Nevada’s American History Curriculum: The Civil War Almost Happens

NV history curriculum Let’s acknowledge right off the bat that it is hard to develop a curriculum for U.S. History in American schools, because the old saw is inevitably true: Every ten years the course gets a week longer.

One of the current models is to divide the course work into convenient divisions based on when the traditional courses were taught, American History usually being slotted into the 8th and 11th grades.  Thus, the 8th graders get the first half (Colonial America to the Civil War) and the 11th graders get the second half (Reconstruction to Modern America).  Nevada has adopted this template:

NV History curriculum 2Therefore, the practical situation is that the 8th graders get

instruction concerning the American Civil War at the end of the school term, and if the ‘clock runs out’ then there may be the profound hope the topic is picked up three years later.  However, as the curriculum indicates, the “review” is to be a brief one.

There are some issues we ought to address beyond the cramped chronology.  Note the red outlined terms in the graphic showing the 6th through 8th curriculum recommendations.

Causes? Plural?

Any attempt to describe a cause other than SLAVERY for the American Civil War fails the “two question test.”  For example: “The civil war was caused by an act of northern aggression.”

  1. What caused northern invasions?
  2. Southern secession, so why did the south secede? (Slavery)

Example two: “The civil war started because of economic differences between the north and south.”

  1. If we allow the generalization that the north was industrial and the south was agricultural, then what labor force underpinned southern agrarian economies?
  2. If slavery underpinned the economic system of the south, then is it not logical that slavery constituted the fundamental difference between the two regional economies? (Slavery)

Example three: “The civil war began because the south wanted to exert its state’s rights and the north was defending federalism.”

  1. What “right” was the south so interested in defending that it was willing to launch an open rebellion against the United States government?
  2. (The questions end here)

Not only do common apologetics for southern rebellion fail the “Question Test,” the rationales also fail any credible historical reference.

When Alexander Stephens was waxing on about the foundation of the Confederacy he pointed out the corner-stone of the CSA:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” (March 1861)

In fact Article 1, 15 was clear on the subject: “15) To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Confederate States, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.”  Now, just what “insurrections” might those be?  The CSA did forbid the importation of slaves from foreign countries, and from states not members of the Confederacy … this would also forbid African Americans from free-states from infiltrating the CSA “homeland.”  However, the intent was even more clear in Article 4:

“(3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”  (emphasis added)

Want to join the Confederacy – then slavery must be recognized and protected.

And what of the vision of that paragon on the old south, Robert E. Lee, what did he think of slavery? From an editor of his letters:

“He saw slaves as property, that he owned them and their labor. Now you can say he wasn’t worse than anyone; he was reflecting the values of the society that he lived in. I would say, he wasn’t any better than anyone else, either.”

We can take the Lee image back to an 1856 letter to his wife, which has a troubling similarity to the ranting of some modern racists:

“The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”  […]

“Although the Abolitionist must know this, & must See that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that although he may not approve the mode which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their Conduct; Still I fear he will persevere in his evil Course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who Crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others?”

So, Lee’s slaves were to sit quietly and wait for the enlightenment of their masters, who were “spiritually” free to keep them enslaved until God freed them.  And, “a day in the sight of the Lord is a thousand years? (2 Peter 3:8)

So, we can tick off the “top five” reasons offered for the American Civil War: (1) There were economic differences – based on the use of slave labor in the agrarian south; (2) The southern states asserted their right to maintain the institution of chattel slavery; (3) The war began because of political differences between slave state proponents and opponents – yes, as in Bleeding Kansas; (4) The growth of the abolitionist movement – against slavery; and (5) The election of Lincoln – perceived as an opponent of the extension of —- slavery.  It all comes around to one ultimate cause. Slavery.

It’s disturbing to note that the Nevada social studies curriculum guidelines appear to provide comfort to those who would minimize the centrality of slavery in the near destruction of this country.   Perhaps even more disturbing that the guidelines appear to sanction the dubious “state’s rights” argument used to rationalize southern rebellion.   Not only should “the flag” come down, but our comprehension of its origin should raise up.

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