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Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 1850-1861


Edited By Michael E. Karpyn

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865, killing nearly 700,000 Americans and costing the country untold millions of dollars. The events of this tragic war are so steeped in the collective memory of the United States and so taken for granted that it is sometimes difficult to take a step back and consider why such a tragic war occurred. To consider the series of events that led to this war are difficult and painful for students and teachers in American history classrooms. Classroom teachers must possess the appropriate pedagogical and historical resources to provide their students with an appropriate and meaningful examination of this challenging time period. Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 18501861 will attempt to provide these resources and teaching strategies to allow for the thoughtful inquiry, evaluation and assessment of this critical, complex and painful time period in American history.

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4. A Historical Inquiry into John Brown and His Raiders (John H. Bickford / Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz)


John H. Bickford and Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz

Federal determination to resupply—and Confederate blockade of—a federal arsenal in Fort Sumter sparked the Civil War, yet the conflict originated over slavery. No matter the subsequent revisionist rebranding of the conflict as about states’ rights, slavery’s import to the American South is evidenced in contemporaneous historical documents such as Confederate states’ declarations of secession and Confederate politicians’ and generals’ speeches. The plantation aristocracy—few, fearful of losing their wealth’s foundation, and politically powerful—used racial solidarity calls, fears of miscegenation, and a patriarchal order turned upside down to rouse rural masses to support political departure (Isenberg, 2016; McCurry, 1995). Southerners’ trepidation of Northern restriction of slavery had brimmed for decades with sectional flare-ups over territorial acquisitions and statehood from Missouri to California to Kansas. While Haiti, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Amistad, and other revolts alarmed chattel slave owners, John Brown’s raid was particularly troubling as it was led by a white abolitionist within a slave state and came amidst growing sectional tension and the rise of a new political party opposed to slavery, the first in American life explicitly committed to banning the extension of slavery (Carton, 2002; DeCaro, 2002; Horwitz, 2011; McGlone, 2009; Nudelman, 2004; Oates, 1970; Reynolds, 2005). Brown’s raid lived on in American life: Brown was a controversial figure, depicted alternately as madman or saint, as a terrorist or Christ-like, and not just in 1859 but for a solid 100 years after Appomattox (e.g., Finkelman,...

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