Marc Egnal’s essay on “The Economic Origins of the Civil War” explains how each section modernized in different ways. In this excerpt, Egnal, a history professor at York University in Toronto, argues that the East-West orientation of antebellum Northern commercial traffic helped stoke a sense of free labor nationalism. You can read Egnal’s full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.
1. Visit each of the places listed in the sidenotes for the first page of the Egnal excerpt. What can you learn about them from records such as nineteenth-century gazetteers?
2. Who was “Long John” Wentworth and why was he an important example for Marc Egnal’s argument?
Lea VanderVelde’s essay on “The Dred Scott Case as an American Family Saga” humanizes one of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions in American history. In this excerpt, VanderVelde, a law professor at the University of Iowa, describes how the entire Scott family –Dred, Harriet and their daughters, Eliza and Lizzie– contributed to the original motivation for filing the case in St. Louis Circuit Court in 1846. You can read VanderVelde’s full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.
1. What can you learn about the Scott family members from the records connected to this essay that helps explain the origins of the Dred Scott case?
2. Why is it important to learn about people and their biographies when studying major historical events?
Elizabeth R. Varon’s essay on “Gender History and the Origins of the Civil War” provides a striking reappraisal of the rhetoric of the sectional conflict. In this excerpt, Varon provides an example of her argument by demonstrating how gendered phrases entered into the Wilmot Proviso debate. You can read Varon’s full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.
1. Search for words in the online edition of American Slavery As It Is (1839) that might have provided evidence for the type of gendered charges leveled against abolitionists that Elizabeth Varon describes here.
2. Read some of the congressional debates over the Wilmot Proviso and War on Mexico that are available through the document links in this excerpt’s sidenotes. Does the tone and substance of the debates appear to support or challenge Varon’s emphasis on gendered rhetoric?
Paul Finkelman’s essay on “Slavery, the Constitution, and the Origins of the Civil War” describes the slow-developing constitutional collision over slavery that began in 1787 and finally erupted into war by 1861. This excerpt, however, focuses on Lincoln’s emancipation policy and argues that the “irony” of southern secession was how it “allowed Lincoln to do what he had always wanted.” Finkelman, a law professor at the University of Albany, considers Lincoln deeply opposed to slavery and yet also committed to upholding the Constitution and political compromises over slavery during the years before war broke out. You can read Finkelman’s full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.
1. According to Paul Finkelman, what are some of the key wartime anti-slavery policies that predated the Emancipation Proclamation? What can you find out about them using the House Divided research engine?
2. Read the full-text of Lincoln’s letters to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862) and to Albert G. Hodges, (April 4, 1864). What did they say? How did they differ? How does Finkelman uses short quotations from these letters to build his argument about Lincoln’s anti-slavery beliefs? What does he leave out?
Jonathan Earle’s essay on “The Political Origins of the Civil War” argues that politics, not slavery, caused the secession crisis. He explains why Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 triggered such a catastrophic response among some Southerners. In this excerpt below, Earle, a history professor at the University of Kansas, describes how John Brown’s 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry contributed to the polarized political climate. You can find the full essay inside the print edition of Volume 25 of the OAH Magazine of History (April 2011) or online via Oxford Journals.
1. What can you learn about the people referenced in this excerpt by following the links to their records in the House Divided research engine? How does additional background information help you better understand the author’s interpretation?
2. Compare the author’s use of quoted material from newspapers such as the Baltimore Sun and Richmond Enquirer with the more extended excerpts provided in his source (see p. 2 Documents). How would you characterize the newspaper comments? How does Jonathan Earle use them in his argument?