A Free Course from Yale on the U.S. Civil War

If there’s a silver lining to the Trump administration, it’s that it provides some teachable moments for historians and students. Just days after the inauguration, Trump commented at a celebration of Black History Month, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” Enter the historians, who quickly reminded us that the great abolitionist, orator and writer had died back in 1895. There’s no present tense here, only past.

And now there’s this: Yesterday, the president speculated in an odd interview that the Civil War could have been averted if Andrew Jackson had been there to stop it:

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why?

Historians were quick to point out that Jackson ended his presidency in 1837 and died in 1845–respectively, 24 and 16 years before the start of the Civil War. How Jackson would have handled the lead up to the Civil War is pure speculation. Just as it would be speculation to say how FDR or Truman would have dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

David Blight, a Yale historian and expert on slavery and the Civil War, had a bit stronger reaction to Trump’s comments, telling Mother Jones:

So he really said this about Jackson and the Civil War? All I can say to you is that from day one I have believed that Donald Trump’s greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance—of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, move history however he wishes. This is simply 5th grade understanding of history or worse.

Today, as with the past, Trump seems to be figuring out (the hard way) that one person can’t change the course of a nation by force of will–not when there are so many other forces and players that shape things. A lot of hubris and inflated rhetoric came into White House in January. Whether Trump is actually learning the physics of politics remains to be seen.

But here’s one thing you don’t have to wait for. David Blight has made available a free course on the Civil War. In 27 lectures, his course “explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877,” looking at how the United States was transformed on multiple levels: racially, socially, politically, constitutionally and morally. You can access the 27 free lectures, presented in audio and video, via YouTubeiTunes, and the Yale web site (plus a syllabus). We also have it on the list of our Free History Courses, a subset of our collection 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Comments (7)
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  • Citizen David says:

    Lets also remember that by-god Andy Jackson called for sending Federal troops to his home state to prevent South Carolina from nullifying government tariffs. There was also a call by South Carolina legislature to leave the Republic. President Jackson was ready to start a Civil War.

  • will says:

    I think that although poorly worded or perhaps just poorly quoted Trump might in some respects have a point. The truth is Jackson’s Presidential platform the purpose of keeping the banks out of our government which failed would have had a notable affect on discouraging the Civil war. The industrial North would have not been so variably different than the agricultural South and tensions would not have been so great. However there is the fact that the British were openly encouraging the war between the states.

  • Troy Jones says:

    There are currently theories that relatively small events can have a powerful effect. Like: Suppose Geo. Washington had been thrown from his horse causing the loss of the Revolutionary War.

    There are also theories that had the Civil War been delayed for about ten years, it could have been made unnecessary and therefore prevented entirely.

    The advent of nuclear weapons may cause the failure of the human race due to prevention of major war and the resulting overpopulation of the Earth.

    So…such statements lead to interesting thoughts maybe, but to what end?

  • ejazzyjeff says:

    So where were all these “scholars” when Obama said we had 57 states? Everyone who studies histories has their own opinions about if so and so what then and so and so what that. It’s called speculation.

  • MARK D CURRAN says:

    Did BLight go into Southern leaders boasting of using paid men to invade KS and killing to spread slavery there, and to Pacific.

    I watched enough of the above video that I seriously doubt it.

    That’s why IMHO the best teachers about Civil War are SOuthern leaders own words, describing (bragging) what they are doing, and why they are doing it.

    There was once a time when I would be amazed at the wisdom of history professors–but for this one topic, (Southern killing sprees into Kansas and promising to spread slavery to the Pacific for God and white survival) I wonder if we shouldn’t let SOuthern leaders explain it to us now, as they explained it to each other and the world at the time.

    Seriously, see their OWN documents, speeches newspapers. No, not some “extremist” yapping. But the top South leaders, in context, in detail, explaining things AT THE TIME.

    Granted, after the war they gave a much different slant.

    But at the time — 1846-1863 – wow, you would not know these were the same guys explaining things because later they and their supporters and later apologist sure had a much different story

  • Marc K says:

    Just another sign of how the sickness of leftism has infiltrated and destroyed the institutions of higher and now lower academia. If you were to have an opposing view with him,it’s probably safe to surmise that he’d have a full on TDS meltdown, you’d be guaranteed to fail his course. We’ve seen it time and time again. If that wasn’t bad enough, you could probably be doxxed for one reason or another by himself or a like minded flunky of his. You can no longer feel free to disagree. Now if there is any type of dissent, you must be crushed! If that’s not bad enough, then they want to go after your family and children. Democrats haven’t been this angry & the political polarization hasn’t been this bad since the election of Lincoln. We all know what came afterwards & it looks like we’re teetering on the brink of the Abyss once again!

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