Essays on the Classics!: American History, 1861-1917 (The Great Books Revival) (Volume 5)
Jason R. Goetz, author
The second volume of the American History set opens with a Preface by Dr. Elizabeth T. Adams, VP of Undergraduate Studies at California State University, Northridge. The first essay covers the philosophical and political reasons for the Civil War, examining them through Jefferson Davis’ The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government and Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs. It explains the conflict over social contract theory, and describes how the North followed (however unwittingly) Hobbes’ theory and the South followed Locke’s. It delves into specific elements of the Constitution, especially the controversy over the preamble, and explores Grant’s claims that the more developed age of his own period made parts of the document obsolete. It connects this claim and the reaction to it with similar claims made in the present age. It explores the preparation of the South for war, including Davis’ claims that it was not at all prepared and wished to go in peace and Grant’s that the Secretary of War in Buchanan’s administration had been transporting arms to the South. It then describes how there was an even more fundamental difference between the two sections’ respective conceptions of the ‘supreme good,’ and how their lifestyles reflected differing ethical constructs, as noted in Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It looks briefly at Weber’s statement that those who have different constructs like that often view each other as ‘radically distinct species of men,’ noting the treatment of POWs at Andersonville and Fort Monroe. The second essay of the volume looks at the same books and describes in detail the military history of the war itself. It explores the strategies employed by the North and their troubled generalship, documenting their attempts to strike through eastern Virginia, to head around through the West and infiltrate the South by conquering the Mississippi River, and to break through western Virginia. It examines the controversial edict of General Butler and the misdeeds of Sherman’s army on its infamous ‘March to the Sea,’ and explores the controversial claims of the Union to support in Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky. It examines the Union’s treatment of the state governments of the former Confederate territories once conquered, and describes how this reinforced the South’s belief that the Union was working under Hobbesian social contract theory. The third essay of the volume explores the development of industrialism and the Gilded Age in the aftermath of the Civil War, connecting it to the opening of the West through the Transcontinental Railroad and the Indian Wars. It explains how the traumas of the Indian Wars were reflected in the characterizations of opponents as ‘savages’ or ‘barbarians’ from various historical periods in the works of both supporters of and detractors from big business. It notes the common traits of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. It examines Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth and his Autobiography as reflective of support for the Gilded Age, and considers Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class and The Vested Interests and the Common Man, Charles Francis Adams’ Chapters of Erie, and Brooks Adams’ The Law of Civilization and Decay as criticism of the age. It lends context to ‘Black Friday’ in 1869 and the Homestead Strike of 1892, as well as the conflict over metallic backing of money which was immortalized in William Jennings Bryan’s ‘Cross of Gold’ speech in 1896. It concludes by analyzing what features of the robber barons’ mentality were troubling, and what should be acceptable. The fourth essay in the volume examines the troubles of African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the respective philosophies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois as leaders of the race from the 1880s to the early 1900s. It emphasizes the limitations of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It looks at Up From Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk to document each leader’s personal beliefs, describing in depth Washington’s career as an educator and his attempts to compromise with whites as well as Du Bois’ insistence that compromise would not ensure progress. It explores Washington’s successes and concludes that Du Bois’ philosophy was too militant for the times and might have been more dangerous had Washington been in agreement with it. The fifth and sixth essays in the volume note the transition into the twentieth century, in philosophy and politics as well as in general culture. The fifth essay looks at both The Education of Henry Adams and William James’ Pragmatism to show how the old ideals of the Adams family were being replaced by newer, more practical notions. It contrasts Adams’ statement that ‘the practical value of the universe has never been stated in dollars’ with James’ emphasis on the ‘cash-value’ of philosophical constructs. It also contrasts Adams’ emphasis on his own ignorance with James’ philosophy, which rests on the supposition that the consequences of a philosophical construct can be known. The sixth essay looks at the emergence of a ‘leisure culture’ in place of the old ‘pioneer culture’ with the conquest of the frontier, exploring the limitations of American imperialism and emphasizing the development of a culture of business management, universities, and mass entertainment. It looks at Teddy Roosevelt’s The Rough Riders, parts of Turner’s Frontier in American History, Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America, and Lawrence S. Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times. It emphasizes scientific development and the contrast between public and private universities, and notes the rise of baseball and the movies as well as vaudeville and popular lecturers.