A Biography of America
The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from ‘Bloody Kansas’ to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Enhanced Transcript Page 1
Program 10: The Coming of the Civil War
Donald L. Miller with Pauline Maier, Waldo E. Martin, Jr., and Stephen Ambrose
Miller: Manifest Destiny. The belief that it is God’s will for America to expand in the Pacific, a belief common to both North and South.
Maier: I mean, if you think about it, there are far more bonds holding the South to the rest of the nation by the middle of the 19th century than there were at the end of the 18th. Certainly they have these common traditions.
Martin: It strikes me that one of the things that’s happening is Manifest Destiny, a whole creation of the nation as the nation in the 19th Century.
Maier: Racism holds the nation together in some utterly bizarre way. It isn’t something which divides North and South; it’s something which binds them together.
Miller: Differences overwhelm common bonds. Today on A Biography of America, “The Coming of the Civil War”.
Enhanced Transcript Page 2
The Slavery Debate Continues to Escalate
Martin: The story of the Civil War and its origins, what one scholar has termed “our most felt history,” cuts to the core of the American national experience. Clearly, black slavery, functioning as a fundamental basis for white freedom, contradicted the liberty all Americans cherished. Indeed, the growing conflict between Northern freedom and Southern slavery only grew over time. Unable to reach a viable compromise over slavery, Northerners and Southerners eventually found themselves at one another’s throats.
Ultimately, the bitter contest between slavery and freedom had to be resolved, by violent, if not peaceful, means. Closely tied to this battle between slavery and freedom was the question of the status of blacks, free and slave, and the status of non-whites. Black freedom fighters like Frederick Douglass constantly reminded white Americans that a tragic limitation of the freedom they envisioned was that this freedom included whites only. In other words, white Americans were unable to see blacks as Americans like themselves, entitled to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
An increasingly aggressive pro-slavery spirit dominated the white South. Slave owners and pro-slavery advocates, like South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, vigorously defended the right of slavery to expand wherever it might, especially in the newly gained and newly organized territories in the Midwest and the Southwest. An equally aggressive freedom loving spirit dominated the North. Northerners like Abraham Lincoln saw the right of free soil and free labor to expand across and dominate the territories and new states as equally critical. For them, Northern white men in particular, free labor, free soil, and political freedom were necessarily linked.
The Mexican American War, fought between 1846 and 1848, reveals two critical strands of the growing sectional conflict over slavery. First, there was the issue of whether the territories, and in time the states which would grow out of these territories, would be pro-slavery or antislavery. Second, the United States’ victory in the war spoke to the question of the Manifest Destiny of the American nation.
In this context, Manifest Destiny referred not just to the expanding national belief that it was God’s will that the United States take full control of the territory stretching to the Pacific in the West, Mexico in the South, and Canada in the North. In addition, Manifest Destiny included the unsettled question of whether or not the nation could continue to exist half-slave, half-free. Speaking from his position as a representative Northern voice, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed early on: “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic; Mexico will poison us.”
The Compromise of 1850
Likewise, South Carolina’s favorite son John C. Calhoun likened Mexico to “the forbidden fruit. The penalty of eating it would be to subject our institutions to political death.” It would be the Compromise of 1850 that would organize territory gained in this war. Nowhere was the failure of the political system to contain the problem of slavery more clear-cut than this Compromise of 1850.
Crafted principally by the venerable Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and supported by the equally venerable Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, the effort had impeccable political backing. Calhoun, another political giant, provided the key opposition. Literally on his deathbed, Calhoun railed against the measure as antislavery and anti-Southern. Together Clay, Webster, and Calhoun–often referred to as The Great Triumvirate–invigorated the debate over the compromise.
Calhoun maintained: “I have… believed from the first that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented by some timely and effective measure, end in disunion.” Clay and Webster, on the contrary, spoke to American nationalism and the preservation of the Union as absolutely essential. Webster movingly claimed to be speaking “not as a Massachusetts man, not as a Northern man, but as an American…. I speak for the preservation of the Union.”
Similarly, Clay contended that he knew “no North, no South, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance…. My allegiance is to the American Union and to my own state.” Clay was widely admired for trying over two decades to keep peace between the North and the South. At mid-century, the sickly yet proud old warrior still argued forcefully for “peace, concord, and harmony” over “passion… party, and intemperance.”
Shortly after the debate over the Compromise, Calhoun, Clay, and Webster were all dead. Soon, the spirit of sectional compromise would wither away completely. Nevertheless, the Compromise of 1850 had become law.
Under its provisions, California entered the Union as a free state. New Mexico and Utah were organized as territorial governments, which would decide for themselves whether slavery was to be allowed or prohibited. The United States assumed the debts Texas owed before annexation. New Mexico received land in dispute between that state and Texas.
Speaking directly to the issue of slavery, the Compromise of 1850 ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia and forbade slave emancipation there, without compensation to the slave owners and without the slave owners’ consent. Directly appeasing pro-slavery interests, Congress clarified that it lacked jurisdiction over the internal, or domestic, slave trade in the South. Likewise, the compromise featured a strengthened Fugitive Slave Act. This act gave the federal government greater power to enforce the return of fugitive slaves to the South.
Enhanced Transcript Page 3
Tensions Pervade Society
Escalating sectional tensions extended even to American culture. No moment could match the sensational impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, it was widely praised in the North and equally widely condemned in the South. Uncle Tom’s Cabinprovided a melodramatic and sentimental view of the essential horror of slavery. Stowe’s text showed how the absolute evilness of slavery dehumanized and corrupted good as well as bad people.
The effect of the runaway bestseller was electric. More than any other single cultural episode, the controversy surrounding the novel created converts for the Northern antislavery cause, on one hand, and converts for the Southern pro-slavery cause, on the other. Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold over 300,000 copies in its first year of publication alone, and a million by mid-1853.
Its impact was everywhere; it penetrated American consciousness through all kinds of contemporary media: copycat fiction, dramatic readings and plays, and all manner of everyday popular cultural productions, like woodcuts and drawings. Little wonder, therefore, that when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe during the Civil War, he observed: “So you’re the little lady who started this war.”
Violence also bled onto the floor of the Congress. In spring 1856, the radical abolitionist senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, denounced “the crime against Kansas” being committed in the name of the “harlot of slavery.” When, in a speech, Sumner personally attacked pro-slavery Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, Butler’s cousin, Representative Preston Brooks, took offense.
Brooks viciously attacked Sumner with a cane as Sumner sat in his Senate seat. Sumner soon collapsed from the attack and the loss of blood. While the North howled in protest, the white South expressed approval of Brooks’ response to Sumner’s “slander” on the South. The Richmond Enquirer boldly noted that “it was a proper act, done at the proper time, and in the proper place.”
In the North, fears of a “Slave Power Conspiracy” only grew. Increasingly, Northerners saw the designs of the “Slave Power Conspiracy” as a threat to their very own freedom. What, many thought, was to stop the slave South from not only taking over the territories and new states in the West, but ultimately from swallowing up the North?
The strengthened Fugitive Slave Law within the Compromise of 1850 greatly alarmed Northerners, black and white. Freed and runaway blacks had legitimate fears about being re-enslaved. The fear of being abducted and sold south as slaves also alarmed free Northern blacks whose communities and persons were under growing assault. Furthermore, many Northern whites saw this Fugitive Slave act as further proof of a “Slave Power Conspiracy” which posed a direct threat to the personal liberties of free blacks, and an indirect threat to their very own liberty.
As a result, throughout the North, a series of Personal Liberty Laws was passed. These acts sought to give free blacks and accused black fugitive slaves greater protections against real and potential abuses of the Fugitive Slave Act. As the irrepressible Frederick Douglass put it: “This reproach, the Fugitive Slave Act, must be wiped out, and nothing short of resistance on the part of the colored man can wipe it out. Every slavehunter who meets a bloody death in his infernal business is an argument in favor of the manhood of our race.” Nevertheless, the Act led to some 300 alleged fugitives being officially returned to slavery in the South.
Collective resistance grew with the Underground Railroad. Its many way-stations secretly moved fugitive slaves along various paths to freedom in the North and Canada. At the same time, there were numerous highly dramatic episodes in the North emphasizing the gross inhumanity of slavery. These moments created much sympathy for the antislavery cause throughout the region.
In 1854, the capture of fugitive slave Anthony Burns in Boston, and his return to slavery in Virginia created a stunning public spectacle. Over 50,000 Bostonians lined the street, screaming and shouting in protest, as federal authorities led Burns from the courthouse to the return ship. The Burns episode thrilled the pro-slavery South, deeply angered many in the North, especially in Boston, and cost the federal government $100,000.
In the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case, Scott, a Missouri slave, claimed that extended residence on free soil had made him a free man. In the 1857 decision in the case, the Supreme Court ruled against Scott. The court reasoned that Scott did not have legal standing as a slave and as a black person. Blacks, free as well as slave, were not citizens.
In effect, as Chief Justice Roger Taney observed, blacks possessed “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The Dred Scott decision also invalidated the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and its principle of popular sovereignty. Congress, according to the court, did not have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories.
Not surprisingly, again, Southerners were pleased and Northerners were alarmed. For Northerners, the decision unfortunately constituted further evidence of the growing influence of the Slave power over the government. For the pro-slavery South, it confirmed them in their belief in slavery as a positive good.
In 1859, John Brown and his seventeen-member team of black and white co-revolutionaries, including several of his own sons, boldly seized control of the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Once they possessed the large cache of arms stored there, they took several planters and slaves hostage. Brown and his co-insurrectionists hoped their surprise actions would inspire a massive slave insurrection, which, in turn, would destroy Southern slavery. Instead, federal authorities quickly and ruthlessly squelched the insurrection, but not before the news spread like wildfire throughout the nation, inflaming further sectional tension.
The Slave South and their Northern sympathizers were especially outraged. For them, this awful episode was further proof of an abolitionist conspiracy–a Black Republican Conspiracy–to destroy the world of southern slavery. Bravely confronting the gallows for his actions, Brown spoke of an inclusive, interracial vision of equality.
This uncompromising commitment to freedom, justice, and a common humanity as the birthright of blacks as well as whites had fueled his intense hatred of slavery. In a classic American moment, Brown explained: “Now, it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done.”
Secession Sparks the Civil War
When Lincoln became the Republican Party candidate for president in the 1860 election, he was thoroughly unacceptable to Southern whites. They warned that his election as a Northern antislavery Republican opposed to the Southern way of life would mean secession of the South from the Union. His eventual election in a vigorously fought, highly split, and sectional election featuring four parties, only increased Southern white alarms. Lincoln was unable to calm their fears.
In his inaugural address on March the 4th, 1861, he even offered support for a constitutional amendment ensuring that “the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the states,” that is, slavery. For Southern secessionists, that was precisely the problem. They rejected the very notion that the federal government had the power to interfere with slavery, wherever it existed.
Lincoln, nevertheless, projected a persuasive vision of the Union as one, and of the Union as unbreakable. He firmly believed that the Union could not exist divided against itself, half-slave and half-free. In a post-election letter to Georgia’s Alexander Stephens, a good friend, Lincoln noted: “You think slavery is right and ought to be expanded; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That, I suppose, is the rub.”
Indeed it was. By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, Southern secession was already a reality. South Carolina had led the way in the creation of the Confederacy by formally withdrawing from the United States of America on December 20, 1860. Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama met in early February 1861 at Montgomery to create the Confederate States of America.
In spite of pockets of compromise, especially within the Upper South and the Border States, the Union appeared permanently divided. The Confederates fired on the federal forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April the 12th, 1861 to bring it under Confederate control. As a result, civil war broke loose.
Enhanced Transcript Page 4
Miller: Waldo, it’s November, mid-November, 1860. We’re in Mississippi. They’ve just learned that Abraham Lincoln’s been elected President of the United States. Why did they think they had to secede at that point?
Martin: Well I think it’s critical to understand that Abraham Lincoln, as the Republican nominee, represented a party which was essentially a Northern party. The Republican Party was a sectional party, and did not really have sort of a Southern constituency. The Republican Party was really committed to a vision of society and politics which, on a fundamental level, was opposed to the way in which a lot of Southerners thought about the world.
Miller: Why did they feel that slavery had to expand in order to survive?
Martin: Well I think it depends a lot on where you locate that argument. But I think you’ve located it in a place where there was growth, in the cotton economy. And the idea of cotton is that cotton needs land. Cotton needs a continuous body of land to develop. Cotton exhausts the soil. And so the notion of expansion is not only tied to the notion of cotton, the growth of the cotton economy, but it’s also tied to the notion of the growth of the American republic.
Miller: But you know, it intrigues me that, you know, when we talk about big geopolitical issues, and geographic political issues, there’s those Border States up there. And I include as part of the Border States southern Illinois, places like Cairo, southern Indiana, strong secessionist feelings in states like that. That whole area, before the development of transportation, would have gone with the South. What happened?
Ambrose: The railroads ran East-West. The Midwest had been developed by people coming, for the most part, out of New England, or out of Europe. But they weren’t Southerners. And these people weren’t about to secede. They understood the idea of Union. And they were committed to it, in a way that it turned out, most Southerners weren’t–most white Southerners weren’t. And thus, the war came. The technology for building a railroad that would go all the way to California existed at the time that Sutter found the gold on the American River. There wasn’t a great technological advance in railroads between 1848 and 1869, when they finally drove in the golden spike and brought the country together. What kept us from building a transcontinental railroad before the Civil War? It wasn’t technology, it was–the Southerners were damned if they were going to let the Northerners have Chicago for a terminus, or even Omaha for a terminus. It was either going to be New Orleans or nothing. And the Northern politicians, they were damned if they were going to let New Orleans be the eastern terminus of a railroad that ran out to today’s Los Angeles. They weren’t going to have that happen. So that what could have been, had it not been for slavery, 10, even 15 years before it actually happened, came about only because the worst mistake the South ever made was to walk out of the Union.
Miller: Now why didn’t those ties between cotton growers and textile manufacturers in New England, and bankers in New York who were subsidizing this whole cotton trade, why didn’t those economic ties, those commercial ties, which you’d see to redound to the South’s self-interest, why didn’t they prevent the South from pushing this to war?
Martin: Well I think this gets at the heart of what causes the Civil War. What do you think is the fundamental issue here? And it strikes me that the war is not just about sort of those economic connections; but they’re also about the economic disconnections. The North is an increasingly industrializing society; the South is still primarily agricultural. And those particular visions of how you order a society were in conflict fundamentally. Especially if one system of labor in the South is a slave labor system, and the system of labor in the North is a free wage system of labor, even though there are these connections which would seem to tie the nation together, there are also these profound differences which are, you know, rending asunder the nation. So I think the other issue that I would argue is, ultimately, I think of it as an ideological and political war. But why do you think we get a war?
Miller: I think it’s emotion. I think it’s really emotion. I think, you know, the Southern culture built on, it’s a culture of honor; it’s a culture of pride. The abolitionists are attacking them on moral grounds. And they’re pushed into a corner on this. And combined with that, there are these young, aggressive planters who need more slaves and more land. And they use these arguments, these emotional arguments of Southern honor and things like that, and defending the country, to whip the South into a frenzy on this issue. And it happened. You read the Southern diaries…
Martin: But what about the argument that slavery, at some point, the contradiction between freedom and slavery had to be resolved. And that this was a point not necessarily where it had to be resolved at that point in time, but ultimately the nation was going to have to pay for that original sin.
Miller: Yeah, I think so.
Martin: So how does that fit into, sort of, your particular argument?
Miller: Well I don’t know. Because once you get Lincoln into this, it’s over. There’s going to be a war. Because Lincoln was obdurate. Lincoln wouldn’t bend on this. People talk about Lincoln being wily, and he was a great politician. But on this one, you know, he stood straight as a spear.
Ambrose: And slavery is a system built on the fundamental premise that the worst white man can own the best black man. And that’s wrong. And even the most fanatic John C. Calhoun supporters, in their heart, knew that. It was wrong, morally wrong. All right, Lincoln is the one who spoke up. And many, many followed Lincoln. And exactly what Waldo says. It had to come, turn around a bit. Can you imagine the United States going into the 20th Century with slavery intact? Just leave aside that there had been a Civil War or that…
Miller: It seems inconceivable. But only because, you know, it didn’t happen. It seems inconceivable.
Ambrose: It didn’t happen because it is inconceivable. And I hate to keep quoting the master, but he deserves to be quoted here. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all man are created equal.” And it is self-evident. And we had to understand that, and we had to live up to it. And we did, finally.
Slave and Free Soil
Slavery was anything but a stagnant institution. It spread in certain areas while disappearing or constricting in others. No issue was more volatile than the literal place of slavery in the nation. On the eve of the Civil War, there were 19 free states and 15 slave states, eleven of which would come together as the Confederacy.
How did the legal status of slavery change in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War?
Abolition of slavery in the North was accomplished primarily through gradual emancipation acts. Thus, slavery still existed in New York in 1827 and in New Jersey until the eve of the Civil War.
- Massachusetts 1780 (judicial decision)
- Pennsylvania in 1780 (gradual emancipation act)
- New Hampshire 1783 (constitutional interpretation)
- Rhode Island 1784 (gradual emancipation act)
- Connecticut 1784 and 1797 (gradual emancipation act)
- New York 1799 and 1817 (gradual emancipation act)
- New Jersey 1804 (gradual emancipation act)
The following is the roster of states admitted and their status:
- Vermont admitted as a free state in 1791
- Kentucky admitted as a slave state in 1792
- Tennessee as a slave state in 1796
- Ohio as a free state in 1803
- Louisiana as a slave state in 1812
- Indiana as a free state in 1816
- Mississippi as a slave state in 1817
- Illinois as a free state in 1818
- Alabama as a slave state in 1819
- Maine as a free state in 1820
- Missouri as a slave state in 1821
- Arkansas as a slave state in 1836
- Michigan as a free state in 1837
- Florida as a slave state in 1845
- Texas as a slave state in 1845
- Iowa as a free state in 1846
- Wisconsin as a free state in 1848
- California as a free state in 1850
- Minnesota as a free state in 1858
- Oregon as a free state in 1859
- Kansas as a free state in 1861
Slavery and Abolition
By the 1850s, the North and South viewed each other as regions conspiring against the liberties of one another. Northerners saw in the expansion of slavery west the presence of a slave power conspiracy that might one day try to re-establish the institution in the North. Southerners saw the gradual elimination of slavery in the North and calls for the government to use its power to restrict slavery as a threat to the survival of the institution. The soil itself came to be viewed as slave or free, and it would take four years of war to decide which way it would ultimately turn.
In 1861, there were 19 free states and 15 slave states. Eleven slave states seceded from the nation in the following order: South Carolina (December 20, 1860), Mississippi (Jan. 9), Florida (Jan. 10), Alabama (Jan. 11), Georgia (Jan. 19), Louisiana (Jan. 26), Texas (Feb. 1). After the firing on Fort Sumter, the following states seceded: Virginia (April 17), Arkansas (May 6), North Carolina (May 20), Tennessee (June 8).
Slavery was ultimately abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, though technically not in those Confederate areas under Union control. The passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 marks the institution’s final and total abolition.
Questions to Ponder
Slavery in America was anything but a stagnant institution. It spread in certain areas while disappearing or constricting in others. No issue was more volatile than the literal place of slavery in the nation. On the eve of the Civil War, there were 19 free states and 15 slave states. By June 1861, eleven of those slave states would come together to constitute the Confederacy.
1. What explains the flow of slaves toward the deeper south and the west and away from the mid-Atlantic?
2. What events contributed to the belief that each region was conspiring to impose its will on the other?
Dodd, Donald and Wynell Dodd. Historical Statistics of the South, 1790-1970. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1973.
Litwack,Leon. North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States: 1790-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Melish, Joanne. Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Potter, David. The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
- The Classic Text: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Biographical information on Harriet Beecher Stowe, with an illustrated analysis of Uncle Tom’s cabin.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe
A bibliography of Harriet Beecher Stowe with related links, including one to the full text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe – Mother, Reformer
A quote by Beecher Stowe on motherhood, with links to letters and documents on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
A brief biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
- Women in History – Harriet Beecher Stowe biography
Biographical information on Harriet Beecher Stowe, with a photo and links to other Stowe sites.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’
The text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with related links.
- Africans in America – Slave Narratives and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Information on anti-slavery writings, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
- Today in History, April 16
A page about abolition in the District of Columbia, with reference to Douglass and an excerpt from a speech as well as a link to six other speeches.
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Provides a link to the text of Douglass’s speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, with a summary, an analysis, a bibliography, a Douglass biography, etc.
- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
A collection of Frederick Douglass literature links, including a list of Douglass works available online.
A Short Biography of Frederick Douglass
A short biography of Frederick Douglass with links to three of his speeches.
- Charles Sumner, “The Crime Against Kansas”
The text of Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.”
- Furman: The Crime Against Kansas, by Charles Sumner
The text of Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.”
- The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
A biography of Sumner with a photo.
- Carte De Visite – Charles Sumner
A brief profile on Sumner with a photo and a reference to the speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.”
- Africans in America/Part 4/Bleeding Kansas
The history behind “Bleeding Kansas,” with a reference to Charles Sumner and his speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.”
- Butler, Andrew Pickens, 1796-1857
A brief biography of Andrew Butler.
- Africans in America Anthony Burns captured
The story of the capture of Anthony Burns. Provides links to a letter from Burns to the Baptist Church, his speech in The Liberator, etc.
- Charles Emery Stevens, 1815-1893. Anthony Burns: A History
The text of Charles Emery Steven’s Anthony Burns: A History. Includes detailed biographical information on Burns.
Dred Scott Case
- Africans in America – Dred Scott case: the Supreme Court decision
A background on the Dred Scott case with links to the text of the court ruling, a Dred Scott biography and portrait, etc.
- Dred Scott v. Sandford
The text of the Dred Scott v. Sanford court proceedings.
- USA: Dred Scott Case
Provides links to the Dred Scott case, the opinion of the court, concurring and dissenting opinions, etc.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
- IHAS Poet – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
An interactive site on Emerson, with photos, biographical information, a QuickTime video, and related links.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography
An Emerson biography and portrait
The American Scholar by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The text of The American Scholar, by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography
A biography with links on Emerson.
Emerson on Mexican War
- The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)
A history of the war with a reference to Emerson as an opponent of the war, and a portrait.
John C. Calhoun
- Today in History, March 18
An illustrated John C. Calhoun profile with many related links, including one to the original draft of Calhoun’s speech against the Compromise of 1850.
- Calhoun, John – John C. Calhoun in the U.S. Capitol
A tribute to John C. Calhoun with a biography, information on his political theory, and a gallery.
- Today in History: March 7
An illustrated profile on Webster with many related links, including one to the text of his Seventh of March speech.
- Daniel Webster Speech
The text of Webster’s speech to the United States Senate, on March 7, 1850, with his quote, “I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man…”
- Henry Clay (1777-1852): An Introduction
A detailed profile of Henry Clay, with related links and a reference to his quote, “I know no South..
- Today in History: June 29
An illustrated profile on Clay with many related links including one to the text of the Compromise of 1850.
Clay, Calhoun, Webster on Compromise of 1850
- American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Compromise of 1850
A scanned copy of the text of the Compromise of 1850 speech.
- Africans in America: The Compromise of 1850
The context and history of the Compromise of 1850.
- Politics and Sectionalism in the 1850s
Background and contextual information on the Compromise of 1850. Includes an outline of its major ideas.
- John Brown
History of Brown’s antislavery activities, with links to images, his final speech, and information about the Harpers Ferry Raid.
- People in The West – John Brown
A biography and a photo of John Brown.
- John Brown: The Conspirators
A portrait of John Brown. Provides links to a brief chronology of events, eyewitness accounts, related links, as well as to information about the Brown family, the conspirators, etc.
- John Brown and the Pottawatomie Killings
A photo of John Brown and the story of the Pottawatomie killings.
John Brown’s Final Speech
- John Brown’s speech
A brief introduction and text of John Brown’s final speech.
- Alexander Boteler’s Account
Recollections of the John Brown Raid by a Virginian who witnessed the fight. Includes many illustrations.
- African American Odyssey – Fugitive Slave Law
A brief background and the story of John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry Raid. Includes a scanned original of his final address.
- Lincoln Home NHS Homepage
A Lincoln Home National historic site, with links to a Lincoln chronology, information about Lincoln and slavery, etc.
- Abraham Lincoln
A portrait and biography of Abraham Lincoln.
- Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address
The text of Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address.
- Abraham Lincoln
A portrait and a biography of Abraham Lincoln.
- Lincoln’s Letter to Stephens
A brief Introduction and the text of Lincoln’s letter. Includes a link to Stephens’s reply to the letter.
Unit 1 New World Encounters
American history moves from west to east, beginning with Ice Age migrations, through the corn civilizations of Middle America, to the explorations of Columbus, de Soto, and other Spaniards.
Unit 2 English Settlement
As the American character begins to take shape in the early seventeenth century, English settlements develop in New England and Virginia. Their personalities are dramatically different. Professor Miller explores the origins of values, cultures, and economies that have collided in the North and South throughout the American story.
Unit 3 Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.
Unit 4 The Coming of Independence
Professor Maier tells the story of how the English-loving colonist transforms into the freedom-loving American rebel. The luminaries of the early days of the Republic -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams -- are featured in this program as they craft the Declaration of -- and wage the War for -- Independence.
Unit 5 A New System of Government
After the War for Independence, the struggle for a new system of government begins. Professor Maier looks at the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Republic survives a series of threats to its union, and the program ends with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826.
Unit 6 Westward Expansion
At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.
Unit 7 The Rise of Capitalism
Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.
Unit 8 The Reform Impulse
The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor.
Unit 9 Slavery
While the North develops an industrial economy and culture, the South develops a slave culture and economy, and the great rift between the regions becomes unbreachable. Professor Masur looks at the human side of the history of the mid-1800s by sketching a portrait of the lives of slave and master.
Unit 10 The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Unit 11 The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war.
Unit 12 Reconstruction
Professor Miller begins the program by evoking in word and picture the battlefield after the battle of Gettysburg. With the assassination of President Lincoln, one sad chapter of American history comes to a close. In the fatigue and cynicism of the Civil War's aftermath, Reconstructionism becomes a promise unfulfilled.
Unit 13 America at Its Centennial
As America celebrates its centennial, 5 million people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate America's technological achievements, but some of the early principles of the Republic remain unrealized. Professor Miller and his team of historians examine where America is in 1876 and discuss the question of race.
Unit 14 Industrial Supremacy
Steel and stockyards are featured in this program as the mighty engine of industrialism thunders forward at the end of the nineteenth century. Professor Miller continues the story of the American Industrial Revolution in New York and Chicago, looking at the lives of Andrew Carnegie, Gustavus Swift, and the countless workers in the packinghouse and on the factory floor.
Unit 15 The New City
Professor Miller explores the tension between the messy vitality of cities that grow on their own and those where orderly growth is planned. Chicago -- with Hull House, the World's Columbian Exposition, the new female workforce, the skyscraper, the department store, and unfettered capitalism -- is the place to watch a new world in the making at the turn of the century.
Unit 16 The West
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.
Unit 17 Capital and Labor
The making of money pits laborers against the forces of capital as the twentieth century opens. Professor Miller introduces the miner as the quintessential laborer of the period -- working under grinding conditions, organizing into unions, and making a stand against the reigning money man of the day, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Unit 18 TR and Wilson
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.
Unit 19 A Vital Progressivism
Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.
Unit 20 The Twenties
The Roaring Twenties take to the road in Henry Ford's landscape-altering invention -- the Model T. Ford's moving assembly line, the emergence of a consumer culture, and the culmination of forces let loose by these entities in Los Angeles are all explored by Professor Miller.
Unit 21 FDR and the Depression
Professor Brinkley continues his story of twentieth century presidents with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Brinkley paints a picture of America during the Depression and chronicles some of Roosevelt's programmatic and personal efforts to help the country through its worst economic crisis. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is at FDR's side and, in many respects, ahead of him as the decade unfolds.
Unit 22 World War II
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
Unit 23 The Fifties
World War II is fought to its bitter end in the Pacific and the world lives with the legacy of its final moment: the atomic bomb. Professor Miller continues the story as veterans return from the war and create new lives for themselves in the '50s. The GI Bill, Levittown, civil rights, the Cold War, and rock 'n' roll are discussed.
Unit 24 The Sixties
Professor Scharff weaves the story of the Civil Rights movement with stories of the Vietnam War and Watergate to create a portrait of a decade. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal character, along with Stokely Carmichael, Fanny Lou Hamer, and other luminaries of the era.
Unit 25 Contemporary History
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.
Unit 26 The Redemptive Imagination
Storytelling is a relentless human urge and its power forges with memory to become the foundation of history. Novelists Charles Johnson (Middle Passage), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Esmeralda Santiago (America's Dream) join Professor Miller in discussing the intersection of history and story. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., closes the series with a reflection on the power of the human imagination.