be held, and taken to Idaho. Haywood's accuser, Harry Orchard, was so unseemly that the jury did not believe his story, and Heywood was acquitted. Haywood went on, in 1905, to help found the Industrial Workers of the World--the IWW.

Of the four brief biographies presented, only Haywood was a native of the region (and, more ironically, Haywood had his greatest successes as a labor leader in the East). The other three moved West to create new lives for themselves. Roosevelt and Jones moved West after suffering tremendous personal tragedies, and after some time in the wilderness, found their life's calling. Love later fell into one of the few careers open to a black man of his educational standing, working as a Pullman Porter. The only reason we know of his life as a real cowboy was that he published an autobiography in 1921, just before his death. The lives of these four people demonstrate that life in the West is much more complex than the myth would lead you to believe.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Frontier Myth and American History

When discussing a topic like the "frontier myth," it is important to define our terms, so that we are talking about the same thing, especially since the word "frontier" has had several different meanings, and the word "myth" is used today in much the same way as "lie" is.

The frontier has long been a part of the mental construction of the United States. Around  1892, as the results of the 1890 US Federal Census were being tabulated, the head of the Census Bureau announced that, by the standard that the Bureau used to tabulate it--two people or less per square mile--the frontier had ceased to exist. This stirred a great deal of concern amongst politicians and the intelligenstia in the United States, because it had long been thought that the "frontier" had acted as a safety valve that diminished class conflict in the country. Obtaining land in the frontiers, in fact, had been one of the reasons that the American Revolutionary War was fought, as it was a means for poor people in the colonies to better their lives.

It was in this vein that the historian Frederick Jackson Turner formulated his "frontier thesis." Turner argued that it was the equality fostered by living on the frontier that gave democracy in the United States is special character, and with the closure of the frontier, the United States would have to find new methods to face the challenges of the future. By the end of the decade, of course, the United States embarked on its first war of imperial conquest--coincidence?

The  word myth is often used as a synonym for the word lie; a myth is not necessarily an untruth, however. According the the American Heritage College Dictionary, a myth is "A traditional story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that informs or shapes the worldview of a people, as by explaining  aspects of the natural world or delineating the customs or ideals of a society" or "A popular belief or story associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal."

The iconic western Shane helped to perpetuate this frontier myth. After watching the first portion of the film (a portion of which can be seen in the YouTube video below), we will discuss the construction of this myth.

Much of the action is seen through the eyes of the little boy, Joey, who kind of takes the place of little boys in movie audiences who idolized movie cowboys in the theaters--and might tell us as much about Cold War anxieties  (it was nominated for six Academy Awards in 1952). It is important to note, I think, who is missing from this account? What is the root of the conflict between the ranchers and the farmers? Did the West really foster individuality? How so?--or, if not,  why not?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Assignment #1

The 14th Amendment defines citizenship, and since its ratification in 1868 has become perhaps the most cited amendment in cases argued before the Supreme Court. It remains very much under contention to this day, as litigants, lawyers, and judges argue its intents and effects.  Why has this amendment remained so controversial? In a 2-3 page paper,  examine its merits and failings. You should refer to the document itself, the essays in Major Problems in American History, and the discussions in class (a synopsis of which can be found below on the blog).

Alternatively, you may attend tonight's showing of I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang presented by the Department of Theatre and Film, and write a 2-3 page review of the movie.

This assignment is due at the beginning of class next Friday, September 3.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

14th Amendment and Original Intent

Dred Scott
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney
The 14th Amendment was initially intended to provide the newly-freed slaves with access to rights as citizens that had been denied them due to their former status as slaves. Since the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, rendered in 1857, African Americans had "no rights any white man was bound to respect," in the words of the decision's main author, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. As we saw in the video presentation, however, the interpretation of the Supreme Court after the 14th Amendment was ratified was immediately extended to include the rights of other people--and other entities.

Slaughterhouses, San Francisco, 1906
New Orleans, 1869
The first case in the video presentation, in fact, had little to do with determining whether an individual's rights as a citizen were being violated; in the Slaughterhouse Cases, white butchers in New Orleans (or their lawyers, more accurately) claimed  their rights as citizens were violated because their own slaughterhouses were closed and they were forced to buy meet from a single slaughterhouse that the state had granted a monopoly to--and which had to charge prices that were also regulated by the state. The plaintiffs contended that their rights as citizens were violated because their property was taken (their slaughterhouses) without due process proceedings.

Justice Samuel F. Miller
Justice Stephen J.Field
Writing for a slim 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel F. Miller contended that the 14th Amendment was only meant to protect the rights of former slaves, and that it only affected those rights related to national citizenship, not the right of states to exercise their regulatory powers. In a sweeping and influential dissent, Justice Stephen J. Field argued that Congress had, in fact, meant the amendment gave government broader powers than Miller's opinion found for; Fields looked to enable the federal government to stop states from regulating business interests like slaughterhouses--and a much more important economic entity during this time period, railroads. Fields' dissent, rather than Miller's majority opinion, proved  to be more influential on future decisions of the Supreme Court regarding the 14th Amendment.

The second and third cases discussed during the video presentation were two closely-related cases that the Court decided together. Strauder v. West Virginia and Ex Parte Virginia involved excluding African Americans from jury service because of their race. In both cases, the Supreme Court decided that these were in clear violation of the 14th amendment, and found for the plaintiffs. These cases were argued within the first two decades of the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868; the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 and Strauder and Ex Parte Virginia in 1879. A third case, decided in 1896, was even more significant, however.

Homer Plessy
Plessy v. Ferguson greatly restricted the rights of African Americans for the first half of the 20th century. Homer Plessy, with the assistance of a number of railway companies (who were hoping to avoid the added expense of having to run "Jim Crow" passenger cars in the South) sued the state of Louisiana over  the requirement for African Americans to be restricted to a separate railroad car. In an 8-1 decision, the court held that the 14th Amendment was only meant to provided African Americans with political equality--and not social equality. For practical purposes, this meant that blacks could not blatantly be excluded by race in political life (they were instead excluded via practices literacy tests and poll taxes--which often excluded poor whites during these early years, as well). The Court held, however, that blacks could be discriminated against in private life; where they could buy a home, whether they could rent a hotel room, and whether they could be restricted to certain railroad cars. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the majority of the court decided that the 14th Amendment was not meant to intrude in these "private" areas of life. In justification, the Court pointed out that the passage of the Amendment did not end the practice of segregated schools. As long as accommodations were "equal," the Court held that there was no violation of the 14th Amendment, and that there was nothing inherently inferior in being forced to use separate facilities.

In a stinging dissent, former slave owner Justice John Marshall Harlan held
Justice John Marshall Harlan
The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.
 Harlan  had earlier dissented in the Civil Rights Cases, which was handed down in 1883. The Civil Rights decision invalidated the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or former condition of servitude in private accommodations. The Court decided that while Congress could end the condition of servitude, and essentially take slave owners' property without due process or compensation (by ending slavery), they could not prevent private citizens provide equality of service in non-governmental situations.

Its wide applicability has made the 14th Amendment a vital piece of law since its ratification in 1868. Besides its importance in determining which people receive the full rights, privileges, and immunities of citizenship, the 14th Amendment is also at the heart of the dispute over the role of the federal government in ensuring the rights of individuals. Before ratification of the 14th Amendment, many people believed that in fact the states were a safeguard against the tyranny of a powerful central government; that is the basis for republicanism (with emphasis upon the small "r"). Most republicans before the Civil War were also advocated of "states rights," and the superiority of the states over the federal government. This dispute over the role of the federal government in attempting to ensure the rights of all without discrimination has remained in contention throughout the 20th century--and into the 21st

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reconstruction and the 14th Amendment

Slave picking cotton

I. Presidential Reconstruction

I. What the two sides fought for

A. North – fought to end slave power (explain how this differs from ending slavery or abolition)
Fight to “save the Union” – northern opposition to the idea of secession.

1. Evolution of political ideals – the Emancipation Proclamation changed Northern war aims; it became not just a war to save the Union, but a war to end slavery--although few northern whites gave much thought to what that result would mean.

2. Emancipation Proclamation – four reasons for Lincoln finally acceding to this demand:

a. Changing public sentiment for the abolition of slavery

b. Prevent England and France from entering the war on the side of the South.

c. Expedient to undermine the Southern war effort – slavery allowed the South to utilize a much higher percentage of its adult white male population.

d. Recognition by Lincoln that slaves were liberating themselves – that the Northern war effort was being aided by the labor actions of southern slaves.

B. South – fought to protect their homes from the invading Yankees; also fought to preserve the “southern way of life” (slavery)

1. Why southerners seceded – most people in the south had no say in the matter; whenever the question of secession was put to a popular vote, it was defeated.

2. Slavery as a social system – slavery was more than a means of organizing labor; it was a means of organizing society.

3. Although poor whites were expected to show deference toward rich whites, but could expect deference from slaves.

4. Poor white most often made up the slave patrols, which tracked down runaway slaves and enforced slave discipline away from the plantation.

5. This investment in the benefits of “whiteness” was enough for many southerners to continue to fight to retain slavery.

II. Three phases of Reconstruction

A. Lincoln’s Plan – for Lincoln, Reconstruction was more of a wartime expediency than a plan to reunite the Union—many of his proposals had to do more with keeping border states within the Union, or undermining the Confederate war effort, than a plan to integrate African-American slaves into American society.

1. 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction – if 10% of white males who voted in 1860 took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the Union, and swore to uphold the laws dealing with emancipation, they were eligible to receive a Presidential pardon and begin forming a state government.

a. Provisional governments were formed in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana under this plan

b. 1864 Wade-Davis Bill – product of small, but influential, group of so-called “Radical Republicans” who demanded a transformation of Southern society.

c. Wade-Davis stipulated that a majority of white males declare their allegiance to the Union, and that only those who could provide proof that they had always remained loyal could vote and serve in the state constitutional conventions.

d. In addition, the conventions themselves would have to abolish slavery, deny political rights to high-ranking civil and military officers of the Confederacy, and repudiate Confederate war debts.

2. Lincoln opposed this measure, and was able to exercise a “pocket veto” by not signing the bill after Congress had adjourned.

a. Wade-Davis Manifesto – accused Lincoln of usurping power and of attempting to use the readmitted states to ensure his re-election.

3. Lincoln’s final statement on Reconstruction – wanted no persecution, no revenge, no dramatic restructuring of southern social and economic life; how this would have fared with the Southern political response (the return of so many Confederate political leaders, restrictions placed upon newly-freed African Americans, etc.) no one can truly say; Lincoln’s best feature was his flexibility of response to changing situations.

B. Presidential Reconstruction – Congress was not in session from the time of Confederate surrender and Lincoln’s assassination until the late fall of 1865, so Johnson had a free hand to carry out what he thought Lincoln’s plans were for Reconstruction.

1. Andrew Johnson -- devout Southern Unionist, placed on the ticket with Lincoln in 1864 (when Lincoln ran as an Unionist, rather than on the Republican ticket) in a gesture of bipartisanship. Johnson shared similar upbringing with Lincoln (little formal education, constant striving to better himself), but he lacked Lincoln’s political acumen, and he was bitterly racist (where Lincoln’s racism was more benign).

a. Johnson came to political power in eastern Tennessee, opposing the power of large slave owners.

b. Johnson himself owned slaves, however, and he was an extreme racist

c.Johnson was a strict Constitutionalist – believed that the Constitution was inviolate, and that the Southern states that had attempted to secede needed no Reconstruction, because secession was illegal and therefore these states had never seceded (what to do with the thousands of traitors who had served in the rebel army, however, Johnson never addressed).

2. 1865 Proclamation of Amnesty – Lincoln proposed that those Southerners who were willing to take an oath of allegiance be granted full citizenship rights (except for officials and officers in the Confederate Army), and that they be allowed to set up local and state governments. Johnson added to this list of people that Lincoln had prohibited those who owned property worth more than $20,000, because Johnson believed these “aristocrats” were the ones responsible for the secession movement in the South.

3. Southern provisional governments – in Southern states not already organized by Lincoln, Johnson appointed provisional governors authorized to call conventions, which were to invalidate secession ordinances, repudiate Confederate war debts, ratify the 13th amendment, and provide African Americans with limited voting rights.

4. Southern Intransigence – the political leaders of the new southern governments looked much like the political leaders of the Confederacy (including the Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens, four Confederate generals, eight colonels, six cabinet members, and a host of minor officials.

5. Southern “Black Codes” – passage of laws restricting the freedoms of African Americans, which baldly revealed the intention of southerners in control to retain all of the trappings of slavery, even if the legal status was removed.

a. Prohibited interracial marriages, restrictions were placed upon the property they were allowed to own, and they were required to enter into annual labor contracts, with a provision for punishment in case of violation (including forced labor).

6. Land and Labor Questions – all Southerners, black and white, knew that how these questions were answered would determine the path that Reconstruction would take.

a. “Forty Acres and a Mule” – in South Carolina and Georgia, William Tecumseh Sherman issued Field Order #15, which declared that former slaves under his jurisdiction would receive confiscated land, and an army mule to work it.

7. The failure to follow through with this plan led African Americans to have to accept the system of sharecropping. President Johnson forced Sherman to retract this policy.

8.Freedmen expectations – because they had created most of the wealth for southern planters, many freedmen expected to receive land as compensation for their labors.

9. Promotion of self-sufficiency – by providing freedmen with land, they would be able to become self-sufficient, able to grow their own food.

a. Gang labor – resisted by freedmen, because it reminded them of restrictions they had under the slave system.

b. Required freedmen to sign year-long labor contracts, and provided that those freedmen who could not prove that they had such a contract at the beginning of each year should be arrested, and their labor sold by the government to the highest bidder.

10. Sharecropping – emerged as kind of a compromise between freedmen and southern plantation owners, where freedmen rented land from plantation owners, who usually “furnished” sharecroppers implements, animals, a place to live, seed, and food in return for a share (usually at least half before freedmen paid back the owner for whatever had been furnished).

a. Obviously, this system was open to abuses by the owning class, who often took advantage of the fact that the freedmen were often illiterate. Too often, this in fact turned into a system of debt peonage, with freed families falling deeper and deeper into debt, with no hope of ever paying it off.

11. Political conflict – the initial high hopes that many (including many members of Congress) held for the leadership that Johnson would provide were dashed as the President to weak or no action against atrocities against freed people in the South – conflict that culminated in Johnson’s impeachment (which like our own recent experience, was an act of more political than criminal import).

a. “Punishment for traitors” – initially, Johnson promised severe punishment for officials in the Confederate government, and the “aristocrats” that he felt had led the South into the war at any rate. Johnson soon began granting individual pardons to just these kinds of people, however, which contributed to his falling out with Congress.

b. Intransigence of southern states – many of the early governments formed in the South incorporated leaders who had been active in the rebellious governments, and none of these early governments made any steps toward guaranteeing rights of any kind for freed people (parallels between this and the “massive resistance” that white southerners demonstrated during the civil rights movement—“the Second Reconstruction”)

c. Presidential pardons – despite Johnson’s rhetoric, he granted (eventually) hundreds of presidential pardons, many to the very people he vilified months before as aristocrats.

d. Repudiation of secession and debt – for Johnson, this ended the secession crisis, when the former Confederate States repudiated the debts incurred during the Civil War (refused to pay them, which punished those creditors who loaned the governments money), and the states who attempted to secede agreed that secession was not a right states had.

III. Rising influence of the Radicals

A. Defense of African American civil rights – the imposition of the so-called “Black Codes” demonstrated to many Republicans that more would have to be done to “reconstruct” southern society than simply end slavery.

B. Refusal to seat southern delegates – in January of 1867, the final act of the sitting Congress was to refuse seats to the newly-elected southern representatives; this marks the beginning of Radical Reconstruction.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment, one of the so-called "Reconstruction Amendments," has lately been in the news over the issue of something called "birthright citizenship." Much of the "debate"--if one can classify what was transpired in the political arena this summer over this issue as a debate--has centered on what Congress "meant" be its passage of the 14th Amendment. How do we determine what this body of legislators meant to accomplish be this piece of legislation? We cannot  ask them, of course, because most of them have been dead for more than 100 years.

What historians do, of course, is to look at, think about, and try to make sense of the documents produced at the time these amendments were passed. This is not the only path historians take to try to understand the past, of course. They also read what other historians have written about a particular issue, and usually use part of their argument to bolster their own--or to take exception to a part of an older argument that they believe is in error.

This is in large part what this course will focus on--the work of historians, and how the themes that we examine help us to understand the past. The first assignment will (I hope) begin to help you understand how this process will work during the semester. In your reading  assignment this week, pay special attention to the text of the 14th Amendment. We will discuss in some detail what prompted the various clauses of the amendment. Questions that may arise will include: What punishments were prescribed for those states that violated this amendment? Were there any groups of people who were denied protection from this amendment? Why would that be the case? These and other questions will  be raised, and answers offered, during class on Wednesday.