Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spending and Rolling the Dice

Clearly it would be misleading to assign one sole cause (like the crash of '29) to the Great Depression.  And while all the causes are valid, some are more interesting to examine than others because of the way they continue to shape our spending patterns

Relying on credit for purchases was a virtually new practice in the 1920s.  Stretching out payment plans made the average American able to afford luxury items for the first time.  However, buying an item on credit is not a payment as we all know--it is merely a promise to pay.  Effectively then, every purchase on credit that we make carries a risk.  What happens if we buy that expensive car, take out a student loan, etc., and then lose our job?  Defaulting on a loan is equally bad for business as it is for the consumer.

SO....why did retailers do it?  Why was the phenomenon of credit purchases so popular in the 1920s?   Why do you think it is so prominent today, despite the fact that it proved to be a colossal mistake during the Depression?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


As the introduction to Arthur Link's article indicates, the 1920s were patented by the time's politicians as a "return to normalcy."  In fact, this phrase was the pillar of Warren Harding's successful presidential bid in 1920.

I hate to delve into a psychological analysis so soon after a break, but it begs the question, what is normal?  In a country that was less than 150 years old, is it accurate to label Republican leadership or laissez-faire economics as "normal?"  What arguments does Link make for why the Progressive Era failed to carry itself into the 1920s?  Which ones are the most convincing?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Industrial Seedbed

Welcome back everyone!  Our next unit is actually on the Great Depression and the Americas, but I want to spend the next week or so focusing on the events that transpire after the Civil War so that we have a sense of continuity.

Your readings will reveal the ways in which the United States emerge as a modern nation in the years after the Civil War, in terms of industrialization, labor, urbanization, and the government regulation of the economy.  The Depression undoubtedly has roots in this rapid transition, because it would have been difficult to imagine a program like the New Deal before the Progressive Era. 

What, then, to you, is a "modern" nation?  What do its citizens expect from the government, from the economy?  Do all citizens,  regardless of economic status, have an obligation to contribute to this modernity?  If so, what is it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mourning Reconstruction, Mourning Emmett Till

I always saw the story of Emmett Till's murder as the epitome of all Reconstruction's shortcomings.  While Southern industry made strong moves to catch up with the Northern economy, it did so by reasserting white supremacy over society.  What is worse is that the federal government, wrapped up in economic woes, westward expansion, and imperialistic development, did nothing to protect the civil rights of African Americans.

Till's story also brings us full circle, in the sense that it raises the issue of freedom, and the way that it applies to modern America.  In the 19th century, it was clear that freedom was not an absolute right awarded to all Americans because of the number of bodies that were deemed as property by the federal government.  By 1955, the year of Till's murder, one would think that freedom would expand to all those protected by the 14th Amendment.  But it did not.  Till's violated body, that his mother insisted upon showing to the world, displays the degree to which black Americans were still not given the freedom that Reconstruction policies had promised them.

As we leave this unit behind us, we must consider what freedom actually is.  While slavery is over, the ability of the federal government to grant equal rights to all citizens seems to be a continuing battle.  The government's conception of freedom will change in our next unit to the idea of economic equality and what happens when capitalism is in crisis.

So why should we mourn Emmett?  In what ways does his death demonstrate the degree to which the federal government conceptualizes natural rights by the mid 20th century? What went wrong?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reconstruction, Redemption, or Restoration?

Reconstruction policies took many forms in its ten-year duration.  And surely, it is important to distinguish between policies that were meant to restore political stability to the Union and those that brought rapid change (i.e. Civil Rights amendments).

What is undeniable, is that Reconstruction was an attempt to change society, even if critics argue it was a failed one.  Is Reconstruction the proper term?  Does the act of reconstruction imply that an institution is torn down and rebuilt from scratch?  Would a better word be redemption or maybe even restoration?

Pick a handful of specific examples from tonight's reading to help illustrate your point--occasionally are responses are on the vague side.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Too much too soon?

Many of you in your posts from last night agree that the more radical Reconstruction policies (i.e. enfranchisement, black officeholders, etc.) may have shocked the South into a social system that dramatically differed from their antebellum condition.  Perhaps a more gradual Reconstruction policy--one that laid the foundation for racial equality but did not do so overnight--would have been an easier pill to swallow.

After all, white southerners were suddenly faced with an alternative reality, one where their black counterparts walked freely among them, despite the fact that just a few years earlier they had been bound into lifelong servitude.  A revolution in policy, for better or for worse, will likely instill resistance, and it is not a surprise that many of the more radical Reconstruction policies fizzled out when the violent counteractions of the white South became a daily reality.

So, if we seem to agree that Reconstruction was a failure, we must face the difficult question--what was the alternative?  How could we revisit Reconstruction as a political, economic, and social possibility?  Would there be any way for the defeated South to accept terms that were handed down by the Union (largely Republican) government?  Yes, this is an impossible question to answer in hindsight, but still....what if we could truly do it all over again?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Policies and Intent

While Reconstruction was a period that saw dramatic changes in policy-making, it is generally regarded as a failure by historians.  While the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments abolished slavery and clearly defined citizenship rights for all Americans, its scope gradually diminished to the point that blacks' legal status in the South was virtually the same as it was in the antebellum period (if not worse).

Why does Reconstruction seem so promising at first, only to fail a decade later?  What were the forces both driving Reconstruction policies as well as resisting them?  In your opinion, did any of the Reconstruction policies have a hidden agenda?  If so, what was it?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Webinar for today...

Not sure if this worked, but I posted the video to the portal as well...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lincoln as Commander in Chief

As somewhat new to the political arena in 1861, it was clear that Lincoln still had much to learn upon taking office.  During a time of war, a president's decisions and role as commander in chief are even more crucial towards the country's future.

Lincoln had no political experience, unlike his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, who had graduated from West Point.  Yet, this reading paint Lincoln as an arguably successful commander-in-chief, even if he drastically expands his executive power in order to do so.

What is your evaluation of Lincoln as commander in chief?  What are the key decisions that he makes in order to ensure Union strength and an eventual victory.  And even more curious: why doesn't he fire McClellan right away, even upon Wade's insistence?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Power of the Proclamation

We have already discussed the idea that the Emancipation changes the course of the Civil War--from a war to preserve the Union to a war to abolish slavery.

BUT, by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the idea of slavery seemed to take a new form.  Confederates believed that they were political slaves to the Union's oppressive government.  At the same time, Union soldiers would willingly seize fugitive slaves as contraband, which, to an extent, acknowledges the concept of slaves as property.

There is no denying that the Emancipation was at least one of the fulcrums that shifted the balance of power and strength between the Union and the Confederacy.  But if it doesn't end slavery, then why is it so pivotal?  Consider not only what we've already discussed, but other items that this particular article teaches us...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

War Mobilization: The Myth and the Reality

I see many parallels between the US Civil War and World War I in terms of the idea of war versus the actuality of a total war.  In both cases, the vast majority of all parties involved saw the war as something that would be violent but quick, and swift and final.  No one could have predicted how complex the war would become.

....or could they?  Consider some of the problems that both the Union and the Confederacy faced when mobilizing for the early stages of war.  How prepared were they for actual conflict?  Consider the myth and actuality of First Bull Run--why was it anticipated as a sporting event but then experienced as a bloodbath?