INSTRUCTIONS: Check here early each week in the semester for a new question or questions. Answer them substantively under the appropriate "topic" on the course discussion board and read through the other students' answers. You may answer as a reply to the original question or to another student's answer. While being sure to answer the question yourself start a new "thread" under that topic or post your answer as a reply to someone else who wrote on the same specific subject. Then come to your section meeting prepared to discuss the questions and answers verbally. Please note that some of the questions ask you to use specific readings, either from the textbooks or from documents that will be hyperlinked to the question.

Jan. 20, 2004 
A. What is history (particularly American history), considered as an intellectual activity and a field of academic study? Is it a subject worth studying in college? Why or why not? 
B. What are some ways of using or depicting the past that are NOT history, meaning not truly historical in the academic/intellectual sense? Find or recall a specific example of a cultural production that uses the past (a book, magazine or newspaper article, movie, TV show, painting, web site, museum exhibit, monument, event, speech, high school history class, etc.) and explain why it should or should not be considered history. 
Jan. 27, 2004
Was President Abraham Lincoln justified in using force to bring the seceded southern states back into the United States? Why or why not? Please distinguish among the different types of justifications (political, legal, moral, religious) and indicate which you regard as most important or decisive. Keep in mind that slavery, racism, the idea of secession, and the use of force to stop secession are all separate, if related, issues. The South was completely wrong on the moral issues of the time, but it's also possible that Lincoln had no legal right to keep the South in a nation it wanted to leave. Please be specific and use examples and quotations from the readings if possible.  Besides the textbooks and online reader, you may find this collection of "Secession Era Editorials" useful for getting the contemporary view of these questions.
Feb. 3, 2004 What relationship does a society's "private" life have with its "public" life? In other words, do ideas about the proper structure and functioning of families and personal relationships have any influence on ideas about politics and government, and vice versa?
Feb. 10, 2004
Pocahontas as Lady Rebecca (Mrs. John Rolfe)
Read all the Unit 1 Online Reader documents including the article by James Axtell and the selection from the "Jesuit Relations." Then answer the following question: Speaking as a person of your own age, gender, race, and religion, would you have preferred to live in England and its colonial settlements, or among the North American Indians? Why did many English captives choose the latter option?
Feb. 17, 2004
John Smith of Jamestown
Though our national holiday celebrating the colonization of North America looks back at the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, some historians have argued that early Virginia better predicted what British America (and the United States) would be like, and what cultural values Americans would uphold, in the long run. Evaluate this argument, taking account of evidence on both sides of the question, and keeping in mind just what a horrific mess early Virginia was. (See your reading, and the documents linked below for 4 Sept. 2001, for more on this last point.)
March 2, 2004
Southerners before and after the Civil War often defended slavery (and later, segregation) as the basis of a "way of life" that Southerners had led since the founding of the colonies. Is this true? How, when, and why did slavery become the South's dominant labor system? One theory holds that racism (European prejudice against darker-skinned peoples) was either the main cause or an integral part of the origins of American slavery. Other historians have argued that the switch from white indentured servants was primarily an economic move. Yet another theory, perhaps the most widely held one among professional historians, holds that the southern switch to slavery had political causes: white servants were becoming harder to attract and control, while former servants were beginning to form a rebellious element in southern society. (See the two recommended articles in the online reader for more explanation of these theories.) Which theory makes the most sense to you, and what evidence would you cite to support it?
March 9, 2004
"The Wrath of Peter Stuyvesant"
A couple of weeks ago, most of the class signed on to the idea that colonial Virginia better predicted the character of the future United States than New England. Revisit that question now by throwing in the Middle Colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Were they culturally simply halfway in between New England and the South, as well as geographically, or can the Middle Colonies be said to have launched a third regional tradition of their own? If so, what were some of its characteristics? Be sure to look at the online reader documents before answering.
March 16, 2004


John Locke

The assignment this week is beginning to understand the liberal political philosophy of John Locke, the origin point for much of what Americans call liberal and conservative thinking today. Read the excerpts from Locke’s “Second Treatise” in the online reader or in its entirety in some other form, and answer one of the sets of questions below. You may answer more than one for additional credit, provided the answers are substantive.
  1. What does Locke mean by the “state of nature”? What is the purpose of this concept? Was it an objective description of reality or something else? Is it a useful concept for understanding how political regimes come to be and operate? You may find it helpful to compare and contrast Locke’s view of the “state of nature” with what Hobbes and Filmer argued in the earlier excerpts. 
  2. In the beginning, all the world was America.” What did Locke mean by this statement? How was it true and how not? What are implication of this way of thinking for American life and thought, in his time and later?
  3. What was the right of revolution as outlined by Locke? Who had it, and under what conditions should it or could it be invoked? Did those conditions exist at any time in British America during the 18th century? Jefferson argued that they did in 1776. Was he right?
BONUS QUESTION -- for the thoughtful and the grade-conscious

Other documents useful in answering this question (optional):

Franklin's defense of the plan

U.S. Constitution

Articles of Confederation 

The "Iroquois Constitution," a document dating from the late 19th century, but purporting to reflect practices and oral traditions going back centuries.

Locke's Second Treatise

One of the most tortured historical debates of recent times centers around an argument, made by a handful of determined historians and later picked up on by textbook writers and documentary film-makers, that the American Indians (specifically the Iroquois Confederacy) were an important influence on (or even a major inspiration for) the political thought and constitutional structure of the (white) American republic. The chief evidence for this concerns some comments that Benjamin Franklin made at a time (just before the French and Indian War) when he was promoting the idea of a defensive union of the colonies that would still be part of the British empire. Read Franklin's remarks (and his Albany Plan of Union) and give your own view of the possibility that the Iroquois provided the prototype for the United States. Even if you do not buy that argument, can you see any ways that the Indians may have influenced Euro-American political thought and government structure? Why would this "Iroquois influence thesis" have taken hold so strongly in the 1960s and after? Other helpful documents are available on the left. Click Ben Franklin's portrait to reply.
March 30, 2004
Were the American colonists justified in exercising their rights of revolution from 1765 to 1776? (They began by resisting and effectively nullifying a particular law, the Stamp Act, and ended by dissolving their ties to Great Britain altogether.)  Answer by doing the following: Read this report (by an American colonist) of Parliament's debate on the Stamp Act. Based on the speeches and the general issues, how would you (as a member of Parliament) have voted and why? Was the Stamp Act as unjust as Americans, and the main speaker in the selection, Col. Isaac Barre, claimed? Then read the Declaration of Independence (also available in the back of American Journey). How accurate and/or justified are the series of charges the Jefferson makes against the British in the later sections of the document? Do they really add up to the alleged conspiracy to establish "an absolute tyranny over these states"? 
April 13, 2004

DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT ANSWERING THIS QUESTIONS WITHOUT CAREFULLY READING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION, AND CONSTITUTION. An even better sense of the radicalism of the early part of the Revolution can be found in such documents as Paine's Common Sense, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.

Historians and journalists have long dismissed the early U.S. government operating under The Articles of Confederation as ridiculously weak, inept, and unworkable. Putting yourself in the shoes (and mind) of a person who lived through the 1760s & 70s, would there be anything you could say in favor of the Articles or the national government that operated under it? How would you have defended the Confederation regime against critics (such as the advocates of the present US Constitution), who wanted some more powerful and centralized form of national government? Some people at the time considered the Constitution a betrayal of the principles of the Revolution. Why?
CONSTITUTION-RELATED BONUS QUESTION During the 19th century, it became a question of great political and constitutional significance just who or what declared independence and enacted the Constitution. The leading contenders were: the states or the people of the United States as a whole? Southern radicals argued that the national government was the product of a compact among the various states, while northerners tended to argue the United States was a nation formed by, and representing, the people. Whose argument was a more accurate account of the founding of the United States and its Constitution? Select the best pieces of evidence on both sides.  Why would this question of "whodunnit" matter so much to later generations of Americans?
April 20, 2004

Make sure you have read Chapter 8 of American Journey and at least two of the sets of documents below before answering the following question: Imagine that you are a voter or congressman during the 1790s. Whom would you have supported, Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, or Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans? What particular position or idea would most influence your choice? Click the portrait of your favorite at the left to post your answer.


April 27, 2004
[NOTE: You will need to read chapter 11 & possibly 12 of American Journey to answer this question effectively.] Can political violence that includes civilian targets (as good a definition of terrorism as any) ever be justified, in any situation? What about a situation, like slavery, in which the perpetrators of tyranny are not government officials, but a whole class of private individuals? Read "David Walker's Appeal", along with William Lloyd Garrison's response to it. If you were an African American (slave or free) in the 1820s, what strategy would you have favored in dealing with slavery: violence as advocated by Walker and practiced by Nat Turner; colonization to Africa; or peaceful "moral suasion" and political agitation as advocated by William Lloyd Garrison and black abolitionists less radical than David Walker, such as Frederick Douglass? Which strategy was most effective in the long run?
May 6, 2004 This is intended as a warm-up for the big final exam question on the coming of the Civil War, to help get you started thinking about the underlying issues and organizing your information. We know that slavery was the difference that the North and South eventually fought over, but we should also consider their other differences, keeping in mind that almost everything about the two sections connected back to slavery in some way. Here's the question: Culturally and ideologically speaking, how did the North and South become increasingly different from each other after 1800, beyond the simple fact that slavery disappeared in one section and grew in the other? Answer by giving specific examples. Chapters 10-12 of the textbook will be especially helpful in providing you with some examples.

Martin Van Buren
To learn more about party system "founder" Martin Van Buren (including numerous video clips), check the Van Buren page on the C-SPAN "American Presidents" website. 
The party system is one of the most unpopular institutions in the U.S. today. Increasing numbers of voters claim to be independents, "nonpartisan" is a positive label, Democrats and Republicans often hide their party affiliations in campaign advertising, while crackpot billionaires, pro wrestlers, and Ralph Nader win 100,000s of votes by bashing the major parties. Yet when the party system was invented in the 19th century, it was considered by many Americans to be one of the great political innovations in the history of the world, and was copied in 100s of countries. How do you think the major parties performed, looking at their role in the mid-19th century? What positive and negative contributions did the major national political parties make, especially from the early 1800s to the 1840s?