Thoughts on yesterday's class.

October 29, 2003



Thoughts on yesterday's class.

Class went pretty well, but I made one bad decision while planning it.

The story of the class was the story of the second generation of Americans, the people who came of age after the Constitution and, in Joyce Appleby's phrase, inherited the republic. I tried to set this up with political history, which let me lay out the first party system and national republicanism. This was not a bad decision. I then tried to use the Hamilton-Burr duel as the hook for the class. This was a bad decision. It ate a lot of time and was a poor proxy for the generational change. I ran out of time and only got partway through my intended outline. Ah well, at least when I tell of Jackson's duelling they will have some context.

After telling the duel, Joanne Freeman style, I laid out the First party system using an ideal type of republican (small r) and democratic (small d) political theory. I traced splits from patriots to madisonian federalists to the 2nd party system to the national republicans. Thursday I get to create the Democrats.

I took a few minutes to introduce Clay, Calhoun, and Webster.

I put most of the focus of the class on demographics, the sheer volume of young people in the Early Republic, and on the problems that a young society faced. I emphasized alcohol, working backwards from the standard Rorabaugh figure of 6 gallons of hard alcohol per adult per year, to show that the average man took about 8 drinks a day.

I then talked about westward expansion into the Northwest and Louisiana territories. This was pretty quick.

I laid out the counter-enlightenment. I was not happy with my explanation. I gave it as English anti-French revolution invoke revelation and cry down reason, arguing that enlightenment reason leads to deism and the guillotine. This is true, but I don't know what the kids understood of it. I then laid out American revival religion with capsule biographies of Lyman Beecher and Peter Cartwright.

Finally, in the last ten minutes or so, I argued that the Revlutionary movement towards emancipation was reversed by the dual forces of the counter-enlightenment, which discredited theories of inalienable human rights, and economic advantage, following on the cotton gin in 1793. People stopped manumitting and started selling slaves. I once again fumbled the details of the PA and NY gradual emancipation laws. Before I next cover this era I need to grab the full texts of those laws and also to review the narrative of Anglo-American Quaker lobbying against slavery and the slave trade at the end of the eighteenth century.

I had really wanted to lay out the early market revolution, including Rhode Island thread spinning, the Lancaster Pike, the Erie Canal, and the rise of the seaport cities. I never got there. I had also wanted to lay out Republican Motherhood, which I intended to position as an attempt to govern and control the horde of young people by educating them in republican and moral values.

All in all this was a lot of background and biographies and not a lot of narrative or analysis. Thursday is Andrew Jackson day. I know I want to work up Jackson's personality, the creation of the two party system, nullification, and herrenvolk democracy. I should be able to get the market revolution in as part of a discussion of the bank war. That will mean cutting back on Indian removal. I do not know how to get Republican motherhood in, unless I do a riff on Jackson's mother. I might do that, place her in the context of republican motherhood. That will swing my focus early again.

I like the fun of adjusting the classes to what we have just covered during the semester, but it adds a different sort of stress to my week.

And so to lunch.

Posted by Red Ted at October 29, 2003 12:23 PM | TrackBack