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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ani­mat­ed Map Lets You Watch the Unfold­ing of Every Day of the U.S. Civ­il War (1861–1865)

“The Civ­il War and Recon­struc­tion,” a New MOOC by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning His­to­ri­an Eric Fon­er

The His­to­ry of the World in 46 Lec­tures From Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty

African-Amer­i­can His­to­ry: Mod­ern Free­dom Strug­gle (A Free Course from Stan­ford)

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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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