Retro-Posts, 4: Assault and Battery on the Mother Tongue–“Business-Speak” [September 25, 2012]

[Note: This relatively brief post is almost a decade old, and it remains one of my favorites. Back in the Fall of 2012, as I was reading our daily paper, I ran across a couple of items that got my dander up: the first was a quote from a bank official offering the company’s line on an increase in their ATM fee; the second was an advertisement for a newly-opened “memorial park.” The blog post that resulted from this encounter with what I call “business-speak” helped launch me into the airy realm of [occasional] “cultural criticism.”]

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Once upon a time, I wanted to teach English, and, though things didn’t work out that way, I’ve maintained a love affair with the language.  Nothing gets me hotter under the collar faster than writing that is sloppy, imprecise, deceptive, or unclear–for example, those well-worn, cliche-filled statements issued every couple of months by the public relations “flacks” retained by Big Oil to “explain” the unexplainable, the “reasons” for the latest rise in the price of gas, to American consumers. However, many drivers understand all too well what’s going on–the motoring public is being asked, once again, collectively to lie on their backs and think of England.

Well, this morning’s AJC (the local fish wrapper) contained a two-fer in this category of assaulting the intelligence of the American public in pursuit of higher profits:

First, from a story in the Business section headlined “Atlanta high for ATM, overdraft fees,” we find this gem of mindless volubility from a spokesman for a local bank, um, “explaining” his employer’s recent decision to increase the fee for a customer’s first overdraft from $25 to $36:  “We are constantly evaluating our product mix and making price adjustments as necessary based on numerous factors including our cost of doing business and the competitive marketplace, balanced with meeting the needs of our clients.”  Translation:  “Why do we screw the banking public at every opportunity?  Because we can. . . .”

The second example of murdering the language in the service of capitalism comes from an ad by a local “memorial park” announcing, in language reeking of what I’ll call “precious-ness,” a new “development”:  “a private community area with a botanical garden feel.  A custom pavilion surrounded by immaculate landscaping is the focal point of this upscale garden and includes options for cremation, traditional burial and private family areas.  Each traditional burial space is inclusive of the necessary outer burial containers and a custom designed granite memorial to minimize the decision making process.” I don’t know about you, but, after reading that, I can hardly wait to go to my reward, especially since these wonderful folks have done their darndest “to minimize the decision making process.”

As more than one observer has noted, you can’t make this stuff up, or, if you did, it wouldn’t be nearly as smarmy as the real thing.

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reflections on Race, Part 2 (Teaching Civil Rights, 15)

[Note: This is the concluding part of a look at how, in retrospect, I came to terms with the question of race in the history of this nation, which I taught for forty years; its present, where I live; and its future, which will be the world my children will inherit. It has been a life-long journey.  In Part 1, I identified key moments in my early life that shaped this experience—the dramatic events, and stunning pictures, of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s; my love of history, which would lead me into the classroom; and my first real exposure to living in an integrated world, as an officer in the U.S. Army between 1966 and 1968.]     

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Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia (1968-1973)— At the end of my tour of active duty in the U.S. Army, I enrolled in  graduate school in History at Emory University. I was not born in the South, nor, except for Army training at Fort Lee, Virginia, had I spent any time in the “real South” before we moved to Georgia. And I came here with certain preconceptions about Georgia (whose Governor at that time was the ever-popular Lester Maddox, who had been elected largely on the strength of his determination to use axe handles to drive Black customers from his chicken restaurant!), and about the region as a whole. 

For example, I had arrived in Atlanta under the impression that its Black citizens were probably being treated as second-class citizens, but that turned out to be more complicated. Soon after I entered grad school at Emory, I also began undergoing a long-term treatment at an orthodontist whose practice was in downtown Atlanta. I traveled there every couple of weeks, by bus. Now, this was the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were “old news” when I arrived. But, here’s what I observed during my regular bus rides to Dr. Morrison’s office:

When older Black adults, who had grown up during the Age of Jim Crow, boarded the bus, most of them seemed automatically to pick up their ticket at the front of the bus, then move to the rear, as had been mandatory before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Younger Black riders, on the other hand, paid their fares, took their tickets, then sat anywhere they wanted, even right behind the bus driver.

When I began to teach American History at Emory as part of my fellowship, I mentioned this, to me, interesting dichotomy, and, later, when I was teaching the same course across town at a prep school, I continued to use that example to suggest some of the long-term effects of the Age of Jim Crow on Black folks who had lived under its mandates, as well as of the freeing effect of the Civil Rights Act on younger African Americans.

[Note: The Greater Atlanta Area always has been, in some ways, in the “real South” but not of it.  Even after my wife and I arrived in Atlanta and read The Atlanta Constitution, local journalists continually pointed out that there was Atlanta, and then there was the rest of the state of Georgia.]

* * * * *

Looking back on it, what I learned about the South at Emory as a student came primarily from a combination of, first, my training there as a southern historian, and because we continued to live in the Greater Atlanta Area after grad school.

There were not a lot of African American students at Emory during these years, and only a handful among the History grad students I knew.  There also were no Black faculty members in the History Department. During my five years at Emory, I became a historian of the South, thanks mainly to two professors: Dr. James Z. Rabun, from whom I took courses on the American Revolution and the Old South, and who directed my dissertation; and Dr. Bell I. Wiley, whose legendary course on the Civil War drew throngs of undergraduate and graduate students each year. Moreover, preparing for comprehensive exams, required before I could begin research on a dissertation, enabled me to fill in gaps in my historical knowledge, including what was then called Black History.

It was also while in graduate school that I finished the rest of the military obligation I had accepted when I enrolled in the Advanced ROTC program at the University of Delaware in 1964.  Those remaining two years in uniform came as a member of an Army Reserve Quartermaster unit in Rome, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta.  Once more, I experienced life in an integrated environment, at least one weekend a month and two weeks each summer, which reinforced the impact of my first two years of Army duty on my view of race. The Army was the most integrated organization I had been involved with in my life to that point, and it played a major role in enabling me to come to terms with the question of race in American society. Working together in an integrated, interracial Army unit opened up a broader view of American society.  

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The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, Ga. (1973-2010)—When, in the Spring of 1973, I signed on to teach History at an Atlanta prep school, I felt very well prepared, especially in American History.  Whether that would prove true, though, was by no means guaranteed.

Atlanta was, in the 1970s, the self-proclaimed “Capital of the New South,” but a good many White Atlanta residents, even some who were college-educated and affluent (including a number of Westminster parents), seemed to be looking for a pro-Southern Civil War version of the past, as portrayed in Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind (1936) and the blockbuster film based on it that premiered there in 1939.

As part of my preparation to teach American History at Westminster, I began to read more widely about the role of African Americans in the making of the South and the nation. During my early years at the school, based upon my experience in college, I told my senior American History classes that, if they really wished to learn about the power of racism, a Klan meeting was a great place to do so.  At that time, the Ku Klux Klan still advertised in Atlanta newspapers their annual meeting atop Georgia’s Stone Mountain each Thanksgiving night (where the Klan had been reborn early in the twentieth century following release of D.W. Griffith’s epic film, “Birth of a Nation”). The ads were low-key, simply inviting those curious about the Klan and its beliefs to attend. To my knowledge, none of my students took me up on that recommendation, although a few parents were unhappy with my suggestion when they learned of it!

At Westminster I helped develop and teach a course, “The South and the Sectional Image” that had originated in an assignment in an “Education” course that I was required to take in order to become certified to teach History on the high school level in Georgia. One year, a colleague and I even arranged to show “Birth of a Nation” after school to our classes.  To do this, we had to contact parents, explain our rationale for showing the film, and agree not to penalize students who opted out of the viewing.  As I recollect, the evening, while a bit tense at the outset, turned out pretty well, and we received little negative feedback.

I also had several opportunities to speak with local independent school teachers and other audiences about the significance of race in trying to understand the history of the South. (See, for example.)

My study of one African-American contribution to this nation’s cultural history, the Blues, and of the historical context in which it arose, convinced me that, to understand the Modern American Civil Rights Movement, it was absolutely essential to treat the Jim Crow South, so that my students would understand what it was that the Civil Rights Movement was trying to escape from, and why. (See, for example).

That view definitely carried over into the course I inherited a few years before I retired, “The History of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement.” When I revised the syllabus, I opened the course with several weeks on the “Age of Jim Crow.”  Probably because of my undiminished admiration for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the wealth of material available to supplement our texts, though, I never got much past King’s assassination over the remainder of the course.

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Retirement (2010-Present)—when I retired from Westminster, I had “all the time in the world” to work on scholarly projects, which eventually produced two books, published in 2015 (see below).  Moreover, because I missed my role as editor of the school’s History Department Newsletter, I decided to launch a blog. Now in its twelfth year, “Retired But Not Shy,” has allowed me to continue researching the Age of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement and share what I’ve learned. 

More recently, in this era of Covid 19 and of “Black Lives Matter,” I found myself following all sorts of online clues about modern racism, Confederate monuments, and related topics, including Zoom discussions of pressing current issues. These too found their way into the blog.

It’s been a long road, one I plan to continue exploring. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in ""state rights", Age of Jim Crow, American History, Books, building a classroom persona, Civil Rights Movement, Current Events, Delaware, Delta Blues, Dr. Martin Luther King, Education, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History graduate school, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, memoir, Newark (Del.) High School Class of 1962, Popular Culture, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Taylor Branch, Teaching, The Blues, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Reflections on Race, Part 1 (Teaching Civil Rights, 15)

[Note:  This is another in a series of  posts about a white person who grew up in the South during the Age of Jim Crow and managed to come to terms with the question of race, though usually much later in life.  The difference here is that, while I grew up during the Age of Jim Crow, I did not (exactly) live in the South.  Rather, I resided in Maryland and in Delaware, both so-called “Border Slave States” at the outbreak of the Civil War.  But the race issue was still a factor, and coming to terms with it has been a constant effort in my life over the past half century or so.]

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Middle River, near Baltimore, Maryland (1950s)—Victory Villa was a jerry-built development originally constructed to house workers at the nearby Martin Aircraft Company plant during World War II.  By the time my family moved there after the war, the area was a White working-class neighborhood.  And yet, the “N-Word” was heard frequently, especially from the lips of one of our neighbors, from New England, who had a large family and taught his sons not to take any “stuff” off of Black kids.  Instead, he encouraged them to fight back, swiftly and effectively, if threatened or challenged. 

The strange thing was that, as best I can remember, there were no Black people either in Victory Villa or in our local elementary school, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter. In short, I was raised in an atmosphere where Black people, though not actually present, were still somehow deemed distant threats.

I was a child of the television age, and a young “news junkie” as well.  I found TV news film in the 1950s about civil rights simply mesmerizing.  I watched a lot of it, and the experience reoriented my view of our American world:  To me, Blacks became heroes, and angry southern Whites, villains. And, by the late 1950s, I fretted that the nation was headed down the road to a new Civil War (not that I understood much about the original Civil War, since I had just entered my teenage years in 1957).

I don’t recall a lot of comments from my parents about African Americans during this period.  In retrospect, it seemed that they, like many of our neighbors, took for granted that Black people were exotic creatures who did not (thank God!) live around us, but who nevertheless represented some sort of vague threat.  On the other hand, Blacks could be figures of fun:  there was the “Amos and Andy” show on TV, for example; and I remember that, in elementary school, my grade put on a “play” portraying the story of “Little Black Sambo” (I was a tree).

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Newark, Delaware (late 1950s-early 1960s)—In my ninth grade year, our family moved fifty miles or so north of Baltimore, to Newark, a small town in Delaware where my maternal grandparents, Ike and Isabel Knighton, lived. Before our move, my siblings and I had spent time in Newark on the occasional Sunday, and, more importantly, during the summers, perhaps a week or two for each of us each year.  But our parents, Ben and Betts, decided to relocate there, we kids were excited.

I was in ninth grade in Newark Junior High; I quickly made some friends, all of them White.  The next year, I entered Newark High School, where, once more, the overwhelming majority of the students were White.  In my graduating class, for instance, I only remember two Black males.  One, Arnie, was an outstanding athlete.  The other, Marvin, I got to know rather well, though perhaps for the wrong reasons.  We were in the same physical education class, and each year we were the two heaviest boys.  Thus, during the winter, when we had our PE unit in wrestling, Marvin and I invariably were paired as opponents.  It was no contest—I landed on my back virtually every time we wrestled.  But, still, I liked both Marvin and Arnie, though I didn’t socialize with either of them outside of class.

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The University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware (1962-1966)—one of two universities in the state, the University of Delaware was overwhelmingly White (in southern Delaware, there was a historically Black university, Delaware State).  The Black students I remember from my UD years were athletes, some even fraternity men (in predominantly White frats).  I recall no Black professors.  All my friends were White, and I cannot recollect any Black students in my classes.  I do, though, remember being surprised to learn that the paperback text on Reconstruction we used during the second semester of the American History survey course, Reconstruction: After the Civil War, had been written by a Black man, John Hope Franklin. That explained to me why Franklin’s account of Reconstruction was so different from the one I’d grown up with.

And then there was the Ku Klux Klan meeting I and a few college friends attended, when the KKK was trying to expand its reach into Delaware in the mid-1960s. That gathering enabled all of us to see White racism up close and personal and made an indelible impression on me. Although I still can’t believe that my friends and I had the nerve to attend that gathering, I consider the decision to do so a turning point in my understanding of the power of race.

Another important aspect of college for me was the ROTC program (Reserve Officers Training Corps), which all male students were required to take for the first two years, and were “encouraged” to take for their last two years. The era of the Vietnam War comprised years of incredibly shrinking draft exemptions, none of which seemed to apply to me, so I enrolled in Advanced ROTC. This enabled me to graduate on time, in June 1966.  A month later, I entered the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps.

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The U.S. Army: Fort Lee, Virginia, and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland (1966-1968)—my two years of active duty in the Army (1966-1968) put me into the first thoroughly integrated situation I’d ever experienced.  During my basic officer course, my roommate was a Black graduate of Prairie View A&M in Texas.  During his time at Fort Lee, my roommate had an unforgettable experience. He and a date were driving on a back road when they saw lots of lights nearby.  Later, my roommate learned that he had cruised past a Klan rally!

As the home of the Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee offered numerous opportunities to African American officers and enlisted men. They were enrolled in courses, enlisted as instructors in the school’s offerings, and visible everywhere one turned.  I got to know numerous Black troops, officers and enlisted men and, as a result, was launched into a thoroughly integrated world.

My next active duty assignment was at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland, a short drive from Baltimore.  APG was the Army’s Ordnance Center and School, where officers and enlisted men learned about new weapons and equipment, how to use and repair them. Because so many of the enlisted men on post were students at the Ordnance School, kitchen police (KP) duty in the mess halls was not required of them.  Instead, the Army arranged for kitchen workers to be bussed to the post daily from Baltimore.  Many of these civilian KPs were young African Americans, working on a contract basis. 

During my last six months at APG, I was assigned to the mostly-civilian Post Quartermaster Office.  I spent time each day visiting dining halls, trying to ensure that the work being performed by the civilian KPs met standards specified in their contract. It was an interesting experience for me, an opportunity to watch integrated KP crews work together, more or less, and to get to know at least some of them “behind the scenes.”

My interest in the modern Civil Rights Movement had arisen in the mid-1950s, and, during my time at APG a decade later, it held pride of place, along with the Vietnam War, in “current events” I followed when my day job allowed.  I well remember the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, and the civil unrest that followed.

End of Part 1

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in ""state rights", "Education Courses", Age of Jim Crow, American History, Civil Rights Movement, Delaware, History, Interdisciplinary Work, Martin Luther King, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Sun Belt, Teaching, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Retro-Posts, 3: “Well, We’ve All Got to Start Somewhere, I Suppose”

[Note: Last month, I introduced “Retro-Posts,” an occasional series from this blog, which is now in its twelfth year. In that post, I treated two brief items, the current “About” page and what I called the “first post,” “Hello, World,” published on June 14, 2010. This time, I am “Retro-Posting” an essay from eight months later that I think does a better job of explaining the genesis of “Retired But Not Shy” than either (or both!) of those initial efforts. I hope you’ll enjoy, “Well, We’ve All Got to Start Somewhere, I Suppose. . . .]

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Well, We’ve All Got to Start Somewhere, I Suppose. . . .

Posted on February 1, 2011 by georgelamplugh

[Note:  This was my first blog entry, created in June 2010, but for some reason (an error on my part, I’m sure) it was not actually “published” (as a post) but (evidently) was “uploaded” (as a “page”) instead, which, I eventually found out, was not exactly the same thing–I guess.  (Have I mentioned that I was new to the blogging business in June 2010? Well, duh!) Anyway, I’m hoping this will clarify the (perhaps) mysterious origins of RBNS.  I have now updated it to carry the story of “doing history outside the classroom” to the end of 2015.]

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In a galaxy far, far away, many years ago, the author of this blog got mugged by reality.  It was the 1972-73 school year, and I was finishing  my doctoral work, writing–and typing, by myself, on a portable electric typewriter purchased just for the purpose–my dissertation, in American History.  As I did so, I was at the same time looking for an ivy-covered college or university to shelter me from the storm of “real life.”

But there were no colleges or universities out there interested in my services, so I went to “Plan B”:  a job teaching History at the secondary level, but not in public schools, oh, no.  I still remembered my first semester in undergraduate school, as a “History Education” major, when the head of the School of Education came to speak to us and to explain what our curriculum would be over the next four years.  As I understood it, I would be studying History, sure, but not beyond the survey level; most of my upper level courses would be in “Education,” along with student teaching.  And I thought:  you’ve got to be kidding me!  I’m going to spend the next four years preparing to teach History in high school by learning only about History on the survey level and devoting most of my time to courses in “Education,” whatever that is?  I don’t think so!

As a result, I changed from the School of Education to the School of Arts and Sciences, and became just a plain “History” major.  But what could I do with it?  As it turned out, that really wasn’t an issue, because, in order to be sure of graduating in 1966, I had enrolled in the Advanced Army ROTC program, which also meant that I would enter the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant upon graduation for two years, during (as we now know in hindsight) the height of our adventure in Southeast Asia.

I did that, survived (which was easy, since I was one of only two new lieutenants [out of perhaps 28] in my advanced officer training course who did not go to Vietnam.  Remember Vietnam?  Oh, well, a topic for another time. . . .)  Anyway, once I finally decided to look into “prep school” teaching, I was lucky enough to land a job at a prominent school on the other side of town from where I was in grad school.  I took the job excitedly, but also with reservations (as I said at the time, I’m only going to be there “until something better comes along“).  But nothing better came along, and I spent the next thirty-seven (that’s 37!) years at the same fine institution.

Fortunately, in my prep school job, I was able to continue doing all those things my grad school professors had taught me to do in a college post: review books for historical journals; write articles for professional publications; give the occasional public lecture or paper presentation; even turn my doctoral dissertation into a book, published in 1986; and, beginning around the time the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, use a three-summer sabbatical grant to begin research on my second book–the sequel to the first one.   This volume would, I hoped, carry the theme of the first book at least thirty years further along.  And so–yes, you’re reading this right–I spent the next fourteen years–summers only, of course, being the dedicated prep school teacher I was–researching and writing about the topic, before hanging up my whiteboard in 2010, the magnum opus still in embryo.

Another thing I owe to my school was the opportunity to do something my grad school professors had not prepared me for.  During the last few years before I retired, I served as the editor of the history department newsletter.  I enjoyed putting the publication together, with the help of the template supplied by Microsoft Publisher:  soliciting contributions from departmental colleagues; writing some pieces myself; and publicizing other things that might be useful to the department, like new books, local events of interest to historians, even summer programs available in various exotic, if academic, locales.  I knew I’d miss this newsletter work once I retired, and that awareness led me to explore the possibility of creating a blog.  And the rest, as they say, is history. . . . or more precisely, “doing History after leaving the classroom,” otherwise known as “Retired But Not Shy.”

With “all the time in the world” to complete that second book once I’d retired, I worked steadily over the next five years, taking advantage of a lot of primary sources on the Web (mainly newspapers) and actually beginning to “write” the thing, though, believe it or not, I didn’t realize this at first!  And, in the summer of 2015, the “big book,” as well as a collection of essays on Georgia history, were finally published.

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Post for Dr. Martin Luther King Day, 2022: A Prayer for “Social Justice,” and “Retro-Post” number 2, from January 2018.

[Funny thing about being born in 1944: as it turned out, I grew up with the modern Civil Rights Movement, and, as a result, one of my heroes has been–and remains–The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, because of that, I began to equate King’s work almost solely with the concept of “civil rights.”

Little did I–or, apparently, many of my contemporaries, realize that King’s mission eventually would broaden to include a more inclusive category of reforms, “social justice” (think, for example of his coming out against the war in Vietnam, and of the decision to launch the “Poor People’s Campaign,” the fulfillment of which Dr. King did not live to see).

In past years, as I’ve put up posts each January commemorating Dr. King’s life and achievements, I’ve focused almost exclusively on his role as the voice of the modern civil rights movement. This year, when the King Holiday is celebrated on Monday, January 17, I thought I’d try something different: I want to offer, first, not a prayer for “civil rights,” but a prayer for “social justice.”]

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[Prayer 27, “A Prayer for Social Justice” (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, p. 823)]:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer offers several prayers for “social justice.” This one is my favorite, because it seems designed to reach the broadest audience. Any thinking person surely can identify with one or more of the prayer’s summaries of the troubles in the modern United States: “barriers which divide us”; “suspicions”; “hatreds”; and “divisions.”

So, will this simple prayer bring an end to our divisions? Surely you jest! The point is that the quest for “social justice” is ongoing, and all of us should support it.

* * * * *

Yet, this still is a post for the King Holiday, so I want to offer an additional opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy. This one comes from a King Holiday post I put up four years ago. I hope you enjoy it:

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Civil Rights Movement, Current Events, Dr. Martin Luther King, Education, Episcopal Church, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, Martin Luther King, memoir, Retirement, Southern History, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

“Retro-Posts,” 1: An Introduction: “About” page; First Post (June 2010)

This blog, “Retired But Not Shy,” is almost twelve years old.  During that time, I’ve put up two hundred and twenty posts, not including this one.  If you go to the blog’s home page, you should notice several methods to tap into those posts. 

If you’re a new visitor, though, you might not know where you’re going, and might want to get an idea of what posts are available.  There are two ways to discover this:  first, down the right hand side of the home page, you’ll find “Browse the Archives,” a long list of posts, in reverse chronological order, month by month, since June 2010, when “Retired But Not Shy” debuted.  Do the math:  that’s more than one hundred months to check!

You also can look at the list of “pages” at the top of the home page.  There are currently nine topical listings of individual posts to help you find essays of interest, right?  Well, sure, if you’re lucky; but what if you’re not?

                                                             * * * * *

Thus, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature:  “Retro-Posts.”  Occasionally, I plan to dig deeply into the blog’s archives and select some earlier posts for re-posting.  Let me explain.

Will these be my favorites from “back in the day”?  Not necessarily. Rather, these will be posts that, in retrospect, strike me as significant. For example, in this introduction to the series, I present lightly edited versions of my very first post (can you say, “Hello, World”? Sure you can!)–and the “About” page, where I tried to explain how I came to be a blogger and something about what I hoped to achieve; both were published, of course, at the very beginning of my blogging career! (So what did I know? Not much. . . .)

As it turned out, I didn’t accomplish either of those goals completely, but, if you’re lucky, I can make amends now. . . .

* * * * *

In these “Retro-Posts,” then, I hope to explore earlier stories that might easily be overlooked by new visitors trying to get a feel for the tenor of this blog. It’s always easier to start with the current posts and work back for a few months, and say, “OK, I know what’s going on here,” than it is to troll the complete Archives to determine what the blog-master has been trying to do.

Several of the “pages” on this blog probably do not need to be “publicized,” because they treat themes that have, over the past eleven plus year, drawn lots of “fans.

 

I’m thinking specifically of “Blues Stories” and “In Pursuit of Dead Georgians,” which have both drawn heavy traffic throughout the lifespan of “Retired But Not Shy.”  It turns out that Blues fans are avid readers of posts on their favorite topics.  On the other hand, my posts on Georgia history, while I’m sure they draw some Georgia history buffs, also tend to attract high school and college students each academic year who have been required by their teachers or professors to research specific topics in Georgia history as part of a school course (e. g., the “Yazoo Land Fraud,” of which I happen to be something of an authority–he said modestly!).

Yet, there are at least six other pages that, either because of the specific topic, or because of rather generic labels (e.g., “Historical Reflections,” “Teaching History”), probably seem vague to casual visitors.  The remaining topics might seem at first to have more limited appeal to those who have discovered this blog (e.g., “Interdisciplinary Work,” “Prep School,” “The South/Civil Rights,” and “The Vietnam Era”), but even in those might be found some that appeal. 

So, what I hope to do is to delve into those topics and select posts that I think might have broader appeal (or, in some cases, I wish had had a broader appeal when they first appeared!). 

I’m not sure how well this approach will work, but I’m excited about launching “Retro-Posts” to “Retired But Not Shy.” 

As always, comments are welcomed, either on the post(s), on Facebook, or via email.  I hope you’ll enjoy this occasional detour down memory lane.

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The Very First Post

[Originally published, June 14, 2010]

I’m actually writing this “first post” after publishing my actual “first post” [on the “About” page–see below]. (I’m still trying to catch on to this blogging business), so I don’t want to say a lot here, lest I give away too much of the real first post and make reading it unnecessary. . . .  

Now that I’ve retired, I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands:  no bells ringing every 55 minutes;  no classes to prepare for, tests to make up and grade, averages to figure, or student comments to write.  The question remains, though,  now that I have “all the time in the world,” something scholars dream about, will I be able to push that research to a successful conclusion?  Hence the subtitle of the blog, “Doing History After Leaving the Classroom.”

As for the title, “Retired But Not Shy,” I hope (in a much more modest way, of course) to follow the example set by my avatar, John Quincy Adams.  “Retired” from the Presidency by the electorate after one term, John Quincy could have followed the example of his father John, who suffered a similar electoral fate in 1800, and returned home to Massachusetts to play the role of “Sage off the Stage,” but the younger Adams refused to do so.  Instead, after a brief hiatus, he returned to public life with a vengeance, serving in the House of Representatives from 1831 to 1848.  During that period, Adams waged a long fight against the infamous “gag rule” (intended to stifle discussion of the slavery question on the floor of the House), and he did so with such vigor and determination that southern congressmen, including the Georgians I’ve been studying for the last half century, became positively apoplectic at the mere mention of his name and tried everything they could short of assassination to shut him up.  Adams finally did the job for them, dying of a stroke suffered on the floor of the House, in 1848.

Does that mean that I hope to keel over at my keyboard while composing yet another blog post in my inimitable prose?  Not hardly!  I intend to pursue a less formal brand of history through this medium, supplementing my current research efforts on Georgia’s political history by blogging on related topics that won’t fit the current manuscript project and “piloting” others that might appear there.  I also will not be shy when it comes to treating other subjects that interest me, most of which I’m sure will fit under the rubric of “History,” but, even if they don’t, I’ll still have my say.

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“About” Page

[Originally written, ca. June 2010; subsequently revised to include updates of post-retirement work.]

I retired after nearly four decades at a “prep school,” a History PhD. teaching on the secondary level and gradually growing to like it very much.  During my career, I also managed to keep my hand in scholarly activities:  reviewing books for historical journals; giving occasional public lectures on historical topics; and publishing several scholarly articles, as well as, now, three books (see below).

Once I retired, of course, I had a lot of time on my hands:  no bells ringing every 55 minutes;  no classes to prepare for, tests to make up and grade, averages to figure, comments to write–which I hope helps explain the “Retired” part of the blog’s title.  Those of you who either know me or are familiar with the post-presidential career of my avatar, John Quincy Adams, will perhaps understand the “But Not Shy” part.

Since I retired from the classroom in June 2010, I’ve had “all the time in the world” to work on my research projects, something scholars dream about.  In that period, I finished my “big book”and a collection of essays on Georgia history, both of which were published in 2015.  And, as you can see, I’ve also created this blog.  Hence the subtitle, “Doing History After Leaving the Classroom.”

Some of my work on Georgia history appears at “Retired But Not Shy.”  I’m also interested in: the teaching of History, both in general and specifically on the “prep school” level; the history of the American South, with an emphasis on the modern American Civil Rights MovementAmerican popular culture; the era of the Vietnam Warinterdisciplinary projects I have known (but not necessarily loved); a slew of reflections on various subjects; and the history of the Blues, the music and the people who sang and played it, placed in historical context. All of these topics also turn up here.  So, browse away!

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Yazoo Land Fraud and the Politics of Upcountry Georgia, Part 2

[Note: This is the conclusion of a two-part post about the impact of Georgia’s notorious Yazoo Land Fraud (1795-1796) on a region of the state that was rife with land hunger. For Part 1, go here.]

* * * * *

Even as Robert Watkins was doing his best to oppose James Jackson’s efforts in Georgia repeal the Yazoo sale, Congressman Thomas P. Carnes and Senator James Gunn were working assiduously, if unsuccessfully, in Congress to smooth the way for the Yazoo speculators.  Meanwhile, the state legislature, spurred on by James Jackson, passed the Rescinding Act and a series of resolutions designed to punish those who had worked to secure passage of the Yazoo bill.  One of the resolutions charged that, because Senator Gunn “did attempt to corrupt and unwarrantably influence some of the Members” of the 1795 legislature to vote for the Yazoo Act, he had “lost the confidence of this Legislature.”  Hence, the Georgia congressional delegation was instructed to work for an amendment to the federal Constitution “authorizing the Legislature of any state to recall a Senator in Congress therefrom whenever the same may be deemed necessary.”

Either because of this resolution or because of a speech by Georgia Congressman Abraham Baldwin on March 2, 1796, castigating the activities of land speculators, Senator Gunn demanded from Baldwin the right to peruse “any paper from the State of Georgia intended for public use” in his colleague’s possession.  When Baldwin refused, Gunn challenged him to a duel, only to have one of Baldwin’s fellow congressmen accuse the Senator of a breach of privilege.  After the Georgia senator and his “friend” in the affair, Senator Frederick Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, apologized for their conduct, the House Committee on Privileges ruled that “any further proceedings thereon are unnecessary.”  When he learned of this exchange, James Jackson commented smugly that “if I had not pushed [Baldwin] at Philadelphia . . . and here . . .with the papers—the speech [of March 2] would never have been made nor the correspondence [between Gunn and Baldwin] have taken place—. . . but enough—I am satisfied as it has turned out, it will answer the best of purposes.”

* * * * *

Since state officials were elected annually, most of those implicated in the Yazoo fraud were swept from office by the angry voters in 1796 and replaced by others who had opposed the sale.  For example, Peter Van Alen, a New York native who had settled in Petersburg to practice law, had testified against the Yazoo speculators before Jackson’s legislative investigating committee; Van Alen was chosen one of the state’s solicitors general. 

President Thomas Jefferson (en.wikipedia.org)

As Jackson consolidated his political control of Georgia in the wake of the Rescinding Act, he insisted that appointees and legislative hopefuls unite their opposition to Yazoo with a firm commitment to Jeffersonian Republicanism.  This policy not only allowed Jackson to reward experienced politicians, but it also enabled him to attach political newcomers to his party, including a rising young attorney in Lexington, William Harris Crawford.  As Jackson wrote to an ally in 1801, “we must take some of those Friendly young men by the hand.”

William Harris Crawford (en.wikipedia.org)

James Jackson also was not averse to stirring dissension among Yazooists.  For example, in March 1795, Jackson urged General John Twiggs to “humour young Genl [John] Clark,” who had recently quarreled publicly with Senator James Gunn over the latter’s refusal to deliver a promised share in the Georgia Company to him.  Like his father Elijah, John Clark was a powerful figure among the transplanted North Carolinians in the Georgia upcountry, and trying to neutralize his influence on the Yazoo question made good political sense to Jackson. As he wrote at the time, “all is fair play & if we heartily go to work we will upset their dirty work.”

* * * * *

James Jackson’s desire to establish Republican newspapers in the state’s major towns also affected the upcountry.  At the time of the Yazoo fraud, there were two papers in Augusta:  the Chronicle, which clung to the old-fashioned notion that an editor should publish pieces on all sides of controversial issues; and the Southern Centinel, whose editor, Alexander M’Millan, had received a sub-share of 28,000 acres of Yazoo land from the Georgia Company and opened his columns mainly to bitter foes of Jackson.  During his governorship, Jackson helped to drive M’Millan out of business by refusing to pay him for services supposedly rendered the state.  Upcountry men opposed to the Governor did not lack an outlet for their venom, however, for several months before M’Millan closed his business, George F. Randolph and William J. Bunce established the pro-Yazoo, anti-Jackson Augusta Herald

Gideon Granger.jpg
Postmaster General Gideon Granger (en.wikipedia.org)

The Herald was soon engaged in a no-holds-barred struggle in partisan journalism with the Governor’s newly established sheet in Louisville, the Republican Trumpet.  Jackson and his associates were convinced that the Herald had a “secret editor,” New England expatriate William J. Hobby, who had parlayed his uncompromising Federalism into the postmaster’s position in Augusta.  Once he had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1801, Jackson persuaded Postmaster General Gideon Granger that Hobby was mixing political partisanship with his federal duties, and Hobby was removed from office.  Although his firing freed Hobby to join the Herald officially, Jackson was able to checkmate his editorial efforts, at least to some extent, by procuring the services of an experienced Jeffersonian editor, Dennis Driscoll, to take over the rival Augusta Chronicle in 1803.

* * * * *

Disputes growing out of the socio-economic differences between the coast and the upcountry had been a constant feature of Georgia politics since before the Revolution.  This divisive sectionalism was something James Jackson could not afford to ignore as he extended the influence of the Jeffersonian Republican party across the state.  Thus, even as Jackson and his associates killed Yazoo, they also attempted to satisfy the land hunger of frontier residents by exerting constant pressure on the national government to secure additional land cessions from the Indians.  This policy was to become both bipartisan and permanent in the decades ahead.

Upcountry men also chafed at the fact that most members of the state’s congressional delegation hailed from the coast.  As one piedmont resident wrote sarcastically in 1798, “It is certainly a great stretch of political indulgence, to us poor ignorant backwoods people, that any man above Chatham or Effingham [counties], could be found having sense enough to go to Congress.”  In deadly earnest, he added that “From numbers and respectability,” upcountry residents were “justly entitled, to an equilibrium in the political balance.  Our complaisance to the eastern members has been so great, that for some years they have had three members in Congress, and the back country but one; whereas the scale ought to be reversed.”  In response to such complaints, James Jackson and his upcountry supporters apparently worked out a division of responsibility:  after 1801, upcountry Republicans received a majority of the state’s congressional seats, while the governorship was conferred regularly upon Jackson’s low country lieutenants.

* * * * *

Governor John Clark of Georgia (en.wikipedia.org)

The most significant effect of the Yazoo land fraud on the politics of upcountry Georgia was the role it played in the emergence of the rivalry between William Harris Crawford and John Clark, which produced political factions that would dominate the state for almost four decades.  Crawford rose rapidly in Jackson’s Republican party, becoming the leader of the upcountry Jeffersonians.  His associates included several Broad River Virginians, like Charles Tait, an Elbert County lawyer, and William Wyatt Bibb, a Petersburg physician with political aspirations. 

Although John Clark is usually portrayed as the champion of “democratic” frontier farmers, a sort of Georgia version of Andrew Jackson, the inner circle of the faction he headed was composed of lawyers and professional men, many with roots in North Carolina, who yearned for public office but refused to acknowledge the supremacy of James Jackson.  Clark’s brother, Elijah Clarke, Jr., was a perennially unsuccessful candidate for Congress.  The General’s brothers-in-law included Duncan Campbell; John Griffin; and William J. Hobby of the Augusta Herald, whom Republicans suspected, probably correctly, of serving as the unlettered Clark’s ghost writer during his frequent newspaper wars.  Other notables in the Clark faction were John M. Dooly, like Clark the son of a noted Revolutionary partisan, and, after Jackson’s upcountry allies had frustrated his hopes for a seat in Congress, Petersburg attorney Peter Van Alen.

* * * * *

Although rivalry between the Virginia and North Carolina cliques was a traditional feature of politics in the Broad River Valley by the 1790s, the impact of Yazoo lifted it out of its regional context and incorporated it into an emerging state party system.  John Clark had procured shares in at least two Yazoo companies, which put him at odds with Jackson’s insistence that political preferment be extended only to those opposed to the great land fraud.  On two occasions in November 1801, following his first election to the General Assembly, Clark seemed to side with the disappointed Yazoo speculators on issues before the legislature.  Furthermore, numbered among Clark’s relatives and supporters were men who were tainted, at least in Jackson’s opinion, by Yazoo or Federalism, or both. 

Thus, almost from the first, William Harris Crawford, Jackson’s chief upcountry lieutenant, set his face against the political pretensions of Clark and his supporters. The rivalry between Clark and Crawford turned violent in 1802, when Crawford killed a Clarkite—and former Jackson supporter—Peter Van Alen, in a duel.  In 1803 and again in 1804, Crawford successfully backed his old friend Charles Tait for a judicial appointment against Clark’s brother-in-law, John Griffin. 

During these campaigns Clark and Crawford engaged in such a heated correspondence in the press that a duel between them was averted only by the decision of a “court of honor” appointed by Governor John Milledge.  Matters came to a head in 1806, when Judge Tait witnessed a deposition that seemed to implicate Clark in passing counterfeit money.  Clark demanded Tait’s impeachment, but a committee of the legislature, for which Crawford served as spokesman, exonerated the judge.  The full house adopted the committee report, and Clark, convinced that Crawford and Tait had conspired to damage his reputation, challenged Crawford to a duel. The two men met in December 1806; in the exchange of shots, Crawford was wounded.  Clark challenged Crawford again in July 1807, but Crawford refused to meet him.  Clark vented his anger by flogging Judge Charles Tait in the streets of the new state capital, Milledgeville. 

George M. Troup (en.wikipedia.org)

Following James Jackson’s death in 1806 and Crawford’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1807, leadership in Georgia’s Republican party passed to Jackson’s Chatham County protégé, George M. Troup.  There was no perceptible diminution of partisan strife with Troup’s elevation to head of the state’s Jeffersonians.  Clark’s influence, which had been concentrated at first in the upcountry, spread gradually over the entire state until, after the War of 1812, Georgia had its first two-party system (go here and here), which looked so different from the one developing in the rest of the country that understanding it baffled contemporaries and continues to puzzle modern historians.

End of Part 2

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in ""state rights", American History, George M. Troup, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, James Gunn, James Jackson, John Clark, Research, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, William Harris Crawford, Yazoo Land Fraud | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Yazoo Land Fraud and the Politics of Upcountry Georgia, Part 1 (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 35)

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[Note:  Tignall, Georgia, is about 125 miles east of Atlanta, in Wilkes County, only a few miles from the Savannah River.  In 2002, when I arrived there to deliver a lecture, “downtown” Tignall consisted of a couple of gas stations; a combination police station and city hall; a café open daily from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm; some nondescript shops; an auto repair place; and the site of my lecture, the North Wilkes Library, a converted bank building at the far end of town.

That Tignall still existed was due primarily to the efforts of Dr. Sophia Bamford, an 88 year-old retired physician and the organizer of the lecture series of which my talk was a part.  A Tignall native, Dr. Bamford had returned to her hometown after a distinguished medical career in Boston.  Determined to keep Tignall on the map, Dr. Bamford stirred up interest in the region’s history, and her strategy apparently worked. The 2002 lecture series was the seventh she had put together since returning from Boston—and, so she told me—her last.

When I agreed to talk about the Yazoo Land Fraud and its impact on the politics of the Georgia upcountry, I hoped to do something that I had not been able to accomplish thus far:  to examine for an audience, in some detail, how Yazoo affected political developments in Georgia on a local or regional level.  I hoped I could create a picture that would transcend the sorts of broad generalizations that had characterized my previous efforts to discuss Yazoo.  Surely I would be able to trot out examples from my ample stock of anecdotes (AKA, “hairy dog stories”) that would reveal something of the human aspect of the great land fraud. 

If the “Yazoo Land Fraud” is not ringing any bells in your historical memory at this point, I suggest that you visit (or revisit) my attempt to summarize the origins of the Yazoo sale in 1795 through 1802, when Georgia ceded her western lands to the federal government in exchange for money and, more importantly, a promise from the national government that it would, when it could be done peacefully, remove the Creek and Cherokee Indians from the state. This compact would prove significant to the further development of political parties in Georgia, and it would also affect the development of national political parties and the course of the United States over the next six decades, through the Civil War.]

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Georgia in 1790

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Let’s look more closely at how the Yazoo Fraud affected politics in upcountry Georgia, around Augusta and environs.  First, it is important to understand that land hunger was endemic there.  In fact, one of the four successful Yazoo purchasers in 1795, the Georgia Mississippi Company, was made up of Augusta residents, including veteran Richmond County legislator and militia leader General Thomas Glascock. Moreover, virtually all upcountry legislators who voted for the Yazoo Act had accepted either sub-shares in the purchase or money from the organizers. 

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General Thomas Glascock (findagrave.com)

Judge William Stith of Warren County figured prominently in passing out money and other favors to legislators in return for their votes.  Upcountry Congressman Thomas P. Carnes, who had received land from at least two of the purchasing companies, and Richmond County legislator Robert Watkins, the only member of the lower house to vote for Yazoo without accepting either money or land (though several of his relatives did), were staunch defenders of the sale throughout the late 1790s.  George Walton of Richmond County, one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, former governor, and veteran jurist, joined Carnes and Watkins in penning newspaper essays defending Yazoo and attacking the motives of those who voted to rescind the sale. 

George Walton (1749 or 1750-1804).jpg
George Walton, by Charles Wilson Peale (wikipedia)

In order to ensure the support of influential Georgians who were not in the General Assembly, the prospective purchasers distributed sub-shares in the purchase to prominent men throughout the state.  Among the upcountry recipients were militia leaders Elijah and John Clark, and Alexander M’Millan, proprietor of the Southern Centinel, one of Augusta’s two newspapers. The involvement of these prominent upcountry men in the Yazoo sale and its defense apparently did not weaken their political influence in the region.  Watkins and Glascock continued to represent Richmond in the General Assembly, and both men were elected to the 1798 constitutional convention.  George Walton was returned to the bench by the legislature.  According to James Jackson, who had led the ultimately successful campaign to repeal the Yazoo Act, the political strength of Thomas P. Carnes and William Stith remained formidable in the piedmont; it was all he and his supporters could do to keep those Yazooists out of the U.S. Senate, the national House of Representatives, and the governor’s chair between 1798 and 1801. 

The legislature even appointed Robert Watkins and his brother George to compile a new digest of Georgia laws.  When the brothers included the Yazoo Act in their compilation, however, Governor James Jackson refused to pay them and saw to it that William Harris Crawford and Horatio Marbury were put in charge of the project.  The resulting Marbury and Crawford digest did not include the Yazoo Act; the defiant Watkins brothers had their volume, Yazoo Act and all, printed out of state.

* * * * *

Even most of the upcountry men who joined James Jackson in opposing the Yazoo sale were not averse to land speculation.  Either they opposed on principle the corruption that had lubricated the sale, or, if one believes their Yazoo critics, they were motivated by disappointment at their inability to force themselves into the companies organized by the successful purchasers.  William Few of Columbia County and General John Twiggs of Richmond County, who allegedly organized a raucous demonstration in the streets of Louisville, the state capital, in an unsuccessful effort to convince Governor George Mathews to veto the Yazoo sale, had also been members of the Georgia Union Company, a late-blooming organization whose bid for the western territory had been rejected by the legislature because it offered too little, too late.  Another opponent of Yazoo, Richmond County legislator James McNeil, had dabbled unsuccessfully in land speculation in the early 1790s.  Among Jackson’s upcountry allies, the one who showed the least interest in land speculation was probably Congressman Abraham Baldwin, a native of Connecticut who resided in Wilkes County.

* * * * *

 Surely the most determined supporter of Yazoo and, thus, the most vigorous opponent of James Jackson in Georgia, was Richmond County’s Robert Watkins.  The ink had hardly dried on the Yazoo Act before Watkins leaped to its defense in the pages of Alexander M’Millan’s Southern Centinel, and he later used the columns of Augusta’s other newspaper, the Chronicle, to attack the arguments in Jackson’s pamphlet, The Letters of Sicilius, which served as the Bible of the anti-Yazooists in the campaign to overturn the sale. 

The pugnacious Watkins was one of only three representatives to vote against the Rescinding Act in 1796.  In February 1797, the Richmond representative introduced in the state House a bill that would have ceded the state’s western territory (and, of course, the Yazoo claims) to the federal government; the measure was defeated overwhelmingly.

As a member of the 1798 state constitutional convention, Robert Watkins signed the revised frame of government under protest, arguing that adding the Rescinding Act to the state constitution amounted to an ex post facto law that impaired the obligation of contract.   Convention delegates Thomas Glascock and James Gunn, who had been leading lights among the Yazoo purchasers, flatly refused to sign the revised constitution. Because Watkins, Glascock, and Gunn also were high-ranking militia officers and, thus, required to defend Georgia and its constitution, an angry Governor James Jackson convinced the legislature to require all militiamen to sign an oath promising to support the revised state constitution.   The ensuing “loyalty oath controversy” kept the state’s military arm in turmoil for several years.

* * * * *

Robert Watkins did not confine his opposition to James Jackson to the halls of the legislature or the convention.  After the adjournment of the General Assembly in February 1796, he accosted Jackson in the streets of Louisville and asked him “how he could reconcile it to his own feelings to have headed a vile party during the [legislative] session to the general injury of the whole state, and in unfounded attacks upon the reputation of a number of good men.”  That kind of question, Jackson later recalled, “flesh & blood of such texture as mine would not bear.”  In the ensuing scuffle, the two men fought with whips, pistols, bayonets, and fists before they were separated.

Jackson and Watkins clashed again several months later, this time in the streets of Savannah.  Most of the lawyers gathered there to attend the federal court session reportedly snubbed Jackson, but Jackson considered Watkins’ conduct particularly galling, for when he accosted the Augusta attorney near the bay, Watkins merely laughed in his face.  Jackson brooded over this insult for an hour or so, complaining to his friends and vowing his “determination of caning Watkins the first place he should meet him.”  He then set out to find his antagonist.  When the two finally met, they took up where they had left off in Louisville, pummeling each other with fists and sword canes.  According to an eyewitness account by a Watkins partisan, Watkins was “drubbing [Jackson] pretty soundly when they were parted by the magistracy.” 

End of Part 1

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is potp-cover.jpg

Posted in American History, Education, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, James Gunn, John Clark, Research, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Yazoo Land Fraud | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Civil War in Fifty Minutes, Part 2 (History Lesson Plans, 12)

[Note:  This is the second of a two-part post, “The Civil War in Fifty Minutes,” that I gave to my AP United States History students at the prep school where I taught for nearly forty years.  As I’ve explained elsewhere, my approach to war in general, not just the Civil War, had undergone a sea change between the beginning of the Civil War Centennial (1960) and my arrival at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta (Fall, 1973).

What I presented to my seniors was a version of the Civil War without the “trumpets and drums” approach I was familiar with from my reading during the Civil War Centennial (1960-1965).  Instead, I stressed the causes of the war (in the previous unit, which charted the course of the nation’s history from the end of the Mexican-American War through the presidential election of 1860 and the tense months leading to the Confederate assault on Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor [1848-1861], I already had offered my belief that the main cause of the war was slavery); turning points of the conflict; and its short and long-term consequences . 

In Part 1, I took the story from the first battle of Manassas (Bull Run), July 27, 1861, through the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

This post follows the course of the war from its turning point, the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), through the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox (April 12, 1865); examines why the North won (or, if you prefer, why the South lost); and, finally, looks at the impact of the conflict on the United States.]

* * * * *

Military Campaigns, 1863-1865

The turning point of the Civil War occurred in the summer of 1863.  (The prelude was the death of Lee’s “good right arm,” Stonewall Jackson, at the battle of Chancellorsville in May.)

The military “turning point(s)” of the war occurred in July.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania was stopped by Union forces at Gettysburg (July 1-3), but the failure of the Union commander, General George Meade, to pursue Lee allowed the Confederate forces to retreat across the Potomac River, for, as it turned out, the last time. 

Then, on July 4, 1863, after forty-seven days of siege, the fall of the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg, Mississippi, cut the Confederacy in two, transferring control of the Mississippi River to the Union. Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas essentially were detached from the Confederacy.  The Vicksburg campaign had been the brainchild of General U.S. Grant, who followed this exploit with additional victories in the Chattanooga campaign in November.

Gen. William T. Sherman (en.wikipedia.org)

Following the success of the Chattanooga campaign, General Grant moved North to take over supreme command of the Union armies, leaving General William T. Sherman in Georgia to deal with a numerically inferior Confederate force under General Joseph E. Johnston.

Meanwhile, General Sherman took Atlanta after a protracted siege (August, 1864).  Then, in mid-November, Sherman set out on his (in)famous “March to the Sea,” reaching Savannah in time to present that city to President Lincoln as a “Christmas present.”  Then Sherman turned North, in hopes of effecting a junction with Grant in Virginia. 

Back in Virginia, even the usually stolid Grant was beginning to wonder whether the meager progress he had made was worth the staggering losses he had suffered.  Grant decided to strike out across the James River in order to seize Petersburg, thus severing one of the main Confederate supply arteries.  The move was a bold one, but Grant couldn’t quite pull it off.  Once more, battle-weary troops faced one another from opposing trenches. 

In order to approach Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, in May 1864, Grant led the Army of the Potomac into an area of dense undergrowth and swampland known as the Wilderness. He moved his troops remorselessly to the left in an attempt to interpose them between Lee and the Confederate capital at Richmond.  Lee frustrated those efforts, but at a terrible cost to both sides.  Battles followed one another with grim regularity—the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Yellow Tavern, Cold Harbor.

With the steady approach of General Sherman from the South in the Spring of 1865, the situation of Lee’s army became truly desperate.  He managed to evacuate both Richmond and Petersburg, but his attempts to break through the ring of steel forged by General Grant proved futile.  The end came on April 9, 1865, at tiny Appomattox Court House, with formal surrender ceremonies on April 12, 1865.

* * * * *

Why did the North win, or, why did the South lose, the Civil War?

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (en.wikipedia.org)

The Confederacy failed to obtain European, especially British, recognition of their independence.  Why?  First, the Union had superior diplomacy, thanks to Charles Francis Adams, minister to Great Britain.  Moreover, cotton was not king, as events proved. England had accumulated huge surpluses of cotton by the start of the war, supplemented later by cotton from Egypt and India. 

Moreover, England made money selling to both sides during the war, and needed Northern wheat.  And, unfortunately for their cause, the Confederate forces failed to win victories at the right moment as the war wound down (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg). 

The tremendous material advantages of the Union enumerated earlier, which became greater as the war dragged on, were further solidified because the Union enjoyed superior political leadership on presidential, congressional, and state levels.

* * * * *

Confederate President Jefferson Davis (en.wikipedia.org)

It wasn’t simply the strengths of the North that determined the outcome, but also the weaknesses of the South that came into play as the war progressed.  For example, the Confederacy suffered from second-rate political leadership.  Confederate leaders were simply too quarrelsome (President Davis vs. the Confederate cabinet; Davis vs. his Vice President, Alexander Stephens; Davis vs. the Confederate Congress; Davis vs. Confederate state governors).  This dissension was probably the result of the individualism nurtured  by the plantation system, frustration over the failure to win a final victory, and, maybe, a sense of guilt about slavery. 

The Confederacy also was afflicted by a lack of flexibility:  neither the economy, nor the popular mind, could adjust to the requirements of modern warfare.  (Here were planted the seeds of the “Lost Cause” myth that proved so harmful in the post-war era.) The South also was guilty of bad judgment. Southerners overestimated their own strength and the importance of Southern cotton to England, and they underestimated the deep devotion of the people of the North to the concept of the Union.  Finally, Southerners were not properly prepared for defeat, and, hence, morale became very low as the people of the Confederacy lost the will to win.

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The Impact of Civil War on the United States

The Civil War ended slavery, although it certainly did not settle the race question in the United States.  The war also determined the nation’s character:  hereafter, the United States would be one nation, not two or more competing aggregations of states, each claiming to be sovereign.

The Civil War was, in the words of Emory University History professor Bell Wiley, who taught an incredibly popular course on the Civil War that I took in graduate school, “the watershed of American history.”  Before the war, Wiley contended, the United States still was predominately agrarian, rural, and innocent.  After the Civil War, the nation was increasingly industrialized, urbanized, and a lot less innocent.

* * * * *

The Human Costs of War, 1861-1865

More Americans (remember, soldiers on both sides of the Civil War were Americans) were killed in the Civil War than in all other American wars combined, from the American Revolution through the Korean conflict, inclusive:

618,000 (Civil War) v. 606,000 (all other wars from the Revolution through the Korean conflict. But, the Vietnam War [1961-1973] added 58,000 deaths):

360,000 (Union ,1½ % of total population in the Union states)

258,000 (Confederates) (4% of white population in the Confederate states)

Also, perhaps 425,000 Americans were disabled, physically, mentally, or both during the Civil War:

275,000 (Union)

150,000 (Confederate)

End of Part 2

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

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The Civil War in Fifty Minutes, Part 1 (History Lesson Plans, 12)

[Note:  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my approach to the Civil War has had its ups and downs.  By the time the Civil War Centennial opened in 1960, I had become interested in the conflict; so interested that, by the time I graduated from high school in 1962, I was suffering a case of “Civil War burnout.” 

In college, I spent my time trying to learn as much as I could about history worldwide, without actually studying the American Civil War in any detail.  My trip into the past was interrupted by two years of active duty in the U.S. Army following my graduation from college, during what we now know was the turning point of the War in Vietnam (1966-1968).

Then, in grad school, I wound up in a year-long course on the Civil War, taught by a recognized expert in the lives of the war’s common soldiers.  Although it was an interesting course, we didn’t get much beyond the battle of Gettysburg, if memory serves.

Once I began teaching Advanced Placement (and “Regular”) American History at an Atlanta “prep school” in 1973, I had changed my mind about the war that had been, according to my grad school professor, the “watershed” in this nation’s history.  I no longer wished to approach America’s wars from the viewpoint of “drums and trumpets history.” 

What follows is my attempt to teach about the Civil War in my high school American History courses, in the form of a lecture brazenly entitled “The Civil War in 50 Minutes.”  I used it after we had looked in some detail at the history of the United States from the end of the Mexican-American War through the Confederate assault on Ft. Sumter, in Charleston (S.C.) harbor (1848-1861).  My approach to the coming of the Civil War emphasized the role of slavery as the most important cause of the war.]

* * * * *

Comparative Resources in 1861

The number of men available to serve was a definite Northern advantage:  twenty-three Northern states (including Kentucky and Missouri, which were Northern slave states) had a population of 22,000,000; the eleven Southern states had a population of 9,000,000, but of these, 3,500,000 were slaves and another 150,000 were free Negroes. 

The North also had the edge when it came to material resources.  For example, between 1830 and 1860, the North had become more and more industrialized, and so those states were much better prepared for the all-important conversion to wartime production required by the outbreak of hostilities.  5,100,000 urban residents in the North were engaged in manufacturing in 1860.

The South developed a few textile factories, but it had become increasingly committed to agriculture between 1830 and 1860.  As a result, in 1860, only 166,803 urban residents in the South were engaged in manufacturing. 

The North enjoyed a similar edge in the development of natural resources, for the simple reason that the South’s coal and iron deposits were largely untapped by 1860.  Moreover, the nation’s financial resources (money, credit, and banking facilities), were located almost exclusively in the North.  Lacking hard currency, the South had to depend upon paper money, with a few loans.  By the end of the war, Southern currency was almost worthless, with one dollar in paper equal to one cent in hard money.  (By early 1962, both governments had resorted to paper money, though, which meant that the North also worried about inflation.) 

Another Northern advantage was in the naval and merchant marine vessels at its disposal.  The Union navy had seven hundred ships, including shallow-draft gunboats that were supposed to provide effective collaboration with the Union army in the west.  At its peak, on the other hand, the Confederate navy had about forty vessels.  It was obvious that, when war broke out and major European powers recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent, the Union would be required under international law to impose a blockade of the Southern coastline, and the size of the Union navy would give the North an edge.

Yet another Northern advantage was in the area of transportation and communications.  At the outbreak of war, there were 22,000 miles of railroad tracks in the North.  The North also possessed an ample supply of rolling stock (locomotives and train cars) as well as better facilities to repair and replace them. 

In the Confederacy in 1860, there were about 9,000 miles of railroad tracks, but of an inferior quality to those of the Union, and with less rolling stock available.  The sole repair and replacement facility in the South, Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works, was diverted early on to the manufacture of cannons, iron plate, and munitions. 

The number of trained mechanics in the Northern states far exceeded those in the South.  The Union also had a constant influx of immigrants, including 180,000 males of military age during the war. 

There also was greater diversity of talent among the people of the North.  Not only were there more Northerners with technical and mechanical skills, but there also were more Northerners who were experienced in organization and administration.  Southerners, on the other hand, were mostly experienced in running plantations, few of which were models of organizational efficiency. 

The South did have the advantage of interior lines.  This meant that, to win the war, Union forces would have to invade Confederate territory and defeat Rebel armies, while the Southerners would be able to shift their forces to meet attacks at various points, using their railroads. 

Another advantage enjoyed by the South, at least initially, was in military leadership, especially on the all-important regimental and company levels.  Upper-class Southerners attended the United States Military Academy at West Point in greater numbers than did their Northern counterparts.  Once in the army, Southerners tended to remain longer than did Northerners, who were more likely to be attracted by the alluring prospects of the business world. 

Moreover, the military profession was popular in the South, where there were numerous militia units, not to mention the slave patrols used to restrict the freedom of movement of the region’s slaves. 

Officers of the ranks of colonel and below were elected in both armies.  Those chosen usually had raised and equipped their units.  In the South, these officers tended to be planters or their sons, most of whom were recognized as leaders and possessed at least a modicum of military training.  In the North, on the other hand, officers elected were usually the most prosperous community leaders or the most popular politicians, but they possessed little military experience. 

The odds in 1861 were not so much in favor of the Union as the listing above might indicate.  The South might very well succeed if it could parlay its initial military advantages into early victories on the battlefield, and combine them with diplomatic recognition by one of more of the major European powers.  On the other hand, if the conflict became protracted, for whatever reason, the odds would increasingly favor the North.

* * * * *

Military Campaigns, 1861-1862

The first real battle of the Civil War occurred at Manassas (Bull Run), on July 21, 1861, and it was a Confederate victory.  As a result, Southerners believed that the completion of their drive for independence was within their grasp.  On the other hand, Northerners suddenly realized that war was a serious business. 

In 1862, the war saw initial Union victories in the West, and a standoff in the East. 

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (wikimedia.org)

In the West, the most important development was the rise to command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who began with three victories in the western theatre.  In February 1862, a combined land and river force under Grant took Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, which opened a water route into the heartland of the Confederacy. 

On April 6-7, Confederate forces under Albert Sidney Johnston caught Grant by surprise at Shiloh, but the Union commander recovered his poise and succeeded in driving the Confederates from the field.  Total casualties (killed, wounded, missing, for both armies) at Shiloh were over 23,000, exceeding the combined totals of the Revolutionary War, the Mexican-American War, and the War of 1812.  Finally, on April 27, 1862, New Orleans fell to the Union, which gave the Northern forces control of the mouth of the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in two. 

Meanwhile, in the Eastern theatre, a series of hapless Union generals demonstrated a common failing—the inability to defeat the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

 

Gen. Robert E. Lee (wikipedia)

In June, 1862, Union General George B. McClellan landed forces on Virginia’s James River Peninsula, but suffered defeat in a series of battles known as the Seven Days’, and then returned to Washington, D.C.  McClellan’s successor, General John Pope, lost to Lee at Second Manassas (Bull Run) on August 29-30. 

Following Pope’s disgrace, McClellan returned to command the Union forces in the East.  Although he was lucky enough to obtain a copy of General Lee’s battle plan, the unhappy McClellan could do no better than a draw at Sharpsburg (Antietam) on September 17.  Antietam was the bloodiest single day in the Civil War, with 23,000 total casualties, including  Six thousand American (Union and Confederate) dead, almost as many colonial troops as were killed during the Revolutionary War.

Lee, who had hoped to tip the balance in favor of European recognition of the Confederacy by a strong showing in Maryland, retreated into Virginia.  President Abraham Lincoln used this occasion, which was as close to a victory as his forces would get for a while, to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.  The final version of the Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, but it only affected slaves in areas still under Confederate control.  This had little immediate effect on Southern slaves.  There was neither a flood of refugee slaves nor insurrections on Southern plantations.

Antietam did deal a permanent setback to the Confederacy’s hopes for foreign recognition, because antislavery feeling was quite strong in Europe, especially in England. 

Then, in December, Union General Ambrose Burnside’s forces were bloodily repulsed by the Confederates of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Fredericksburg.

End of Part I

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP Cover

Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments