Schools in Antebellum America - History

Schools in Antebellum America - History

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Almost all Americans went to school at some point, but few attended school regularly. Even fewer went beyond elementary education. By the 1830s, most states provided some free education for the poor, but the idea of free public education for everyone had not yet gained wide support. Teachers were generally underpaid and undertrained, and depended heavily on rote memorization and stern discipline. In 1839, however, the first school for teachers in the United States was established, in Lexington, Massachusetts. While it was far from a brilliant success, it was a step toward the reformation of the American educational system.

Why Schools Fail To Teach Slavery's 'Hard History'

By the time George Washington died, more than 300 enslaved people lived and toiled on his Mount Vernon farm. Painting by Junius Brutus Stearns, 19th Century.

Getty Images/SuperStock RM

"In the ways that we teach and learn about the history of American slavery," write the authors of a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), "the nation needs an intervention."

This new report, titled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, is meant to be that intervention: a resource for teachers who are eager to help their students better understand slavery — not as some "peculiar institution" but as the blood-soaked bedrock on which the United States was built.

The report, which is the work of the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance project, is also an appeal to states, school district leaders and textbook-makers to stop avoiding slavery's hard truths and lasting impact.

The Teaching Tolerance project began in 1991, according to its website, "to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation's children."

The report includes the "dismal" results of a new, multiple-choice survey of 1,000 high school seniors — results that suggest many young people know little about slavery's origins and the government's role in perpetuating it. Just a third of students correctly identified the law that officially ended slavery, the 13th Amendment, and fewer than half knew of the Middle Passage. Most alarming, though, were the results to this question:

Which was the reason the South seceded from the Union?

a. To preserve states' rights

b. To preserve slavery

c. To protest taxes on imported goods

d. To avoid rapid industrialization

e. Not sure

How Much Do You Know About American Slavery?

Nearly half blamed taxes on imported goods. Perhaps, the report's authors guessed, students were confusing the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.

How many students chose slavery as the reason the South seceded?

"Slavery is hard history," writes Hasan Kwame Jeffries in the report's preface. He is an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University and chair of the Teaching Hard History Advisory Board. "It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it."

The problem, according to the report, is not that slavery is ignored in the classroom or that teachers, like their students, don't understand its importance. Many clearly do. The problem is deeper than that.

The Teaching Tolerance project surveyed nearly 1,800 K-12 social studies teachers. While nearly 90 percent agreed that "teaching and learning about slavery is essential to understanding American history," many reported feeling uncomfortable teaching slavery and said they get very little help from their textbooks or state standards. The report includes several powerful quotes from teachers explaining their discomfort, including this from a teacher in California:

"Although I teach it through the lens of injustice, just the fact that it was a widely accepted practice in our nation seems to give the concept of inferiority more weight in some students' eyes, like if it happened, then it must be true. Sometimes it gives students the idea to call black students slaves or tell them to go work in the field because of the lack of representation in textbooks. So when students see themselves or their black classmates only represented as slaves in textbooks, that affects their sense of self and how other students view them."

And this from a teacher in Maine:

"I find it painful, and embarrassing (as a white male) to teach about the history of exploitation, abuse, discrimination and outrageous crimes committed against African Americans and other minorities, over many centuries—especially at the hands of white males. I also find it very difficult to convey the concept of white privilege to my white students. While some are able to begin to understand this important concept, many struggle with or actively resist it."

Jackie Katz, a history teacher at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Mass., says student discomfort is a big challenge when talking honestly about slavery.

"When you bring up racism, kids start getting really defensive, thinking that they're to blame," says Katz. "To feel comfortable, you need to have a really good classroom climate, where students feel that they're not being blamed for what happened in the American past, where they don't feel shame about it. It is 100 percent not their fault that there is racism in this country. It will be their fault if they don't do anything about it in the next 20 years."

This defensiveness from students does not surprise Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history at American University and author of the National Book Award-winning Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas In America.

"Saying that the deadliest conflict in American history was fought over an effort to keep people enslaved conflicts with students' sense of the grandness of America, the grandness of American history and, therefore, the grandness of themselves as Americans," says Kendi.

Beyond this discomfort, the report lays out several key "problems" with the way slavery is often presented to students. Among them:

  • Textbooks and teachers tend to accentuate the positive, focusing on heroes like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass without also giving students the full, painful context of slavery.
  • Slavery is often described as a Southern problem. It was much, much more. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was a problem across the colonies. Even in the run-up to the Civil War, the North profited mightily from slave labor.
  • Slavery depended on the ideology of white supremacy, and teachers shouldn't try to tackle the former without discussing the latter.
  • Too often, the report says, "the varied, lived experience of enslaved people is neglected." Instead, lessons focus on politics and economics, which means focusing on the actions and experiences of white people.

States and textbook-makers deserve considerable blame for these problems, according to the report. The project reviewed history standards in 15 states and found them generally "timid," often looking for slavery's silver lining hence a common preference for coverage of the abolitionist movement over talk of white supremacy or the everyday experiences of enslaved people.

"State standards we looked at are simply confused," says Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance. "We celebrate the heroes who escaped slavery long before we explain to children what slavery was."

Reviewers also studied a dozen popular history textbooks, using a 30-point rubric to measure their engagement with slavery's key concepts. No book scored above 70 percent five scored below 25 percent, including state-level texts from Texas and Alabama that earned just 6 points out of a possible 87.

Teaching Hard History comes out of earlier work the Teaching Tolerance project had done, unpacking how schools teach the U.S. civil rights movement.

"One of the reasons that schools don't teach the civil rights movement particularly effectively," says Costello, "is because we don't do a very good job of teaching the history that made it necessary, which is our long history of slavery."


South Carolina passed the first laws prohibiting slave education in 1740. While there were no limitations on reading or drawing, it became illegal to teach slaves to write. This legislation followed the 1739 Stono Rebellion. As fears proliferated among plantation owners concerning the spread of abolitionist materials, forged passes, and other incendiary writings, the perceived need to restrict slaves’ ability to communicate with one another became more pronounced. For this reason, the State Assembly enacted the following: "Be it therefore Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all and every Person and Persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any Slave to be taught to write, or shall use to employ any slave as a Scribe in any Manner of Writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such offense forfeit the Sum of One Hundred Pounds current Money." [6] While the law does not clarify any consequences for the slaves who might attain this more highly prized form of literacy, the financial consequences for teachers are clear.

In 1759, Georgia modeled its own ban on teaching slaves to write after South Carolina's earlier legislation. Again, reading was not prohibited. Throughout the colonial era, reading instruction was tied to the spread of Christianity, so it did not suffer from restrictive legislation until much later. [7]

The most oppressive limits on slave education were a reaction to Nat Turner's Revolt in Southampton County, Virginia, during the summer of 1831. This event not only caused shock waves across the slave-holding South, but it had a particularly far-reaching impact on education over the next three decades. The fears of slave insurrections and the spread of abolitionist material and ideology led to radical restrictions on gatherings, travel, and—of course—literacy. The ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders. [8] Not only did owners fear the spread of specifically abolitionist materials, they did not want slaves to question their authority thus, |reading and reflection were to be prevented at any cost.

Each state responded differently to the Turner insurrection. Virginians "immediately, as an act of retaliation or vengeance, abolished every colored school within their borders and having dispersed the pupils, ordered the teachers to leave the State forthwith, and never more to return." [9] While Mississippi already had laws designed to prevent slave literacy, in 1841 the state legislature passed a law that required all free African Americans to leave the state so that they would not be able to educate or incite the slave population. Other states, such as South Carolina, followed suit. The same legislation required that any black preacher would have to be given permission to speak before appearing in front of a congregation. Delaware passed in 1831 a law that prevented the meeting of a dozen or more blacks late at night additionally, black preachers were to petition a judge or justice of the peace before speaking before any assembly.

While states like South Carolina and Georgia had not developed legislation that prohibited education for slaves, other more moderate states responded directly to the 1821 revolt. In 1833, Alabama enacted a law that fined anyone who undertook a slave's education between $250 and $550 the law also prohibited any assembly of African Americans—slave or free—unless five slave owners were present or an African-American preacher had previously been licensed by an approved denomination.

Even North Carolina, which had previously allowed free African-American children to attend schools alongside whites, eventually responded to fears of insurrection. By 1836, the public education of all African Americans was strictly prohibited.

In examining the educational practices of the period, it is difficult to ascertain absolute figures or numbers. However, Genovese (1986) has explored some of these areas and offers some interesting insights.

W. E. B. Du Bois and other contemporaries estimated that by 1865 as many as 9% of slaves attained at least a marginal degree of literacy. Genovese comments: "this is entirely plausible and may even be too low" (p. 562). Especially in cities and sizable towns, many free blacks and literate slaves had greater opportunities to teach others, and both white and black activists operated illegal schools in cities such as Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Charleston, Richmond, and Atlanta. Some notable educators included:

    , a black pastor, who created a Floating Freedom School on the Mississippi River to circumvent anti-literacy laws. [10]James Milton Turner attended his school. , a white woman who published a memoir after she was imprisoned in Virginia for teaching free black children to read. [11]
  • Catherine and Jane Deveaux, a black mother and daughter who, with the Catholic nun Mathilda Beasley, ran underground schools in Savannah, Georgia. [12]

Even on plantations, the regular practice of hiring out slaves helped spread literacy. As seen in Frederick Douglass's own narrative, it was common for the literate to share their learning. [13] As a result of the constant flux, few if any plantations would fail to have at least a few literate slaves.

Fredrick Douglass states in his biography that he understood the pathway from slavery to freedom and it was to have the power to read and write. In contrast, Schiller wrote: "After all, most educated slaves did not find that the acquisition of literacy led inexorably and inevitably to physical freedom and the idea that they needed an education to achieve and experience existential freedoms is surely problematic." [14]

As early as the 1710s slaves were receiving Biblical literacy from their masters. Enslaved writer Phillis Wheatley was taught in the home of her master. She ended up using her skills to write poetry and address leaders of government on her feelings about slavery (although she died in abject poverty and obscurity). Not everyone was lucky enough to have the opportunities Wheatley had. Many slaves did learn to read through Christian instruction, but only those whose owners allowed them to attend. Some slave owners would only encourage literacy for slaves because they needed someone to run errands for them and other small reasons. They did not encourage slaves to learn to write. Slave owners saw writing as something that only educated white men should know. [15] African-American preachers would often attempt to teach some of the slaves to read in secret, but there were very few opportunities for concentrated periods of instruction. Through spirituals, stories, and other forms of oral literacy, preachers, abolitionists, and other community leaders imparted valuable political, cultural, and religious information.

There is evidence of slaves practicing reading and writing in secret. Slates were discovered [ when? ] near George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon with writings carved [ further explanation needed ] in them. Bly noted that "237 unidentified slates, 27 pencil leads, 2 pencil slates, and 18 writing slates were uncovered in houses once occupied by Jefferson's black bond servants." This shows that slaves were secretly practicing their reading and writing skills when they had time alone, most likely at night. They [ who? ] also believe slaves practiced their letters in the dirt because it was much easier to hide than writing on slates. Slaves then passed on their newly-learned skills to others. [16]

Even though mistresses were more likely than masters to ignore the law and teach slaves to read, children were by far the most likely to flout what they saw as unfair and unnecessary restrictions. While peer tutelage was limited in scope, it was common for slave children to carry the white children's books to school. Once there, they would sit outside and try to follow the lessons through the open windows.

In the 1780s a group called the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (PAS) took on anti-slavery tasks. They helped former slaves with educational and economic aid. They also helped with legal obligations, like making sure they didn't get sold back into slavery. Another anti-slavery group, called the New York Manumission Society (NYMS), did many things towards the abolition of slavery one important thing they did was establish a school for free blacks. “The NYMS established the African Free School in 1787 that, during its first two decades of existence, enrolled between 100 and 200 students annually, registering a total of eight hundred pupils by 1822.” [ citation needed ] The PAS also instituted a few schools for the free blacks and also had them run only by freed African Americans.

They were taught reading, writing, grammar, math, and geography. The schools would have an annual Examination Day to show the public, parents, and donors the knowledge the students had gained. It mainly was to show the white population that African Americans could function in society. There are some surviving records of what they learned in the free schools. Some of the work showed that they were preparing the students for a middle-class standing in society. Founded in 1787, the African Free School provided education for blacks in New York City for more than six decades. [17]

In 1863, an image of two emancipated slave children, Isaac and Rosa, who were studying at the Free School of Louisiana, was widely circulated in abolitionist campaigns. [18]

Public Education in Antebellum Alabama

Barton Academy The city of Mobile was a leader in early public education efforts, establishing Barton Academy in 1836 with $50,000 in lottery proceeds. What would become the first real public school system in the state saw enrollment grow steadily through 1853, when it educated 854 students. In 1852, Mobile consolidated the schools' funds and formed a larger public education system under a board of commissioners, with additional funding coming from fines, land grants, liquor taxes, and a percentage of tax revenue. In 1854, Barton Academy was divided into departments. The Primary School was tuition-free, and students remained at that level until they had mastered reading, spelling words, punctuation, counting to 100, and performing simple math problems. The Intermediate Division was also tuition-free and focused on elocution, writing, addition, multiplication, subtraction, and counting to 1,000. The Grammar School and High School charged tuition of $1.50 and $3.00 for a school year, respectively, and offered advanced instruction in spelling, penmanship, math, geography, English, algebra, and geometry. William F. Perry With adequate land set aside for education, Alabama had the potential to establish a statewide publicly supported system similar to other progressive states. But for all its potential, education in Alabama suffered from what would be a familiar refrain of inadequate funding and lack of public enthusiasm. Sale of public lands dedicated to education often comprised the only funding for schools. In north Alabama, where land values were much lower than in the Black Belt, little revenue was gained from such land sales, and schools there suffered. In 1836, the federal government divided the surplus of national land sales among the states, and Alabama received $669,086.78, all of which was deposited in the state bank for the public school fund. Unfortunately, after the Panic of 1837 and the ensuing economic depression, the bank collapsed in 1843 and the education funds were lost. Even with limited funds, a few township schools existed in the state until the 1850s, primarily the result of an emerging social consciousness. To some residents, however, public education served as a symbol that one's family could not afford private tutors and thus were not of the proper social class.

Despite the new school law, public education suffered from fiscal mismanagement, lack of public and legislative dedication, and annual uncertainty over funding. Tax revenues for school funding were so meager that most public schools depended on local support, including subscriptions and donations, to remain open. How long the doors remained open, however, depended largely upon the region in which a school resided and the local ability to supplement school funding. In more affluent areas of the state, schools had the resources to remain open longer, some for up to nine months. In poorer areas, schools might stay open for only five months. Even these meager gains would be set back with the outbreak of the Civil War, and the Reconstruction era would bring drastic change to the system as well.

Griffith, Lucille. Alabama: A Documentary History to 1900. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1968.

Little Known Facts About the Antebellum South

Virginia was the first state to outlaw the African slave trade in 1778 (10 years before Massachusetts and 30 years before England).

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America made the first clear prohibition against slave trade, not the Constitution of the United States.

Not all blacks in the South were slaves. Some were indentured servants and had certain rights and a specified duration of service. About ten percent of blacks in the Upper South were free and made their living as laborers or small tradesmen. Less than two percent of blacks in the Deep South were free, but they tended to be rich and owned slaves themselves. There were 3.5 million Negroes in the South some had been there as early as 1526. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, most servants (95%) stayed with their owners rather than flee north through the Underground Railroad.

Most Americans did not own slaves. Families in the North who owned slaves were only a few percentage points less than families of the South. According to the 1860 Census, only 4.8% of Southerners owned slaves, 95.2 did not. In the same year there were only 2,300 Aristocratic Planters (those who owned 100 or more slaves), just .03 percent of the total white population, while only 8,000 owned as many as fifty slaves (.11 percent). Of the total white Southern population, just 46,000 individuals met the criteria for actual planter status (owning large acreage and twenty or more slaves), a mere .06 percent of the population. With only around five percent of Southern whites as slave owners, what about the other 95 percent? They were just poor farmers who operated without servants and had no interest in the institution of slavery.

The South had already begun to end slavery. In 1817 a group of prominent white Virginians organized the American Colonization Society, which proposed a gradual freeing of slaves, with masters receiving compensation. The liberated blacks would be transported out of the country and helped to establish a new society of their own. Funding came from private donors, some from Congress, some from the legislatures of Virginia and Maryland. Several groups of blacks were taken to the west coast of Africa, where in 1830 they established the nation of Liberia (named from the word liberation). In 1846, Liberia became an independent black republic, with its capital, Monrovia, named after the American president who presided over the initial settlement. In 1860, the CSA issued a decree that said all slaveholders had to give their slaves the option of being deported. At the beginning of the war, the South issued emancipation but the US government overshadowed it with its own.

The abolition movement began in the South. However, their version of ending slavery was not as extreme and unreasonable as the North’s version, which did not offer any compensation to owners for the loss of their slaves. Additionally, the people of the South, as others, did not like being told what to do, how to do it, or when to do it. The attitude of the South changed greatly after the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831. Some sixty whites, most of them abolitionists and non-slave owners were butchered in their sleep (not even babies were spared). The unremorseful Turner and his racist madmen were all caught within a few weeks and hanged. If Turner was trying to end slavery, he had done the worst thing possible – his “rebellion” not only did not advance the cause of African-Americans, it actually reversed it. In its aftermath at least 100 blacks were killed, horrified whites passed new and harsh slave codes, and abolitionist sentiment, once strong across the South, was considerably dampened for decades afterward. This was a revolutionary change in the attitude for white Southerners, who had for so long considered their black servants and other free blacks as “family” and fellow citizens of Dixie. Thus while nearly every Southerner had once been an abolitionist, after 1831 the idea of emancipation was considered too dangerous, and blacks everywhere, bond or free, began to be viewed with suspicion. As radical abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, made their continued attacks against Dixie, the Southerners dug in their heels and built up a defensive wall of resentment and fear. No one, especially Yankees, would tell them what to do, especially when the lives of their families were at stake. How and when would the South end slavery? That was her decision, as the U.S. Constitution clearly affirmed.

Black bondage in the South was not true slavery. According to Edward Pollard, the editor of the Richmond Examiner during the war, there never was such a thing as “slavery” in the Old South. It was actually a “well-guarded and moderate system of negro servitude.” The first blacks brought to North America (in 1619) were not regarded as slaves, but as indentured servants, laborers with the same rights as white indentured servants. Most Southerners called them servants unlike the Northerners who called them slaves. A slave is under the control and ownership of another, works without pay, has almost no rights, cannot purchase freedom, and often serves for life. Servitude, on the other hand, is for a limited duration, is not owned, is paid a wage, may work for others, possess a variety of personal and civil rights, and have the power to buy their freedom. These rights, and many others, were protected by statute in all of the Southern states.

There were thousands of Black slave owners in early America. In the Deep South alone, some 1,500 free blacks owned nearly 8,000 slaves. In Charleston, South Carolina, between 1820 and 1840, 75 percent of the city’s free blacks owned slaves. Furthermore, a stunning 25 percent of all free American blacks (South and North) owned slaves. In 1861, the South’s 300,000 white slave owners made up only 1 percent of the total U.S. white population of 30,000,000 people. Thus, while only one Southern white out of every 300,000 owned slaves (1%), one Southern black out of every four owned slaves (25%). In other words, far more blacks owned black (and sometimes white) slaves than whites did! The well-known Anna Kingsley, who began life as a slave in her native Africa, ended up in what is now Jacksonville, Florida, where she became one of early America’s many black plantation owners and slaveholders. Black servitude was also common among the American Indians. It was one of the reasons so many Native-Americans sided with the Confederacy because it promised to enforce the fugitive slave law in Indian Territory, making it a legal requirement to return runaway slaves to their owners. The average white slave owner owned five or less (usually one or two) slaves, while the average Native-American owned six. It was non-whites who individually owned the most slaves, not whites.

Both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis released their slaves (as did many others) before Lincoln’s War began. General Grant never released his wife’s slaves until 8 months after the war and was forced to because the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865.

The South was a multi-racial society (in a limited sense) long before the North ever considered such an idea. The North was far more racist than the South, which was one of the main reasons they abolished slavery first – they just did not want blacks around, nor did they want them competing with white labor.

The North benefited economically by the slave trade. Slave ships flew the U.S. flag (not the Confederate flag) and docked at Northern harbors. The abolitionists did not want Black laborers competing with White laborers in their northern factories. The North needed the South’s economy, but the South did not need the North. The South was still largely agricultural, self-sufficient, and was more accepting of Blacks into their culture. Northern slavery eventually became unprofitable because of the climate but Northern businessmen owned the factories that produce goods made of cotton, which came from the South. Many of these “Wall Street Boys” became wealthy because of slavery. In this way, when the North grew tired of blacks and slavery, she pushed the institution southward on a mostly unwilling populace that had been trying to abolish it since the 17oo’s.

The North had unmercifully dominated the South for decades. Tariffs and other taxation were heavy on the South and government expenditures were nearly always allotted to Northern states. The South was also being attacked over the slavery issue and with Lincoln’s dire 1861 predictions of coming Negro insurrections, anarchy, and widespread white deaths across Dixie, the South’s reaction to the constant meddling was particularly strong. Again, antislavery sentiment began to disintegrate, and out of fear, the South began to resist abolition. It was not the destruction of slavery that the South was against it was the premature, forced destruction of slavery by a foreign power that had been dominating her for decades. The North knew that constant pressuring of the South would lead to the reaction of stubborn resistance, which Lincoln used to paint the South as the “bad guy.” This gave Lincoln the excuse later to force the issue at the tip of a bayonet the day he grudgingly issued the Final Emancipation Proclamation, which underhandedly altered the character of the war from “preserving the Union” to “abolishing slavery.” In short, the ill will created by Northern abolitionists’ accusations against Dixie made it impossible for Southerners to make an immediate movement towards abolition.

Lincoln was not against slavery he was against the spread of it (as everyone was). He believed in apartheid and wanted to send all blacks back to Africa, even though many had been here since the sixteenth century. He supported the idea of corralling African-Americans into their own all-black state. He also believed in white supremacy as nearly everyone did at that time.

Both elections of Lincoln were rigged. Lincoln won his first election in 1860 with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. He received nearly one million votes less than his opponents combined did. He won mainly due to the electoral college, and he won that because the Democrats had a four way split in the party. According to Judge George L. Christian of Richmond, Lincoln “was only nominated by means of a corrupt bargain entered into between his representatives and those of Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, and Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana, by which Cabinet positions were pledged both to Cameron and to Smith in consideration for the votes controlled by them, in the convention, and which pledges Lincoln fulfilled, and in that way made himself a party to these corrupt bargains.” Additionally, Lincoln won the election of 1864 because he rigged the election by stationing soldiers at voting stations, restricted free speech and the press, and cheated his way into office. His convention managers handed out patronage pledges like candy who later admitted that they would promise “anything and everything” to anyone who would vote for him. He won with a 55 percent majority, not really a landslide. If the Southern states had participated in 1864, he would have lost by a landslide.

Secession was legal. Southern secession in 1861 was better founded in law than the secession of the American colonies from Britain in 1776. State sovereignty was a cornerstone of American political philosophy. South Carolina’s declaration of independence from the Union was far less radical than the Colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Britain. That Declaration said, “…It is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government….”

The South did all it could to avoid war. In early 1861, as threats of violence came from Washington, D.C., President Davis sent one peace commission after another to the White House in an attempt to prevent bloodshed. Lincoln only met once during the war.

The North uses deception and lies to denigrate the South.Terms like Civil War, Slavery, Rebel, Reconstruction, etc., often cause a different picture to be created into the minds of history students as to the real situation during Lincoln’s War. These terms discredit the legitimacy of the Confederacy and the founding documents of America, and are pure propaganda to make the Conqueror appear good. Americans today often say that the South should apologize for their use of slavery. The South has apologized many times on many occasions. Historian, Lochlainn Seabrook responds to this accusation:

What the South wants to know is why the North has not also apologized for its role in the “peculiar institution.” After all, it was Northerners who first introduced the slave trade to the American colonies in 1638 it was Northern ship builders who constructed America’s first slave ships it was Northern businessmen who financed these ships it was these Northern slave ships which first sailed to Africa it was Northern ports that harbored the first American slave ships it was a Northern state (the colony of Massachusetts) that first legalized slavery in 1641 it was Yankee businessmen who owned and operated the entire American slave trading business it was the North that first prospered from slavery and finally, it was the North that sold its slaves to the South when it finally found them to be both disagreeable and unprofitable. Also, an apology for African slavery in America is also due from the thousands of descendants of early slave owning African-Americans, Native-Americans, and Latin-Americans, as well as Africa herself: Africa not only practiced slavery long prior to the arrival of Europeans, but greatly expedited and even encouraged Europeans in developing the Atlantic slave trade. [Everything You Were Taught About the Civil War Was Wrong, 2012, p.93]

Not only was all this true of the North, but also Jews, Muslims, and various tribal Black factions participated in rounding up human resources of all races to be sold on the global market, most of which went to South America (50%) and the West Indies (42%). Only 4% went to the British Colonies of North America, 2% to Mexico, and 2% to Europe.

The purpose of this information is to give a more balanced view of history instead of the lopsided view we are usually given in our educational institutions. – Jim Jester, founder of White History Month (January April is Confederate History Month).

Resistance to Common Schools

Historian Carl Kaestle has maintained that the eventual acceptance of state common school systems was based upon American's commitment to republican government, the dominance of native Protestant culture, and the development of capitalism. While the convergence of these forces can be credited with the emergence and endurance of America's common schools, the arguments and fears of opponents of public education were not easily overcome. The hegemonic Pan-Protestant common school system may have had general popular support, but many Roman Catholics (and some Protestant sects) strenuously objected to the supposedly "nonsectarian" schools. Many Catholics agreed with New York City Bishop John Hughes, who argued that the public schools were anti-Catholic and unacceptable to his flock. When repeated pleas for a share of public funds dedicated to the support of religious schools failed to win legislative approval in New York and elsewhere, many Catholics rejected the nondenominational public school compromise, a situation that eventually led to the creation of a separate and parallel system of parochial schools.

Religious division was not the only obstacle to universal acceptance of the doctrine of universal public education. A desire to maintain strict local control over schools put many advocates of statewide organization on the defensive. Intermixed with class, race, and ethnic tensions, demands for local control of schools was&ndashand remains&ndasha hotly contested issue. Opposition to taxation, raised as an objection to publicly financed schemes of education during the colonial period, continued to provoke resistance. Related to issues of control and taxation were charges that government involvement in education was a repudiation of liberalism and parental rights. Advocates of this position championed the right of individuals to be left alone and responsible for their own lives.

Finally, if some of the more conservative members of society feared that public schools and democratic rhetoric might unsettle relations between capital and labor and lead to increased clamoring over "rights" on the part of the working classes, some of the more radical labor leaders contended that public day schools, while useful, did not go far enough toward creating a society of equals. Among the most extreme positions was that put forward by the workingmen's party in New York, of which Robert Dale Owen, social reformer and son of Robert Owen (founder of the utopian New Harmony Community in Indiana) was a member. In 1830 that body called for public support of common boardingschools in which all children would not only live together and study the same subjects, but would dress in the same manner and eschew all reminders of "the pride of riches, or the contempt of poverty" (Carlton, p. 58). Few reformers were willing to endorse so radical a proposal, however.

America in the Antebellum Period

Scott Willis
Dr. Register
History 201
Historians mark the year 1789 as the end of the Revolutionary period in America. Liberty had triumphed, and Americans under the leadership of a bright and resolute few, had fashioned a republic capable governing itself. Modern Americans tend to view the early years of the Republic with a sense of sentimental nostalgia. America had become a nation-- or had it? On the surface, this may have been the case. Certainly the events of the Colonial period brought forth drastic and long-awaited change, however the historical developments of the 19th century were equally as revolutionary. Independence was an extraordinary feat, yet it was not until the 19th century that a distinct American identity emerged.

America’s national identity was complex during the 1800’s nationalism was a powerful force, but a sectional force nonetheless. 19th century America was, what historian Robert Wiebe called “a society of island communities”.[i] The remarkable transformations that characterized the 19th century both unified and divided the Republic in its early years. Political upheaval, economic transformation, technological advances and social and religious reform led to both desired and unexpected changes. There was no single unifying force that brought the nation together. Instead, there existed a number of beliefs and movements that all Americans supported to some degree.

Before addressing the factors most significant in uniting and dividing America in the antebellum period, it is important to understand the turbulent environment that characterized the beginning of the 19th century. The stage was set for significant upheaval in 1800, with the election of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson imagined a nation built on the genius of the American workingman.[ii] He supported the formation of an agrarian nation opposed to an industrialized one, hoping to spread agricultural institutions across the seemingly infinite frontier. The laboring man had become America’s hero, especially in the North. As stated by Jefferson “those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God.” This ideology fueled the expansion of the country, both from an economic and territorial perspective.[iii]

The Jeffersonian admiration of labor corresponded with the rise of a unifying nationalism. America’s victory in the War of 1812 had opened up a tremendous amount of land for expansion. The British relinquished their hold on the Oregon territories, and the Indian tribes of the Northwest and the South were defeated and dispossessed. Americans were free to expand beyond their original boundaries. The construction of canals, national roads and railroads facilitated the movement of people and the exchange of goods. In the North, a new market society boomed, enhanced by this transportation revolution. The South also benefitted, strengthened by internal improvements, and technological advances such as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. Agriculture flourished, especially in the South, where a slave-based labor system found new opportunities for expansion into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and territories further west.

America in the early 19th century was growing at an astounding pace. With this development came the emergence of the two very different societies: a market society in the North and a slave society in the South. The different ideologies of labor in North and the South would prove to be the most divisive issue of the 19th century. The North and the South became increasingly opposed, due to fundamental differences in labor ideology and hierarchies of racial division. The sectional opposition between the two regions created a divide that not only could not be bridged, but also grew increasingly apart as these differences became institutionalized. Differing labor ideologies emerged simultaneously. In the South, labor remained contemptible as men aspired to.

Educational Reform in the Antebellum PeriodThe antebellum period (1781-1860) was characterised by significant changes in all social spheres. Besides the transformation in political, social and economic systems, educational reforms were also realized. However, it is worth noting that reforms did not immediately lead to efficient and sustainable structures until other improvements were made during subsequent years. Changes in educational systems that took place during this period have had major impacts on twenty-first-century learners.

One notable event during the antebellum era that brought about educational reforms was the rise of a ‘Common School Movement’. During the initial years of the antebellum period, education had been privatized to the extent that poor children did not have accessibility to education. Due to this, the ‘common school movement’ came into force to fight for the establishment of a common schooling system. The aim of the movement was to push for a system that would offer educational prospect for all children (Simpson, 2004).

According to them, education could eradicate poverty and maintain social stability (Simpson, 2004). It is through the movement’s effort that the government established publicly supported secondary and elementary schooling systems. These moves have had a great impact on me as a twenty-first-century learner in that I can access education. As it stands now, all children in America regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or social class can access education. The initial common belief that public schools were for poor children is long gone.

This movement also fought for the expansion of schools. They compelled the government to allocate public funds towards public schooling systems so as to meet expansion needs. They also advocated the need of public schools to be accountable to state governments and school boards. As a result, the government was forced to finance public schools (Simpson, 2004). The government also came up with laws that made elementary school attendance compulsory. In subsequent years, education became universal.

The impact it has had on me as a twenty-first-century learner is the fact that through the government, I have the ability to access various learning resources. Consequent results of the movement’s fight also included government’s establishment of a practical educational curriculum system. Quality of education had become a major concern for most people. Most philosophers at the time insisted on a system that would not only enable people to read and write, but also one that would help eradicate poverty through innovation and creativity (Simpson, 2004).

Similarly, people developed the perception that, the more educated they were, the more productive they became. Over the years, these ideas have contributed to the general development and improvement of educational curriculums. As a learner in the 21st century, the impact these ideas have had on me is that I can access quality education that has expanded my thinking and reasoning capacity to a great extent. Moreover, I have developed a value system that has helped me to establish good morals firmly and exercise my duties and responsibilities as a citizen.

Through various reforms that were achieved through the ‘common school movement’, education has been able to eradicate or rather control various social challenges. For instance, it is through education that society can deal with class, gender, religious and racial differences. To a very large extent, political, social and economic sustainability has been achieved. As a learner, education has enabled me to develop skills and acquire knowledge that I could somewhat not have achieved if I lived before the antebellum period.

Schools in Antebellum America - History

More than five million immigrants arrived in the United States between 1820 and 1860. Irish, German, and Jewish immigrants sought new lives and economic opportunities. By the Civil War, nearly one out of every eight Americans had been born outside of the United States. A series of push and pull factors drew immigrants to the United States.

In England, an economic slump prompted Parliament to modernize British agriculture by revoking common land rights for Irish farmers. These policies generally targeted Catholics in the southern counties of Ireland and motivated many to seek greater opportunity and the booming American economy pulled Irish immigrants towards ports along the eastern United States. Between 1820 and 1840, over 250,000 Irish immigrants arrived in the United States. Without the capital and skills required to purchase and operate farms, Irish immigrants settled primarily in northeastern cities and towns and performed unskilled work. Irish men usually emigrated alone and, when possible, practiced what became known as chain migration. Chain migration allowed Irish men to send portions of their wages home, which would then be used to either support their families in Ireland or to purchase tickets for relatives to come to the United States. Irish immigration followed this pattern into the 1840s and 1850s, when the infamous Irish Famine sparked a massive exodus out of Ireland. Between 1840 and 1860, 1.7 million Irish fled starvation and the oppressive English policies that accompanied it. As they entered manual, unskilled labor positions in urban America’s dirtiest and most dangerous occupations, Irish workers in northern cities were compared to African Americans and nativist newspapers portrayed them with ape-like features. Despite hostility, Irish immigrants retained their social, cultural, and religious beliefs and left an indelible mark on American culture.

John Tenniel, “Mr. G’Orilla,” c. 1845-52, via Wikimedia.

While the Irish settled mostly in coastal cities, most German immigrants used American ports and cities as temporary waypoints before settling in the rural countryside. Over 1.5 million immigrants from the various German states arrived in the United States during the antebellum era. Although some southern Germans fled declining agricultural conditions and repercussions of the failed revolutions of 1848, many Germans simply sought steadier economic opportunity. German immigrants tended to travel as families and carried with them skills and capital that enabled them to enter middle class trades. Germans migrated to the Old Northwest to farm in rural areas and practiced trades in growing communities such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, three cities that formed what came to be called the German Triangle.

Most German immigrants were Catholics, but many were Jewish. Although records are sparse, New York’s Jewish population rose from approximately 500 in 1825 to 40,000 in 1860. Similar gains were seen in other American cities. Jewish immigrants, hailing from southwestern Germany and parts of occupied Poland, moved to the United States through chain migration and as family units. Unlike other Germans, Jewish immigrants rarely settled in rural areas. Once established, Jewish immigrants found work in retail, commerce, and artisanal occupations such as tailoring. They quickly found their footing and established themselves as an intrinsic part of the American market economy. Just as Irish immigrants shaped the urban landscape through the construction of churches and Catholic schools, Jewish immigrants erected synagogues and made their mark on American culture.

The sudden influx of immigration triggered a backlash among many native-born Anglo-Protestant Americans. This nativist movement, especially fearful of the growing Catholic presence, sought to limit European immigration and prevent Catholics from establishing churches and other institutions. Popular in northern cities such as Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities with large Catholic populations, nativism even spawned its own political party in the 1850s. The American Party, more commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” found success in local and state elections throughout the North. The party even nominated candidates for President in 1852 and 1856. The rapid rise of the Know-Nothings, reflecting widespread anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment, slowed European immigration. Immigration declined precipitously after 1855 as nativism, the Crimean War, and improving economic conditions in Europe discouraged potential migrants from traveling to the United States. Only after the American Civil War would immigration levels match, and eventually surpass, the levels seen in the 1840s and 1850s.

In industrial northern cities, Irish immigrants swelled the ranks of the working class and quickly encountered the politics of industrial labor. Many workers formed trade unions during the early republic. Organizations such as the Philadelphia’s Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers or the Carpenters’ Union of Boston operated in within specific industries in major American cities and worked to protect the economic power of their members by creating closed shops—workplaces wherein employers could only hire union members—and striking to improve working conditions. Political leaders denounced these organizations as unlawful combinations and conspiracies to promote the narrow self-interest of workers above the rights of property holders and the interests of the common good. Unions did not become legally acceptable—and then only haltingly—until 1842 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of a union organized among Boston bootmakers, arguing that the workers were capable of acting “in such a manner as best to subserve their own interests.”

N. Currier, “The Propagation Society, More Free than Welcome,” 1855, via Wikimedia.

In the 1840s, labor activists organized to limit working hours and protect children in factories. The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen (NEA) mobilized to establish a ten-hour day across industries. They argued that the ten-hour day would improve the immediate conditions of laborers by allowing “time and opportunities for intellectual and moral improvement.” After a city-wide strike in Boston in 1835, the Ten-Hour Movement quickly spread to other major cities such as Philadelphia. The campaign for leisure time was part of the male working-class effort to expose the hollowness of the paternalistic claims of employers and their rhetoric of moral superiority.

Women, a dominant labor source for factories since the early 1800s, launched some of the earliest strikes for better conditions. Textile operatives in Lowell, Massachusetts, “turned-out” (walked off) their jobs in 1834 and 1836. During the Ten-Hour Movement of the 1840s, female operatives provided crucial support. Under the leadership of Sarah Bagley, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association organized petition drives that drew thousands of signatures from “mill girls.” Like male activists, Bagley and her associates used the desire for mental improvement as a central argument for reform. An 1847 editorial in the Voice of Industry, a labor newspaper published by Bagley, asked “who, after thirteen hours of steady application to monotonous work, can sit down and apply her mind to deep and long continued thought?” Despite the widespread support for a ten-hour day, the movement achieved only partial success. President Van Buren established a ten-hour-day policy for laborers on federal public works projects. New Hampshire passed a state-wide law in 1847 and Pennsylvania following a year later. Both states, however, allowed workers to voluntarily consent to work more than ten hours per day.

In 1842, child labor became a dominant issue in the American labor movement. The protection of child laborers gained more middle-class support, especially in New England, than the protection of adult workers. A petition from parents in Fall River, a southern Massachusetts mill town that employed a high portion of child workers, asked the legislature for a law “prohibiting the employment of children in manufacturing establishments at an age and for a number of hours which must be permanently injurious to their health and inconsistent with the education which is essential to their welfare.” Massachusetts quickly passed a law prohibiting children under the age of twelve from working more than ten hours a day. By the mid-nineteenth century, every state in New England had followed Massachusetts’ lead. Between the 1840s and 1860s, these statutes slowly extended the age of protection of labor and the assurance of schooling. Throughout the region, public officials agreed that young children (between nine and twelve years) should be prevented from working in dangerous occupations, and older children (between twelve and fifteen years) should balance their labor with education and time for leisure.

Male workers, sought to improve their income and working conditions to create a household that kept women and children protected within the domestic sphere. But labor gains were limited and movement itself remained moderate. Despite its challenge to industrial working conditions, labor activism in antebellum America remained largely wedded to the free labor ideal. The labor movement supported the northern free soil movement, which challenged the spread of slavery, that emerged during the 1840s, simultaneously promoting the superiority of the northern system of commerce over the southern institution of slavery while trying, much less successfully, to reform capitalism.

Watch the video: Antebellum America