Whigs and Democrats

November 13, 2003


I feel strange about today's class. For one thing, I finished my entire outline in class. That rarely happens. For another thing, I am caught up on political history. That too rarely happens. By referring to the events of Jackson's presidency but never explaining the events in Jackson's presidency I was able to: lay out the sectional crisis; lay out and discuss basic historical theories of contingency, path dependency, agency and change over time; review the rise of the Whig party; begin to show contrasts between Whigs and Democrats (showing change over time along the way); blame the American Civil War on John Tyler of Virginia; and fight the Mexican-American War.

In both sections David Wilmot and the Wilmot Proviso appeared two or three minutes before the end of class and served as a teaser. Students don't retain the beginning and end of class well, but I will review Wilmot on Tuesday. I have two classes next week and the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to get from 1847 to 1861; that is a luxurious amount of time to devote to political history. But, I will need that time.

Tuesday of next week the class is called something like: Railroads, Telegraphs and Riots. We are reading excerpts from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass - selections from "Song of Myself", all of "Song of the Broad-Axe" and "I Hear America Singing."

The problem is, I do not remember what I had originally planned to cover this class. I vaguely remember making sure it was in the syllabus so I would have a fill class in case I got behind on the political history. So I ask you: talk for 80 minutes - the rough equivalent of 5000 words or a 2-page skeleton outline - on Railroads, Telegraphs and Riots. Make sure that you discuss Leaves of Grass and the politics of the 1840s. What story can I tell?

After re-reading my selections I notice that what I picked from Whitman was, for lack of a better description, pastoral poetry about industrial work. The mention of Railroads and Telegraphs tells me that I had intended to talk about national institutions. The mention of Riots in the context of the 1840s means anti-Catholic riots. I will put together a narrative of closer ties across the country and increasing tensions within the country. I will need to review Wilmot, cover the Compromise of 1850, introduce anti-Catholicism, discuss the way that rapid transmission of information speeds up political arguments between the sections, describe the increasing flow of immigration and urbanization in the North, and talk about poetry. I can do that - already the pieces of the narrative are coming together for me.

Thanks blog, you help me think.

Posted by Red Ted at November 13, 2003 07:06 AM | TrackBack