U.S. History Abraham Lincoln Essay

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U.S. History

Abraham Lincoln - Was Lincoln a racist? How should we judge the past?

Reading about Abraham Lincoln's racism always has a shock and awe effect on any student of history. The main accusations against President Abraham Lincoln in terms of racism are that he believed in the inherent superiority of white Caucasian race over the black race (to this end Lincoln's 1858 speech at Charleston Illinois quoted by WB Dubois in his essays on Lincoln is instructive), that he was unwilling to condemn the Southern slave owners for slavery and that he took his time before finally issuing the emancipation proclamation. The whole problem starts in the class room when instructors create the erroneous impression that towering historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln are somehow infallible. Then somewhere along the way someone points out a disturbing fact about a great historical figure and we discover that our hero, who we had built up as this colossus of modern history, had feet of clay. It is far better to start off with a clear realization that history is about human beings and their actions, not angels.

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The most important lesson in all of this is that great men and women of history should not be viewed with a colored lens. Even if President Lincoln may be thought of as racist by 21st Century standards, a man or a woman can only be judged by the standards of their time. Lincoln compares favorably when we consider Mahatma Gandhi's racially inspired views on the African race during his time in South Africa. Yet scarcely can anyone deny that Gandhi inspired men like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Similarly Lincoln's achievements far outweigh his flaws.

TOPIC: Essay on U.S. History Abraham Lincoln - Was Lincoln Assignment

My approach as a teacher of history will be to approach the issue of Lincoln's racism in a matter of fact way. Regardless of his personal views and beliefs regarding the African race, there is no denying that President Lincoln was the great liberator of the African-American people in the United States of America, even if this was the byproduct of a larger economic struggle between two societies in different stages of socio-economic development i.e. industrial north and the agricultural south.

The important take away for a student in a classroom ought to be that it is entirely possible to divorce Abraham Lincoln's own views about the African race from the positive change in their lives he brought and that even otherwise the contribution of President Lincoln as a great American war time president who managed to keep his country united despite extremely strong centrifugal forces tearing asunder the republic. Like Dubois said -- one must admire Lincoln not because he was perfect but because he was not and he triumphed.

2. Edison & Technology - Electricity and women's work: Who really benefited, and when?

It is often said that one of the biggest beneficiaries of Edison's electric revolution were women whose lives were immeasurably improved by the coming of electricity. This is only partly true. The electric revolution as it were did not improve the lot of women right away. It was an extremely slow trickle down process which took a few decades to show its full potential. For one thing, the application of electricity to work that women did either domestically or when employed was limited for the first few decades of the light bulb.

It was not until after substantial progress was made in the arena of women's rights and suffrage movement -- thereby guaranteeing some modicum of equality to women -- that the full measure of the electric revolution and technology that was brought into the realm of possibility could now finally begin to improve working conditions for women both in home and at work, mostly because approaching equality was synonymous to approaching equal access.

As a History teacher I would vary of the claims made in favor of the notion that coming of electricity was somehow an automatic sea change in women's lives and conditions. Precious little changed in the immediate aftermath of the coming of technology. It was not until women claimed their due place in society as equals to men or attempted to do so that technology too became equally accessible and useful. Therefore I would make my students question the ratio of this ill-thought out extrapolation. Looking back in hindsight -- which is always 20-20 -- I would say that the issue of women's lot being improved tremendously by Edison's remarkable inventions including electricity is a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

3. Dust Bowl - What caused the Dust Bowl? What story gets told?

The story of Dust Bowl that is often recounted is that a prolonged period of drought caused severe dust storms in the 1930s in areas that were once called the great American desert and that therefore a natural disaster of a prolonged period and devastating intensity.

The Dust Bowl region, which is located west of the 100th Meridian in the High Plains, was characterized as semi-arid and unsuitable for European style agriculture. It had been settled starting late 19th century and continued to be settled well into the 1920s. An unusually wet period in the history of the region's climate conditions had led to encouragement by the Federal Government of this migration pattern. Repeated waves of migration led to unsustainable agriculture entirely incapable of supporting the growing population in the region. It also casually mentioned that the drought was coupled with a lack of crop rotation.

All of this is only partly true. The real causes of the dust bowl lay in decades of capitalist expansion which meant that the plains' farmers' insistence to maximize profits by gambling on one particular cash crop and investing into heavy machinery to sustain it. It was therefore the natural and logical consequence of the inherent conflict between capitalist expansionist impulse and ecological sensitivity. The failure to rotate crops meant that the lands were doomed to become infertile over the long-term. As these once semi-arid lands became completely barren, continuing land erosion and top soil deterioration caused massive dust storms which in turn added cyclically to the economic impact of the Great Depression which had started concurrently.

The history teacher's task in this case would be to expose his or her students to alternative theories of how more than a natural disaster; Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster which was long time in the making. The critical point requiring emphasis in the class room would be that by the 1920s, mass migration trends as well as capitalist expansion were at an all time high. It is critical analysis which the history teacher must emphasize regardless of the conclusions that a student draws finally.

4. Rosa Parks - Where did Rosa Parks sit? Why did the Montgomery Bus Boycott succeed?

Rosa Parks -- contrary to the impression I had- had broken no law, not even racially oppressive segregationist laws, when she refused to get up for a white passenger from her seat in December of 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Law was explicitly clear that no passenger had to move from their seat in case the bus got overcrowded. While this was the law, by practice Bus drivers had begun to ask African-American passengers to get up from their seats in case a white passenger boarded the bus. Rosa Parks was seated in the first row designated for African-American passengers and not in any space reserved for white passengers.

What followed was one of the most stirring events in the Civil Rights movement. Reverend EB Nixon helped organized the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. He also joined hands with Reverend David Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association, the first president of which was none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Initially the appeal was made till the trial whereby every "Negro" was asked to boycott. The boycott that lasted 381 days all but crippled the bus transit company in Montgomery. On December 21, 1956, the bus system was finally integrated.

As a history teacher my emphasis would be threefold. To begin with I would emphasize that Mrs. Parks boycott was perfectly constitutional and legal -- especially after a string of U.S. Supreme Court judgments dealing a death blow to segregation such as Brown v. Board of Education. Secondly I would emphasize the role that organization had to play in the success of this boycott. The Montgomery Improvement Committee and the leaders of the movement had to create a general consensus amongst the African-American community in Alabama so that the boycott would be unanimous. It would never have succeeded without a unanimous boycott. Finally I would emphasize the importance of this one event in the turning of the tide and solidifying the Civil Rights Movement as a force to be reckoned with.

5. Cuban Missile Crisis -- Was WW lll prevented because "the other guy blinked"?

One thing I have learned new is that contrary to the "other guy blinked" theory, the Cuban Missile… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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