Final Essay Prompt:
1. Congratulations! President Obama has selected you to help him with part of his 2016 State of the Union Address to be given next January, specifically with the section that educates the American people on the major events in American history up to the end of Reconstruction so that we can better understand the historical significance of that history and have an improved perspective on the events and challenges facing today's society. What do you include in the speech and why did you make the choices of inclusion and exclusion that you did – include your justifications of your choices, both what you chose to include and major things you chose to exclude, in-depth analysis of the events chosen, and an evaluation of how and why these events were vital in their era and how and why they are vital in understanding American society and our world in 2015 and in the 21st Century.
"In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue," is the first thing we are taught as children about the discovery of the New World that would later become the United States of America. We learn that in 1619, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact before disembarking from their ship, a document established the precedents for the pattern of representative self government and constitutionalism that would develop throughout the American colonies. The Puritans, who came to the New World, laying the foundations of our nation, fled religious persecution. They came to the Americas for the promise of freedom, the freedom to practice their religion.
Indentured servitude brought less wealthy European settlers to America and slavery brought entire populations of Africans to America by the Middle Passage, the Atlantic Crossing that claimed the lives of many Africans on the way to a life of abuse and servitude. Slave cultivation of cash crops began with the Spanish in the 1500s, and was adopted by the English, but life expectancy was much higher in North America because of less disease and better food and treatment, leading to a rapid increase in the numbers of slaves. Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery and colonies passed acts for and against the practice. But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions.
With the British colonization of Georgia in 1732, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty.
In 1754-1763, the American Colonies took part in the French and Indian War, which was the Colonial stage for the Seven Year’s War between France and Britain, against the French Colonies with both sides being aided with troops from their mother countries. The war in North America officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763 but this had consequences. The Seven Years' War nearly doubled Britain's national debt, and the Crown, seeking sources of revenue to pay off the debt, attempted to impose new taxes on its colonies. These attempts were met with increasingly stiff resistance, until troops were called in so that representatives of the Crown could safely perform their duties. These acts ultimately led to the start of the American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783. What was the war cry for the Revolutionary War? Not just, "No taxation without representation." Ah, yes. It was Patrick Henry who cried, "Give me Liberty or give me Death!" Let's remember that. It will be important later.
After the establishment of the fledgling nation, we went through high points and low points, from the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which we best remember as the Trail of Tears, which displaced thousands of Native Americans from their homelands to accommodate the Westward push of our nation, to the Three Fifths Compromise which became a stop gap measure on the issue of slavery, which threatened to tear apart our nation.
Differences of opinion and social order between northern and southern states in early United States society, particularly regarding Black slavery, ultimately led the U.S. into the American Civil War. Initially, states entering the Union alternated between slave and free states, keeping a sectional balance in the Senate, while free states outstripped slave states in population and in the House of Representatives. But with additional western territory and more free-soil states, tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over federalism and disposition of the territories, whether and how to expand or restrict slavery.
With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the largely anti-slavery Republican Party, conventions in thirteen states ultimately declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America, while the U.S. federal government maintained that secession was illegal. The ensuing war was at first for Union, then after 1863 as casualties mounted and Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, a second war aim became abolition of slavery. The war remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 618,000 soldiers as well as many civilians.
Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution brought about the prohibition of slavery, gave U.S. citizenship to the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, and promised them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. Following the Reconstruction Era, throughout the South Jim Crow laws quickly disenfranchised most blacks and some poor whites. Over the subsequent decades, in both the North and the South blacks and some whites faced systemic discrimination, including racial segregation and occasional vigilante violence, sparking national movements against these abuses.
Now, you may be wondering why, with all the high and low points this nation has been through, I am lingering on the topic of slavery. This is because we are a nation of freedom! From 1861 to 1865, we fought a war among ourselves, not to end slavery, though that was also a happy consequence of the Union's victory, but to keep a this nation from splitting apart at the seams over differences in opinion. Today we have people attacking Muslim-Americans for the actions of a few, and bigots screaming to close our borders to Syrian refugees fearing that allowing these people access to our country, to a place of safety, would infringe on our privileges and freedoms. We need to remember the hardships our ancestors suffered to reach this country, what was sacrificed for our freedoms. Freedom is not a privilege, not a right, and everyone has a right to live and feel safe without the fear of being persecuted or abused. This nation is a melting pot of cultures and religions, we come from many different backgrounds with many different beliefs. But one belief that should always be universal in this nation is that if we fear that which we do not understand and seek to persecute others due to lack of understanding, we will only tear ourselves apart.
The Jim Crowe Laws that destroyed everything we were working toward during Reformation that took the courage of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement to overturn may have nothing to do with our fear of Muslim Jihadists, but is it really unrelated? How long will it be before we see a nationwide revival of Jim Crowe Laws, not aimed at African Americans, but at Muslim Americans? How long will it be before our unreasoning terror of terrorists lead us back to the time when a person can be lynched on the street in full view of law enforcement with no repercussions?
Why shouldn't we welcome Syrian Refugees into this country? Aren't they fleeing for their liberty? For their freedom? Wasn't it Patrick Henry who cried, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death!" in 1775 during the American Revolution? Isn't this what the refugees are looking for? What right do we have to refuse entry to people seeking freedom, the very privileges we enjoy as a nation?
Why should we feel so frightened of Muslims that we retaliate with violence, terrorizing the good, law-abiding Muslim American population in the process? Why should we be afraid to loose our freedom? Why is the idea of Americans loosing our freedom even circulating in the population? It's not going to happen. It will not happen as long as we remember the lives lost in the Civil War, of the lives lost in the aftermath of the stalled Reformation, of the courage of those who stood up in the Civil Rights Movement and demanded, "Separate but equal is not equal," and that Justice and Liberty belong to all Americans, be they black or white, male or female. If we remember those days, that past that made our nation into what it is today, we are in no danger of tearing ourselves apart at the seams. There is no us or them. There is no divide between Americans and American Muslims. Just like there was no divide between blacks and whites. This is a nation of freedom, not a nation of fear. We must look back on our history to remember that.
"Justice and Liberty for all." That is what this Union is built on. Justice and Liberty, not just for the privileged few, but for all Americans, be they Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim. And yes, for those who are not Americans, but seeking it by fleeing injustice and certain death also. Because this is the "Land of the Free, and the home of the Brave."