Unit 1: Colonial Society
Issue: Is America Exceptional?
YES: Seymour Martin Lipset‚ from “Still the Exceptional Nation?” The Wilson Quarterly (2000)
NO: Godfrey Hodgson, from “The Corruption of the Best,” Yale University Press (2010)
Seymour Martin Lipset (1922–2006) argues that the United States remains uniquely exceptional for a number of reasons. First the United States relies upon less taxation and social welfare, second it is uniquely influenced by Protestantism, third its people benefit from a higher rate of social mobility than in other first world nations. Godfrey Hodgson suggests the “myth of American exceptionalism” is just that- a myth. He believes that people focus too much on American uniqueness and ignore the international influence, historical processes, and ideologies that have developed American values.
Issue: Did the Core Values in Colonial Ideology Lead to Conflict with Native Americans and U.S. Imperialism?
YES: Maureen Konkle, from “Indigenous Ownership and the Emergence of U.S. Liberal Imperialism,” American Indian Quarterly (2008)
NO: Jessica R. Stern, from, “A Key into The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution: Roger Williams, the Pequot War, and the Origins of Toleration in America,” Early American Studies (2011)
Maureen Konkle argues that the ideology of colonialism has allowed discourses to develop that have been fundamental to the project of U.S. imperialism. She suggests that marginalizing narratives, particularly of Indigenous Peoples, have contributed to the justification U.S. aggression, conflict, and genocide. Konkle lastly implies that these colonizing narratives continue to exist and affect our ideology today, though less overt than they once were. Jessica Stern believes that careful examination of Roger Williams arguments suggests that religion never justified violence and that Native Americans and Christians shared a moral code. She suggests first that, rather than critique colonial ideology we should consider that individuals are prone to misunderstand foreign people and ideas and should therefore not be trusted to judge outsiders. Second, she suggests that civil peace relies on locating similarities between people and tolerating differences.
Issue: Was the Pequot War Largely a Product of Native American Aggression?
YES: Steven T. Katz, from “The Pequot War Reconsidered,” The New England Quarterly (1991)
NO: Alfred A. Cave, from “The Pequot War and the Mythology of the Frontier,” University of Massachusetts Press (1996)
Steven Katz believes the Pequots conducted a series of aggressive raids, ambushes, and murders in the 1630. He suggests the Pequot Indians attempted to destroy the European Colonies after the two sides failed in their negotiations. Katz further believes that the colonists conducted a defensive war in support of their New England settlements, which was justified in protecting themselves from Pequot aggression. Alfred A. Cave believes the Pequot War started because Puritanical leaders were able to convince settlers that the Indigenous Americans were Satanic. This European colonial perception led them to clash with the Pequots believing they needed to eliminate Indigenous autonomy, intimidate their population and controlling the land and recourses.
Issue: Was the Colonial Period a “Golden Age” for Women in America?
YES: Gloria L. Main, from “Gender, Work, and Wages in Colonial New England,” William and Mary Quarterly (1994)
NO: Cornelia Hughes Dayton, from “Women Before the Bar,” University of North Carolina Press (1995)
Gloria Main highlights that more New England women entered the paid work force, received higher wages, and saw increased recognition for their labors following the Seven Years War. She believes because women were more highly valued for their labor and that labor was relatively scarce in the early colonial period, that they received higher wages and economic autonomy. Cornelia Hughes Dayton challenges the “golden age” thesis, arguing that women were being used for their labor and that improvements in their condition benefited the patriarchy. She argues that increased access to county courts for women in seventeenth-century was negated as new rules and practices were implemented in the eighteenth century. The changes strengthen patriarchal authority and reversed many of the gains that had been made.
Issue: Was Encephalitis Responsible for the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria?
YES: Laurie Winn Carlson, from “A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials,” Ivan R. Dee (1999)
NO: Lyle Koehler, from “The Salem Village Cataclysm: Origins and Impact of a Witch Hunt, 1689-92,” University of Illinois Press (1980)
Laurie Winn Carlson suggests that witchcraft hysteria occurred because of the Colonist’s physical and neurological responses to an unrecognized outbreak of encephalitis. She suggests the outbreak affected people’s physical and neurological behaviors causing them to act hysterically. Lyle Koehler points out that most of the Witchcraft accusers were women and likely seeking to overcome their own feelings of personal powerlessness by speaking out in a patriarchal and oppressive world. These women relished the sense of power they received from the community’s attention to their allegations- allegations that were designed to conquer the supernatural forces around them.
Issue: Should the Great Awakening Be Understood Primarily through Religious Evangelicalism?
YES: Thomas S. Kidd, from “The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America,” Yale University Press (2007)
NO: David A. Varel, from “The Historiography of the Second Great Awakening and the Problem of Historical Causation, 1945-2005,” Madison Historical Review (2011)
Thomas S. Kidd believes that a Great Awakening occurred because influential preachers engineered divinely inspired revivals in the mid-eighteenth century causing an evangelical movement that spread across the colonies, changing the nature of Christianity. David A. Varel tracks the historiography of the Second Great Awakening and suggests that historian need to consider more that evangelicalism. He believes that factors such as: social control, democratization, and denominational concentration present a problem in determining historical causation. He therefore suggests that the Second Great Awakening should be understood through the many intersectional aspects that helped create this evangelical movement. He additionally notes, though it was a national phenomena, the Second Great Awakening greatly varied in its local and regional manifestations and should not be understood solely through its most famous preachers.
Issue: Was the American Revolution “Common Sense”?
YES: Thomas Paine, from Common Sense, Jan. 1776, Introduction, Pt. III-IV, Primary Source Collection, www.americainclass.org (1776)
NO: Rev. Charles Inglis, from A Loyalist Rebuttal to Common Sense, 1776, Primary Source Collection, www.americainclass.org (1776)
Thomas Paine’s 1775 pamphlet titled Common Sense presents the author’s case for independence from Britain. Written in common vernacular and widely read, Common Sense is considered to be the most influential text of the Revolutionary period. It remains the all-time best selling American title to this day. In this piece, Paine makes a fiery case for American independence by concentrating on moral and political arguments related to advocating for independence. His argument begins with general and theoretical reflections about government and religion. Paine then applies these intellectual traditions to the colonial situation. Charles Inglis’s 1776 The Deceiver Unmasked; Or, Loyalty and Interest United: In Answer to a Pamphlet Entitled Common Sense is the author’s rebuttal to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Written to consolidate the support of American Loyalists, Inglis makes a case for American reconciliation with Britain. His response to Common Sense is a repudiation of Paine’s revolutionary ideas and a call for an English cultural revival in her colonies. Inglis’s argument suggests Paine is naive to think that a new government would be less tyrannical than England.
Unit 2: Revolution and the New Nation
Issue: Did the Founding Fathers Create a Democratic System That Would Adequately Attend to the Problems of a Democracy?
YES: James Madison, from “Federalist No. 10,” The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)
NO: Aristotle, from “Politics Book VI: A Treatise on Government,” J.M. Dent & Sons (1912)
In Terms of The Senate 26 June, Madison suggests the major problem with a new democratic system would be that it would require an egalitarian society. He believed those citizens without means would vote for policies that would lead to the redistribution of land and capital. Madison saw this as a problem, believing the country needed to be controlled by a certain class of men. In Politics, Aristotle also described inequality as a major problem in a democratic system. Taking the opposite approach to Madison, Aristotle argues a democratic society should be concerned with removing tyranny and oligarchy so communities of free and equal men are able to access its systems. He them believed that citizens could democratically work toward the common good for all in the society.
Issue: Was the Second Amendment Designed to Protect an Individual’s Right to Own Guns?
YES: William W. Van Alstyne, from “The Second Amendment and the Personal Right to Arms,” Duke Law Journal (1994)
NO: Lawrence Delbert Cress, from “A Well-Regulated Militia: The Origins and Meaning of the Second Amendment,” The Library of Virginia (1987)
William W. Van Alstyne contends that those who adhere to the belief that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to own firearms is as historically and legally secure as those liberties guaranteed to individuals within the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Van Alstyne therefore asserts that judicial and legislative mechanisms of interpretation of Second Amendment liberties have been put in place and to date those interpretations lean toward the protection of individual rights to gun ownership. Lawrence Delbert Cress suggests that the Second Amendment refers to gun ownership for only to those participating in the “well-regulated militia,” whose job it was to protect citizens from a tyrannical national government and other domestic incursions.
Issue: Was Alexander Hamilton an Economic Genius?
YES: Donald F. Swanson and Andrew P. Trout, from “Alexander Hamilton’s Economic Policies After Two Centuries,” New York History (1991)
NO: Edward Peter Stringham, from “Hamilton's Legacy and the Great Man Theory of Financial History,” Independent Review (2017)
Donald F. Swanson and Andrew P. Trout contend that Alexander Hamilton’s historic legacy is too often mischaracterized as one of financial interest alone. Swanson and Trout argue that Hamilton’s legacy as America’s greatest financial genius must encompass his commitment to supporting the development of a multi-institutional national system of governance that addressed both political and financial realities of the time. Hamilton’s genius is founded in equal parts risk-taker and strategic pragmatist when enacting fiscal and philosophical policies that established America’s national government on firm pathway to international prominence. Edward Peter Stringham argues against applying the “genius” (i.e., great man theory of history) to Alexander Hamilton, as has been done in the Hamilton musical, suggesting that Hamilton’s primary philosophy was not grounded in a commitment to multi-institutional nationalism but primarily in developing a centralized economic system that should also not be solely credited to Hamilton but instead to the countless people who worked behind the scenes to make the historical and modern United States economy possible.
Issue: Were Jackson’s Anti-Politics and Nationalism Beneficial for Increased Democratic Participation?
YES: Kori N. Schake, from “Trump and the ‘New Nationalism:’ It's Not New at All,” Hoover Digest (2017)
NO: Donald Ratcliffe, from “The Right to Vote and the Rise of Democracy, 1787-1828,” Journal of the Early Republic (2013)
Kori N. Schake suggests that Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump both champion a populist style, which did and will strengthened American democracy by “activating antibodies in opposition to [their] policies, mobilizing the civic powers that undergird our democracy into greater activism.” She offers comparisons in the presidential approaches of both men suggesting that their elections represent the US people’s routine disenfranchisement with the governmental status quo. Donald Ratcliffe argues that despite the fact that it is often understood as a golden age for democracy the Jacksonian Era was not a social revolution. He claims, “suffrage had significantly expanded” in the “United States [and it] had, in many ways, become a functioning democracy long before 1815.” However, he contends that the Jackson presidency affected the radial ideology of the Democratic Party.
Unit 3: Antebellum America
Issue: Did Improved Educational Opportunities for Women in the New Nation Significantly Expand Their Participation in Antebellum Society?
YES: Mary Kelley, from “Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic,” University of North Carolina Press (2006)
NO: Lucia McMahon, from “Between Cupid and Minerva” and “Education, Equality, or Difference,” Cornell University Press (2012)
Mary Kelley describes how expanding educational opportunities encouraged women to redefine themselves by opening doors to careers beyond the domestic sphere, economic self-support, and public participation in civil society that transformed their understanding of the rights of citizenship in the post-revolutionary and antebellum United States. Lucia McMahon concludes that the unprecedented access to education afforded women in the early national period fostered recognition of women’s intellectual capacity, but she argues that most educated women confronted a limited range of opportunities in a society that remained largely committed to a social and political order rooted in notions of sexual difference and male hierarchy.
Issue: Was Antebellum Temperance Reform Driven by Theological Doctrine?
YES: Laura A. Schmidt, from “‘A Battle Not Man's but God's’: Origins of the American Temperance Crusade in the Struggle for Religious Authority,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol (1995)
NO: John J. Rumbarger, from “The Social and Ideological Origins of Drink Reform, 1800-1836,” State University of New York Press (1989)
Laura A. Schmidt argues that the temperance movement was developed primarily to offer clergymen a solution to those who contested their authority in a time of social transformation. Many believed religious salvation occurred through the suppression of vice, which allowed the clergymen an additional avenue to: win souls to God, guard collective salvation, and petition the government to promote religious obedience. John J. Rumbarger believes Temperance was directed by men of power who “defined, directed, and controlled” the movement to feed the expansionist tendencies of the American economy by encouraging a more productive and reliable workforce.
Issue: Was the Mexican War an Exercise in American Imperialism?
YES: Ramón Eduardo Ruiz, from “Manifest Destiny and the Mexican War,” Dorsey Press (1988)
NO: Norman A. Graebner, from “The Mexican War: A Study in Causation,” Pacific Historical Review (1980)
Ramón Eduardo Ruiz believes that the Unites States demonstrated their imperialist tendencies by aggressively pursuing and waging war against Mexico in an effort to conquer and take her northern territories. Ruiz suggests that Mexico was never able to recover from this incursion. Norman A. Graebner suggests that the United States indeed adopted aggressive foreign policies designed to secure territory. However he argues that President Polk was not interested in war. Instead he suggests that the intention of his policies was to force Mexico to sell New Mexico and California to the United States and to recognize the legitimacy of the annexation of Texas.
Issue: Was John Brown an Irrational Terrorist?
YES: James N. Gilbert, from “A Behavioral Analysis of John Brown: Martyr or Terrorist?” Ohio University Press (2005)
NO: Scott John Hammond, from “John Brown as Founder: America’s Violent Confrontation with Its First Principles,” Ohio University Press (2005)
James N. Gilbert believes that the actions of John Brown are a textbook definition of terrorism in modern society. Brown believed the United States was going to be incapable of the social reform needed to abolish slavery and therefore saw it as his responsibility to use violence to achieve that goal. Gilbert also discusses Brown’s belief that adherence to a higher power was his justification for his acts of terror. Scott John Hammond instead believes that John Brown was committed to higher moral and political goals including the basic principals of human freedom, political equality, and legal egalitarianism. Therefore, he was not a terrorist, but a citizen committed to the ideals set forth by the founding fathers.
Unit 4: Conflict and Resolution
Issue: Was the Civil War Fought Over Slavery?
YES: Charles B. Dew, from “Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War,” University of Virginia Press (2001)
NO: Gary W. Gallagher, from “The Union War,” Harvard University Press (2012)
Charles B. Dew presents documentation, which suggests that a number of white southerners attempted to gain support for secession in the southern states by arguing for the need to preserve slavery and white supremacy as social norms. Dew suggests that these appeals demonstrate the primary motive for secession. Gary W. Gallagher, analyzes the letters of white northern soldiers during the Civil War which suggest the common soldier cared little about slavery as an institution. Further, many of the letters were open hostility toward the idea that the union would African American troops. In other words, Gallagher believes the main motivation of these troops was saving the Union and not the abolition of slavery.
Issue: Are Historians Wrong to Consider the War Between the States a “Total War”?
YES: Mark E. Neely, Jr., from “Was the Civil War a Total War?” Civil War History (2004)
NO: James M. McPherson, from “From Limited War to Total War, 1861-1865,” Magazine of the Missouri Historical Society (1992)
Mark E. Neely convincingly asserts that the U.S. Civil War was not a “total war” based upon three factors. First, President Lincoln’s continued insistence that Union generals made a distinction between combatants and non-combatants in the exercise of the war (though Grant and Sherman openly disagreed). Second, Lincoln’s continued willingness to negotiate relatively lenient terms of peace that instead of demanding unconditional surrender offered Confederate leaders the opportunity of enter into discussions as long as they accepted the full restoration of the Union and the abandonment of slavery. And third, Neely contents that the U.S. Civil War did in fact have limitations and codes of conduct, which means it was not in fact a total war. He even cites the work of Brian Bond who argues that a true total war is unattainable. In stark contrast, Jame M. McPherson asserts that whether the notion of “total war” was the official policy Lincoln and his generals it was exactly that which was accomplished through the destruction of the southern states’ economies, the dismantling of the symbiotic state-based Confederacy, and the complete abolition of a system of slavery that served as both the philosophical and cultural zeitgeist of the Confederacy. Simply put, McPherson argues that “total war” was indeed the outcome with the extensive destruction of Southern civilian populations and the south’s economy as a whole.
Issue: Did African American Slaves Exercise Religious Autonomy?
YES: Albert J. Raboteau, from “Slave Autonomy and Religion,” Journal of Religious Thought (1982)
NO: John B. Boles, from “Masters & Slaves in the House of the Lord: Race and Religion in the American South, 1740–1870,” University Press of Kentucky (1988)
Albert J. Raboteau asserts that the exercise of religion among African American slaves in the 19th century United States allowed for the development of a cohesive organization founded within a common lived experience. Through the development of an autonomous religious culture African American slaves formed a philosophical and pragmatic bond of interests that resulted in the pursuit of freedom from oppression. John B. Boles counters the notion of the segregated congregational religious experience among Anglos and African American slaves in the southern region of the United States during the 19th century. While Boles acknowledges the importance of religious customs and organizational structures within the enslaved African American population he asserts that Anglos and African Americans shared a common religious experience both in philosophy (interpretation of Christian text) and practice (attendance in worship services).
Issue: Was Abraham Lincoln America’s Greatest President?
YES: Phillip Shaw Paludan, from “The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln,” University Press of Kansas (1994)
NO: Melvin E. Bradford, from “Remembering Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative,” University of Georgia Press (1985)
Phillip Shaw Paluden offers a portrait of greatness in his description of Abraham Lincoln who was first and foremost deeply committed to the process of the American “political-constitutional system.” Paluden primary thesis asserting Lincoln’s status as America’s greatest President is rooted in the notion that “Lincoln was not either a constitutionalist or an egalitarian” in his commitment to preserving the Union and ending slavery. Instead, Lincoln’s ideological devotion to the notion that “Constitutional government” and full equality were not simply complementary but codependent. Therefore, Lincoln’s greatness lied in his commitment to the "process" and fully expected that both equality and the union would survive. In contrast Melvin E. Bradford seeks to challenge what he calls the “myth of the American Messiah.” Bradford contends that indeed Lincoln was at the heart of many of the changes that were brought about during the era and simply put would never have come to pass if not for Lincoln pushing them forward (e.g., emancipation of African American enslaved peoples, increased powers of federalism, eventual ratification of Reconstruction Amendments after Lincoln’s death, etc.). While many would consider this a sign of Lincoln’s greatness Bradford argues that it is an example of “Lincoln’s dishonesty and obfuscation” of the nation’s constitutional principles as established by the Founding Father’s commitment to republican principles. Moreover, Bradford argues that Lincoln’s failure as a U.S. President is evidenced by his overstep of authority as granted by Article II of the U.S. Constitution and his setting in motion the rise of the “imperial Presidency” which is what the Founding Fathers intended to prevent.
Issue: Did Reconstruction Fail as a Result of Racism?
YES: Lisa J. McLeod, from “Transubstantiation of Andrew Johnson: White Epistemic Failure in Du Bois' Black Reconstruction,” Phylon (2014)
NO: Adam Fairclough, from “Was the Grant of Black Suffrage a Political Error? Reconsidering the Views of John W. Burgess, William A. Dunning, and Eric Foner on Congressional Reconstruction,” Journal of the Historical Society (2012)
Lisa J. McLeod discusses WEB DuBois’s Black Reconstruction to highlight White people’s epistemic and moral failure in the Post-Civil War era. President Johnson went from poor White farmer to champion of the plantation owner. McLeod suggests that the failed legacy of Reconstruction continues to affect social institutions and White consciousness today. Adam Fairclough believes that policy regarding the integration of African Americans into the political process ensured reconstruction would be unsuccessful. He suggests that more radical policy and a political revolution would have been required for an effective Reconstruction.