Mr. Madison's War. Teaching

October 23, 2003


Mr. Madison's War.

Teaching Recap.

I stuck pretty much to the notes, but the weight of the class was once again swung towards the early part of the outline.

I did indeed set up the class as the United States struggling to retain sovereignty in a world at war, emphasized the total war between England and France, and argued that the law of nations says that a nation must do whatever it needs to do in order to survive, and for Britain and France this meant that they had to make their foreign policy decisions about neutral countries on purely pragmatic grounds involving self interest and the war.

From there I gave them a standard diplomatic/political history - we have not had diplomatic history before. We got the Jay Treaty, the election of 1796, the French privateers, XYZ, (forgot if the navy was mobilized before or after XYZ), Quasi-War with France, Hamilton gets caught by Adams, Adams and the theory of balance between rich and poor, Adams makes peace, Hamilton splits Federalists, Election of 1800, Hamilton pick Jefferson over Burr, Peace of Amiens, Louisiana Purchase, War again, Orders in Council of 1805 ending broken voyages, Impressment again, Embargo, end of Embargo.

That took about 50 minutes, leaving me half an hour for the rest. We spent a chunk of that time talking about the homework provocation. The morning class was pretty dead. The afternoon class was livelier, if only because a couple of the kids had gotten curious and tried to find the quote. They could not find it - it was my paraphrase of a Jefferson line.

Both classes brought forward the ideas that a free people are more likely to go to arms, that the American Revolution had only been won by professional soldiers, French and American, that there is a difference between fighting and continuing a resistance.

I then brought it forward, and asked what the founders' opinion of the current gun control debate might be. They had little to say, so I tried to provoke them. I made the point, loosely in the morning and explicitly in the afternoon, that the founders would have been willing to accept a law that urged people to own assault rifles and banned all hand guns. That got the afternoon folks going, and they quickly pointed out that the state militias evolved into the national guard, and that the state militias had all used armories rather than expecting everyone to show up with a Brown Bess. (I have not refreshed myself on the early national militia, as I recall from the militia laws of VA and PA, sometimes the law said show up with your gun, sometimes the law said that the state would provide guns for the militia, and as time passed the second approach was more and more common.) Brown Bess was the assault rifle of the eighteenth century: optimized for rapid fire military use of up to three shots per minute, equipped with a bayonet, and heavy so you could use it as a hand-to-hand weapon. I made a stronger provocation in the afternoon than in the morning, in both I urged them to use their knowledge of the Revolution and the War of 1812 to parse and test any modern argument made about gun laws, gun restrictions and the like. I had intended to bring up Chechnya and perhaps Afghanistan in class, but forgot to.

An aside, I may actually be more pro-gun than many of my kids. And I do not want one in the house. What I do intend, J permitting, is once the kids are old enough to know what they are doing we will take the NRA or equivalent gun safety class and the kids will learn how to shoot rifles at targets. I agree with the folks who argue that the way to keep kids safe around guns is to let them know what they are, how to use them, and how not to use them.

We took the last few minutes to hit the War of 1812 very quickly. I gave them John Stagg's interpretation about Madison and Canada. I covered the war in four minutes: Canada invasion repelled, US navy at sea, New York militia refusing to fight, Naval forces on the lakes preventing invasion, Militia running in front of Washington and the capital burned, Militia under Harrison fighting Indians in the Northwest, Militia under Jackson fighting Indians in the Southwest, Militia under Jackson being more scared of AJ than they were of the British and winning a victory. I told them they would get more Jackson next week, which they will. I like my Jackson lecture.

I think this class went fairly well. I will have to chase down that TJ letter and check the original quote. As I recall, he hinted at the sentiment that I put forward clearly.

Posted by Red Ted at October 23, 2003 10:10 AM | TrackBack