A Resource for US History Teachers — Essay Three
This is the third essay in a series on the Teaching American History website that is associated with the history department at Ashland University in Ohio. In this essay I continue a review of the documents contained in the archive.
There are 254 documents in the archive classified as “Civil War and Reconstruction” out of 3200 in total. The single Robert E. Lee letter in the archive does not appear in this sort of the data which indicates there are some issues with how the archive is organized and how classifications are used. There are several documents that are cited as newspaper articles but do not identify the newspaper.
- We Want No Confederacy without Slavery
- The Voice of the People
- We Are Fighting for Independence, Not Slavery
- The Momentous Day
- No Gradual Emancipation
Most have pictures associated with them and The Voice of the People photo is of the black man with his back severely scarred that we have all seen. I was familiar with No Gradual Emancipation and confirmed it is from the New York Times on February 25, 1864.
To test for balance, I searched the word “secession” and was presented six documents.
- The New England Threat of Secession
- Virginia Ordinance of Secession
- Mayor Wood’s Recommendation of the Secession
- The Mississippi Declaration of Causes
- South Carolina’s Declaration of Causes
- Both the Rhett and Memminger Papers Justifying Secession
This indicates balance but leaves the legality of secession unaddressed. Searching “Abraham Lincoln” results in 150 documents and “Jefferson Davis” five. This is not surprising, and the five Davis documents would provide the basis for an impartial discussion of his views. The Lincoln documents include the 1862 State of the Union, his letter to Alexander Stephens, the Proclamation to Suspend Habeas Corpus, and his letter to Horace Greeley which again provide the basis for some objectivity in an assessment of Lincoln.
There is sloppiness in the archive and photograph selection at times is questionable. It would be improved with speeches of opposition Democrats from the North and Northern newspapers highlighting the suppression of rights and unconstitutional actions.
With some guidance, it would be possible for the average student to understand more about the history of secession and why the South seceded than many so called historians demonstrate, so the document archive is valuable.
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