The time has come: trash talking is over; voting begins. As a reminder, you can find the entire bracket here. Today, we will vote on brackets 1 and 2; Wednesday, we will vote on brackets 3 and 4. We have included arguments on behalf of various documents, written by either Junto bloggers or friends of the blog. Please, feel free to add your arguments in the comments, because the purpose of this month’s “tournament” is to provide a resource for teachers of early American history.
Let the games begin!
BRACKET ONE: Political History
2. The Declaration of Independence (1776) vs. 15. John Jay, “An Address to the People of the State of New-York” (1788)
Joe Adelman has written on using the Declaration in the classroom here.
The intrepid Richard Bernstein on Jay’s address: Should always be assigned and read with THE FEDERALIST, distilling the arguments that Jay did not get to make as an author of THE FEDERALIST. My experience: students often come to admire John Jay greatly because of his reasonableness and diplomacy.
3. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835) vs. 14. William Manning, “The Key of Libberty” (1798-99)
Jonathan Wilson on Tocqueville: What could possibly be said to improve the chances of ‘Democracy in America’? This text is still landmark. Forget what politicians or even jaded scholars think they know about it—Tocqueville rewards rereading every time.
Reader Jordan Taylor on Manning: A rare political manifesto by a relatively ordinary farmer. Late eighteenth century meets Occupy Wall Street. Later published in an edition edited by Michael Merrill and Sean Wilentz.
Sara Georgini: Penned by the prototypical “republican mother,” this letter is one of my favorite treasures to show to scholars of all ages. Many leap ahead to, as Abigail instructs on the second page, “remember the Ladies,” but her opening description of life in embattled New England is also rich. In a marriage of equals, Abigail was candid, intelligent, and sorely displeased with the relative disunion of the colonies. Her opening query about the quality of the Virginia militia, and her fear that Southern slaveowners would be reticent in supporting liberty, often sparks conversations about how regional sentiment played out. Her description of Boston real estate trashed by evacuating British soldiers reminds us of the environmental damage of the war. Not truly a proto-feminist, Abigail’s call to “Remember the Ladies” has resonated because she reminded John Adams and Congress that women planned to be major stakeholders in the new republic. How that turned out–and whether Abigail’s words carried enough force–makes for an excellent conversation in historical society and classroom alike.
5. Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865) vs. 12. James Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States” (1787)
Matt Karp: Lincoln’s speech poses the central dilemma of the American Civil War — how to balance just ends against violent means — and answers it in an uncompromisingly radical way: “if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” The boldest, strangest, and most poetic speech ever given by an American president.
Benjamin Park: I have yet to teach a course that does not benefit from spending the first day dissecting Douglass’s famous address. Not only is it stirring, jarring, and provocative, but it introduces key themes for understanding early American history: contestation, ironies, hypocricy, struggle, and a hint of triumph. I have both had the students read the entire address in preparation as well as showed this youtube clip of someone performing a notable portion.
7. The Constitution of the United States (1787) vs. 10. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist (1787)
Richard Bernstein on The Federalist: Still a brilliant exposition and defense of the proposed Constitution though not as influential as some have thought.
Richard Bernstein on Maclay’s Diary: One of the best and most enlightening diaries of American politics, ever.
BRACKET TWO: Slavery, Captivity, and Bonded Labor
1. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) vs. 16. David George, “An Account of the Life of Mr. David George” (1792)
Rachel Herrmann: I like using David George’s account because it illustrates how mobile some former slaves became as a result of the American Revolution. George traveled from Virginia to Savannah to present-day Canada and West Africa. He’s a good classroom source because the source itself was written by David George, and because it emphasizes how much religion came to matter for former slaves as they entered increasingly transnational worlds. I usually assign it in tandem with the account of Johnson Green: both are available in Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Vincent Carretta (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996).
Mark Boonshoft: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is so useful in the classroom because because it sheds light on a wide range of topics. I’ve used it to discuss straightforward historical issues, like the mechanics of the Fugitive Slave Act and what it meant to ordinary people in the United States. I’ve also used it to discuss Stowe herself as an exemplar of nineteenth-century women’s activism. Some of the most heated discussion have center on how race is portrayed in the book, which often leads to a broader discussion about the use of race in fictionalized accounts of freedom and unfreedom in literature and film. Generally, I end the unit on UTC by asking students to think about the novel’s role in bringing about the Civil War, and what that says about the power of print and literature to shape politics. The strength of the story and the memorable characters in UTC draw in all but the most truculent students, making it possible to have engaging conversations about a range of issues that are as relevant to the study of the eighteen-fifties as they are to the present.
Reader Julia Gaffield on the Constitution of Saint-Domingue: “This document demonstrated Louverture’s increasing autonomy as governor of the colony and inspired Napoléon Bonaparte to send an army to regain control over the colony.”
From Matt Karp: Walker’s Appeal is the first and fiercest text in the history of radical abolitionism. Like Frederick Douglass in his July Fourth speech, Walker sets his sights not just on slaveholders but the United States as a whole and “the Americans” as a people. Yet Walker is even more unsparing and more explicit about the racial fault line of oppression in early America: “at the close of the first Revolution in this country, with Great Britain, there were but thirteen States in the Union, now there are twenty four… and the whites are dragging us around in chains and in handcuffs, to their new States and Territories to work their mines and farms, to enrich them and their children—and millions of them believing firmly that we being a little darker than they, were made by our Creator to be an inheritance to them and their children for ever.” It’s bracing stuff, and valuable in the classroom not only for the strength of its critique, but for beginning a discussion about the aims, tactics, audience, and rhetoric of radical politics.
The Junto’s good friend John Fea has written a passionate plea on behalf of Fithian, and he may very well disown us if this document does not make it far in the tournament.
5. Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682) vs. 12. The Deposition of Robert Roule (1677)
Joe Adelman on Rowlandson: It provides considerable room to discuss Native-English interactions, English identity, religion, and — for me at least — some local Massachusetts history. Available in a Bedford/St. Martin’s edition.
The legendary Historianess on Roule: It’s a great way to get students thinking about gender and Anglo-Indian violence at the end of King Philip’s War. Available in James Axtell, ed., “The Vengeful Women of Marblehead: Robert Roule’s deposition of 1677,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., vol. 31, no. 4 (October 1974), 647-652.
Benjamin Park: Northup’s book is of course a classic, but the movie based on the book can also be fruitfully used in the classroom. Even if you can’t show the entire film, I have used youtube clips like this one and this one in order to discuss the realities of slave life. (Bonus combination! I have liked to couple that latter clip, which shows the role of music in slave life, with the portion of Douglass’s Narrative that discusses the same topic, though in an unexpected way.)
Benjamin Park on Cabeza de Vaca: A sixteenth-century narrative of Spanish exploration and (attempted) conquest in present-day Texas and Mexico.
Reader Jake Ruddiman on Moraley: a complicated and complicating view of “the best poor man’s country” in the early 18th c. Available in William Moraley, The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant, 2nd edition, edited by Susan Klepp and Billy G. Smith, Pennsylvania State Press, 2005.