Tuesday, November 26, 2013

11/26 Lincoln (Part 2)

The slave law, made it a crime to shelter any runaway slaves and by implication legally compelled citizens to aid in the capture of found runaways. Susan B. Anthony makes reference to this in readings from last class, referring to the humanity of people who disobeyed this law. The conflicts of the 1850s raised the importance of civil disobedience even more. The Dred Scott case was decided that an ex-slave named Dred Scott who have lived for years already as a free man was not legally entitled to his freedom or to any rights. Chief Justice Taney ruled explicitly that African-American were not entitled to the rights under the Declaration of Independence. This illustrates how the court system applies the laws to specific events, it also underscores, how no matter how elegant the words are in the Declaration, they are in the end just words and are only powerful to the extent they became the basis of action. One of Lincoln's most famous writings is his response to this case which firmly established him as a leading anti-slavery spokesman in the Republican Party.

Civil disobedience was practiced by both pro and anti slavery forces, and very quickly it descended into violence. Perhaps, nowhere was there a better prologue to the Civil War than in Bleeding Kansas in 1855. Kansas which had recently applied for statehood was expected to come in as a free state. Pro-slavery forces then invaded the state and actually staged battles against the anti-slavery government. Eventually the pro-slavery side won and burned the capital of the anti-slavery government and established, by force, a pro-slave government in Kansas.

One man who fought in Bleeding Kansas was John Brown. He believed he was God's agent to bring about the destruction of slavery. In Kansas he executed several pro-slavery prisoners. In 1859, he led an attack on the U.S. Armory at Harper's Ferry in Virginia with five black men and thirteen white men. His intent was to start a full-scale slave revolt in the South by arming the slaves. However his plan failed and he was captured by an Army Colonel named Robert E. Lee who would later become the General of the Confederate Army. Here is an excerpt from the New York Herald, once an important newspaper, interviewing Brown shortly after his capture: "Bystander: Upon what principle do you justify your acts? Mr. Brown: Upon the golden rule. I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them....Bystander: To set them free would sacrifice the life of every man in this community. Mr. Brown: I do not think so. Bystander: I know it. I think you are fanatical. Mr. Brown: And I think you are fanatical."
At this time, it is important to remember that to be considered an abolitionist at this time was to be considered a radical, an opinion which was not shared by the majority of the people at the time.

"Tragic Prelude," John Steuart Curry, Kansas State Capitol, 1934

Brown was tried for treason and hanged, however, he became an icon of the abolition movement and was praised by people like Frederick Douglass and writers like Herman Melville who wrote of  the prophetic quality of Brown's actions, one that would be confirmed just a few years later, in his poem "The Portent":

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war. 

Shenandoah is an Indian name for Virginia, where Brown's attack was carried out. There are many prophetic references in the poem, which was first published in 1866, so Melville is reading this prophetic quality in Brown after the war. A portent is a sign of the future, a meteor (actually his beard covered by a hood) has also been seen for centuries as a symbol of prophecy, weird in this sense refers to the "weird sisters" who predict the future in Shakespeares' play Macbeth. Lincoln, who has also been attributed with prophetic qualities, however denounced his use of violence. Lincoln at this time had returned to the practice of law after serving time in Congress. He would later run for president in 1860. This more than anything else is what drove the South to secede from the Union. 

Lincoln was perceived by Southerners as representing a direct threat to their way of life, even though he was perceived as a moderate and was often criticized by the more progressive elements of the abolition movement. Lincoln for example did not favor the total abolition of slavery, only to restrict its further expansion (which he believed would kill it in the long run). Douglass, you will remember from last class, was very critical of this view and in fact became one of the most vocal critics of Lincoln. Many credit his frequent protests against the government in the form of public speeches and written documents to have influenced the policy of the administration in eventually abolishing slavery.

 The Souther Secessionist movement to leave the Union was led by members of Congress, like Jefferson Davis, a Senator from Mississippi who became the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Southern states began to seceding after the election of Lincoln and before he took office on March 4th, 1861. South Carolina was the first to secede in December 1860, followed by Mississippi and Florida. In Texas, the Governor Sam Houston was thrown out of office by pro-slavery factions. West Virginia broke off from Virginia and refused to secede from the Union. Maryland was retained by force after President Lincoln sent troops to occupy Baltimore and the capital and arrested the mayor of Baltimore and secessionist legislators. All of these men were held without trial.

As mentioned last class, Abraham Lincoln belonged to the Republican Party which was originally named the Free Soil Party and then Free Soil Republicans. Anti-slavery was one of the major foundational principles of the modern Republican Party. It also a strong Union and a strong national government. It also stressed economic growth and favored close relationships with the growing industries: railroads, shipping, iron and steel, coal mining, lumber, textiles, cattle and livestock, corn and other cereal crops. All of these industries were mutually interdependent and growth in one sector tended to mean growth in all the sectors. Most historians stress the North's  industrial supremacy over the South in being a decisive factor in their ultimate victory over the Confederacy. After the war, many of the industrial managers who had supported the war effort now benefitted from government support in the various form from protective tariffs to control over currency and even influencing the passing of laws.

Highlights of Lincoln's Presidency (Besides the Civil War):
Lincoln was a very powerful president who extended the power of the executive branch of government more than it had ever been previously.

Pacific Railway Act 1862: Started construction on the transcontinental railroad connecting the East and West coasts of the U.S.

Land Grant Act 1862: Sold federal land cheaply to states in order to create public universities to specialize in teaching agricultural and industrial arts as well as military training

Founded Dept. of Agriculture 1862 (USDA): This branch of government would provide assistance to farmers, providing them credit, and giving them information on the latest farming techniques and technology. This was helpful too for the newly freed slaves after the war, most of whom tried to make a living for themselves through agriculture (farming and raising livestock).

During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended certain civil liberties like habeas corpus. This legal principle states that people arrested for a crime must be brought as soon as possible in front of a judge and charged formally with a crime. During the war, Lincoln had Southern sympathizers jailed without reason and never charged with a crime. He also shut down newspapers which were sympathetic to the South. Lincoln seized control of all Northern telegraph lines thus controlling the flow of information between all the states in the North.

Lincoln idolized Jefferson and in the Gettysburg Addressattempts to redefine the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Notice how he refers to "dedication" and "conception". He says the country was born with liberty (conceived) and dedicated to equality. He does not say the country was born with equality. Instead dedication refers to a future goal that has not come to pass. In this sense America is an unfinished project that is committed to realizing equality among its citizens. The Civil War will be the rebirth of the Nation which will now be conceived in equality as well. Lincoln's death will link him to the memory and sacrifice of the soldiers he himself commemorates in this speech. Lincoln himself becomes a victim of the Civil War, unlike leaders who usually escape the personal consequences of war themselves.

The traumatic experience of the war, and theme of devotion to a cause to the point of self-sacrifice was still felt even decades later as this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Civil War veteran and later Supreme Court Justice shows, and perhaps suggests a much darker undercurrent to the idea of civil religion:

 I do not know what is true. I do not know the meaning of the universe. But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.  
Most men who know battle know the cynic force with which the thoughts of common sense will assail them in times of stress; but they know that in their greatest moments faith has trampled those thoughts under foot. If you wait in line, suppose on Tremont Street Mall, ordered simply to wait and do nothing, and have watched the enemy bring their guns to bear upon you down a gentle slope like that of Beacon Street, have seen the puff of the firing, have felt the burst of the spherical case-shot as it came toward you, have heard and seen the shrieking fragments go tearing through your company, and have known that the next or the next shot carries your fate; if you have advanced in line and have seen ahead of you the spot you must pass where the rifle bullets are striking; if you have ridden at night at a walk toward the blue line of fire at the dead angle of Spottsylvania, where for twenty-four hours the soldiers were fighting on the two sides of an earthwork, and in the morning the dead and dying lay piled in a row six deep, and as you rode you heard the bullets splashing in the mud and earth about you; if you have been in the picket-line at night in a black and unknown wood, have heard the splat of the bullets upon the trees, and as you moved have felt your foot slip upon a dead man's body; if you have had a blind fierce gallop against the enemy, with your blood up and a pace that left no time for fear—if, in short, as some, I hope many, who hear me, have known, you have known the vicissitudes of terror and triumph in war; you know that there is such a thing as the faith I spoke of. You know your own weakness and are modest; but you know that man has in him that unspeakable somewhat which makes him capable of miracle, able to lift himself by the might of his own soul, unaided, able to face annihilation for a blind belief (The Soldier's Fate, 1895).

The Second Inaugural Address, is one of the most famous political speeches of all time (along with the Gettysburg Address). In this speech Lincoln tries put the war in context, he views it as a long and painful act of atonement for the sins of slavery. Slavery is a crime against nature and a part of "original sin" in Christian doctrine. For over 250 years (in his time) this crime against nature had been perpetuated. Now this war has been delivered like a judgement from God to balance the scales of justice, sparing neither North or South both of whom share guilt. Unfortunately, the "sins" of racial oppression continued long after the war.

Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the war, but the legacy of his presidency could not be changed. Lincoln greatly increased the power of the presidency, mostly out of necessity and circumstance. However, certain changes once made cannot be undone, and although Congress tried to control presidents after Lincoln the power of the president was forever increased. 

Power over reason also came to play more of a role in politics. Although the framers like Hamilton and Madison believed that reason and persuasion could solve our problems (a central belief of Enlightenment philosophy), the legacy of the war and slavery revealed the limits of persuasion. The lesson was clear, at a certain point, persuasion fails and only power can achieve the necessary results. Hamilton did want the citizens to identify and form emotional attachments with the federal government, and in this sense he succeeded beyond his imagination. States' rights was seen as coded language for slavery. The Union (as in United States), which many hundreds of thousands fought and died for ascended to a level of importance in the eyes of ordinary citizens that had been unprecedented in the history of the nation thus far.

Next class we will talk about the Progressive movement.

Have a happy holiday and a great Thanksgiving!

Assignment Due 12/3: Choose a passage from the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural Address. Write out the passage and interpret its meaning and explain why you chose it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

11/19 Lincoln (Part 1)

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's Presidency is important in the evolution of the American political system because of significant growth in the power of the executive branch of government, in many cases going beyond the authority given in the Constitution. After Lincoln the U.S. can be said to be a "nation-state" and has a national identity in a truer sense of the word. This lecture is not about Lincoln the person but about his impact on the office of President and overall effect on American politics.

Lincoln's presidency cannot be discussed with talking about slavery however, which truly defined almost every action taken as president, and of course animated the conflict that became the Civil War (1861-1865).

By the 1830s the vast disparity between the Northern and Southern regions of the country were obvious due to the effects of slavery. The Ohio River was conventionally regarded as the dividing line between North and South, as Tocqueville observed:
On both banks of the Ohio stretched undulating ground with soil continually offering the cultivator inexhaustible treasures; on both banks the air is equally healthy and the climate temperate; they both form the frontier of a vast state: that which follows the innumerable windings of the Ohio on the left bank is called Kentucky; the other takes its name from the river itself. There is only one difference between the two states: Kentucky allows slaves but Ohio refuses to have them.... 
On the left bank of the river the population is sparse; from time to time one sees a troop of slaves loitering through half-deserted fields; the primeval forest is continually reappearing; one might say that society had gone to sleep; it is nature that seems active and alive, whereas man is idle. 
But on the right bank a confused hum proclaims from afar that men are busily at work; fine crops cover the fields; elegant dwellings testify to the taste and industry of the workers; on all sides there is evidence of comfort; man appears rich and contented; he works (Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 345-46). 

Later when the Civil War is being fought the North's industrial and agricultural superiority over the South will be decisive in its victory. However, it is important to remember the racial conditions in the North were not good although slavery had been long abolished by this time, again, as Tocqueville says:
Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known. 
It is true that in the North of the Union the law allows legal marriages between Negroes and whites, but public opinion would regard a white man married to a Negro woman as disgraced, and it would be very difficult to quote an example of such an event. 
In almost all the states where slavery has been abolished, the Negroes have been given electoral rights, but they would come forward to vote at the risk of their lives. When oppressed, they can bring an action at law, but they will find only white men among their judges. It is true that laws make them eligible as jurors, but prejudice wards them off. The Negro's son is excluded from the school to which the European's child goes. In the theaters he cannot for good money buy the right to sit by his former master's side; in the hospitals he lies apart. He is allowed to worship the same God as the white man but must not pray at the same altars. He has his own clergy and churches. The gates of heaven are not closed against him, but his inequality stops only short of the boundaries of the other world. When the Negro is no more, his bones are cast aside, and some difference in condition is found even in the equality of death (Tocqueville p. 343).

Liberal enlightenment thinkers, like John Locke, wanted a strong legislative branch of government to restrain the power of the executive. A system of government set up like this was believed to better reflect the will of the people and to have the consent of the governed––even if in reality the representatives elected to the government were exclusively from the middle and upper classes. In reality, the power of the executive has grown in all democratic governments.  Jefferson whose political philosophy stressed small government was the same president who made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, doubling the size of the country. Jefferson and later Andrew Jackson in the 1830s both stressed the role of the president as acting more directly in the interests of the people. This coincided with the extension of voting to more parts of the population that had been excluded. The 1830s were the heyday of the Jacksonian era in American politics in which all remaining property restrictions upon the white male population were removed leading to a massive surge in electorate in the latter 1820s around the candidacy and later presidency of Andrew Jackson and his handpicked successor Martin Van Buren. In the 1824 election between Jackson and John Quincy Adams about 300,000 people voted in the nation. Jackson who had won the popular vote win over a 100,000 votes but with less than an electoral majority lost the election to the younger Adams in the House of Representatives led by Speaker Henry Clay–also a candidate in the same election, who later became Adam's Secretary of State, something which the Jacksonians denounced as a "corrupt bargain." By the 1828 election, after Jacksonian protest over the "corrupt bargain" led to many of the property restrictions being removed, over a million people voted for the first time in the nation's history and over 600,000 of those votes (twice the amount of the entire previous election) were cast for Jackson winning 56% of the popular vote and 178 out of 261 electoral votes. Jackson won by an even larger margin in the 1832 election over Henry Clay with over 700,000 votes and 219 out of 294 electoral votes to Clay's 49 (though votes picked up by the first major third party, the Anti-Masonic Party shortened Jackson's percentage of the overall popular vote).

However even by the 1830s the existence of the national Union over the individual states that made up the Union was still contended. In hindsight although it seems unbelievable that states would think they could dissolve the Union, but before the Civil War the existence of the Union was somewhat fragile, as Tocqueville says:
The Union is a vast body and somewhat vague as the object of patriotism. But the state has precise shape and circumscribed boundaries; it represents a defined number of familiar things which are dear to those living there. It is identified with the soil, with the right of property, the family, memories of the past, activities of the present, and dreams for the future. Patriotism, which is most often nothing but an extension of individual egoism, therefore remains attached to the state and has not yet, so to say, been passed on to the Union (Tocqueville p. 367).

After the Civil War, the unity of the nation is preserved but not through the rational consent of the governed but through military conquest.

Prior to that, the power of the Union over the states was fragmented and inconsistent:
If today the sovereignty of the Union was to come into conflict with one of the states, one can readily foresee that it would succumb; I even doubt whether such a struggle would ever be seriously undertaken. Each time that determined resistance has been offered to the federal government, it has yielded. Experience has proven that up till now, when a state has been obstinately determined on anything and demanded it resolutely, it has never failed to get it; and when it has flatly refused to act, it has been allowed to refuse (Tocqueville p. 368).

He goes on to question even the right to do so:
Moreover, a government, even if is strong, cannot easily escape from the consequences of a principle one admitted as the foundation of the public right which ought to rule it. The confederation was formed by the free will of the states; these, by uniting, did not lose their nationality or become fused in one single nation. If today one of those same states wished to withdraw its name from the contract, it would be hard to prove it could not do so. In resisting it the federal government would have no obvious source of support either in strength or in right (Tocqueville p. 369).

He concludes: "I therefore think it certain that if some part of the Union wished to separate from the rest, not only would it be able to do so, but there would be no one to prevent this" (Tocqueville  p. 370).

This prediction made about 25-30 years before the war itself was almost accurate and suggests how close the Union came to dissolving during the Civil War. Tocqueville did believe however that the causes for keeping the Union together were strong. Besides the mutual interest all the states have in keeping trade going, Tocqueville points to "immaterial" factors, and here you can see his idea of mores (mœurs) anticipates what Chesterton will later call the "creed" and Bellah will call the "civil religion" of America or more critically what Louis Hartz called "irrational Lockeanism." Tocqueville points to the strong force of mores as providing a sense of national unity and forms the foundation and unifying force of what Bourne will later call "transnational" America:
I would never admit that men form a society simply by recognizing the same leader and obeying the same laws; only when certain men consider a great many questions from the same point of view and have the same opinions on a great many subjects and when the same events give rise to like thoughts and impressions is there a society. 
Anyone taking the matter up from that angle, who studies what happens in the United States, will readily discover that the inhabitants, though divided under twenty-four distinct sovereign authorities, nevertheless constitute a single nation; and perhaps he will even come to think that Anglo-American Union is in reality more of a united society than some European nations living under the same laws and the same prince (Tocqueville p. 373).
Or he goes on to say:
The Anglo-Americans regard universal reason as the source of moral authority, just as the universality of the citizens is the source of political power, and they consider that one must refer to the understanding of everybody in order to discover what is permitted or forbidden, true or false. Most of them think that knowledge of his own interest properly understood is enough to lead a man to what is just and honest. They believe that each man at birth receives the faculty to rule himself and that nobody has the right to force his fellow man to be happy. All have a lively faith in human perfectibility; they think that the spread of enlightenment must necessarily produce useful results and that ignorance must have fatal effects; all think of society as a body progressing; they see humanity as a changing picture in which nothing either is or ought to be fixed forever; and they admit that what seems good to them today may be replaced tomorrow by something better that is still hidden (Tocqueville p. 374).

However, a strong nation tends to entail a centralization of power. The main stimulant of the growth of presidential power was the increasing paralysis of the legislative branch of government, the Congress, who were deadlocked over the issue of slavery. Every time a state was added to the union which now had 33 states in 1861, slavery was brought to the forefront every time. In the 1850s, passage of laws like the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott case in the U.S. Supreme Court raised the already heightened tension over slavery by forcing the government to examine the moral consequences of supposedly impersonal and objective administration. 

In the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6th, 1857, two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan, the court ruled that African-Americans whether born in the U.S. or abroad could not become U.S. citizens. If we go back to the idea of transnational America we discussed in the beginning of class, the idea of citizenship is the crucial foundation on which this idea rests, and so when the court restricts the idea of citizenship so narrowly it is in effect an act of imposing Anglo-Saxon superiority, something which Lincoln ridicules in his speech on the Dred Scott case. The outcome of the case shocked even moderates like Lincoln who re-entered politics at this point, after serving in the Illinois state legislature, and one term in the House of Representatives. 

We will continue this discussion next class.

Assignment Due 11/26: Choose a passage from Lincoln's speech on the Dred Scott case, interpret it and explain how it relates to class.

From the African-American Odyssey website, from the Civil War section, choose two parts, and summarize and explain them. If they include pictures, copy and paste the photo or image in your paper. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

11/5 Civil Disobedience (Part 1)

"American Progress," John Gast, circa 1872

The midterms will be graded by the end of the week.

As the American republic grows over the first few decades, already one can see a mythic idea of American history taking shape. With abundant natural resources, open immigration and a steadily growing population, and relative isolation from the political conflicts in Europe, it is easy to believe that Providence (the idea of God as a power guiding human destiny) is guiding the actions of the nation. This mythical image is strengthened by the deaths of Jefferson and John Adams who both amazingly died on July 4th, 1826 exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence is first read publicly.

In part, the power of these myths explains why Tocqueville when visiting the U.S. in the early 1830s emphasizes the influence of "mores" (mœurs in French from mos in Latin the root word of morals) on the Republic. Writing after the French Revolution, Tocqueville is concerned with understanding the reasons why the American republic has been stable and durable when other democratic governments have perished, a central concern of political science in the present. As he says in Democracy in America: "The Laws contribute more to the maintenance of the democratic republic in the United States than do the physical circumstances of the country, and Mores do more than the laws" (Tocqueville p. 305). In other words, he places highest emphasis on the cultural values, the mores of Americans, but also a hierarchy for understanding levels of influence on the republic Mores-Laws-Geography, these then become explanations he uses to explain the causes of the stability of the regime. 

There is too much to cover to fill in all the gaps that occur during this time: wars, crises of slavery, economic depressions, and more all happened in this period of time. By the late 1840s, about half of the continental U.S. has been taken over by the government. This is not the same thing as states, they were "territories" controlled by the government that eventually became states:

One of the major issues of the day was over the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Mexico itself only became independent from Spain in 1821.
Map of Nueva España (New Spain) 1521-1821

 Again there is a lot to cover with this conflict as well, but it began perhaps with the independent Republic of Texas declaring its independence from Mexico in 1836. In 1845 it was "annexed", taken over, by the U.S. and made a state of the U.S. In 1846, Democratic President James K. Polk (1795-1849) asked for a declaration of war from Congress after receiving reports that "American blood had been shed on our soil."

Polk was a Democrat who believed in the idea of "Manifest Destiny," or the belief popular in many newspapers at the time, that the destiny of the U.S. was to expand from coast to coast and become a great and powerful nation. The idea of Providence guiding the actions of the nation and more importantly authorizing these actions as legitimate can also be found in the Declaration of Independence, "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence," and is one of the cornerstones of the idea of "civil religion." Originally the idea was used to justify the Declaration itself, or the formal act of separation of the colonies from Great Britain. In other words providence will protect them and they will succeed because what they are doing is right. In the context of the mid 19th century, providence is now used to justify expanding the power of the state over new territory, in most cases removing the native inhabitants.

In the late 1820s, Jefferson's Republican Party split into factions around Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), a war hero, who became the first "Democratic" President in 1829 and when the party is officially renamed the Democratic Party, the ancestor of today's Democratic Party. The other faction was around Henry Clay (1777-1852), who founded the Whig party in 1833. Jackson had more support among the working class and farmers; while Clay appealed more to elites and the business interests. Scholars of American politics usually refer to this as the second party system, referring to a relatively stable balance of power between two competing parties (distinct from the first party system, defined by the federalists and jeffersonian republicans), which eventually gave way to the third party system defined by the Republicans and Democrats (according to most scholars there were at least five distinct party systems over time in this country).

Polk portrayed himself as another Andrew Jackson who also favored nationalism and expansion. They were opposed by the Whig party. The Whigs were actually the reorganized business interests in the country who had now adopted more of a "common man" rhetoric that they sought to appeal to voters with. The Whigs were sort of a transitional party between the Federalists and the modern Republican Party (GOP). They did however win two presidential elections in 1840 (they elected William Henry Harrison, who died one month into his term, the first president to die in office) and in 1848 they elected Zachary Taylor (1849-1850), who also died in office, and was a leading general in the Mexican war. Both of these candidates were generals in the army and they were both meant to appeal to the common public (and they did). 

Since both presidents died in office, technically there were four Whig Presidents altogether, and the first two instances of a vice-president succeeding a president, John Tyler for Harrison and Millard Fillmore for Taylor. The vice-president will continue to serve out the remainder of the four year term of the president and is still eligible to be re-elected, although often the less popular former vice-president loses when the next election comes. In the case of Harrison, who died one month into his presidency, Tyler served almost the entire four year term (1841-1845) but had no support from his own party by the time his term ended.  Ironically, the Whigs were opposed to the war when it began, but then nominated the most famous general of the war, Taylor, to be their candidate in the 1848 election. 
U.S. Presidential Election, 1848
Note the differences in electoral votes in states like Virginia and New York
since the election of 1800

1848 was also 12 years before the Civil War began. Those of the founders who were opposed to slavery (like Jefferson even though he owned slaves) believed that slavery would die out by itself in the early 19th century. The American Revolution had a big impact on this. Many people forget that for 160 years, from about 1620 to about 1780 slavery was tolerated in the North, although it never grew to the level it did in the South. Undoubtedly, it was the language of natural rights and equality that inspired the rapid abolition of slavery in the North after the revolution begins. Slavery had mostly been abolished in the North by the early 1800s, however the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, made cotton production more profitable and actually increased slavery in the South. The international slave trade had been abolished but it still carried on illegally, domestic slave owners also began experimenting with "eugenics" and made attempts to start "breeding" slaves. Racial theories to explain slavery now begin to develop which up until then never circulated that much. Prior to this the existence of slavery was not even questioned, it was only when a theory of equality was so clearly stated, that explanations based on racial inequalities start to develop, ironically, based in the same scientific language that is used to undermine traditional sources of inequality.

In 1820, a crisis was triggered by the question of Missouri's admission to the Union. Missouri had been settled by slave owners and adopted a slave constitution and wanted to be admitted as a slave state. This was in violation of laws in effect since 1787 which prohibited slavery's extension north of a certain border (the Ohio River). In the early 1780s, debates in the first Congress of the Confederation had debated whether or not to admit territories South of the Ohio River as slave states as well. Many scholars believe that had legislators including Jefferson not compromised on this issue that slavery could have been rooted out then and never would have extended to states like Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi. "The Missouri Compromise," was decided in Congress after intense fighting, and real threats of violence coming from both sides, to admit Missouri as a slave state, but also to admit Maine as a free state. This "compromise" was supposed to keep the "free" states and "slave" states balanced at 12 each. Many other compromises were decided on leading up until the Civil War.

Protest against the war in Mexico was on the grounds that it was believed to be a plot by Southern plantation owners to extend slavery into the South. Texas did become a slave state and a member of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Henry David Thoreau
This was the background in which Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), is writing, when he writes his famous essay "Civil Disobedience." The idea of civil disobedience is peculiar to democratic societies. It means breaking the law and thus challenging the authorities, but usually in a non-violent fashion. In Thoreau's case he refused to pay his taxes in 1846 because he believed the money was being used for an immoral purpose, and he was put in jail. He was bailed out the next day by his friend and famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Supposedly, there was an exchange between the two, where Emerson questioned Thoreau on why he was in jail. Thoreau allegedly responded "why are you not in jail?" In other words, the idea behind civil disobedience is that  morality requires you to disobey unjust laws. To passively accept a corrupt society, Thoreau would argue, makes you almost as morally guilty as the people who actually oppress others and do violence to people. It is even worse in a democracy because here the citizens actually have some ability to alter the course of laws and government.

This idea is also a core component of the civil religion, and refers to the higher authority that is referred to in the Declaration, as "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," in other words, a form of law based on natural rights higher than the laws of political states. The basis of civil disobedience can be found in the Declaration itself which explicitly authorizes disobedience to the extent in which government departs from protecting the rights of its citizens.

Thoreau was from Massachusetts, so it should not be a surprise if he seems to possess some of that moral severity that we saw in the Puritans who as previously discussed were heavily involved in the abolition movement. It was also easy for him to accept the idea of a "natural law" higher than human law to which he could appeal to, to justify himself. This is part of Puritan theology, however the difference is, where the original Puritans believed natural law or God's law could be used to guide human law, and thus become like the natural law. Thoreau sees the natural law and human law as much more antagonistic and separate from each other, as he says: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward" (p. 222).

Thoreau was very conscious in which respect for laws or traditions and mores can easily turn into a mechanical and unthinking submission to whatever the authorities may be:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army; and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens (p. 223).

Government is only as good or bad as the people who run it. It is not evil in itself nor is it good in itself, or as  he says, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (p. 222). In other words a government closer to the ideas of equality and justice that we are entitled to according to the Declaration.

He is very clear on the source of his disgust for the current government, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (p. 223) (referring to the slave owners not the actual slaves)

In The Federalist we discussed how the ideal of government was supposed to function like a machine and thus create an impersonal system of control that is not under the control of any one person. As long as the machine functions properly and maintains justice in society but what happens if the machine is creating injustice:
If the unjustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth––certainly the machine will wear out. If the unjustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,  exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law. Let you life be a counterfriction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn (p. 226). 
Next class we will look more at other figures associated with civil disobedience, Fredrick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. 

Assignment (Due 11/12): Choose one passage from Thoreau write out the passage and interpret them and explain why you chose them.

Go to the link for African-American Odyssey and under the section Abolition choose two topics from part 1 and part 2, research these topics, and summarize them and explain how they relate to the readings by Thoreau.