(HIST 119) This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic; slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process; the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society; and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction.
This course was recorded in Spring 2008.
27 - Legacies of the Civil War
Professor Blight finishes his lecture series with a discussion of the legacies of the Civil War. Since the nineteenth century, Blight suggests, there have been three predominant strains of Civil War memory, which Blight defines as reconciliationist, white supremacist, and emancipationist. The war has retained a political currency throughout the years, and the ability to control the memory of the Civil War has been, and continues to be, hotly contested.
26 - Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory
Having dealt with the role of violence and the Supreme Court in bringing about the end of Reconstruction in his last lecture, Professor Blight now turns to the role of national electoral politics, focusing in particular on the off-year Congressional election of 1874 and the Presidential election of 1876. 1874 saw the return of the Democrats to majority status in the Senate and the House of Representatives, as voters sick of corruption and hurt by the Panic of 1873 fled the Republicans in droves. According to many historians, the contested election of 1876, and the "Compromise of 1877," which followed it, marked the official end of Reconstruction. After an election tainted by fraud and violence, Republicans and Democrats brokered a deal by which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes took the White House in exchange for restoration of "home rule" for the South.
25 - The "End" of Reconstruction: Disputed Election of 1876, and the "Compromise of 1877"
This lecture focuses on the role of white southern terrorist violence in brining about the end of Reconstruction. Professor Blight begins with an account the Colfax Massacre. Colfax, Louisiana was the sight of the largest mass murder in U.S. history, when a white mob killed dozens of African Americans in the April of 1873. Two Supreme Court decisions would do in the judicial realm what the Colfax Massacre had done in the political. On the same day as the Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court offered a narrow reading of the 14th Amendment in the Slaughterhouse cases, signaling a judicial retreat from the radicalism of the early Reconstruction years. The Cruikshank case, two years later, would overturn the convictions of the only three men sentenced for their involvement in Colfax, and marked another step away from reconstruction. Professor Blight concludes with the Panic of 1873 and the seemingly innumerable political scandals of the Grant Administration, suggesting the manner in which these events encouraged northerners to tire of the Reconstruction experiment by the early 1870s.
24 - Retreat from Reconstruction: the Grant Era and Paths to "Southern Redemption"
This lecture opens with a discussion of the myriad moments at which historians have declared an "end" to Reconstruction, before shifting to the myth and reality of "Carpetbag rule" in the Reconstruction South. Popularized by Lost Cause apologists and biased historians, this myth suggests that the southern governments of the Reconstruction era were dominated by unscrupulous and criminal Yankees who relied on the ignorant black vote to rob and despoil the innocent South. The reality, of course, diverges widely from this image. Among other accomplishments, the Radical state governments that came into existence after 1868 made important gains in African-American rights and public education. Professor Blight closes the lecture with the passage of the 15th Amendment, the waning radicalism of the Republican party after 1870, and the rise of white political terrorism across the South.
23 - Black Reconstruction in the South: The Freedpeople and the Economics of Land and Labor
Professor Blight begins this lecture in Washington, where the passage of the first Reconstruction Act by Congressional Republicans radically altered the direction of Reconstruction. The Act invalidated the reconstituted Southern legislatures, establishing five military districts in the South and insisting upon black suffrage as a condition to readmission. The eventful year 1868 saw the impeachment of one president (Andrew Johnson) and the election of another (Ulysses S. Grant). Meanwhile, southern African Americans struggle to reap the promises of freedom in the face of economic disempowerment and a committed campaign of white supremacist violence.
22 - Constitutional Crisis and Impeachment of a President
Professor Blight continues his discussion of the political history of Reconstruction. The central figure in the early phase of Reconstruction was President Andrew Johnson. Under Johnson's stewardship, southern whites held constitutional conventions throughout 1865, drafting new constitutions that outlawed slavery but changed little else. When the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress reassembled late in 1865, they put a stop to Johnson's leniency and inaugurated Radical (or Congressional) Reconstruction, a process that resulted in the immediate passage of the Civil Rights bill and the Fourteenth Amendment, and the eventual passage of four Reconstruction Acts. The Congressional elections in 1866 and Johnson's disastrous "Swing Around the Circle" speaking tour strengthened Radical control over Congress. Each step of the way, Johnson did everything he could to obstruct Congressional Reconstruction, setting the stage for his impeachment in 1868.
This is what I thought an Ivy League education meant
I am not ‘Ivy League’ material.
I will never go to Yale.
I have a bachelors and masters degree, from decent universities, and a smattering of classes from various state and community colleges, because education is important. I mention these personal facts only to contextualize the following review:
This is the best course I have ever heard. I learned more than in any class I actually got credit for. I think this class should be required listening for every person claiming to be an American citizen. I envy every student who had the privilege of attending this class.
The best history podcast or course I’ve listened to. Wish I could be in the classroom.
This must have been one packed classroom. His mastery of so many political cross currents of that time is remarkable. Not lost on me!