On Tuesday, January 26, 2010, I am beginning my Civil War Era history class with a quotation from Frederick Douglas at the top of my syllabus. “I shall never forget the difference,” the great activist claimed in 1894, “between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.” After surviving and escaping from slavery and after rising to become one of the nation’s great orators and moral visionaries, Douglass certainly earned the right to judge. But the question is … have I? Should a Civil War history professor lead off a syllabus and a semester with a comment like that one, which threatens to shatter the climate of historical objectivity and push students into making moral judgments about who was right or wrong during the Civil War era. Must they learn to condemn slavery and slaveholders, racism and racists –and most importantly, according to Douglass, treason and traitors– in order for the class to be a success? Or is it my job to encourage understanding about all sides in the conflict, regardless of how evil, cruel or stupid they might have been? I do believe in truth, but I also realize how dangerous it can be to turn historical study into an ersatz trial. My inclination is to accept an observation made several years ago by historian John Mack Faragher in the New York Times. “History is ultimately a moral art,” he told a reporter, “and it is about values. It is not merely about the collection of facts. It is about the way we put those facts together and the meaning we give them. Arguments about facts are arguments about meaning.” In other words, bring on the debate –as long as it comes rooted in evidence. But I wonder if students are really comfortable with that view or even know how to navigate historical texts and context while simultaneously arguing over values. Is it all too much, too soon? Has anyone had a classroom experience in any historical subject, but especially perhaps in the Civil War era, that might offer an answer, either as a model or as a warning?