May 2, 2017

3 Civil War historians react to Trump's Andrew Jackson comments line by line.

The BBC spoke to David Blight (Yale), Judith Geisberg (Villanova), and Jim Grossman (American Historical Association). I love the way they've broken this down into 5 individual statements, like whether Jackson was "a swashbuckler" and whether he was "tough" and had "a big heart."

1. "[Jackson] was a swashbuckler... They love Andrew Jackson in Tennessee." This statement seems trivial, but it elicits ready contempt for Trump from the historians.

2. "He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart." No one even has a guess about what might support "big heart." They go into no detail about what "heart" is and seem to assume it's love and empathy. But it can also mean spirit, will, or courage.*

3. "I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War." None of the historians goes anywhere with the idea that the war could have been avoided. It's the "wrong premise." Nor do any of them give any regard to the idea that the right person could have done better, and Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history." These answers strike me as doctrinaire and incurious.

4. "He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said: 'There's no reason for this.'" The historians regard this as a stupid blunder. We don't need historians to tell us that Jackson died more than a decade before the war began, but I'm disappointed (though not surprised) that they don't go into details about what events in Jackson's era could have been seen by a person at the time as a build up toward war. If we're going to listen to historians, why don't they put on more of a show of doing history?

5. "People don't realise, you know, the Civil War - if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there a Civil War?" Giesberg says the inquiry is over: "Historians have come to a consensus** that slavery is the reason." Don't be a Civil War denier. Giesberg connects Trump's puzzling over history with his "tone-deaf[ness] about contemporary racial issues." Although the historians all seem to resist the idea that we don't talk about the question anymore, they actually don't talk about it. They say "slavery," but they won't say one word about why there was no solution to the problem of slavery other than war. Doesn't that prove Trump's point?
_______________________

* That's the more masculine idea of "heart," calling to mind this masculine-as-you-can-get-while-still-being-in-a-Broadway-musical song:



** Experts rely on this word so much these days. It makes me suspect that they intimidate and discipline each other into toeing a party line. Why don't these experts perform their expertise for the people when they are invited to speak in a general forum like the BBC? It's especially bad when you add moral opprobrium. Here, the message was, the experts all agree, so you should just adopt our conclusion, because it's what we say. But on top of that there's this dire warning: And if you don't accept our consensus, you're going to look like a racist. One of the reasons Trump won was because he offered the common people liberation from that kind of bullying from the elite.

139 comments:

Todd said...

I am sorry but I am 100% sure that if that same comment was tagged as having come from Obama, it would have been lauded by these very same historians as being so insightful and nuanced and what a brilliant "read" of the period it was.

bgates said...

Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Yale Historian: Obama Failed to Change Course of History

Psota said...

Blight must not be a proponent of the "Great Man" theory of history

Jose_K said...

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later.. he knows Jackson was dead.
The British avoided problems, West India slave owners were paid to free the slaves

tcrosse said...

Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and FDR managed it.

Hagar said...

Not ot mention Mao, no to mention Mao.

Balfegor said...

Here's a different take, although not, I suppose, from a credentialed historian:

But whether Trump knows it or not, there is a good historical parallel here: Andrew Jackson defused the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina by sending in federal troops and making his resolution clear. Had President James Buchanan showed this kind of fortitude—resupplying and reinforcing federal forces in the South and projecting his determination to hold the Union together in 1860—things might have gone very differently in 1861. Many observers made this point at the time; Buchanan’s feckless ineptitude, often contrasted with Jackson’s forthright resolution, is one of the main reasons Old Buck is considered the Worst President Ever.

Hagar said...

In Jackson's time he told the hotheads that any group of men who ventured to rise in armed insurrection against the United States, he was going to call out the Army, defeat them in the field, and hang their leaders. Being Andrew Jackson, they believed him and it became possible to come to a compromise, at least in the short term.

Fernandinande said...

The BBC spoke to David Blight (Yale), Judith Geisberg (Villanova), and Jim Grossman (American Historical Association).

Awww.

These things are said to be historical. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudohistory. So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and history that isn’t history. So I call these things Cargo Cult History, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of historical investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

History is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Their job is not to enlighten the public about Jackson and the causes of the Civil War. Their job is reassure People Who Don't Know Much About History that Trump got it wrong.

Henry said...

These answers strike me as doctrinaire and incurious.

That has been my reaction as well. A perfect example is this:

Historians have come to a consensus that slavery is the reason.

Yes, and what does that mean? The fact that slavery was the reason played out over four score years before the war started in a huge variety of manifestations. A change to any of the manifestations (Missouri Compromise, Kansas Nebraska Act, Fugitive Slave Law, John Brown, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Cotton Gin, Filibusters, No-nothingism, Manifest Destiny, etc. etc.) could easily have changed the course of the nineteenth century.

And if Andrew Jackson had respected the rights of the Cherokee nation in 1830, he could have changed U.S. history with impact on the Civil War (however it came about) directly.

tcrosse said...

It's commonplace to say that History Will Judge, while it's closer to the mark to say Historians Will Judge.

robother said...

No one who does not possess at least a Masters Degree in History is allowed to have any opinion on History: its a science, man!

Only the experts know for sure. It's deplorable that President Trump would presume to speculate on the causes of the Civil War and what President Jackson, who faced a nullification crisis of his own, might have done.

Bay Area Guy said...

Trump 1; erudite, uptight historians 0.

Obviously, the dispute over slavery was the main driver of the Civil War. There's no doubt there. But, there was another option besides a bloody war -- namely, let the South secede.

Then, there would have been no slavery in the United States of America. (But there would have been slavery in the Confederate States of America.)

More so, maybe slavery would have died out in the South, or maybe there would have been a rebellion in Dixie, down the road. Who knows? Reconstruction lasted for another 16 years or so, and was pretty unpleasant. Jim Crowe and the KKK lasted for another 100 or so years, and was violent and unjust.

I'm not saying this was a good option, but it was an option.

One can be against slavery, but skeptical of the need for war (myself).

So, it is fair to ask, historically, was the Civil War worth it?

p.s. As a matter of historical fact, though, while I have a lot of sympathy for our friends in the South, I would have sided with the North and supported the War, once it began.

p.p.s. Andrew Jackson, arguably one of the fathers of the modern day DEMOCRAT Party, would, of course, not be welcome in the DEMOCRAT party today, because racism.

buwaya said...

Ideological corruption of scholarship.
Imagine what they tell their students.
Imagine who they will permit into their departments.

"the closing of the American mind" on display.

Henry said...

Interestingly, Andrew Jackson unknowingly embarassed and defused the secessionist Hartford Convention by defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans.

David Begley said...

If Jackson had Twitter and cable TV, yeah could have prevented the Civil War.

Fernandinande said...

"David Blight, Judith Geisberg, and Jim Grossman"

"If I were wrong, it would only take one."

Henry said...

What I think is most interesting is not what Trump said, which is inconsequential, but that Trump has picked up on the Jackson comparisons. I wonder what he's been reading.

Is this the first time Trump has attached himself to Jackson? If not, what is the history?

tcrosse said...

There's no doubt there. But, there was another option besides a bloody war -- namely, let the South secede.

Had the Confederate States been allowed to secede peacefully, there still could have been a war when the CSA's territorial ambitions went crosswise with those of the USA.

Henry said...

Speaking of Churchill, his take on history always recognized the importance of the pivotal event. From The Guns of August:

By 6 o’clock therefore on the morning of August 7 the Goeben, already the fastest capital unit in the Mediterranean, was steaming on an unobstructed course for the Dardanelles, carrying with her for the peoples of the East and Middle East more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.

Churchill: "The terrible 'Ifs' accumulate."
Modern Academics: "Historians have come to a consensus."

Chuck said...

Althouse elides the larger point about Trump and history. And that is the fact that Trump takes these little snippets (and butchers them, as often as not) and glides right over some superficial point before moving on.

I dare say, nobody could get Trump to talk intelligently about Andrew Jackson for ten minutes straight. You could in fact end the whole discussion in the first fifteen seconds, by asking Trump, "Which biographies of Andrew Jackson have you read?"

Last night, John Meachum ("American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House")speculated that Trump had never given a thought to President Jackson until after the election, when Steve Bannon chatted up Trump with the comparison. We could ask Trump about that; but I expect that it would go much like the conversation between John Dickerson and Trump from last weekend. And THAT one is a conversation that I wish Althouse would deconstruct line-by-line. It is such a beautiful illustration of the Trump sociopathology.

I actually do like Todd's first comment on this page. I don't think Todd is wrong. There is always an elitist media spin against Republicans. Which would include Trump, to the extent that he is a Republican. But that doesn't account for the unique Trump pathology. Another Republican -- I am thinking of history-minded Republicans like Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich -- could at least carry on a conversation with understandable limits as to what they know and don't know, regardless of how the press might treat them. With Trump, it is all about his own personal weirdness. Which is of course a direct and proximate result of his desire to sound like the most authoritative guy in the room even when he hasn't cracked a book in 40 years.


Francisco D said...

It is hard to take these historians seriously because they took this opportunity to bash Trump (to the applause of their colleagues) rather than talk about how the Civil War developed.

Jackson was finishing his first year as POTUS when the Brits abolished slavery in 1830. Gee, do you think slavery and its implications for the union was on his mind?


Sumner said...

It's especially telling that all three of these historians don't take mention the Nullification Crisis, or John C. Calhoun, once.

Crazy Jane said...

Every generation gets its own view of history, which inevitably is refracted through the zeitgeist of its moment.

Trump is getting the usual treatment from the usual suspects. He does run his mouth more than I'd prefer, but I'm not sure the reaction would be different if his comments were more measured. He is not a member of the insiders' club.

The Empire always strikes back. Maybe 100 years from now, there will be a different moment when historians are less absorbed with their certainty on these matters (and more absorbed with other ones). Maybe some balanced view will emerge then.

By then we all will be dead, of course.

DanTheMan said...

>>[Consensus] ** Experts rely on this word so much these days.

Not just experts. Where I work, it's the magic word, in that if there is consensus to do something, then it's the right thing to do. Even if it is clearly not a good solution.
It ends up being a built-in impediment to progress: No one person can say yes and "make it happen", but everybody can say no and the project never starts.


Balfegor said...

I wonder also whether the furious reaction to Trump musing about whether there might have been a way to avoid the massive bloodshed and death of the American Civil War also stems from an attitude -- one I sort of see edging into the public sphere nowadays -- that it was good that so many gallons of American blood were spilt, that the Americans, especially the Southerners, were wicked people who deserved to suffer and die for slavery. There are Americans today who no longer see characters like Lee and Jackson and Davis and Stephens and Benjamin as fellow Americans who tragically took up arms for a mistaken cause, but as rebel scum who ought to have been broken on the rack. They feel charity for none, and malice towards all, and perhaps feel even that "every drop of blood drawn with the lash" ought to have been paid not by one, but by ten more drawn with the sword.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Great post. Trump is in many ways an ordinary person, not trained as an academic, intellectual or journalist. What good does it do for those people to keep saying: he's not one of us? He appears to speak simply off the top of his head, but there is often a strategy. In this case (one would guess) a President who was not an intellectual, and was consistently under-estimated by intellectuals, riding a populist wave, could accomplish great things. Trump gets things wrong--he's busy, and he doesn't answer to any boss who can say things must be done a certain way. The professors, on the other hand, are trained, and if they speak in public as professor so and so, are expected to maintain certain standards. Yet they fit their remarks tightly into anti-Trump group speak. Trump seems to have a button he can push to reveal that people should not be granted any automatic deference, or presumption of credibility, because they are experts.

rhhardin said...

Pence is coming off as a pissant talking to Rush at half past the hour.

Does not answer the repeated question about the budget deal.

Rush says come off it.

James K said...

"Historians have come to a consensus"

The equivalent of "The science is settled." Blech.

YoungHegelian said...

The number of words written in English on the American Civil War is, last I heard, second only to the number of words written on the Bible.

Any "consensus" on the Civil War is naught more than a Gentleman's (& Lady's) Agreement to not discuss those other "unpleasantries".

But to line up historians to go after the POTUS for what is clearly an historical hypothetical, what a crock! Hey, I gots an hypothetical: if the South had had WWII 155mm howitzers in ready supply, they would have won the war. You got a problem with that?

Matthew Sablan said...

I don't think you need historians to reach consensus about something stated plainly in the Cornerstone speech, or if you do, they're clearly not historians who understand the value of primary sources.

Bay Area Guy said...

In a nutshell, Trump's comments are mostly benign musings. You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

James K said...

"I dare say, nobody could get Trump to talk intelligently about Andrew Jackson for ten minutes straight."

Not something I really look for in a President. The intellectual and pseudo-intellectual Presidents like Wilson and Obama have been among the worst in our history. I doubt Harry Truman could have talked for 10 minutes about Jackson either.

The bottom line is that Trump raised valid points, even if they weren't expressed as articulately as a history professor might like.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Interesting comment, Balfegor. I remember that when Ken Burns' "The Civil War" was shown, some Southerners complained of its' bias. I have a Northern bias myself, but I thought Burns, a leftist New England Yankee, certainly showed the nobility of people like Lee and the humanity of the Southern soldiers. Many of them were fighting, not "for slavery," but because they wanted to defend their homes from what they saw as a foreign invasion. Burns made it clear you could admire their bravery while disagreeing with their cause.

"The Civil War," so lauded in the early '90's, is now "reactionary" because it's far more emotionally satisfying for leftists to simply dismiss all those Southerners as racist monsters.

n.n said...

So, slavery (i.e. redistributive change, [class] diversity/discrimination) is tolerable, but separation creates a [moral] mandate for mass abortion. And whatever happened in Libya and Ukraine.

Weird choices.

Neither internally, externally, nor mutually consistent. Perhaps that's the best that mere mortals can do to reconcile moral, natural, and personal imperatives.

Hate Loves Abortion

buwaya said...

"if the South had had WWII 155mm howitzers"
Overkill.
They only needed AK-47s.

Ref "The Guns of the South", Harry Turtledove

The classic of counterfactual alternate histories - "Bring the Jubilee", Ward Moore, needs neither.

Jack Wayne said...

History, and historians, are bunk.

YoungHegelian said...

@exile,

"The Civil War," so lauded in the early '90's, is now "reactionary" because it's far more emotionally satisfying for leftists to simply dismiss all those Southerners as racist monsters.

What I find interesting is that it's the most recent crop of lefty historians who insist on seeing history through a moral lens. The Marxist historians thought that moral lenses were bullshit in any case, but they most certainly were in the case of the American Civil War.

The old guard Marxist historians often saw the antebellum South as one of the last holdouts against "First World" industrialization. They also were very serious in their emphasis on "slavery" in the phrase "wage slavery" for industrialized labor. Thus, they didn't see the industrial North as being more moral than the pre-industrial South, in spite of pretensions to the contrary. For the Marxists, anti-slavery was just one more bourgeois moral pretension to hide the eternal & necessary expansion of capitalism to yet one more "colony".

David said...

When I was young and just getting into the study of history, there was a spirited debate among the best American historians of the time about whether slavery was the cause of the Civil War. In my high school American history class in 1961, we had to write a paper on the causes of the Civil War. With footnotes and bibliography and all that stuff. I loved doing that paper, and loved comparing the arguments. Little did I know that one side of the argument was totally wrong. It's so much simpler now when there are historians to tell you exactly what the rules are.

Matthew Sablan said...

I mean, saying slavery was the cause of the Civil War is a technically correct over simplification (sort of like saying burdensome taxes caused the American Revolution.) You don't need "consensus" for that any more than you need "consensus" that George Washington was the first president, or that "The Volunteers" is about the Whiskey Rebellion.

Rabel said...

No one even has a guess about what might support "big heart."

Trump visited The Hermitage. There he learned that Jackson had a "big heart."

Children.

Trump's a family man. This is not complicated.

Rick Turley said...

Yes, there aren't many that could take a bullet to the chest, steady themselves, and then deliver a fatal shot of their own.

PS - If you ever come down to Nashville and need to find an address on Old Hickory Boulevard, good luck finding it.

Infinite Monkeys said...

History looks inevitable to us because we know what happened. At the time it was happening, the people living it had a range of possibilities. Choices were made, those choices had consequences. If you don't think other choices could have been made that would lead to other results, then you must think our future is inevitable too. We might as well give up worrying about what Trump (or any politician) will do. Whatever will be, will be.

David said...

Another example of trump bringing supposedly smart people down to his own level, and below.

I am familiar with David Blight but not the others. Blight is a first rate scholar. But this is a second or third rate response. Trump just makes them crazy.

eric said...

What happens if the consensus is, there is no consensus?

wwww said...

Historians don't do alternative histories. That's not the discipline. Don't expect a cat to be a dog. The cat isn't a dog.

Don't get mad at the cat for doing cat things. Historians study history, not alternative histories.

Why couldn't Jackson have stoped the Civil War?

He was dead.

It's relevant that Jackson is dead, not just because he died, but because he lived in a different generation then the Civil War era.

Jackson remembered the American Revolution. The people who fought in the American Revolution wouldn't have started the Civil War. How do we know this? Because they didn't start a Civil War.

But they're dead. Time passes. People die. Generations die.

1830-1860: The industrial revolution, Railroads, Steamboats, urbanization, John Brown, Dred Scott. A new generation grew up that would fight the war of 1861-1865.

This was not Jackson's generation. It wasn't his time or his fate. Or his history.

Jackson would have been a different man, with a different history, if he had been born in a different generation.

The past is written.

exiledonmainstreet said...

YH, Marxist Civil War historian Eugene Genovese took that position. ( Interestingly enough, Genovese and his historian wife, Elizabeth Fox Genovese, later converted to Catholicism and ended up on the right. The Brooklyn-born Genovese never lost his admiration for Southern agrarianism and the old Southern codes of honor.)

I think the shift in perspective has to do with the shift in Southern voting patterns. Idiots like to talk about the GOP's "Southern Strategy" as if the South switched en masse to the GOP before the ink was dry on LBJ's Civil Rights bill. In fact, it was a very gradual process. Yes, the South went GOP in '72 and '84, but so did Wisconsin and California. It wasn't until the 2000 election that the Solid GOP South as we know it today emerged; remember the consternation that Gore neglected to carry Tennessee? Nobody would expect a Dem to carry Tennessee today. It took decades for Southern state houses to turn GOP.

I remember that the South was briefly hip after Carter's election. Time did a magazine cover on "The New South" and CW music, CB radio and sitcoms with lovable rednecks were in vogue. The same thing happened to a lesser extent after Clinton and Gore were elected; there were barbeque places opening up and affectionate jokes about what a "Bubba" Billy Jeff was.

That amused (somehow condescending) affection has disappeared because the Southern Democrats have. The current animus does not really have much to do with the sins of Southerners of 1861, but with the need to punish the Southerners of 2017.

wwww said...

Because they didn't start a Civil War.

Well, they didn't start The Civil War, War of the Rebellion, War for the Union, the Recent Unpleasantness, War of Yankee Aggression.

They started the American Revolution. They were born a different generation, lived a different fate, a different history, a different story, a different time.

Crazy Jane said...


The always-thoughtful Balfegor said:

"The (current Civil War view is) charity for none, and malice towards all, and perhaps feel even that 'every drop of blood drawn with the lash' ought to have been paid not by one, but by ten more drawn with the sword."

This reads true to me.

Slavery was evil and had to end, but it is cost-free to oppose that evil now. It is cost-free to want vengeance now. It is cost-free to demand that John Calhoun's name (but not Elihu Yale's) be expunged from Yale University. It also ignores the considerable cost to families in the North whose sons -- along with Irish immigrants bribed to fulfill rich New Yorkers' military obligations -- paid with their lives to resolve the issue.

We're a bunch of posturing pussies compared to our ancestors, and we should regard their hard choices with greater respect.

wwww said...

I am familiar with David Blight but not the others. Blight is a first rate scholar. But this is a second or third rate response. Trump just makes them crazy.

Blight is brilliant & so are the others.

Ask a historian to do alternative history and you'll make him crazy. Don't mix up time periods on historians unless you want to drive them mad.

John said...

Karl Marx wrote a bunch of pretty good essays on the war between the states (civil war he called it) published in various newspapers of the day.

I think you can find them at gutenberg.org well worth reading. If not gutenberg.org search try archive. Org

Thanks to young hegelian for jogging my memory

John Henry

exiledonmainstreet said...

"It is cost-free to demand that John Calhoun's name (but not Elihu Yale's) be expunged from Yale University."

That also supports my thesis that the left is out to punish Southerners for their non-progressive voting habits today and slavery is simply the most convenient stick to beat them with.

chuck said...

In my experience, historians know much and understand little. Their opinions range from silly to worthless.

Todd said...

wwww said...

Historians don't do alternative histories. That's not the discipline. Don't expect a cat to be a dog. The cat isn't a dog.

Don't get mad at the cat for doing cat things. Historians study history, not alternative histories.

Why couldn't Jackson have stoped the Civil War?

He was dead.

5/2/17, 12:28 PM


So how can a "historian" say Trump was wrong?

If I said, "Had Lincoln not been shot, the reconstruction would have been 'easier'.", how can a "historian" say I am wrong? I didn't say something as outlandish as "Had Lincoln not been shot, men would have been on the moon in 1902." I stated an opinion as to how history might have been different if older, wiser heads were still involved in [the then] current issues. One could argue that there is sufficient supporting material to say my opinion is unlikely but you could not say I was wrong. Just so, how can these historians state that Trump is wrong?

Also this "If one sees the Civil War as a war of liberation, which is what it was, then it shouldn't have been avoided. Had you compromised out the differences between the government and the confederacy, or between anti-slavery forces and southern slaveholders, the victims would have been the enslaved people of the south." is from a historian? What the hell. That is not a historian speaking of the facts of history. This is someone assigning their opinion the weight of their "title" which is the very thing they are piling on Trump for.

This as well: "When people say it was about state's rights, in 1861 states had nothing else to defend but slavery. They seceded because they thought the election of Lincoln threatened the institution of slavery. There are people who are not happy with that answer, who would like to see the Civil War as having been about something else."

Must be nice to be so smug that you just know you are right and no other opinions are possible. I mean it is not like we are discussing something as ambiguous as math. Nope we are talking about the rock solid "human" recorded history here. No wiggle room for interpretation at all.

chuck said...

> Karl Marx wrote a bunch of pretty good essays on the war between the states (civil war he called it) published in various newspapers of the day.

Although much of what he wrote was common knowledge in the Union, if not in Europe. For instance, the economic importance of keeping the Mississippi open for the North was understood by many, not least by Grant and Sherman.

I Callahan said...

Pence is coming off as a pissant talking to Rush at half past the hour. Does not answer the repeated question about the budget deal. Rush says come off it.

Crap!! I wish I would have listened to that. Obviously his comments yesterday struck a nerve...

johns said...

There was PLENTY of controversy and political conflict over the issue of slavery while A. Jackson was president. But as far as I know he didn't make it one of his priorities to do anything about it. So I don't think there is much basis for the hypothetical about the CW.

For me, there is nothing wrong with Trump ruminating about his admiration for Jackson, even if he gets some of the facts wrong. After Trump speaks, he moves on to something else, leaving in his wake a rooster tail of spluttering pundits and historians.

buwaya said...

"Historians don't do alternative histories. That's not the discipline. Don't expect a cat to be a dog. The cat isn't a dog. "

Yes they do. Historians analyze history. People read history for lessons useful today.
Thats why there are schools of historical analysis, why the Annales school, why (the historian) Marc Bloch wrote "Strange Defeat", a failure analysis.

X succeeded or failed due to Y; had Y not applied, Z would likely have resulted.

Much like engineers do failure analysis, and for similar reasons. It is quite a strong thread even in academic history.

There are quite a few "schools" or modes, or purposes, of doing history.

Its useful to survey a few different approaches.

ConradBibby said...

@ Chuck: You may be right as to the limited depth of Trump's knowledge of Andrew Jackson. However, if you're suggesting that his superficial grasp of this or any topic significantly differentiates him from his supposedly educated and intelligent critics, you are sadly mistaken. The same folks who profess outrage over Trump's statements about Jackson and the Civil War seem to have no reluctance in opining on all manner of subjects on which they are, at best, only casually informed. Think of all the opinions that journalists and pundits have made about AGW. How many of the "educated" and "informed" people who have sounded off on global warming have any real knowledge and qualifications on that subject? The same applies to practically any historical topic, not to mention important contemporary subjects such as Islam, military strategy, economic policy, the effects of immigration, etc. The liberal smug-ocracy is teeming with people who can make dogmatic pronouncements on any or all of these subjects based solely on reading a Vox article or two.

The fact is, it's really not possible for anyone to have in-depth knowledge on more than a tiny number of topics, regardless of the quality of one's college education or the number of books one gets around to reading. As for everything else, you pick up what you can on the subjects that interest you, try to synthesize new information into what you already know, and draw useful conclusions where you can.

Mitch H. said...

None of these people are experts on pre-Civil War politics, the succession crisis, or really, anything outside of their narrow little SJW patches. Blight is a slavery-during-the-War guy, Giesberg is a 'women of the war' type, and as far as I can tell, Grossman is nothing but a placeman at the American Historical Association. If he has any publications on the subject, Amazon has no idea about them. So, we're talking about two calico-carvers and an apparatchik.

I haven't been keeping up to date on the more recent work in the discipline, but last time I checked, serious historians were talking up the "Blundering Generation" idea again, over single-issue causation like slavery or tariffs or what have you. Trump's clearly been listening to "Blundering Generation" people, and kind of mangled it a bit.

Expecting someone like Buchanan to be a Jackson is a misunderstanding of how the Democratic Party of the 1850s operated. It was the extinct Whigs who relied on militant "strong men" to carry their flags. The Democrats generally preferred to nominate nonentities who wouldn't threaten the interests of the Democratic factional coalition, which largely fell apart during Buchanan's hapless term of office. They put him into office to not interfere with the operations of their various divergent constituencies, and he didn't, not even when they pulled the party and the country apart in the process.

Francisco D said...

Buyawa wrote: "Ref "The Guns of the South", Harry Turtledove"

Excellent book!

I am much more of a Civil War buff than an alternative history fan, but Harry Turtledove did a great job. He seems to have read James McPherson, Shelby Foote, Bruce Catton and other estimable historians of the US Civil War.

Another great fictional account was "Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. The movie "Gettysburg" was (almost word for word) its cinematic equivalent.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Really? So then it doesn't make a difference who gets elected president?

I Callahan said...

You may be right as to the limited depth of Trump's knowledge of Andrew Jackson. However, if you're suggesting that his superficial grasp of this or any topic significantly differentiates him from his supposedly educated and intelligent critics, you are sadly mistaken. The same folks who profess outrage over Trump's statements about Jackson and the Civil War seem to have no reluctance in opining on all manner of subjects on which they are, at best, only casually informed.

Good stuff, Conrad. But this is lost on Chuck. He has a terminal case of TDS. You see, if anyone else had said the exact same things about Andrew Jackson, Chuck would not have had any issue with it, being a lifelong Republican and all. But because it's Trump, the knee started jerking, the eye twitched, the crazy laugh happened, and any ability to logically reason went out the window. Picture Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies - it's as apt a comparison as I can make...

Jon Burack said...

History is also my field, and I find these responses by these historians unbelievably superficial and willfully contemptuous. Take this one alone:

"People don't realise, you know, the Civil War - if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there a Civil War?" Giesberg says the inquiry is over: "Historians have come to a consensus** that slavery is the reason." Don't be a Civil War denier."

It is mindboggling to me that these historians think Trump was asking what the CAUSES of the Civil War were. That is clearly NOT what he was asking. Yes, slavery was the key cause. I agree with that. It is clear to me what Trump asks is why the issue of slavery had to result in a Civil War. There is not even a shred of consensus in answer to that. One example. Had the Democratic Party united behind one candidate instead of splitting, Lincoln would very likely not have become president. So whatever slavery was to cause it would have caused something other than secession and Civil War in 1861. It is reasonable and in fact it ought to be required for historians to speculate and consider alternative plausible outcomes, and as well to consider whether other ways of ending slavery were possible and even desirable. It seems clear to me Trump was gropping to express (which is what he does mainly) the idea that more desirable ways of resolving the slavery issue might have been achievable if war could have been avoided. One person who agreed totally with that was Abraham Lincoln, who sought to end slavery via gradual and compensated emancipation voluntarily adopted - and well into the Civil War itself he still held out hope of achieving that way. I say if it was good enough for Lincoln to consider, it is good enough for Trump to also - and I have nothing but contempt for "historians" who speak as these apparently do imperiously from on high as if simple causal explanations settle everything in history and debates about history. Shame on them.

chuck said...

> There was PLENTY of controversy and political conflict over the issue of slavery while A. Jackson was president. But as far as I know he didn't make it one of his priorities to do anything about it.

The first serious threat of secession was the Nullification crisis. Yes, South Carolina again, and that was over tariffs. Jackson handled that by threatening invasion. I expect a military threat by Jackson held some force at the time.

Whether or not such a personality could have avoided the CW is at best speculative. Sam Houston was pro-Union and had no success in keeping Texas out of the Confederacy. But what the heck, speculation is what thinking people do.

Henry said...

"If one sees the Civil War as a war of liberation, which is what it was, then it shouldn't have been avoided. Had you compromised out the differences between the government and the confederacy, or between anti-slavery forces and southern slaveholders, the victims would have been the enslaved people of the south."

The United States was notable among Western nations for requiring a war to end slavery.

wwww said...

Yes they do. Historians analyze history. People read history for lessons useful today.
Thats why there are schools of historical analysis, why the Annales school, why (the historian) Marc Bloch wrote "Strange Defeat", a failure analysis.


As best this is an example of Dr. Who Alternative Sci-Fi history in which Andrew Jackson is teleported to 1860 and stops the Civil War.

And we weren't talking about useful lessons for today. The question posed is: Could Jackson have changed history and stoped the U.S. Civil War of 1861?

If Jackson was 40 years old in 1860, what compromise could he offer that would satisfy the free labor-in-the-west contingent?

Would Wisconsin have voted for Jackson in 1860? Or would Wisconsin have voted for Lincoln?

Do you think the northern mid-west would have voted for Jackson? Illinois? Wisconsin? Ohio?

How could one southern politician have stoped the war?

wwww said...


What compromise could have been offered by Jackson that would have worked?

Why would these compromises work when the 1850 and other did not?

What compromise would Jackson have been able to get through the House and the Senate?

What was he going to do about SCOTUS and the Dred Scott decision? What was he going to do about the threat of slaveholders bringing slaves to northern western states?

What was he going to do about John Brown and the panic in the South over free labor abolitionists?

Why would Jackson have been able to solve the problem when no other politician of the age could not?

Why do you think Jackson would have wanted to preserve the Union, if he was 40 years old in 1860? Why do you think Jackson wouldn't have been for succession, having lived through the events of 1845-1860?

johns said...

Chuck, I don't see the nullification crisis as saying that much about whether Jackson could have produced a different outcome in 1861.
I follow the school that says that the large cotton plantation field gang system was tremendously profitable for slave owners. They would not have accepted a buyout, and if the Brazilian method of ending slavery had been tried, the South would have left the Union no matter who was in the White House. I think it is pretty hard to think of a hypothetical that does not include war, especially since both sides thought the war would be very brief, just like WWI.

buwaya said...

"Could Jackson have changed history and stoped the U.S. Civil War of 1861?"

Look at it today - what could Trump do to avert the coming USCW II of 2025?

This seems a perfectly reasonable question. And topical. It goes to the matter of a leaders foresight and wisdom. It is impossible for a realist to see history as static; as it is simply the record of the results of a dynamic situation. The best reason to study history, for a leader, is to get a sense of, precisely, this dynamic situation, of what options were available and what consequences seemed likely. It is a role-playing game if you like.

Its one reason wargames are popular, to explore the what-if of a given past situation. How could it have been changed by application of a different strategy or tactic?

Ref, for an excellent commercial model, a simulation in great detail and complexity, of WWII in the Pacific - "War in the Pacific, Admiral's Edition" - Matrix Games. Less a game, really, than an educational tool and a vehicle for what-ifs.

wwww said...

They say "slavery," but they won't say one word about why there was no solution to the problem of slavery other than war. Doesn't that prove Trump's point?

Let's say the USA did not have an American Revolution.

Let's say it was part of the British Empire.

Let's say the British Empire outlaws slavery in its colonies in the 1830s.

What does the USA do?

Do southern slaveholders free their slaves?

Or does the USA revolt?

David Blight calculated the value of slaves at 3.5 Billion on the eve of the Civil War. By 1830s cotton is King. By 1850 half the millionaires in America lived in Natchez Mississippi.

Would they free their slaves voluntarily? Never say never but not likely.

History is what happened. What happened happened because of historical circumstances that made the outcome probable.

John said...

Blogger Henry said...

The United States was notable among Western nations for requiring a war to end slavery.

I said something similar yesterday too. I think an important question that should be asked of these historians is something like:

"When it came to black slavery, the US was a rather minor player. We brought in less that 1mm, which increased to about 4mm while Brazil brought in 8-10mm.

Yet Brazil and virtually the entire civilized world, as well as much of the uncivilized world, eliminated slavery without a war.

What was special about the US that we could not eliminate slavery without a war?"

That is a question I would love to see asked but doubt that I ever will.

Just pointing out that the US was a relatively minor player would probably get me shouted down as a racist. Everybody knows that the US was the only country where slavery ever existed.

John Henry

wwww said...

"Could Jackson have changed history and stoped the U.S. Civil War of 1861?"

Look at it today - what could Trump do to avert the coming USCW II of 2025?


But they are two entirely different questions. Everything is different. Foreign policy, communication, weapons. The nuclear age calls for different strategies and tactics.

Henry said...

wwww -- to ask your questions is to raise the questions. That's the opposite of consensus.

Birches said...

Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

I'll be sure to tell Churchill. Or Hitler for that matter.

John said...

Just to be clear:

I am John Henry, I am not the same person as Henry.

I do seem to spend a lot of time talking to myself. Sometimes the only intelligent conversation I get all day. That's not the case on Althouse.

John Henry

Mitch H. said...

johns, the large plantation system was *transiently* profitable. Everybody involved knew that it chewed up land like a buzz-saw. Cotton and tabacco, farmed by slave labor, was exceedingly demanding, and it exhausted good farmland, often within a generation and a half. The vast 'barrens' where the Civil War was fought in the east were the wreckage tobacco had made of the formerly rich bottomlands of old Virginia. Virginia and Kentucky needed the new slave-states to the west, to sell off their surplus and nonproductive human chattel. And the owners of the new plantations in Alabama and Mississippi and so forth knew that they needed fresh new slave-states to *their* west, to absorb their excess headcount when their croplands bottomed out like previous family farms had done for their brothers or fathers. Which is why the Louisiana Compromise states were so important, why Texas was a cause worth fighting for, why even they tried to force slavery into Kansas. (Southeastern Kansas is suitable cotton-growing country, and even today, grows a little cotton.)

The problem was, aside from eastern Texas and that little corner of Kansas, there just wasn't that much suitable land to the anxious slavers' west. They were running up to the transition-zone before they hit the dread Hundredth Meridian. Something similarly consensus-smashing occurred when the Northern smallholders expansion ran up against their natural limits in the Eastern Dakotas and points south. But that just resulted in a generation of misery and increasingly radical populist politics, not succession mania.

There were some Southern manumission societies, mostly in the Upper South where slavery was fading away, but they were socially neculturny. So long as the bills for the candles and dinners at their cotillions were still being paid out of current receipts, the band played on.

wwww said...

What was special about the US that we could not eliminate slavery without a war?"


It's a great question. The number of books on the Civil War is huge, but a good one is James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom.

The USA is historically special, and it resulted in this dramatic, bloody, fascinating War.

buwaya said...

"But they are two entirely different questions. "

Only in detail. They are similar (among other things) from the angle of being a likely negative outcome, a possibility of a social disaster on the horizon. I am sure that the politicians of 1850 would have dismissed the situation of 1865 as a perverse fantasy.

If we propose the idea of a US Civil War II in the near-ish future, it would also seem fantastic. But its not, of course.

History is, among other things, a guide to what CAN happen. To get into whats valuable about it, it is to understand the situation such that one can get a feeling of what could have happened instead.

wwww said...

wwww -- to ask your questions is to raise the questions. That's the opposite of consensus.


I agree that the War wouldn't have happened if African slavery had never existed in North America.

Steve said...

Here's what Andrew Jackson did to prevent the secession the southern state undertook later: "Jackson met head-on the challenge of John C. Calhoun, leader of forces trying to rid themselves of a high protective tariff.

When South Carolina undertook to nullify the tariff, Jackson ordered armed forces to Charleston and privately threatened to hang Calhoun. Violence seemed imminent until Clay negotiated a compromise: tariffs were lowered and South Carolina dropped nullification."

This is from the georgewbush-Whitehouse.archives.gov site, so maybe the current president is getting help from the prior.

Char Char Binks said...

Pretending that Trump questioning why war was the only SOLUTION to the conflict with the South is the same as denying that slavery was the CAUSE of the war is akin to pretending to be able to hear the difference between, "their", and "they're".

pacwest said...

Didn't Trump just say in an interview a month or so ago that he was or had just read a biography about Jackson? Doesn't he have a bust or painting of Jackson? I would assume he has some knowledge of the man and period.

wwww said...


War wasn't the solution. War was the historical outcome.

Given the historical circumstances, I don't see another outcome. Someone else might see another outcome that would fly, but I don't see it.

exhelodrvr1 said...

www,
"Let's say the British Empire outlaws slavery in its colonies in the 1830s."

That wouldn't have happened, because Great Britain benefited too much economically from the South. Note their quasi-support and lack of opposition to the south during the war.

Mitch H. said...

There's an old saw that supposedly on his death-bed, Andrew Jackson fulminated that his two regrets from his presidency was that he had neither hung Calhoun, nor shot Clay. It's a great line, but there's some dubiousness about the authenticity. This guy did a bit of research, and makes the case that Jackson said to multiple people, on multiple occasions that he had wanted to 'hang Calhoun', and that he thought he might have gotten away with it. But the bit about Clay seems be be later generations' political ecumenicalism, making Jackson sound even-handedly hostile to the ardent protectionist Whig Clay and the monomanically states-rights secessionist Calhoun alike. Actual testimony from the end of Jackson's life suggests - but does not state outright - that he regretted his endless hostility towards Clay.

Darcy said...

johns said...
After Trump speaks, he moves on to something else, leaving in his wake a rooster tail of spluttering pundits and historians.

HA! Yes. To my great amusement.

John said...

Blogger pacwest said...

Didn't Trump just say in an interview a month or so ago that he was or had just read a biography about Jackson? Doesn't he have a bust or painting of Jackson? I would assume he has some knowledge of the man and period.

Geez, Pacwest,

Don't you know that President Trump is too stupid to read? How would you expect a person with his 80 IQ to read anything more than comic books? The only reason he is where is he is is because of his father.

Get with the program, kiddo.

We can't be spreading rumors that President Trump know how to read.

John Henry

pacwest said...

"can't be spreading rumors that President Trump know how to read."

I forgot, sorry.

tcrosse said...

For heavens sake, the word is Secession, not Succession. Adjust spell-check accordingly.

The Godfather said...

The reason that the US didn't end slavery without a war is that the southern states attempted to secede from the Union, and the government of the United States wasn't willing to allow them to do so. The emancipation of the slaves was a fortunate consequence of an unfortunate war, but it was not the objective of the war (as the war wore on, emancipation became a secondary objective).

Had the southern states not made the tragic decision to attempt to secede, then over time circumstances might have changed in ways that would have permitted a gradual, voluntary, perhaps compensated emancipation, and likely colonization of most of the freed slaves to Africa. But nothing like that would have been acceptable to the southern power structure in the 1860's (and it's unlikely the northern electorate would have been enthusiastic at that time about the cost of such a program).

JaimeRoberto said...

No one even has a guess about what might support "big heart."

Andrew Jackson adopted two boys, the second of which was an Indian boy orphaned in the Creek War. These historians were unaware of this? That doesn't speak well of their expertise.

William Chadwick said...

Here's something on the subject:

https://pjmedia.com/trending/2017/05/01/president-trump-is-right-andrew-jackson-might-have-prevented-the-civil-war/

(Sorry, I can't make the link "clickable.")

It's interesting to me that identifying someone in the past as a slave-owner seems to automatically invalidate anything that person ever did or said. This from "liberals" whose love of liberty is . . . well, pretty negligible.

Angel-Dyne said...

Balfegor: I wonder also whether the furious reaction to Trump musing about whether there might have been a way to avoid the massive bloodshed and death of the American Civil War also stems from an attitude -- one I sort of see edging into the public sphere nowadays -- that it was good that so many gallons of American blood were spilt, that the Americans, especially the Southerners, were wicked people who deserved to suffer and die for slavery. There are Americans today who no longer see characters like Lee and Jackson and Davis and Stephens and Benjamin as fellow Americans who tragically took up arms for a mistaken cause, but as rebel scum...

Yes, but I wouldn't describe this attitude as "sort of...edging into the public sphere nowadays". I've noticed it bearing down a lot more aggressively than that in the last few years. It marks a huge change from the attitude that was extant among Americans throughout most of my lifetime, and I definitely see something ugly, vicious, and vindictive in it.

And something very strange. I don't really know exactly where it comes from and exactly what motivates it. It's as if a bunch of Martians made a wrong turn on the way to some Martian cultural revolution, landed on Earth, and started going on some crazy Martian-Maoist zealot scorched-earth campaign against some Earth nation's historical self-understanding, because...damned if I know. Maybe it's just the first generation of all those Howard Zinn be-zombied schoolchildren to get out of grad school, or something.

Anyway, fuck 'em.

furious_a said...

Damn, half of the able-bodied white male population of the South was killed or maimed in that war, its largest cities burned to the ground, its farms and winter foodstocks looted and burned, its railroads and manufacturing torn up and destroyed, its small property holders driven off their land...and 152 years later the vicious lefty bastards are *still* baying for blood.

Crimso said...

"Ref, for an excellent commercial model, a simulation in great detail and complexity, of WWII in the Pacific - "War in the Pacific, Admiral's Edition" - Matrix Games. Less a game, really, than an educational tool and a vehicle for what-ifs."

Please don't do that to these good people. WITP should not be resorted to so casually. It is a true monster game, with a learning curve as steep as Eve. IOW, don't try this at home. Grigsby's WITE and WITW are equally deep, though each of the three has differences in mechanics.

But I agree it is an excellent educational tool, if you can wrap your brain around it.

Amadeus 48 said...

An appeal to the consensus of opinion is not a strong argument in favor of the truth of any proposition. It proves nothing, for a majority of men and women may be uninformed or may be fools or knaves.


This just in from our correspondent Socrates, somewhere in Athens:

"Is Truth determined by consensus? Is not consensus merely the accumulation of the common opinion in the marketplace--what most men and women think about a particular subject? Is not Truth something that exists apart from the common opinions of men and women? Are not many men and women fools or knaves, and are not others poorly informed? How are we to know Truth if we don't carefully question the consensus of opinion?"

A committee is being formed to determine whether Socrates is guilty of leading the youth of Athens astray and making the worse appear to be the better argument. The committee will make its decision by consensus.

furious_a said...

"plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Man's not much of a historian. Just off the top of my head:

Themistocles
Charles Martel
William the Bastard
Genghis Khan
Prince Henry the Navigator
Suleiman the Magnificent
Martin Luther
Sir Francis Drake
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
Winston Churchill
Ayahtollah Ruhollah Khomeini
///

buwaya said...

"the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Ancient argument, the "great man" theory. Napoleon is the obvious counter. His effect was unique, one of those remarkably effective (and lucky) men that are so far above the common run that it does not seem he could have been replaced.

Demonstrably true also in specific cases, of the right man at the right moment, instead of some superman like Napoleon.

My favorite is - Louis Desaix, June 14 1800
Napoleon was losing, badly, at Marengo. At the point of disaster, Desaix arrived with reinforcements, brought on by his initiative and energy, at the very nick of time, with less than an hour to spare, probably, and led them to a crushing victory.

A decisive defeat for Napoleon in Italy, which Marengo was shaping up to be, at that point, after the disappointment of the Egyptian campaign, would probably have ended his career and changed European history. How, who knows.

furious_a said...

plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

Heck, Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top on Gettysburg's second day changed the course of history when he ordered the outnumbered and out-of-ammo 20th Maine fix bayonets and charge. Sometimes history pivots on a very small fulcrum.

Reckon they only teach facts and dates like that at directional schools, not fancy universities like Yale or Villanova.

gadfly said...

Jackson was the first "great" president. Jackson's authoritarian will, his eagerness with the veto pen, his unprincipled use of federal power against non-whites, and his ugly patronage schemes changed forever the character of the Republic. Jackson pushed America's fragile Republican institutions down in front of the march of mass democracy. He put the executive branch on a tilt that eventually made it superior to Congress, and made the president himself into a kind of populist king and symbol of the people's will. The American nation has suffered from infantilized Congresses, cowardly judiciaries, and "great presidencies" ever since. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Nancy Reyes said...

you are assuming the civil war was about slavery.
It was actually about states rights, in an era when one saw oneself as a citizen of your local state, not of the Union.
And Jackson backed a strong Union against states rights. http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/andrew-jackson-john-c-calhoun-states-rights-1829/1745027.html

so Trump is right. They would never have dared tried succession with old Hickory in the WH.

Daniel Jackson said...

Personally, I thought Trump was referring to the crisis of nullification about which a fairly readable review is available on wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullification_Crisis

Moreover, I remember slogging through Bailey's American Pageant my senior year where in chapter 12 the text (which is the backbone of the SAT AP in History) goes into considerable detail about Jackson, Calhoun, and the military act that would have sent Federal Forces into Carolina to enforce the constitutional union against the secessionists.

I mean this is high school stuff. Of course, being a bit younger than Trump but close enough to remember civics and history classes in the epoch of civil rights when federal forces were sent to places like Little Rock to enforce constitutional rights, this chapter of American History was almost mandatory.

The professor of my American Government class, one George S Squibb IV, repeatedly argued that if Jackson had sent federal forces into South Carolina at the height of the stand off over the right of a state to nullify federal law, the Civil War would have been avoided for two reasons. First, South Carolina stood alone. Second, Jackson would have destroyed the idea of state secession once and for all.

Trump, as usual, is musing out loud about snowflake demands for California to separate from the Union or to nullify federal requirements to enforce federal laws that are clearly in the power of the executive branch, as defined by the Constitution. Snowflake Cities are crying they have the right to nullify federal regulations and immigration law.

Trump is musing, "What would Andrew Jackson do?"

Don't know about today's high schoolers, but in the curriculum of a previous generation the answer is clearly written--rotate the federals so they won't be subverted and stop this nonsense immediately. The alternative is way too costly. THAT is the lesson of history.

The guy is not so dumb.

Lewis Wetzel said...

So, none of the historians guessed that Trump's words re: Jackson and the Civil was yet another successful example of Trump trolling journalists and the left?

mrkwong said...

The right man with the right strength can't change history? Oh, hello Alexander, Julius, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great (had to get those in there), Marlborough, Nelson, Bonaparte, Talleyrand, Bismarck, what a horribly fractional list, I could type for an hour and not get past the 19th century.

Jackson was a flawed man, and not remotely so important as some of those I've listed above, but he embraced a significant part of American character of the time.

And no reasonable historian would claim 'slavery' - at that level of generality - was the cause of the Civil War. Resistance to expansion of slavery to the West, maybe. The abhorrent Dred Scott decision and fugitive slave laws, maybe. But by and large the North was quite happy to let the South have its slaves within its existing states.

CWJ said...

Civil War historians have got to be close to, if not the biggest subset of American Historians. Why three? Why these three? Who provided the names? Acquaintances? Cocktail parties? Google? Did they interview five, but only these three said what they could fit into the narrative? Did the BBC tell them find us three historians that fit the narrative, and they stopped dialing when they got their quota?

Ever since Valerie Plame said "Hey, my husband's available to go to Niger," I find myself more interested in the backstory about how these things come to be than what the article has to say.

Ron W said...

Take away the fugitive slave act contained in the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and there's probably no Republican Party, and take away a Presidential victory by that purely sectional party, and there's probably no secession. Replace Millard Fillmore with an Andrew Jackson, and you'll likely get a veto of the Compromise of 1850, or more likely, no such legislation at all.

buwaya said...

"But by and large the North was quite happy to let the South have its slaves within its existing states."

The breaking point were the fugitive slave laws. Property was fleeing North and the North was unwilling to protect Southern property rights, as required by the Constitution. This is cited at length in the South Carolina declaration of secession.

CWJ said...

buwaya,

It was also most fortunate (for Bonaparte) that Desaix got himself killed in that counter attack. Kinda cleared the field for Bonaparte's version of events.

Bonaparte was first consul at the time but that didn't mean that he was without rivals.

William said...

There used to be a consensus opinion among historians that Jefferson/Jackson were the founders of the Democratic Party. Wilson, too, used to be considered a Democrat. The consensus has evolved. We now know that Hamilton, not Jefferson, was the Democrat. Likewise TR not Wilson was the true Democrat. And it goes without saying that Lincoln would never feel at home in the Republican Party.

William said...

The civil war was not between slaves and slave owners. It was between slave owners and abolitionists. The differences were negotiable.

William said...

About the time that Lincoln freed the slaves, the Czar freed the serfs. The serfs had to pay for their freedom by working for the estate owners several days a month. Even after emancipation, the estate owner had the right to beat the peasants on his lands to death. This option was exercised freely.......I'm sure being flogged with a cat of nine tails is no bucket of ice cream. It is, however, preferable to being whipped by a knout. There was a fairly high mortality rate among those punished with a knout.......The serf emancipation happened peacefully, but the real bill came due during the Russian Revolution.

William said...

Lincoln is the American president who is most written about and deservedly so. But if you have a taste for melodrama and adventure, Jackson has the most exciting biography. He's fun to read about. I can readily believe that Trump rad his biography.....,By way of contrast, I recently read Shlaes bio of Calvin Coolidge. It took me a month to get through it. No duels. No love affairs. Just earnest plodding to reduce the budget.

Locomotive Breath said...

It's way way too superficial to summarize the Civil War as "it was about slavery". For example you could start by saying the general issue was states rights which was tested on the particularly low moral specific issue of slavery.

Every time I today feel the cold dead hand of the Federal government on my life and liberty, I find myself wishing that the South had tested the issue over some issue not so morally reprehensible. Like tariffs. And won.

mrkwong said...

buwaya - my understanding (and I'm only an amateur historian of the past couple hundred years) was that the fugitive slave laws - or lack of enforcement thereof - might have been a proximate irritant circa 1860, but the inability of the South to get more slave territory expansion to the west was a bigger long-term factor. As I said, I'm not an authority, shoot me down as appropriate.

gbarto said...

wwww said: Everything is different. Foreign policy, communication, weapons. The nuclear age calls for different strategies and tactics.

But people are the same, ever and always, which is why Greek tragedy still resonates.

At this moment, some are discussing the inevitability of war with North Korea while others are drooling for the perceivable inevitable collapse of the Trump presidency. I think Trump would like to remind that such things are not inevitable, but are the difference of whether your leader is a Jacksonian or more in the Buchanan mold. If you reject out of hand the great man theory of history, this is, of course, nonsense. But it is certainly possible to believe that while on the one hand social forces rule over the long term, on the other hand great men emerge when they perceive and channel, manipulate or step clear of those forces of which others are unaware. Are we really victims of fate, be it the thing of the ancients or the machinations of Marxist history? Or do we have some control over where our lives go in which case our leaders may have some influence over what happens to our societies? If the Civil War was truly inevitable, there is no point in studying history because there's nothing we can do about it. But if there's a difference between the way Jackson and Buchanan played their respective hands that made the difference, any responsible leader should give thought to what it was.

Matt said...

Even when Trump is wildly wrong his devoted followers say he is right! Andrew Jackson now officially had an opinion about the Civil War! Rewrite the history books. Jackson will next be declared the president during the Civil War. Who was Lincoln? Oh, just some slacker who couldn't prevent war. Weak.

gbarto said...

Matt,
There is a balance here, no?
Trump's supporters say he's right, even when he's wrong.
Trump's critics say he's wrong, even when he's right.
Open your mind to the Yin and the Yang of Trumpian pontification and all will be clear.

Michael K said...

I've been driving all day so have missed many comments but this stands out.

Blight calls it "plain nonsense" to think that "the right man with the right strength... can change the course of history."

I wonder if it/she/he has ever read "five Days in London May 1940," where John Lukacs explains how World War II might have been lost.

Halifax would probably have signed a ceasefire with Hitler after France fell. Churchill would not.

The King liked Halifax and abhorred Churchill.

There are too many "historians' who know no history.

By the way, Truman would have understood Jackson. He was a PhD level auto-didact.

Lem said...

The founder of the democrat party was a slave owner who never freed his slaves.

food for thought.

Lem said...

Recall a quote something along the lines of 'History is written by the victors'... how much victory bias is in the American history books? I don't know.

Patrick Wise said...

The problem with saying simply the Civil War was about "slavery" is that there was no prospect of Lincoln ending slavery before the war. Indeed while he favored abolition the only concrete proposal he made was that no new slave state be added to the Union. Since back then they actually believed the 10th amendment meant something the only way to end slavery was with 2/3 of the House and Senate and 3/4 of the state legislatures.

In other words it was at least several decades away, and they could have waited until then to secede. In fact they were more likely to get around to eliminating themselves than to have it imposed upon them. The real cause was that the first 4 Southern states to secede did so because they believed they were too different politically from a nation that would elect and abolitionist President, and that they were ceding power in the process. It wasn't a particularly good reason to leave, but they didn't believe the Constitution placed any restriction on secession.

The other Confederate states seceded after Fort Sumter out of solidarity.

wwww said...


If you reject out of hand the great man theory of history, this is, of course, nonsense. But it is certainly possible to believe that while on the one hand social forces rule over the long term, on the other hand great men emerge when they perceive and channel, manipulate or step clear of those forces of which others are unaware.

It's an interesting question: the great man in history theory.

It depends. I reject the idea that someone could change history out-of-time. (Unless we're talking about Christ.) . I believe someone better then Buchanan may have been elected. That individual may have handled Bleeding Kansas better. I'm not sure what the President would have done about Taney on SCOTUS.

I think a man may have changed the start date of the Civil War, but the multiple pressures towards war are overwhelming by the time we get to 1855. When Jackson dies the temperature is much lower.

The Revolutionary War may have been averted but for certain actions in 1775. I don't see the Civil War in the same light.

Taney was also a man of his generation, and his views on slave freedom suit harden quite a bit over the years. It's not just Buchanan we need to change to stop the Civil War. We also need to do something about John Brown. Again -- Brown is a man of his generation, just as Frederick Douglass, who met with Brown, is a man of that time and that era.

Jackson was of a different generation. There is a reason his particular personality wouldn't appear in a man 40 years younger. The duels, for example, that he fought.

Jackson was a man of an older generation, and I don't think he's possible as a politician in his prime, in the 1860s. He really is more of a Revolution/ early Republic personality, and not one who grew up with the steamboat/railroad revolution.

I can't even get to the point of wondering if SCOTUS would have ruled differently on Dred Scott during a Jackson Presidency, or if Jackson could have stoped Bleeding Kansas, or if Jackson would have done something to calm the South after John Brown, or if Jackson could have appeased the movement for free labor in the new western states.

And Jackson is a Democrat, of course. What happens if Lincoln is not elected in 1860, but wins the white house in 1864? At some point Jackson dies, or at some point a Republican wins an election. How would Jackson keep the South in the Union at that point?

In some ways Trump is right. If Jackson, or another Democrat had been elected in 1860, then the South wouldn't have left. The Democrats were friendly to slavery, and the Republicans are the party of free labour in the western territories.

But at some point a Republican is going to win an election in the 19th century. At some point Jackson dies, and then you get the Civil War, because the slave South would never accept a Republican in the White House.

Jack Wayne said...

Root Cause Analysis tells us that slavery could not have been the "cause" of the Civil War. Slavery was not a fundamental governmental problem. IMO, the problems were: 1) By Senate rules, the Senate was in a deadlock over expanding slavery into new states and had been for a long time, 2) Due to an arcane amendment process, there was no way to avoid the constitutional crisis of a deadlocked Senate, 3) There was some perceived latitude in the 9th and 10th amendments over States' rights, 4) Unlike the Articles of Confederation, there was no absolute ban on war between States, 5) Allowing an election for President to be decided by a plurality. All 5 of these problems point to a poorly written document known as the Constitution. And what do we see today? The same problems are cropping up again. Absent blaming the looming confrontation on slavery, what reason will historians assign?

wildswan said...

Daniel Jackson said...
Trump, as usual, is musing out loud about snowflake demands for California to separate from the Union or to nullify federal requirements to enforce federal laws that are clearly in the power of the executive branch, as defined by the Constitution. Snowflake Cities are crying they have the right to nullify federal regulations and immigration law.
n
Trump is musing, "What would Andrew Jackson do?"

Agreed. Trump sees a crisis in 2017 similar to the Nullification Crisis. That crisis was resolved insofar as it was about tariffs but another issue, slavery, was also involved and this kept coming up until finally there was a war. The richest single group in America was the rice planters of Charleston. And many of the richest men in America were cotton planters. These two groups depended on slave labor so they would never agree to abolition. But the majority in South were not slave holders. Why then was there a war?

The question matters because Trump is negotiating on tariffs and he seems to me to be asking whether there is another issue entangled in the economic issue either for Americans or for the countries on the other side of the table. That issue is not slavery but it might be nationalism. Would peoples be better off in the greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, in the British Commonwealth, in Comecon, in the EU, in the British, French, Chinese, Ottoman, German empires? Or are we better off in smaller groups - nations- that agree on values? What if we don't agree with California? Can we sell it back to Mexico whether they like it or not?

What if one group within an established nation decides to refuse to understand another? refuses to compromise? Assad v Syria? Muslim v. Hindu? ISIS v. Syria? Muslim v. secular? secular v. Christian? Hillarys v. heartland; EU v. Britain? Naturally these thoughts are going through Trump's mind. He's the man he is and he is President of the United States. Equally naturally the leftys are not thinking at all, just screeching, cursing, pontificating - the whole rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic which has preoccupied them since the dawn of The Glorious Ninth of November.

Suggested Reading for them: The Crowd is Untruth. Kierkegaard

wwww said...

The problem with saying simply the Civil War was about "slavery" is that there was no prospect of Lincoln ending slavery before the war.

The Lincoln administration does not advocate the abolition of slavery in 1860 or early 1861. The official position of the army is to return runaway slaves to their masters until Butler's Contraband policy in 1861.

And yet, the Civil War wouldn't have happened but for slavery.

Slavery is what caused all of the debate over Dred Scott. Slavery causes the tension over the status of the new western States -- will they be free or will they be slave?

The power of the Senate hangs in the balance. SCOTUS sides with slave power. And the Presidency has gone to forces sympathetic to slavery in the 1850s. Lincoln changes the political situation.

All of these things contribute to the crisis: industrialization, urbanization, the transportation revolution, King cotton, the land that must be absorbed as a result of the Mexican-American war. But they all contribute to the problem because of the existence of slavery in the USA.

Slavery doesn't exist as a small labor alternative. Slavery could have ended without war if the entire south was similar to Maryland, where slavery is dying out.

But the slave power and slavery as an institution is growing. Slaves are worth over 3 billion dollars. Slavery has created a slave society in several states. Insurance agencies are making money by insuring slaves.

By 1860 slavery is intwined in the fabric and politics of the USA to an extent that a great war is the probable outcome.

wwww said...

There used to be a consensus opinion among historians that Jefferson/Jackson were the founders of the Democratic Party.


Jackson is still seen as the first modern Democratic President. Jefferson-Jackson dinners are still popular in the Democratic party.

I am perplexed by the Republican president talking so much about Jackson rather then Lincoln.

Mark said...

Trump is absolutely correct in wondering if a strong executive like Andrew Jackson would have been able to take measures to avert a civil war. One thing is for sure, Jackson (who had problems with his early cabinet) would not have let what was essentially a traitor like John Floyd remain as Secretary of War until the end of December 1860.

Jackson was a southerner and a slaveholder, but he was also a nationalist.

Lastly, while the issues of the civil war were centered on slavery, namely the expansion of slavery into the territories, the reason for war is different. In 1860, the South was pretty well situated with respect to slavery. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 was a significant judicial victory for the slave interests, the various measures of determining the fate of slavery in the territories was really tilted to the slave holders, the 3/5 clause still gave them continued hope of maintaining a balance of legislative power, and many of the most talented men in government hailed from the south. A plurality victory by a Republican for president was not going to change this dynamic.

But what did change with Lincoln's electoral victory in 1860 was the control of patronage. For most of the history of the United States the slave holders could rely on the middle and lower class whites political support. But, the Republican victory changed that calculus. The slave holders looked at the possibility of the GOP being now able to appoint new post masters, revenue collectors, port authorities, federal marshals and attorneys giving individuals patronage that was beyond their control. They saw this potential wedge as something that could be driven deeper and the fact that they probably had lost the Executive and this important political driver.

This patronage would allow the Republicans to create a nucleus of political power in the southern states that had the potenatil of sweeping the aristocratic power away.

Known Unknown said...

"Pence is coming off as a pissant talking to Rush at half past the hour."

Well, Pence was one of them. Those useless bastards.

Known Unknown said...

"Jefferson-Jackson dinners are still popular in the Democratic party."

Yeah, sure.

wwww said...


Known Unknown,

Hadn't seen that! Interesting.

But Iowans can't change the political history of Jackson. He was a Democrat.

The Gipper Lives said...

The liberal historians who were disputing Trump all place President James Buchanan at the bottom of their presidential ratings. Why? Because he had no vision and exhibited no leadership to resolve the Slavery Issue and stop the nation's drift into war. But why fault him if war was inevitable?

In other words, they agree with Trump! He says Jackson's vision of Union FIRST and strong leadership could have made the difference--the difference they all fault Buchanan for failing to make!

Buchanan was indeed The Worst President in History...until Obama. And by Lefty standards, our first Woman President, despite Pantsuit Nixon's claims. Jackson referred to the transgendered Buchanan as "Aunt Fancy".

Hillary, she emerged from her East German Prison Matron's Office to tell Christiane Amanpour that she had solved the Korean Crisis. And she would be glad to tell us for a six-figure donation. Just kidding. Seven figures.

Even though she's been around Washington since they fired her from the Watergate Committee, she was too busy taking bribes at the Foundation to bother with it until now. You've helped enough, Ma Barker.

She won't ask it, and the Know-It-All Media won't ask it and the Liberal Historians won't ask it. Their combined wisdom got us into this mess. It never occurs to them to ask this simple question:

Why is Trump posing all these historical questions, anyway?

Maybe because he's dealing with a country that is split North against South, that could explode into war with massive casualties, where the previous American president was a visionless weakling and where presidential vision and strength are desperately needed now: Korea.

And not only are North Koreans enslaved as a whole, the regime holds hundreds of thousands of actual slaves in forced labor camps.

You would think they would be glad that a president was thinking about ways to solve these issues without a massive war, but alas, no. Trump Derangement Syndrome First!

ilikehardplay said...

As someone who actually wrote his doctoral dissertation comparing the way that academics and the public interpret the past....and specifically used the American Civil War as my case study, I find myself smiling wryly and shaking my head over the current kerfuffle. It demonstrates a lot that is wrong with the current crop of professional historians. Yes, it's ludicrous that the three major 19th century historians chosen to comment are progressives primarily focused on race, gender, and reconstruction....and NOT the war itself, its origins, or the effect of leadership: political, military, or otherwise. The fact that not one of these "leaders in the field of history" mentioned the great historiographic question of the first hundred years of Civil War scholarship: whether the war was inevitable or avoidable, is shocking.... Especially since the avoidable camp inevitably focuses on blaming individuals or groups for not measuring up to the prior generations of leadership stretching back to the founders. Have they completely forgotten their graduate courses in American historiography? Or are they that oblivious to prior interpretations?

Can anyone versed in American 19th century history, and has read something of the Nullification Crisis imagine Andrew Jackson allowing the country to ignore the fanning of fires of rebellion that happened between 1856-60, the way Buchanan did? While I class Jackson as among the 10 worst presidents, Buchanan *was* THE worst....because of his gross inaction. Moreover, he'd followed Franklin Pierce, a nearly equally weak politician who lacked support from his own Democratic party (he's the only incumbent president who *failed* to get his own party's nomination)....whose ramming through the Kansas-Nebraska act created Bleeding Kansas, the guerilla war that was the first domino that led to John Brown's rebellion and the Southern secession.

Erik said...


What Caused Secession and Ergo the Civil War?
Was It Slavery and/or States' Rights?
Or Wasn't It Rather Something Else
— the Election of a Ghastly Republican
to the White House?

https://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2017/05/what-caused-secession-and-ergo-civil.html

…/… debate over the causes of the Civil War veer between the South's defense of slavery and the South's (alleged) fight for state rights.

How about a much simpler solution?

Isn't the truth looking at us from the center of the room?

Isn't the main reason that, then as now, Democrats (ever "fighting for the American people") did not want to be ruled by such low-life scum (reptiles, outlaws, pirates, murderers, terrorists, haters, etc) as Republicans, as abolitionists, as Tea Partiers? …/…

Daniel Jackson said...

Ah Erik, you have it backwards; alas it was the Democrats who wanted to do what they wanted to do regardless of the Law, the nation, and the inalienable right to property, which in this case was human chattel.

And those wonderful southern democrats of that period, ever fighting for the rights of free men gave such wonderful post civil rights institutions as Jim Crow, the KKK, etc (as the French would say).

Lost My Cookies said...

This "consensus" nonsense is just that. Nonsense. You can go to any reenactment, encampment, or round table in any small town, in any state and find a retired laborer with more in-depth, expert knowledge of the Civil War than most Phds. When you're new to one of those events the phrase you hear most often is, "I bet you were taught... ".

penelope said...

Bravo! Some of the most thoughtful, most well informed and most well reasoned Comments that I have ever read on any topic on any blog. I enjoyed reading them. The BBC clearly asked the wrong people.

Erik said...

Daniel, that was exactly my point…

I wasn't saying the Democrats were right
(then or now) to think that way, I was
saying that (self-serving) melodramatic way
of thinking is ALWAU=YS the way they have
of looking at issues and thereby precipitating
crises…