Abolitionist and Anti-Slavery Movements

There were many influential people involved in the Abolitionist and Anti-Slavery movement in the United States during the antebellum period but the best known of the anti-slavery activists were William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln. These four men were not only actively involved with but were also influential in the movement to end slavery. Each brings a different approach to and understanding of the anti-slavery movement. Garrison was a journalist who was deeply religious and who used his voice and his press to spread an anti-slavery message throughout the north; Douglass moved audiences with his personal story of enslavement and escape; Brown was a man of action who turned to violence to bring about an end to the institution of slavery; and Lincoln used the power of the Congress, the election stump and later the Presidency to stop the spread of slavery into the Western territories and to later abolish the institution of slavery. Each man contributed, in his own way, to the movement to bring about the abolition of slavery in the United States and though they differed in many ways they all maintained the same goal, to see the extinction of slavery within the United States.

The terms Abolitionism and Anti-slavery are often used interchangeably but to truly understand Garrison, Douglass, Brown, and Lincoln one must have a clear understanding of the differences between the two.  Anti-slavery advocates did not like the institution of slavery but were generally willing to compromise with supporters of the institution, therefore, trying to restrict slavery to areas where it had been long established. When the United States gained new territories during westward expansion anti-slavery champions fought the spread of slavery into western lands. Many anti-slavery adherents believed that if the institution of slavery was restricted to areas where it had been long established and was prohibited from spreading it would eventually run its course. This gradual emancipation would be peaceful and would preserve the Union. Anti-slavery backers were largely moderates and operated within the rule of law. Abraham Lincoln is the most well-known of the anti-slavery advocates. Abolitionists, on the other hand, believed that slavery was morally wrong and must be ended immediately everywhere. Abolitionists believed that slavery was so deeply rooted in the Southern economy and culture that it would never die a natural death and therefore must be terminated. Abolitionists often differed on the method that would be used to cause the abolition of slavery; some supported the use of violence, others employed moral suasion, and still, others resorted to political means. Abolitionists were radicals who operated outside the rule of law. William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown were all abolitionists.

William Lloyd Garrison grew up in poverty in Newburyport, Massachusetts and for a time lived with and was educated by a Baptist deacon before being apprenticed to a local newspaper. His work in newspapers would lead him to Benjamin Lundy, publisher of an abolitionist journal. Garrison would become involved in the American Colonization Society after meeting Lundy but later became disheartened by the goal of the American Colonization Society to rid the north of as many free blacks as possible rather than the emancipation of the enslaved.  Garrison started his work in abolitionism as a supporter of gradual emancipation. Garrison had moved to Baltimore in order to work on Lundy’s abolitionist journal. This experience gave him to the opportunity to interact with African Americans and to see the horrors of slavery first hand. His experience in Baltimore radicalized Garrison and, when Garrison returned to Massachusetts, he opened his own abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, which published its first edition on January 1, 1831. After his experience in Baltimore, Garrison turned away from gradual emancipation and in his first editorial for The Liberator, Garrison publically apologized for having ever supported gradual emancipation and likened it to “timidity, injustice, and absurdity.” (Cain, 72) Garrison began to call for immediate emancipation without compensation for slave owners, no colonization of newly freed slaves, and the enfranchisement of African Americans on an equal footing with whites. His position was not popular, even in northern states, in the 1830s. The Northern States, despite having abolished slavery, still held strong racist views of black people.  Garrison was seen by both Northerners and Southerners as radical and dangerous.

Garrison was not deterred by the opposition and founded both the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 and, a year a later, the American Anti-Slavery Society. In his Declaration of the National Anti-Slavery Convention, Garrison described the goals of the newly created society as well as explained his and his followers’ opposition to the institution of slavery. He began by turning to the Declaration of Independence and the principles enumerated by Thomas Jefferson that “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Garrison pointed out that the institution of slavery violated the very principles that our nation was founded on and, in fact, had left the American Revolution incomplete. He compared the grievances of the colonists to the grievances of the enslaved and explained that, though the colonists were justified in throwing off the shackles of tyranny, they never experienced the violence and degradation experienced by those who were enslaved because of the color of their skin. He then laid out the principles of the Anti-Slavery Society and the actions that the society would take to cause the immediate abolition of slavery and to obtain the rights given to free white men for African Americans. Garrison also used moral arguments against slavery. He held that no man had a right to enslave another and that those in free states had an obligation to not stop slave insurrections, to work to end the Three-Fifths Compromise, and to not return runaway slaves that they encountered. The year prior to writing the Declaration for the American Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass published his opinion on the United States Constitution and the federal union in The Liberator. Garrison believed that the United States Constitution was pro-slavery and “dripping as it is with human blood” because within the articles of the Constitution slavery was protected by the Three-Fifths Clause and the Fugitive Slave Law. Additionally, Garrison wrote that the federal Union was created to achieve a political purpose that was “a coalition to do evil.” He believed that the Union was created on the back of the enslaved and that the writers of the Constitution did not have the power to form the “unholy alliance” with slavery and therefore the Constitution was null and void. He asserted that because the founding principles of the nation are that all men are equal and that they have natural rights, that the Constitution was void when it was written because of the protections of slavery. Garrison was one of the first abolitionists to call for disunion if keeping the union together meant allowing slavery.  Garrison early on advocated for changing the law and government but would later turn away from government as a means to end the institution of slavery.

In the late 1830s, Garrison came to believe that the government was corrupt and would not be a useful means to abolish slavery, in 1838 he attended a Peace Convention in Boston which was called to establish a Non-Resistance Society. Garrison was tasked with writing the Declaration of Sentiments for the Peace Convention in which he described how members of the Non-Resistance Society would avoid entanglements with governments that support slavery. Members of the Non-Resistance Society would repudiate all civil government and would only abide by the rule of God, would not hold any office that compelled them to send men to war or to protect slavery, would not vote for members of the legislature or for the executive, they would not sue in any court that upheld the rights of slave owners, and would use various forms of civil disobedience. They would be passive and would not support war or violence but, would “speak boldly in the cause of God”, assail inequality, use moral suasion and use the press to spread their message of non-resistance and of immediate abolition. Garrison was a master of using moral suasion and unforgiving language to oppose the institution of slavery. Garrison felt that he and other abolitionists had to use severe language “simply because [the] crime has grown monstrous.” (Cain, 38) He believed that “a little extra heat is not only pardonable but absolutely necessary…” to end slavery. He was not afraid to attack the reputation, patriotism, and Christianity of slaveholders to paint them as evil “man-stealers.” The Northerners were not immune from Garrison’s attacks and were often called out for their apathy to slavery and for the racism that was prevalent in the north.  He even turned his overblown rhetoric against other abolitionists, especially those who disagreed with his tactics or interpretation of the federal Constitution as a pro-slavery document.

The use of civil disobedience in reform movements is well known and was often successful in obtaining the desired goal of the movement, however, those who have used civil disobedience successfully have also participated in the government by voting and other political means. Disposing of political power, especially the vote hinders the ability of the movement to make a real and lasting change. Garrison and other members of the Non-Resistance Society, by not exercising their elective franchise along with powerful rhetoric, allowed for those who were moderate anti-slavery advocates or who supported slavery to have a stronger voice in the creation of laws and compromises.

The main audience for Garrison’s message was white northerners but he did at times try to reach out to the enslaved to give them support and encouragement. In June of 1843, Garrison specifically addressed the enslaved in which he pledged the support of abolitionists to the cause of those held in bondage. He asked them not to get weary because they had friends, who were the “noblest champions of the human race”, in the north who were working for their emancipation despite their inability to go to the south. In the address, Garrison explained the work that abolitionists were doing to get their immediate emancipation, assured them that God was on their side, and reminded them that once they were free they would be reunited with lost family members. Additionally, Garrison warned the enslaved not to turn to insurrection to obtain their freedom because they would be no match for the state militias or the federal army, however, he did tell the enslaved that it was their duty to free themselves by running away from their masters to the north where their friends would assist them. The decision to run away from a slave master would have been a difficult one for many enslaved people. The uncertainty of where to go, the possibility of leaving family members behind, along with the difficulty of a trek across a vast territory, and the fear of punishment would have been very real considerations of any enslaved person thinking about freeing themselves. Very few enslaved people who ran away were successful in reaching freedom and those who were caught faced severe physical punishment. Garrison’s appeal, if it reached the enslaved, would have seemed disingenuous. If it was too dangerous for the abolitionists to travel to the south, then it would be too dangerous for the enslaved to runaway to the north.

One enslaved person who did successfully runaway was Frederick Douglass who, after leaving his master, arrived in Massachusetts in search of freedom. Frederick Douglass had been enslaved since birth in Maryland and had seen his own family ripped apart by the institution of slavery. As a young man he posed as a sailor and was able to board a ship sailing for the north and freedom. Douglass, who had taught himself to read and write, joined the anti-slavery movement in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he met William Lloyd Garrison.  Douglass had been an avid reader of The Liberator and a Garrison enthusiast prior to their meeting. Garrison asked Douglass to join the cause and both went on public speaking tours around the north and in Europe to spread the abolitionist message. Douglass used his own personal story of enslavement and the horrors that he had witnessed when enslaved to entice northerners and Europeans to support the abolitionist cause, thereby becoming one of the most popular speakers on the abolitionist lecture circuit. In 1845 Douglass wrote his autobiography, which detailed his years in slavery, the brutality of the institution, the cruelty of slave masters, and his escape from bondage. The autobiography became extremely popular and propelled Douglass to national recognition. A newspaper reviewer of the autobiography in the late 1840s wrote that “it contains the spark which will kindle up the smoldering embers of freedom in a million souls, and light up our whole continent with the flames of liberty.” (Blassingame, 123) Douglass would go on to write two additional works, My Bondage and My Freedom, in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881. Douglass, like Garrison, used moral suasion and attacked slave owners in his speeches and writings. Douglass used his former slave master, Thomas Auld, “as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance.” (To My Old Master, 162)

Douglass began his career as an abolitionist as an ally of William Lloyd Garrison but when they returned from a trip to Europe a rift began to develop when Douglass moved to Rochester, New York and began publishing his own abolitionist newspaper, The North Star. The rift grew exponentially when Douglass began to disagree with Garrison’s interpretation of the Constitution as a pro-slavery document. Douglass believed that the Constitution was not pro-slavery but rather an anti-slavery document because the list of reasons why the new Constitution was written, found in the Preamble, included establishing justice and securing the blessings of liberty. Douglass believed that if all the provisions of the Constitution were enacted, properly, slavery would be ended in the nation. He believed, unlike Garrison, that the federal government had the power, within the Constitution, to abolish slavery everywhere and that “slavery must be abolished, and that can only be done by enforcing the great principle of justice.” (On the Union, Religion, and the Constitution, 260) Additionally, Douglass reminded white Americans that the founding principles of the nation enumerated in the Declaration of Independence were inconsistent with the institution of slavery, in his speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. Douglass called the celebration of American independence while the institution of slavery persisted in the country hypocritical:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boated liberty, and unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” (What to the Slave, 142-43)

Douglass, in his “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” speech also lambasted another American institution, American Christianity, which he felt was complicit in protecting the institution of slavery and the oppression of the enslaved. He believed that by supporting slavery the churches were practicing an empty form of worship rather than following the teachings of Jesus Christ, who taught that all men should be treated with love and dignity. Douglass described how the churches had told the enslaved and the slave masters that the relationship between master and slave was ordained by God similar to the relationship between humans and God. Douglass argued that what the ministers were preaching was “a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs” rather than a religion of mercy. (What to a Slave, 147)

As the rift between Douglass and the Garrisonians grew more heated, Douglass felt the need to explain the differences between Radical Abolitionists, like himself, Garrisonian Abolitionists, and Republicans. Douglass explained that the Garrisonian Abolitionists opposed the political action of abolition, were pacifists, called for disunion, and encouraged the enslaved to take care of themselves. He expounded that the Republicans were too moderate and willing to make compromises with slaveholders to preserve the union despite the cruelties experienced by the enslaved. He believed that the Republicans wanted slavery to take care of itself. Douglass was a radical abolitionist who denied that slavery was legal and believed that political action and perhaps even war, were needed to end the institution of slavery.  Douglass’ belief that a civil war may be the only way to end slavery brought him into the orbit of abolitionist John Brown.

John Brown was born into a family which held strong Calvinist beliefs and hated slavery. As a Calvinist, John was taught a strict moral code and learned to despise the institution of slavery himself. As an adult, Brown struggled financially to support his growing family and moved frequently around the north. When living in Hudson, Ohio Brown became involved in the Underground Railroad helping fugitive slaves reach safety in Canada and later assisting free blacks in North Elba, New York, but it was not until the murder of Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, by pro-slavery men that Brown understood his calling to end slavery. However, he struggled to follow through on his calling due to the difficulties of trying to support his large family. After the loss of four of his children to dysentery Brown came to believe that God wanted him to end slavery. Brown, unlike Garrison, believed in the Old Testament’s form of justice, “an eye for an eye” and had an actual plan, though a flawed one, to end slavery. John Brown was a man of action but not a particularly good planner. Brown began his crusade to end slavery following a deadly raid by pro-slavery forces on the anti-slavery community of Lawrence, Kansas. Brown, a few of his sons, and other supporters rushed into the Kansas territory to seek revenge on the pro-slavery forces that had attacked the people of Lawrence, saying that “we must show by actual work that there are two sides to this thing and that they can not go on with this impunity.” (Gopnkin, 293) Brown’s revenge was intensely brutal and resulted in the murder and dismemberment of five pro-slavery men at Pottawatomi Creek. Following the massacre, Brown was a wanted man but never faced punishment for his actions, and in fact, gained the support of some abolitionists and transcendentalists in the north who saw Brown’s actions as a second American revolution and who would financially support his anti-slavery actions. Little did they know that Brown would use their money to support his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

Brown did not just use violence to end the institution of slavery, he, like Douglass, also believed that government could be improved to support the equality of the races. Brown traveled to Canada several times to establish a provisional government which would be led by a black president and vice president and even produced an alternative Constitution which was more egalitarian and multi-racial than the United States Constitution, which Brown believed, along with Garrison, supported the institution of slavery.

Despite his efforts in Canada to establish a more democratic government, Brown did still plan to begin a slave insurrection in the United States, which he tried to do at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He tried unsuccessfully to gain the support of Frederick Douglass, who also believed that violence might be needed to end slavery. Douglass knew a bad plan when he saw one and refused to participate in the Harper’s Ferry raid. Unfortunately, for Brown and his followers, Brown’s lack of planning did not result in an uprising of the enslaved and murder of slave owners but rather the death of several of Brown’s supporters and his own capture by the United States Army. Once captured, Brown knew that he would be put to death and that his death could greatly benefit the abolitionist movement saying that he was “worth infinitely more to die than to live.” While awaiting his trial and later death, Brown was interviewed by reporters and wrote numerous letters in support of the cause of abolition that would be used to portray him as a martyr of a righteous cause. Brown even impressed his captors, who could relate to his understanding of the southern honor culture. In one of his last statements, before being put to death Brown stated that he was “now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Following his death northerners celebrated Brown as a hero who fought and died for the noblest cause of freedom but Southerners feared that the northern abolitionists were all like Brown who would stop at nothing to start a servile war in the slave-owning states. Though most abolitionists did not resort to violence some began to believe that violence was what was needed to end the institution of slavery in the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, who was an anti-slavery supporter but far from an abolitionist, was critical of Brown’s use of violence to start a slave insurrection and of the rhetoric of abolitionism as antithetical to the preservation of the Union. Lincoln believed that both slavery and abolitionism were dangerous to the social order of the nation and believed that “the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils.” (Basler, 552) Garrison’s use of abusive language toward slave-holders was, according to Lincoln, more likely to arouse conflict, and that slave-holders should be approached with respect and toleration. Lincoln was a strong believer in the old adage “you get more flies with honey, than vinegar” and believed that reason, rather than passion, should be used in all matters but most especially when it came to the institution of slavery. Lincoln’s approach to the issue of slavery was to rationally explain that slavery should be put on the path to ultimate extinction by not allowing it to extend into the western territories. He also did not believe that there should be a set time limit applied to the extermination of slavery. Lincoln was rational and careful in his approach to the institution of slavery.

Lincoln was a Whig, who later, after the dissolution of the Whig Party, became a Republican and was a moderate who felt that if slavery could be contained to those areas where it already existed it would die a natural death over a period of time.  He, therefore, was focused on preventing the spread of slavery into the newly acquired western territories rather than ending the institution of slavery everywhere, which the abolitionists were working toward. Like many of the abolitionists, Lincoln hated slavery and believed that it was antithetical to the founding principles of the nation and that blacks should have the protections of the inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, but not full social and political equality with whites. In his speech at the Cooper Institute, Lincoln argued that the founding fathers did not support the institution of slavery and that even southern slave-owning founders voted in favor of restricting slavery in the Northwest Territory. He also called for the United States to live up to its founding principles.  Lincoln took a much more moderate tone than Garrison when speaking about slavery and slave owners. He understood the southern honor culture and tried not to anger slavery supporters with harsh language and ad hominem attacks. In his Lyceum address, Lincoln said that “passion has helped us, but can do no more. It will in future be our enemy.” (Basler, 84)

Lincoln was sympathetic to southerners who had not been alive when slavery was begun in the colonies but felt that slavery was morally wrong and needed to be gradually abolished. Lincoln believed that slavery allowed other nations to condemn the United States as hypocritical, caused conflict between good men and the fundamental principles of the nation, moved the nation away from its founding as a natural rights republic, and financially hurt the poor white people of the south who could not compete with slave labor. He also argued that governing another man was despotic and tyrannical. Lincoln made it very clear in his speeches and in the debates with Stephen Douglass, that though he did not like slavery or the fugitive slave law that he if elected to Congress or later the presidency, he would not end slavery in the South and would enforce the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law. Lincoln, unlike Garrison and Brown, believed that slavery could be put on the path to extinction by working within the law to prevent the extension of slavery into the western territories. He also believed that the nation could no longer exist as half slave and half free because of the conflict the institution of slavery created with the nation as a whole and within the government itself. He also deeply believed that reason and not passion was critical to gain support for ending slavery and the anti-slavery movement.

Though these four important figures in the antebellum period differed in their understanding of the Constitution’s support of the institution of slavery, tactics to end the institution, and the equality of the races, they all believed that slavery was morally wrong and violated the founding principles of the nation as expressed in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. They also agreed that slavery needed to end but disagreed on the best way to extinguish the institution. Each man played an important role in the antebellum period, Garrison kick-started the abolitionist movement, Douglass showed through his speeches and writing that African Americans were just as intelligent and capable as whites, Brown’s actions at Harper’s Ferry, though violent, was the push the south needed to secede from the Union which led, ultimately, to the Union victory in the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln guided the nation through its most difficult period. Lincoln technically, though not physically, freed many of the enslaved through the Emancipation Proclamation prior to the end of the Civil War.


Works Cited

Basler, Roy P. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Da Capo Press, 2001.

Cain, William E., editor. William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight against Slavery: Selections from the Liberator. Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Johannsen, Robert W. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Potter, David M., and Don E. Fehrenbacher. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War; 1848 – 1861. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Southern Reaction to the Election of Abraham Lincoln

Southerners, at the time of the Election of 1860, had “a totally negative and fictitious image of Lincoln…. The image of a ‘black Republican,’ a rabid John Brown abolitionist, an inveterate enemy of the South” that had been painted by Stephen Douglass and the Democratic Party dating back to the Illinois Senatorial campaign of 1858. (Potter, 439) Throughout campaigns of the late 1850s and the 1860 presidential campaign, the Democratic party tried to paint the Republican party as radicals who had tried to stop the extension of slavery into the western territories and who would free all the slaves in the United States, if elected to major federal offices. They nicknamed the party “The Black Republican Party” which they said supported the social and political equality of the races; wanted to enfranchise blacks, allow them to serve on juries, and hold public office; they wanted a war between the states; were the same as Garrisonian abolitionists; and would start servile insurrections in the manner of John Brown.  Throughout this period the Democrats repeatedly referred to Republicans as “Black Republicans” and the nickname stuck and was latched onto by Southerners who opposed the election of Republican candidates. During the senatorial campaign in Illinois in 1858, Stephen Douglass went out of his way to paint his opponent, Abraham Lincoln, as a radical abolitionist.

Douglass used both his speeches and the debates against Lincoln to highlight what he perceived to be Lincoln’s abolitionism. He tried to tie Lincoln to William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and other abolitionists and called Lincoln a ruffian, unscrupulous, a heavy drinker, and the champion of black people, as well as a supporter of racial equality with a crusade against the Fugitive Slave Law and the Supreme Court, itself. Douglass twisted Lincoln’s statement that the principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence applied also to African Americans to mean that Lincoln believed in extending citizenship and full equality to blacks, on an equal footing to whites. In the August 27, 1858, debate at Freeport, Illinois Douglass references his knowledge of Frederick Douglass riding in a carriage with a white woman to smear the entire party, “all I have to say of it is this, that if you, Black Republicans, think that the negro ought to be on a social equality with your wives and daughters, and ride in a carriage with your wife, whilst you drive the team, you have the perfect right to do so.” (Johannsen, 92) Douglass’ description of a black man riding in a carriage with a white woman would have angered southerners who were determined to protect white womanhood from black men and played right into Southern honor culture. Additionally, throughout the debates, Douglass criticized Lincoln’s opposition to the Mexican War as treasonous and used the Republican platform to illustrate that the Party and candidate Lincoln would prevent the acquisition of additional territory unless slavery was first abolished in the United States.  The debates may not have played an important role in painting Lincoln as a radical abolitionist if Lincoln had not had allowed his scrapbook of the debates to be published. Those who were against slavery or who were moderates on the issue saw Lincoln as a legitimate candidate for the presidency after reading the debates but those who supported slavery latched onto Douglass’ rhetoric which labeled the Republicans and Abraham Lincoln as radicals who wanted to end slavery everywhere and as supporters of black equality.

Lincoln’s victory in the election of 1860 frightened southern slaveholders and was seen as illegitimate by some who argued that he had not won a single southern state and had only received a plurality of thirty-eight percent of the popular votes, thereby having won a sectional victory. Southerners saw the election of Abraham Lincoln as beneficial to Northern and dangerous to Southern interests. Seven southern states took the preemptive action of seceding from the Union because they feared what Lincoln would do once he was sworn in as president, despite having no evidence that Lincoln would try to end slavery in the South.  Governor John J. Pettus of Mississippi said of Lincoln’s election that “it would be as reasonable to expect the steamship to make a successful voyage across the Atlantic with crazy men for engineers, as to hope for a prosperous future for the south under Black Republican rule.” (Dew, 22) The Southern states that seceded from the Union did so because of the possibility of racial equality, the potential of a race war, and the fear of racial amalgamation under a “Black Republican” administration. Southerners strongly believed that slavery was essential to the social hierarchy of the south and could not picture their lives without slaves.

Southerners used many arguments to try to justify secession from the Union including state’s rights, the economic impact of the protective tariffs, internal improvements, and the profitability of slave labor, and attacks on their very culture. However, secession always came back to slavery despite the south’s best efforts to paint the Civil War and their secession as the “Lost Cause” following their surrender at Appomattox Court House. The argument most often exercised by secessionists and now Neo-Confederates is the state’s rights argument. This argument reaches back to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves of 1798-99 in which Jefferson and Madison argued that states had a duty to nullify federal laws that went beyond the delegated powers listed in the Constitution, to “arrest evil” and to maintain their rights and liberties. John C. Calhoun used the arguments in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves during the Nullification crisis of 1832 in his Discourse on the Constitution, where he also described his understanding of the nature of the federal union. Calhoun believed that the states had maintained their sovereignty under the United States Constitution and could, therefore, leave the Union if they felt their needs were not being met or if their rights were being threatened. Calhoun in his South Carolina Exposition stated that “the Constitution has formed the states into a community only to the extent of their common interest; leaving them distinct and independent communities as to all other interests, and drawing  the line of Separation with consummate skill…” (South Carolina Exposition, 344) Additionally, Calhoun used the Doctrine of Interposition proposed in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves to argue that a state had the right to “interpose state authority between citizens of the state and laws of the United States.” (Exposition and Protest) He believed that the states should serve as a check upon Congress, that they could interpret the Constitution as the state thought best, and could break away from the compact of the several states.

Secessionists would use many of the same arguments as John C. Calhoun to justify secession following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They argued that the Declaration of Independence gave states the power to institute a new government when the federal government became “destructive of the ends for which it was established.” They further argued that under the Articles of Confederation each state had retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence and that when Great Britain had negotiated the Treaty of Paris of 1783 it had acknowledged each of the thirteen states as a sovereign entity. They did not believe that the states gave up their sovereignty under the United States Constitution because each individual state had to ratify the Constitution and nine states had to ratify it before it became law. Furthermore, the states could amend the Constitution, were provided equal representation in the Senate, and that the states cast Electoral votes. They would also point to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution which gave any powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited by it to the states. Each state had established its own separate government, which the secessionists saw as sovereign. Other arguments used by the South were that during the Constitution Convention the delegates refused to give the federal government the specific power to coerce state governments, and at the time the Constitution was ratified three states: Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island, had maintained their sovereignty. (Potter, 482) Southern commissioner, C.G. Memminger argued that the Constitution was a compact between parties and “that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligations of the other…” (Memminger, 370) The election of Lincoln had confirmed for the slaveholding states that the North had broken the contract between them, therefore they had the right to leave the Union.

Secessionists made three economic arguments to justify secession: the illegality of the protective tariff, the misuse of public funds for internal improvements within the boundary of a state, and the economic benefit of slave labor. The South had an economy based on agriculture which relied on credit and slave labor to operate and transported their agricultural products to the world markets via rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. The North had a more diversified economy of manufacturing, trade, and agriculture which produced a lot of capital. The North relied upon wage labor and transported their goods to domestic markets via roads and canals. The North feared the competition of European manufactured goods and wanted a protective tariff to encourage the purchase of their goods over foreign goods. Southerners wanted to purchase manufactured goods as inexpensively as possible and were opposed to a protective tariff. The two sections were also in dispute over internal improvements and the controlling of banking by a central authority. Southerners argued that the protective tariff violated Congress’ power to levy taxes and were put in place to benefit northern industries over southern agriculture. John C. Calhoun and others believed that protective tariffs placed an economic burden on the south from which they received no benefit. Southerners, like Commissioner R.B. Rhett likened the taxation of southerners by the north to the taxation experienced by colonists at the hands of the British Empire. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America addressed the protective tariff issue by prohibiting taxes to be used to benefit one part of the Confederacy at the expense of another, enumerated the way revenue raised by taxation could be used, and stated that no preference would be given to one state’s commerce over the commerce of other states. Alexander Stephens touted the superiority of the Confederate Constitution in his Corner Stone Speech: “The question of building up class interests, or fostering one branch of industry to the prejudice of another under the exercise of the revenue power, which gave us so much trouble under the old constitution, is put at rest forever under the new.” (Stephens, 350)

Stephens’ also argued against using federal monies to make improvements to transportation within the boundaries of a state, he said that in the Confederacy if an area of a state needed to be improved it would up to that state to use their own funds to make the improvements rather than using monies collected from all the states to benefit one. Stephens was not the only southerner to complain about internal improvements. John C. Calhoun initially supported Henry Clay’s American System of internal improvements but later would criticize the plan. Southerners saw internal improvements much like they saw the protective tariff, it benefitted the North and West but provided no benefit for the South. The final economic argument of the secessionists revolved around the profitability of the slave system. Those who owned large numbers of slaves on their plantation became exceedingly wealthy and even those farmers who only owned a few slaves benefitted economically from the labor of their enslaved people. The economic prosperity of the South was based on the institution of slavery. Stephen Fowler Hale of Alabama valued the slave property of the south at $400,000,000 in 1860 and Henry Lewis Benning of Georgia estimated that the deep south cotton-growing states produced approximately $200,000,000 worth of cotton annually. (Dew, 88, 91-92) The secessionist used the multi-million-dollar domestic slave trade to encourage the northern slave-holding states like Virginia and Maryland, to join the Confederacy by stipulating that the Confederate government could prevent the importation of slaves from states that were not a part of the Confederacy. Should the Confederacy block the sale of slaves from non-Confederate states those states would stand to lose millions of dollars. Charles Dew explained that the domestic slave trade was a “profit sharing economic engine of enormous magnitude” which supplied needed income to the northern slaveholding states and slave labor for the cotton and sugar plantations of the deep south. (Dew, 88) Slavery did not just support the economy it was central to southern culture.

The culture of the south was based on social hierarchy, authoritarian control, deference to elders and betters, strong kinship ties, long-established customs, the Jeffersonian belief in the virtue of an agricultural life, a cult of chivalry, the superiority of whites, and a romanticized ideal of the plantation. Southerners had a strong honor code which could not tolerate insults and required defending one’s honor if insulted, as well as the virtue and honor of women. The culture of the south romanticized slavery as a “Positive Good” in which savage Africans had been civilized, taught the tenets of Christianity and were taken care of by benevolent masters. Despite the “positive good” of slavery southerners feared slave insurrections and established institutions to ensure the subjugation of blacks, including plantations where enslaved people could be supervised, insulated from the outside world, and controlled.

Abolitionists were seen as a threat to southern culture and the safety of white southerners because they used harsh language to describe slaveholders and Southerners believed they were trying to start a servile war, especially following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The commissioners sent to states to encourage secession used fear tactics to gain support for secession from already terrified southern whites. They told listeners that they were being dishonored and degraded by northerners and faced the political and social destruction of the south. They told delegates to secession conventions that if the slaves were freed there would be a race war which would “excite the slaves to cut the throat of his master”, would drench the south in blood, destroy the “purity of their daughters”, and would mean “amalgamation or extermination.” (Dew, 78-79) The commissioners often referred to the bloody slave insurrection in Haiti to scare southerners into leaving the Union. David Potter in his book, Impending Crisis, explained that the concern “about anti-slavery propaganda as a potential cause of slave unrest also explains in part why white southerners seemed so oblivious to the great difference between the moderate attitude of an ‘ultimate extinctionist’ like Lincoln and the flaming abolitionism of an ‘immediatist’ like Garrison.”(Potter, 454) Slavery was an essential ingredient to the southern economy and the social hierarchy, which relied on white supremacy. Alexander Stephens in his Corner Stone Speech stated that all members of the white race were equal despite their economic or social standing within their community. Plantation owners knew that to maintain slavery they needed to get non-slaveholders in the south to support the institution even though it did not benefit them economically. Therefore, white supremacy was an extremely important component of southern life and slavery was intricately entwined into Southern culture. Prior to seceding from the Union Southerners wanted Constitutional protections for the institution of slavery including a national slave code and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law throughout the north. Once Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency southerners felt that they would never receive the protections they desired so they created their own union of slaveholding states that would provide what they believed the “Black Republican President” would not. The concern over servile insurrections, the destruction of the southern economy and culture, and the arguments for state’s rights all came back to the institution of slavery.

Despite the best efforts of southerners to obfuscate the real reason for secession the literature and speeches of leading secessionists clearly show that slavery was the most important cause of secession. The Constitution for the Confederate States provides very real evidence of the importance of the institution of slavery in the creation of the Confederacy. The Constitution kept the Three-Fifths Compromise intact, protected the domestic slave trade within its borders, prevented Bills of Attainder and Ex Post Facto laws from being used to deny anyone of their slave property, allowed for the free movement of slaves with their master, enacted its own Fugitive Slave Law, and required slavery to exist in any territories obtained by the Confederacy. The Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, explained in his Corner Stone speech that the Confederate government’s “corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery subordination to the superior race in his natural and normal condition.”(Stephens, 353) Stephens also claimed that the new Constitution put an end to all the questions about the peculiar institution and that slavery was the cause of the separation from the United States. David Potter claimed that “sectional conflict becomes little more than a euphemism for a fight about slavery.” (Potter, 36)

Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860 in November but had to wait until March 1861 to be sworn in as President. The time between the election and his inauguration was extremely contentious but as President-Elect, Lincoln had no real power to intervene in the growing conflict and secession of the seven states of the Deep South. Lincoln felt that he had made it clear throughout the campaign that he had no intention of trying to end or alter the institution of slavery in the States where it had historically existed and did not need to continue to defend his position following the election, though he did write to Alexander Stephens to try to assure him that the South had no need to fear his presidency.

At the time the first seven states seceded from the Union, James Buchanan was in the final months of his presidency and though a lame-duck held some clout with southerners because of his southern sympathies which he failed to use to try to bring calm following the election. In his State of the Union address in December of 1860, Buchanan added fuel to the fire by blaming the North for interfering on the question of slavery in the South incessantly for the last twenty-five years which had “produced its natural effects” of secession. Additionally, Buchanan claimed that self-preservation propelled the states in the Deep South to quit the Union because as sovereign states they should have been able to manage their “domestic institutions” without interference. Buchanan also argued that though he thought the southern states were wrong for leaving the Union there was nothing that he, as President, could do about it. Buchanan, later in his speech, tried to quell the fears about Abraham Lincoln by explaining that as President, Lincoln would be limited by the United States Constitution and would only be in office for four years, which would not be enough time for him to make sweeping changes like abolishing slavery. Buchanan could have followed the example set by Andrew Jackson during the Nullification Crisis when he told South Carolina that if they seceded they would be treated as traitors, or he could have sent the United States Army to South Carolina to quell the rebellion which would not have given the Confederacy the four months to organize a government and a military that his inaction allowed. Following the State of the Union Buchanan bided his time until Lincoln would be sworn in as the new President and he could wash his hands of the whole mess. Had Buchanan acted decisively the conflict could have been ended much sooner and without the high casualty rate.

Lincoln’s first act as President was to reassure the South in his Inaugural Address, that he would not abolish slavery, would enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, and that he would not take an aggressive stance against the Confederacy. He tried to convince the south that it was better to keep the Union together to work out the problems of the nation rather than to be in perpetual conflict as separate nations. The Southern states did not reconcile with the Union and the long and bloody Civil War broke out in April of 1861 at Fort Sumter. Lincoln tried to bring calm to the situation but by the time of his inauguration, the south was too far gone to be brought back with words.

Secessionism was entirely based on the false pretense that the “Black Republican” President would take their slaves, start a race war, and make blacks socially and politically equal to whites. Had Southerners been more rational they would have been able to distinguish between radical abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown, and a man, like Abraham Lincoln, who was politically moderate and believed in putting slavery on the path to ultimate extinction regardless of how long that would take. Had they taken Lincoln at face value they would have been able to remain in the Union and continued to maintain the institution of slavery without bloodshed and defeat. The Democrats were to blame for inciting fear among the slaveholders in the South by referring to the Republican party members as “Black Republicans” and twisting the Republican party message to one of abolitionism. Southerners fell prey to the rhetoric of the Democrats and turned their apprehension over the 1860 election to hysteria which incited a civil war, that is still being disputed today.

Works Cited

Basler, Roy P. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Da Capo Press, 2001.

Cain, William E., editor. William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight against Slavery: Selections from the Liberator. Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Johannsen, Robert W. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Potter, David M., and Don E. Fehrenbacher. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War; 1848 – 1861. Harper Perennial, 2011.

The Institution of Slavery in the North

We often think of slavery as having existed only in the south or as Northern slavery being benign. In fact, the institution of slavery did exist in the north but was different in many ways than Southern slavery, however, it was slavery nonetheless.

Slavery in New England began early with the enslavement of Natives particularly following the Pequot and King Phillip’s Wars. However, enslaving Indigenous peoples in New England proved to be problematic because they could easily escape because they knew the land well and could easily return to their tribe or another. Captured Natives were often shipped to the Caribbean to be enslaved on sugar plantations. In exchange for Native slaves, slave traders would be given Africans to enslave in the North.

Creating settlements in the New World required labor and so the institution of slavery took hold early and was even codified in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. New England quickly became the center of the Atlantic slave trade with Massachusetts the principal slave trading area until 1800 when the center of the trade shifted to Rhode Island. “By 1808 there were over 2000 slave trading trips from New England with Rhode Island being responsible for 1000 of those trips. (Melish, Joanne Pope. “‘Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in New England: An Overview.’” African Americans in the Creation of Colonial New England. NEH Landmarks Workshop for School Teachers, 9 July 2017, Deerfield, MA, Deerfield Teacher’s Center.)

Slavery never took hold in New England like it did in the South but all New England states did have a population of enslaved peoples. The short growing season and rocky soil in New England limited the agricultural production of the region reducing the need for enslaved labor on large farms. Enslaved people in the North worked in industries along side white indentured servants, paid laborers (both black and white), and their masters. Male slaves worked on the docks, as sailors, in the building trades, domestic work, agriculture, distilleries,  and in the trades. Female slaves were generally domestic servants who cooked, cleaned and served the family, as well as raised the master’s children.

Enslaved men in the north had more freedom than their Southern counterparts because of the nature of their work in various industries and as sailors. Even enslaved women in the north had some freedom to travel in town when purchasing supplies for the family. The Puritan and Congregationalist religious teachings allowed the enslaved people to be seen as people by the white community while also being property. In the north, the enslaved person’s labor was owned but not their body. Both free and enslaved African Americans were welcome into full membership in the church upon their baptism but were required to sit in segregated seating during worship.  These religious institutions required members of the Church community to be able to do daily scripture readings and so many enslaved people were taught to read throughout New England. Boston’s enslaved population was the most literate in the Atlantic World. Additionally, enslaved people could hire themselves out for pay on their day off and in rural communities could own a firearm. Marriage was legal for the enslaved in the north and ministers would perform wedding ceremonies for enslaved people. However, the vast majority of the enslaved population in the north was male so there were many marriages between enslaved men and Native women, who were free. The children from the union between enslaved men and Native women would be free because the children followed the status of the mother.

Master and slave relations were generally very different from those in the South. Northern slaves tended to reside within the Master’s home and many Northern slave owners owned only 1 or 2 enslaved people. It wasn’t just the wealthy who owned slaves in the north. In fact, many slave masters were middle-class tradesman who worked alongside the enslaved and many also had apprentices and even indentured servants. Masters in the north were responsible for the physical and moral well being of their enslaved people including in old age. Many communities had laws against freeing elderly slaves to avoid caring for them because they would be unable to support themselves and would become the responsibility of the town.

Despite the appearance of a more mild form of slavery in the North, it was in fact slavery which came with difficult work, long hours, lack of freedom, separation from family, and harsh treatment. Northern enslaved people resisted the institution of slavery in different ways than their southern counterparts who formed rebellions and ran away. Northern slaves also ran away but this was more difficult because of the small size of the free black population, particularly in rural areas. Instead many sought autonomy within the institution of slavery through marriage, hiring oneself out, saving money to purchase freedom for themselves and loved ones, and in some cases through petitions and law suits for freedom.

The importance of Women’s Studies Courses at the Secondary School Level

Each year students in the United States graduate from high school never having learned about the historical contributions of women or the continuing inequality of women in the United States today. Most of those students have completed twelve years of social studies classes that did not include the study of women or other minoritized groups but rather focused on the contributions and discoveries of white men of European ancestry. Therefore, many believe that women (and other minoritized groups) have never contributed anything, other than children, to the development of the United States. Girls are not given the opportunity to see strong historical women and will turn to pop stars and reality television personalities for role models. Boys believe that it was men who carried the load of creating the nation and it prevents them from fully understanding gender discrimination. Each student who graduates from high school should be exposed to gender issues and the history of American women and the way to do this is to, at a minimum, require a woman’s or gender studies course as a requirement for graduation. Women’s studies courses can empower girls, decrease teen pregnancy and bullying, combat gender stereotypes that affect not just girls but also LGBTQ students, end rape culture and can open the door to the understanding of intersectionality, privilege, and oppression.

As a women’s studies teacher I see the impact learning about the contributions of historical women and discussing the current issues facing women has on my female students. However, the course I teach is an elective so only a small number of students are given the opportunity to learn about gender and the role of women in the development of the United States, and the vast majority of those students are female. Boys do not sign up for the course and when scheduled by their guidance counselor will quickly drop the course to pursue more “gender acceptable” courses like technology education or history courses dealing with the study of war. I strongly believe that requiring all students to learn about the history of women, gender roles, media awareness, rape culture, body image, and healthy relationships would benefit both male and female students.  I believe that this would start to change the culture of our schools and the United States that puts white men in a position of power over women and other minoritized individuals and sees women as nothing more than sexual objects to be used for the pleasure of men. Children are bombarded with images promoting gender roles, the sexualization of women, and anti-gay and anti-women terminology in popular culture. At home and school, they receive strong messages about what is acceptable behavior for males and females. All of these messages are detrimental to raising strong girls and is also harmful to boys who are constantly receiving the message that they have to be men and that it is bad to show feminine emotions or characteristics, as well as children whose gender does not fit into the gender binary. “Practically from birth, girls are trained to hate being female, to hate having sexual desires, and to hate other girls. We are constantly pitted against each other and taught to be, as Miss Representation calls it “fighting fuck toys.” We are taught that women are natural enemies.”[1] Boys are also taught to hate their female side and boys who show feminine qualities or enjoy “girl stuff” are often subjected to bullying which is “a specific kind of bullying with the taunts about sexuality designed to tear down boys by associating them with girls and people who are gay…”[2] Many of the social issues that are present in middle and high schools have root in gender issues “Schools struggle to combat bullycides, cyberbullying, and mean girls (and mean boys), all of which are ongoing at alarmingly high rates. These concerns involve homophobia and transphobia, sexism and misogyny, racism and classism; feminists have offered rich analysis about these interlocking systems of oppression for over 40 years” and they can be addressed in a required women’s studies course.[3] Despite the successes of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s, there are still people who strongly believe that men should still receive special privileges simply because they are men. A 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “people around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home.”[4] Women’s Studies curriculum in secondary schools can help students question privilege and oppression and will open the door to more analysis of studies like that done by the Pew Research Center. Currently, Women’s Studies classes are more common at the university level than in K-12 education and “for many students, it is in their postsecondary education that women’s issues are studied for the first time…women’s studies often provide a perspective that is foreign to most students because they have been conditioned and taught to view historical, economic, and sociological events primarily from the position of men… Unfortunately, the opportunity to consider a different perspective is still only available to a select few, because most academic programs do not require women’s history or studies.”[5]  K-12 curriculums need to be revised to include the study of women and gender and incorporate specific women’s studies courses at the secondary level.

Women’s Studies courses provide a safe environment to explore issues related to women, gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation and the intersectionality of race and class. Most Social Studies courses fail to included intersectionality as well multiple perspectives of historical events and social justice. “Women’s studies classes can offer high school students a way of expressing social justice interest and ways of looking at how different forms of oppression intersect. Women’s studies are not just about looking at the history and interests of women. It’s about looking at the world as different intersecting forms of oppression and what can be done to address these issues.”[6]  Girls need to see themselves reflected in their studies before they reach college to provide them with positive role models and to counteract the ways girls are marginalized by public schools. “Research demonstrates that the conscious integration of women into the social studies curriculum, the use of sex-equitable materials, and offering women’s studies and women’s history courses can all have positive effects on students’ attitudes towards gender roles, equity, and personal empowerment.” [7]

All students, regardless of their gender identity or biological sex, will benefit from taking a women’s studies course. Girls will become more confident and proud of being a woman when they learn about the historical contributions of women who helped develop the United States and when they are given the ability to discuss the issues that they face every day. “If younger women and girls are exposed to feminist ideals—that it’s okay to speak your mind, that you’re more than what you look like or what the opposite sex thinks of you, that being politically and socially engaged is a good thing—they’d not only avoid a ton of personal turmoil, but they’d also be more likely to be out there making the world a better place for other women.”[8] Additionally, the skills girls gain in a Women’s Studies course will make them better leaders, more confident and will encourage more girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, mathematics, and engineering. Boys who take Women’s Studies courses also benefit because it makes them more aware of the various modes of gender discrimination and asks them to look at American history and pop culture through a feminist lens while doing this they become more respectful of women and therefore better men. If the goal of Women’s Studies courses is to change men and the patriarchal society than men must be included and “rather than simply constructing men as the oppressors, it allows us to explore the varieties of masculine experience, both hegemonic and non-hegemonic. This more complicated view of men is in keeping with Women’s Studies’ attempt to account for the diversity of human experience. By thematizing the harms associated with both hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinity, both more and less privileged males can better see that they have a personal investment in addressing gender issues.”[9] This allows for more in-depth discussion of manhood and allows for more than one interpretation of what it means to be a man and allows for discussion of how masculinity impacts women. Both male and female students want to understand the relationship between the binary genders and this also allows for the exploration of other gender identities. Including discussions on masculinity and male gender roles allows for a more in-depth discussion of homophobia because “proving that one isn’t gay is a ubiquitous and painful experience for adolescent and college-age males. Opening up this painful experience as a socially constructed male rite of passage, helps straight students, male and female, better recognize their investment in addressing homophobia and understanding why they should work, in solidarity with gay men and lesbians.”[10] Males need to understand that gender equality is actually good for men too. It will free them from strictly defined gender roles and allow them to embrace their whole selves and be a complete human being rather than a stereotype of masculinity. When boys have the opportunity to see women as more than an object of their affection or a trophy to win it will help to end the culture of violence against women and LGBTQ people that is so prevalent in the United States today, particularly on college campuses. “When kids are armed with their own voice, their own autonomy, their own sense of self and space in the world, bullies become irrelevant. Girls stand taller because they learn they don’t have to accept what’s been assigned to them; boys stand taller because they know being a man has nothing to do with wearing a “tough guise” and, in fact, is the exact opposite of being a bully, be it toward girls or other boys. Being a man means being strong, indeed, strong enough to stand up for what is right for themselves and others. Not only that but also to allow others the right to do the same.”[11]

The curriculum for a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level must include discussions of gender and gender identity, gender roles, the intersectionality of race, class, age, sexual orientation and other categories with gender, privilege and oppression as well as the history of the suffrage and feminist movements, social literacy and media awareness. It must ask students to think critically about how gender is defined and how gender roles are promoted in our society. Once students understand gender, gender identity, privilege, oppression, and intersectionality than the class can move on to learn about the work of women to achieve equality and where work still needs to be done. A more in-depth study of current issues facing women, men, and the LGBTQ community will allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world problems. “A curriculum might cover; public spaces, including catcalling, attitudes to dress and the threat of sexual violence; online spaces and harassment; sex and relationships, including domestic violence and yes, affirmative consent; and work, including discussions of equal pay, work-life balance, discrimination and unconscious bias. And it couldn’t hurt to remind students that women’s rights to vote, own property, study, practice professions, and control their own fertility were won by a series of colossal struggles.”[12] Students must be taught to analyze images that are presented in media and popular culture that shape “our notions about beauty, relationships, and sexuality”[13] Students also need to practice the skills of analytical reading, persuasive writing, debate, effective communication of ideas, critical thinking and application of skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios within the Women’s Studies course.

The inclusion of a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level will be beneficial to both female and male students on many levels and may address many of the social issues faced by today’s teenagers, including sexual violence, teen pregnancy, and bullying. The course will provide male students the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of their female peers and will challenge them to think about masculinity and how our cultural definition of what it means to be a man is, in fact, harmful to women. This will encourage them to make their own definitions of manhood that do not include the oppression and sexualization of women. Female students will finally be given the opportunity to learn about the contributions of women in the development of the United States and to feel that they are not alone in their struggles against discrimination, strictly defined gender roles and negative cultural images of women. Girls will be stronger and boys will be better men for having taken a Women’s Studies course.




[1] A, Paris. “Why We Need Women’s Studies Classes in High School.” Web blog post. Thefbomb.org. N.p., 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 2 June 2016.

[2] Elliot, Nicole Lusiani. “A Lesson Learned in Raising Boys by Teaching Women’s Studies.” Web blog post. Nicole Lusiani Elliot. N.p., 12 May 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[3] Jimenez, Ileana. “Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action by Ileana Jimnez.” Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action by Ileana Jimnez. Feminist.com, n.d. Web. 20 June 2016.

[4] Ojalvo, Holly Epstein. “Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?” The Learning Network Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men Comments. The New York Times, 2 July 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[5] Cruz, Barbara C., and Jennifer L. Groendal-Cobb. “Incorporating Women’s Voices Into the Middle and Senior High School History Curriculum.” Education Abstracts [EBSCO]. EBSCO, 2 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 June 2016.

[6] Laura. “Where Would I Be?” Web log post. Fighting with the Sky. WordPress, 8 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[7] Baxter, Noel, Laura Sproul, Kerry Kelly, and Jill Franco. “Teaching About Women in Social Studies:Empowerment for All.” Social Science Docket(Summer-Fall 2006): 16-19. Education Abstracts [EBSCO]. Web. 20 June 2016.

[8] Valenti, Jessica. “Should Feminism Be Taught in Schools.” Web log post.The Frisky. SpinMedia, 25 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 June 2016.

[9] Berila, Beth, Jean Keller, Camilla Krone, Jason Laker, and Ozzie Mayers. “His Story/Her Story: A Dialogue About Including Men and Masculinities.” Feminist Teacher 16.1 (2005): 34-52. Education Research Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 20 June 2016, 40.

[10] Berila, 40.

[11] Elliot, blog.

[12] Dodson, Bryn. “Teach Feminism in High School.” Web log post. Tremr. N.p., 2014. Web. 2 June 2016.

[13] Issadore, Michelle. “Why Sex Ed Needs to Start in Elementary School [Opinion].” Noodle. The Noodle Companies, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 2 June 2016.

My Philosophy of Teaching

Recently, I was asked to write my philosophy of teaching for a program I applied to so I decided to share it here, as I have been working on my new philosophy and how to incorporate it into my United States History 1 Courses. So Here it is:

Philosophy of Teaching

 Throughout the course of my teaching career, my philosophy of teaching has continued to develop and has led to the decision to teach for social justice. I have spent many hours researching and thinking about what this means. Teaching for social justice, to me, means that we recognize that oppression exists in our world and work in our classrooms to disrupt the cycle of oppression.  As teachers, we have many opportunities to help students identify oppression and privilege, understand oppression’s many forms, think critically about who makes decisions in our nation and who benefits and who is hurt by those decisions. We ask students to think critically about whether a policy or action is fair and to think about alternatives to those policies and actions. In addition, teaching for social justice means that teachers connect the curriculum to student’s lives, present multiple perspectives, use authentic assessments, present real-world problems that connect to the curriculum, and foster a classroom culture that is safe for students to express their opinions without ridicule.

In order to fully understand our history, we must hear the voice of all the people living in the nation, analyze primary sources, identify the bias in sources, analyze the motivations behind actions of the United States, and determine the significance of events for all.  Students must also be able to understand the connection between their lives and events in the nation’s history so that they can understand the importance of their actions to the nation’s future. My job as an educator is to teach students the skills that they will need to be successful historians, provide a safe atmosphere that fosters frank discussion of difficult topics, present multiple perspectives, assist students in becoming better writers, and encourage curiosity.

In my United States history and civics courses,  I have found resources that present multiple perspectives not found in the textbook. I focus on teaching students the skills to analyze primary sources, recognize bias, and think critically about each source. My students read multiple primary sources throughout the course from American leaders, Native Americans, African Americans, Women, and Immigrants. I feel that the best way to understand history is through primary sources.  Students also look at stereotypes and how they affected people throughout history and today. As a class we analyze current events and discuss them, the students are required to participate in debates and discussions and deliver speeches on the Constitution. They also do projects to connect historical events to current events. Students conduct a lot of research, use close reading techniques and are asked to think critically about historical and social justice issues. I believe that my students leave the classroom at the end of the course having practiced skills that will not only benefit them academically but also encourage them to see multiple viewpoints. They have been encouraged to have an open mind and to analyze current events with a historical and social justice perspective. They also leave my classroom believing that they can make a positive change in the world and in their community.

Summer 2016

This summer I was lucky enough to attend seven workshops and institutes starting with Fort Ticonderoga’s Annual War College of the Seven Year’s War and Colonial Conference for Educators that have had a significant impact on my teaching and understanding of United States history. It has taken me a long time to analyze all that I have learned and to incorporate it into my teaching. The Colonial Conference was wonderful and very eye-opening as it focused on Race and Slavery in the colonial period. All of the presenters focused on slavery and were excellent but the presentation by Kristin Gallas was the most meaningful for me. She focused on the teaching of slavery and race in the classroom and really gave us a new understanding of how best to do this since it can be such an emotional topic for some of our students. It is often difficult for teachers who are white to talk about slavery, race and discrimination particularly with the minoritized groups who are deeply affected by these topics. Her advice was to discuss the topics in a way that is open, honest and inclusive. She gave us examples of primary sources that we could use in our classroom that can help initiate these discussions.  She presented race as a social construct invented by people to categorize the “others” and that race has become legislated and adjudicated. She spoke about how we define our identity which includes: community region, education, class, race, religion, ethnicity, nation, and family. She then went on the talk about our how our personal narratives affect our perception of the world.Then she gave us scenarios about teaching slavery and race and had us break out into small groups to discuss them. This was really powerful because most of the teachers in the room were white and had never really thought about their race before.

During the spring I participated in a professional development opportunity at the high school where I work that was taught by one of my colleagues which gave an overview of LGBTQ history and how as teachers we can make our classroom a welcoming and safe place for LGBTQ students. Traditionally American history has been focused on the history of the dominant group which was white and male. It has traditionally been exclusive of those not in the dominant group but particularly those whose gender identity or sexual orientation are not considered mainstream by the dominant group. This course gave me ideas about how to incorporate LGBTQ history into my United States History courses. In addition to this professional development opportunity, I also took a graduate course entitled Gender, Power, and Privilege. The course covered several topics including Critical Social Justice Theory, Critical Thinking, Oppression, Privilege, Racism and Race issues, Sexism and Gender Issues, Homophobia and LGBTQ issues, and Social Class Divisions. The course asked us to learn about our own privilege and how it impacts others. We were also asked to analyze modern issues related to race, gender, and social class. This course has really changed how I think about United States history and how events in US History have impacted minoritized groups. The course has prompted me to completely change how I teach US History. I have rewritten the curriculum to include a focus on the impact that historical events have on people both those in positions of privilege and those in minoritized groups.

Once school was out I traveled for two and a half weeks attending teacher institutes, workshops and visiting historic sites around New England and Upstate New York. My first institute was at Fort Ticonderoga and focused on the British perspective of the American Revolution. We spent a week  learning about the American Revolution” from the point of view of the British, German allies, and Loyalists while learning about the pivotal role Ticonderoga and the Champlain-Hudson corridor played during the 1777 campaign.” (From the Institute Description) In the United States, the American Revolution is presented in classrooms from only the perspective of the American colonists fighting for independence and the British are portrayed as oppressors. This institute expanded my understanding of the American Revolution from the perspective of those who fought the Americans during the War, including Loyalists and British and German soldiers and I have incorporated an opportunity for students to analyze various perspectives of the Battle of Saratoga into my curriculum through a Social Studies lab, which was posted on the Fort’s website. wendy20social20studies20lab-saratoga

After my week at Fort Ticonderoga I had a few days before I had to be in Rochester, New York so I was able to visit some historical sites and also had the opportunity to see a friend who lives in New York. My first stop was Stillwater, NY where I visited the Saratoga Battle Monument and toured General Philip Schuyler’s summer home. I also stopped at the Saratoga Battlefield Visitor’s center to use their database to research two New Hampshire men who served with the Americans at the Battles of Saratoga. One of whom was a freed African American from my new hometown and is someone I hope to spend much more time researching. I then went to Albany to catch up with a friend. The next day I traveled to Rome, New York where I visited the Oriskany Battlefield and Fort Stanwix. Fort Stanwix is run by the Parks Service and has a wonderful museum and was an interesting contrast to Fort Ticonderoga. The next morning I headed to Rochester, NY for my next teacher institute but made a few stops along the way. My first stop was at the cabin or Baron Von Steuben, who was a volunteer that served with the Continental Army and was pivotal in turning the ragtag group of colonists into a well-trained fighting force. After the war, the Congress granted him a land grant in New York where he could retire. Steuben built a humble cabin and after his death was buried on the property in a modest grave, which was moved to house his remains in a large decorative tomb, against Steuben’s wishes.


My next stop on the trip to Rochester was at a place I have always felt a particular draw to, Seneca Falls, New York, home of the first women’s rights convention and one of my heroes, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The National Parks Service runs the Women’s Rights National Park which operates the Wesleyan Chapel, where the Seneca Falls Convention was held, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home and the M’Clintock House, where the convention was planned. It was a breathtaking experience for me to visit the sites associated with the beginning of the women’s rights movement because I have been teaching about the Seneca Falls Convention for 17 years. The Stanton home was undergoing restoration when I visited and it did not have many furnishings but it was awe-inspiring!

I attended a week-long National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks Institute entitled the Rochester Reform Trail, “focusing on Rochester’s iconic 19th century technological, economic and reform landmarks. In the early nineteenth century, Rochester was at the center of a national effort to reform American society. National figures like Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Charles G. Finney made Rochester their home and turned the frontier boomtown into an epicenter for progressive thought and action. Working alongside nearby leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Seneca Falls, they led the nation in the battle against long-entrenched notions of racial and gender inferiority. More than 150 years later Rochester’s landscape is still marked by their efforts.” (From the institute description). In the mornings we attended lectures by leading scholars focusing on  the reform movements and why Rochester became the center of the efforts to reform American Society. In the afternoon we went on field trips to important sites in Rochester and nearby areas including the Aqueduct in Rochester; Mount Hope Cemetery where Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were buried; the University of Rochester Special Collections Library; a boat ride on the Erie Canal; Seneca Falls; and Susan B. Anthony’s home. In the evening we were free to explore the area and we took advantage of the wonderful wineries and breweries in the region and visited other historical sites in the city. This institute also inspired me to rework the United States History 1 curriculum to incorporate the experiences of marginalized groups including African Americans, Native Americans, Women, and Immigrants. This primary source resources given to and made available to us during this workshop were extremely helpful in rewriting the course. Not only was the institute helpful to me as a teacher but I found in personally inspiring and met some of the most amazing people who have become good friends.

From Rochester, I drove to Deerfield, Massachusetts to observe the first few days of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks Institute entitled Living on the Edge of Empire which “places the Deerfield Raid of 1704 in the broader context of the history of colonial New England. Workshop scholars will explore global issues while also considering ways in which this history can offer a compelling entry point for teaching the complexities of the early American colonial period and the many cultural groups who comprised it -Native nations, enslaved African Americans, the French and English settlers.” (From the institute description) Though I do not specifically teach the 1705 raid on Deerfield I do teach about colonial conflicts with Native Americans and the French. The Deerfield Raid was done as part of the Queen Anne’s War. The lectures by Professor Kevin Sweeney described the reasons why there was a conflict between English settlers and Native Americans, the Native American role in the French and English conflicts, and why frontier settlements were in danger of attack by Natives. This overview will provide a better context for these conflicts for my students. I am going to be including much more information on Native Americans in my United States 1 course, in order to provide a more well-rounded look at the history of the United States.

After a couple of days at Historic Deerfield, I went home for a day before heading to Boston to attend a three-day workshop at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Women in the Era of the American Revolution. We studied female soldiers, spies, camp followers and those who kept the home front going throughout the war. We went on field trips to Old North Church, the Paul Revere house and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The most impactful activity we did was a workshop that the Old North Church does with students called Sacred Seats which asks students to think about the social implications of pew ownership and location in the church building. The education staff at Old North uses primary sources related to the purchase of church pews to guide students in understanding the social hierarchy within a colonial church community. They then guide students in a discussion about social class and discrimination in the United States today. It was a very powerful experience for us even as adults and was something we talked about for the rest of the afternoon.

After this workshop, I attended a one-day Teaching American History seminar on the Civil War sponsored by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. The professor spent the first part of the morning dissecting primary sources related to the lead-up to the American Civil War. The latter part of the morning was spent on analyzing primary sources related to the Civil War itself and the afternoon was spent discussing primary sources related to the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. The pace of the seminar moved quickly but I gained a much better understanding of not just the primary sources but also the Civil War, itself.

The final summer professional development opportunity for the summer was a Teaching American History weekend Colloquium on the Vice Presidency and Presidency of John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts. The weekend was an in-depth study of John Adams the man and the politician. We also visited the tombs of John and Abigail Adams and John Quincy and Catherine Louisa Adams at the Church of the Presidents in Quincy. I also toured the three homes associated with the Adams family in Quincy, including the home John and Abigail retired to, Peacefield.

All of these professional development experiences have made me really look at how United States history is taught in schools and led me to revise my United States history 1 course to be more inclusive and to challenge students to look at the impact our nation’s history has had on minoritized groups.



Institutionalized Racism

Racism in North America is “white racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of Whites and the disadvantage of people of Color.” (Sensoy, 101) This definition explains that racism is institutionalized in the United States and Canada in the structure of government and the creation and enforcement of laws, the education system, and the financial system. It systematically benefits White people, at the expense of people of Color. This system perpetuates privilege and stereotypes.

However, the institutionalized nature of racism is never discussed in our country. We like to pretend that once slavery ended we got rid of all elements of institutionalized racism and that only individual racism still exists. However, we forget the period of Jim Crow and the continued disparity between Whites and Black in the country today. This belief leads to the construction of an individual binary—one is either racist or not racist. (Sensoy, 102) We have stereotypes of those who are racist as being uneducated, ignorant, older, southern and flies a Confederate flag. The not racist folks are educated, open-minded and progressive. (Sensoy, 102) In reality, we all have prejudices and though individuals who hold racist beliefs are discriminatory and occasionally violent, the racism that is most damaging is institutional and widespread. The American focus on individualism helps to obscure institutional racism because we believe that everyone’s success or failures hinge on hard work and not privilege or oppression. In reality, it is much easier for a White person to move up the economic ladder and then it is for a person of Color. This often is based on white privilege rather than just a strong work ethic. The statistics further prove there is institutional racism: 27.2% of Blacks live in poverty compared to only 9.7% of Whites. The median family income for Whites in the United States in 2014 was $59,754 compared to $34,416 for Blacks and 72.9% of Whites own their own homes while only 43.5% of Blacks own homes. (Luhby, Tami Y. “5 Disturbing Stats on Black-white Financial Inequality.”CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 June 2016.) In addition to economic inequality African American men are much more likely to be incarcerated. “The Justice Department projects that one in three black males born in the twenty-first century is expected to go to jail or prison at some point during their lifetime.” (Stevenson, Bryan. “The Rationalization of Racial Injustice.” Sojourners. Sojourners.net, 20 Jan. 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.) In addition to the incarceration rates “black males are three times more likely to be stopped by police and have their cars searched than White males, although White males are four times more likely to have illegal substances in their vehicles.” (Sensoy, 106) Other areas of society have racial disparities too including schools and health care. All of this makes it extremely hard for people of Color to get ahead in the United States and even translates into shorter life expectancies for people of Color.

The dominant group refused to acknowledge these institutionalized forms of oppression and would rather blame the victims. “If we are White we swim with the current and if we are a person of Color we must swim against it. (Sensoy, 101) When we swim with the current it is harder to see institutionalized racism than for those who swim against it every day. It is not until we put ourselves in other people’s shoes that we can understand how the system works against people of Color. We must listen to the experiences of people of Color and learn from them.

Economic Disparities Today and Historically

There is a huge wealth gap in the United States today between Whites and people of Color as well as between the rich and the working –class. The gap between Whites and people of Color exists because of historic and systematic discrimination as well as discriminatory laws, policies and court decisions throughout the nation’s history and today. The wealth gap between the rich and the working class exists because of laws that protect companies over workers, ever growing profits, the continued growth of productivity, the shipment of working class jobs overseas and the stagnation of wages in the last 30 years. The “institution of the state, influenced by the economy, creates a social class stratification system that is increasingly divided.” (Lui, Meuzhu. “Doubly Divided.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 100-07. Print, 100.) The wealth of Whites is ten times more than it is for African Americans and the rates of homeownership are significantly higher for whites than it is for families of Color. (Lui, 101). The wealth of the rich continues to climb while the wealth of the working class continues to decline.

“Throughout history, federal policies—from constructing racial categories, to erecting barriers to asset building non-whites, to overseeing transfers of wealth from non-whites to whites—have created the basis for the current racial wealth divide.” (Lui, 107). While all  minoritized groups face barriers to wealth and discriminatory laws and policies that prevent them from accumulating wealth, Native Americans and African Americans have faced incredible discrimination and have been blocked at every  turn from accumulating wealth and from maintaining their land and other property. Native American tribes believed in common land ownership because the land and its resources benefited everyone in the community but when the Europeans arrived they brought with them the idea that land must be individually owned and should be used to create personal wealth for landowners. Europeans settlers quickly worked to amass land from the Native Americans and that need to conquer land continued throughout American History. As westward expansion began the Americans knew that for it to be successful they would need Native lands for whites to settle on. The federal government began to force Native Americans off their lands and to sign advantages treaties with the United States government. In 1862 the federal government instituted the Homestead Act which gave white settlers 160 acres of land if they lived and farmed on it for five years. They used violence against Natives to obtain much of that land. The federal government set up a “trust responsibility” with Native Americans so that “money from the sale of land or natural resources was to be placed in a trust fund managed in the best interest of the Indian tribes.” (Zui, 102) However, the federal government so mismanaged the money that there was very little left to actually help Native tribes and of course the Native Americans had no recourse when they realized how badly the funds had been mismanaged. In 1953 the trust was terminated by the federal government, “while the purpose was to free Indians from government control, the new policy exacted a price: the loss of tribally held land that was still the basis of some tribes’ existence. This blow reduced the remaining self-sufficient tribes to poverty and broke up tribal governments” (Lui, 102) In 1887 the Dawes Act forced Native Americans to assimilate into white culture by giving up their hunting and gathering lifestyle and participating in formal agriculture. Any “surplus” land was sold to whites and the Native Americans never say any profit from the sale of lands. (Lui, 102) “Thus, over a 200-year period, U.S. government policies transferred Native Americans’ wealth—primarily land and natural resources—into the pockets of white individuals. This expropriation of vast tracts played a foundational role in the creation of the U.S. economy.” (Lui, 102) Though some modern court rulings have allowed a small number of tribes to build casinos the loss of the land, the decimation of Native peoples and the destruction of tribal governments and traditional ways of life can never be compensated and the Native American population today still faces disproportionate poverty. (Lui, 102)

African Americans have faced a similar fate throughout United States History. “From the earliest years of European settlement until the 1860s, African Americans were assets to be tallied in the financial records of their owners. They could be bought and sold, they created more wealth for their owners in the form of children, they had no rights even over their own bodies, and they worked without receiving any wages. Slaves and their labor became the basis of the wealth creation for plantation owners, people who owned and operated slave ships, and companies that insured them. This was the most fundamental wealth divides in American history.” (Lui, 103) After the Civil War, the Freedman’s Bureau was created to help newly freed slaves get on their feet by providing them with education, clothing, food and in some cases land taken from whites. However, after  the Freedman’s Bureau was shut down seven years later much of the land given to formerly enslaved people was returned to whites. (Lui, 103) There were very limited economic opportunities for the newly freed so many turned to sharecropping, which continued to keep them in a state of poverty. After the 1883 ruling of the Supreme Court overturning, the 1875 Civil Rights Act many African Americans left the south to look for opportunity in other parts of the nation. Many did not find the opportunity they were looking for and those that did often faced violence at the hands of whites and even state and local governments. Entire black communities were targets and many black business owners lost everything. Any progress made by African Americans was lost during the Great Depression and while whites benefited from the New Deal, African Americans did not. Domestic and Agricultural work was not included in the Social Security program or minimum wage and unemployment laws. After World War II many whites were able to move to the middle-class thanks to programs like the GI Bill of Rights and home buying programs. These did not benefit most African Americans because they were not accepted into many colleges and universities and home loans were not given out to those who wanted to purchase a home in black neighborhoods. (Lui, 104) “These are the invisible underpinnings of the black-white wealth gap: wealth largely but inhumanely created from the unpaid labor of blacks, the use of violence often backed up by government power—to stop black wealth-creating activities, tax-funded asset building programs closed to blacks even as they ,too, paid taxes. The playing field is not level today.” (Lui, 104)

We have the notion in this country that if you work hard you will get ahead and be able to move up the socio-economic ladder but that is just not true today. At one time is was true, as productivity grew between the 1820s and 1970s so did wages which allowed working-class individuals to purchases consumer goods that were the trappings of the middle-class. However, after 1970 things began to change. While productivity and company profits grew real wages were stagnant. “The real hourly wages of a worker in the 1970s was higher than it is today. What you could get for an hour work, in goods and services, is less now than what your parents got. “ (Wolff, Rick. “Capitalism Hits the Fan.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 108-11. Print, 109) Company profits have gone wild in recent years and has created the largest economic disparity in this country since slavery. Many Americans are working second and third jobs to make ends meet and most families are dual income. This leads to exhaustion, illness and the need for a second family car and daycare for children, which is very expensive. To pay for all of those things working class Americans have turned to borrowing money and using credit, which only increases the wealth of the already rich who own financial institutions.  The profits made by companies is now being used to purchase the presidency and the votes of members of Congress. The Supreme Court recently ruled that companies are people and therefore can contribute to and in essence control the political process of the nation.  “.. you can’t have a real democracy politically if you don’t have a real democracy underpinning it economically.” (Wolff, 111)


Understanding the creation of Race

“When European explorers in the New World “discovered” people who looked different than themselves, these “natives” challenged then existing conceptions of the origins or the human species and raised disturbing questions as to whether all could be considered in the same “family of man”.” (Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. “Racial Formations.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 19-29. Print, 20) The idea of racial groupings became popular during the period of European colonization in North and South American, Africa and Asia and began in 1775 with the work of Carolus Linnaeus in which he described 5 human races. Defining racial labels allowed for Europeans to enslave native populations and later people from the continent of Africa. “The exportation of property, the denial of political rights, the introduction of slavery and all other forms of coercive labor, as well as outright extermination, all presupposed a worldview which distinguished Europeans—children of God, human beings, etc.—from “others”. Such a worldview was needed to explain why some should be “free” and others enslaved, why some had rights to land and property while others did not . Race, and the interpretation of racial differences, was a central factor in that worldview.” (Omi, 20) The idea of race was supported by science until more modern times when scientists determined that faulty science was used to determine race. (“Understanding Race.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2016.) Cultural anthropologist, Franz Boaswas, was instrumental in proving that there is no connection between race and culture and that no one “race” is superior to another. (Omi, 21)

As it turns out “race is fiction” and that there is not “enough evidence in the human race to categorize anyone as a subspecies.” (“Understanding Race”) I particularly liked the analogy in the film of the cat. Cats come in many different colors and patterns yet they are all the same subcategory, cat. (“Understanding Race”) The film goes on to explain that, much like the cat, the differences in humans is superficial and that the reason we look different from one another is due to “purely random genetic mutations”, new genes that are introduced through trade and the conquest of other areas, and evolutionary adaptations.” (“Understanding Race). Despite the research of scientists that prove there is no biological reason to classify people according to “race” many, including some in the scientific community, refuse to accept that race is a social construct.

Why do these people refuse to acknowledge that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact? It all goes back to the need of human to classify things, including people. The classification is really not the issue but what is done with those classifications is. Racial classifications are used to denote a dominant group and a subordinate group. This hierarchy is then used to oppress the subordinate group. It is when oppression and prejudice exist that “race” has meaning. As one man said in the film race often means “empowerment for some, disenfranchisement for others.” (“Understanding Race”)

To watch the film  go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMxrrK-bao0

Old Fort Niagara

Over my April vacation, I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Council of History Education conference in Niagara Falls, New York. While I was in the area I visited Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York. The fort is in a beautiful location on Lake Ontario and is well worth a visit. The fort served in three early American wars: The French and Indian War; American Revolution and the War of 1812 and during periods of unrest in both the United States and Canada.

The first fort was established on the site by the French in 1679 and was named  Fort Conti. It was replaced by a new French fort, Fort Denonnville in 1687, again this was a temporary fort and was replaced by a permanent structure in 1726 when the French built a large building on the grounds, commonly referred to as the French Castle.


The French Castle

The French occupied the fort until 1759. After a nineteen-day siege, the fort fell to the British during the French and Indian War. The British occupation of the fort lasted throughout the American Revolution but was recaptured during the War of 1812 by the British. The fort did not see much action during the Revolution but was a place that Loyalists went to escape bad treatment at the hands of Patriots in their hometowns. Loyalist men were recruited by the British to fight in the war and the fort was home to Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist militia regiment. The Fort launched British and Loyalist attacks into the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania and into other areas in New York. These raids were devastating to the Patriot cause, leading to the Sullivan Raid on the Iroquois in Upstate New York. The raid had a devastating effect on  Iroquois communities and many went to Fort Niagara for the winter. Despite the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1783, the fort remained in British hands. The 1794 Jay Treaty required the British to turn their forts over to the United States which was finally done in 1796.


Butler’s Rangers Cartridge and symbol of King George III

Fort Niagara played a much more important role in the War of 1812. The Americans used Fort Niagara as a launching point to attack Canada across Lake Ontario, though the Americans were not successful. The British fort, Fort George,and Fort Niagara bombarded each other throughout the fall of 1812. It was during one of these exchanges that a woman named, Betsy Doyle, stepped up to help save the fort. Mrs. Doyle warmed shot in a fire and carried each shot to the top of the French Castle so that the Americans might destroy Fort George. Hot shot, as it is called, will start a fire when it hits its mark making the consequences that much more devastating. Carrying hot shot upstairs during a bombardment is no easy task and Betsy Doyle is considered a hero for her work. She was compared to Joan of Arc, at the time. After many bombardments Fort George fell in May The British rebuilt Fort George and used it to launch a nighttime assault on Fort Niagara, which led to the fall of the fort.The Americans regained control of the fort with the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.


A map showing the locations of Fort Niagara and Fort George in relation to one another.

The Americans used the fort, following the War of 1812, as a garrison post and actually expanded the fort after the Civil War when they used it as a training location for soldiers. The fort was deactivated for short periods of time between the end of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. It was reactivated after the start of the Civil War because the United States feared that Great Britain would enter the war on the side of the Confederacy. Construction on new artillery casements began in 1863, though they were never armed. After the war, a new garrison arrived and built new barracks outside the walls of the old fort. The fort would be used to house prisoners and as a training location for reserve troops that would serve in the Spanish-American War and as an officer training location during World War 1. The old fort was in disrepair until the Old Fort Niagara Association was formed in 1927 and worked to raise money and repair the fort. The French Castle was the first building to be repaired in 1929. Other buildings and the walls were restored once the Castle restoration was complete. The last garrisoned troops left in 1940 but with the start of the second World War the fort was reactivated as a prison for Axis Power troops. The end of the military uses of the fort came in the early 1960s. The “new” Fort Niagara was turned into a state park and the buildings were cleared. Today, Old Fort Niagara is run by the State of New York and the Old Fort Niagara Association and is open to the public year round.