Allen Guelzo Criticizes the 1619 Project

1619

The New York Times 1619 Project just received a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Listen to Allen Guelzo’s critique of the project in an interview with the Heritage Foundation. If you like the 1619 Project, you may want to sit down for this one:

Much of Guelzo’s criticism of the 1619 Project is legitimate. As I listened to him, it seems like his primary beef is less with Nikole Hannah-Jones and the editors of The New York Times (although he has some pretty harsh things to say about journalists) and more with some of the scholarship on which her project is based.

It is also worth noting that the 1619 Project did not win a Pulitzer for “History” or “Non-Fiction.” It won for commentary.  Readers can decide whether or not that matters.

Here is the link to the essay on Lincoln that Guelzo references in this interview.

Was Abraham Lincoln America’s First “Green” President?

Lincoln socialist

James Tackach of Roger Williams University, author of the book Lincoln and the Natural Environment, thinks so.  Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo disagrees.  Here is a taste of Hannah Nathanson’s Washington Post piece, “Lincoln’s Forgotten Legacy as America’s First “Green President“:

It is “eminently fair” to label Lincoln the nation’s first “green president,” said Tackach, the author of “Lincoln and the Natural Environment,” which explores the famous president’s relationship with nature. While in office, Lincoln enacted several pieces of legislation — including the Yosemite Grant Act, which set aside thousands of acres of California forest — that laid the groundwork for future U.S. efforts to preserve, protect and study the environment, historians said. The Yosemite Act in particular proved crucial, helping inspire Theodore Roosevelt to expand America’s national parks system.

Lincoln was spurred to act by the massive destruction inflicted on the American landscape by the Civil War; by his own love for nature; and by early warnings from some authors and politicians that human activity could damage the natural world, Tackach said. He was likely the first U.S. president to face these kinds of reports, according to historian Vernon Burton.

“Noted writers start to write about deforestation, over-hunting, certain species being wiped out, and you see Lincoln learning from that [and] trying to do something about it,” said Burton, a Clemson University professor of history and author of “The Age of Lincoln.” “He becomes aware of that, he’s trying to do something about it when he dies.”

Lincoln’s love affair with nature began during his childhood — spent in a dirt-floor log cabin located in “extremely rural” countryside, according to Burton. The future president milked cows, cleaned out barns and forked away manure, gaining an intimate knowledge of, and appreciation for, the natural world, Burton said.

That world changed dramatically in the course of Lincoln’s lifetime as the United States underwent rapid industrialization, transitioning from an agricultural society to an urban one. When Lincoln was born in 1809, 90 percent of Americans lived on farms, Tackach said. By the end of the 19th century, only a third did so.

It was a change Lincoln helped fuel.

Lincoln was an avid supporter of “internal improvements”: railroad building, canal construction and other infrastructure projects, according to Tackach. His first political party, the Whigs, saw internal improvements as the keystone of their policy platform.

These kinds of projects undoubtedly had a negative effect on the environment, Tackach said.

Allen Guelzo, a Princeton University historian who has written several books about the president, said he disagreed with the idea that Lincoln was environmentally minded. Guelzo noted that Lincoln was “ardent” on the subject of the Transcontinental Railroad, which he helped build by passing the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. “Environmentally speaking, a disaster,” Guelzo said.

Even worse, Guelzo said, Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed any U.S. citizen who had not taken up arms against the Union to claim a 160-acre plot of western land for a small fee. That, too, was an “environmental fiasco,” according to Guelzo.

Read the entire piece here.

Another Group of Historians Criticize the *New York Times* 1619 Project

1619

If you are not familiar with The New York Times 1619 Project you can get up to speed here.

The latest group of critics includes American historians Michael Burlingame, Allen Guelzo, Peter Kolchin, George Rable, and Colleen Sheehan.  A letter was sent to The New York Times Magazine, but the newspaper refused to publish it.  Editor Jake Silverstein, the editor of the The New York Times Magazine, did respond to the letter.

The letter and the response have now been published at History News Network.  Here is a taste of the letter:

It is not our purpose to question the significance of slavery in the American past. None of us have any disagreement with the need for Americans, as they consider their history, to understand that the past is populated by sinners as well as saints, by horrors as well as honors, and that is particularly true of the scarred legacy of slavery. 

As historians and students of the Founding and the Civil War era, our concern is that The 1619 Project offers a historically-limited view of slavery, especially since slavery was not just (or even exclusively) an American malady, and grew up in a larger context of forced labor and race. Moreover, the breadth of 400 years and 300 million people cannot be compressed into single-size interpretations; yet, The 1619 Project asserts that every aspect of American life has only one lens for viewing, that of slavery and its fall-out. “America Wasn’t a Democracy Until Black Americans Made It One,” insists the lead essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones; “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation,” asserts another by Matthew Desmond. In some cases, history is reduced to metaphor: “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam.”

We are also dismayed by the problematic treatment of major issues and personalities of the Founding and Civil War eras. For instance: The 1619 Project construes slavery as a capitalist venture, yet it fails to note how Southern slaveholders scorned capitalism as “a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, petty operators, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists. Although the Project asserts that “New Orleans boasted a denser concentration of banking capital than New York City,” the phrase “banking capital” elides the reality that on the eve of the Civil War, New York possessed more banks (294) than the entire future Confederacy (208), and that Southern “banking capital” in 1858 amounted to less than 80% of that held by New York banks alone.

Again: we are presented with an image of Abraham Lincoln in 1862, informing a delegation of “five esteemed free black men” at the White House that, because black Americans were a “troublesome presence,” his solution was colonization — “to ship black people, once freed, to another country.” No mention, however, is made that the “troublesome presence” comment is Lincoln’s description in 1852 of the views of Henry Clay, or that colonization would be “sloughed off” by him (in John Hay’s diary) as a “barbarous humbug,”or that Lincoln would eventually be murdered by a white supremacist in 1865 after calling for black voting rights, or that this was the man whom Frederick Douglass described as “emphatically the black man’s president.”

Read the entire letter and Silverstein’s response here.

Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIf you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

Allen Guelzo Asks: “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?”

Robert E. Lee

Allen Guelzo is writing a biography of Robert E. Lee.  This is the first thing I have seen him publish on the topic.  Here are the main points of Guelzo’s argument in “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?” at Athenaeum Review:

  1.  “The Constitution’s definition of treason is a very narrow one
  2.   “Lee would have to be tried in the jurisdiction where the treason occurred
  3.  “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, would not co-operate”
  4.  “Lee’s own self defense.”

And Guelzo concludes:

In the end, one has to say, purely on the merits, that Lee did indeed commit treason, as defined by the Constitution. But the plausibility of his defense introduces hesitations and mitigations which no jury in 1865—even Underwood’s “packed jury”—could brush by easily. That, combined with the reluctance of Ulysses Grant and Salmon Chase to countenance a treason trial for Lee, makes it extremely unlikely that a guilty verdict would ever have been reached. But the jury which might have tried him was never called into being, and without a trial by a jury of his peers, not even the most acute of historical observers is really free to pass judgment on the crime of Robert E. Lee. Yet the question remains far from academic. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of global communications and cultural fluidity, the notion of treason has acquired an antique feel, not unlike medieval notions of honor or feudal loyalty. To the extent that global communications, mass migration, and instant universal commerce render national boundaries more and more meaningless, can modern individuals be held to the standard of absolute loyalty to a single political entity? “Citizenship does not free a man from the burdens of moral reasoning,” writes legal philosopher A. John Simmons. “The citizen’s job” is not to absorb obligations to the nation-state and “to blithely discharge it in his haste to avoid the responsibility of weighing it against competing moral claims on his action. For surely a nation composed of such ‘dutiful citizens’ would be the cruellest sort of trap for the poor, the oppressed, and the alienated.” Moreover, the assertion of the existence of international standards of human rights runs in direct conflict with how states regard, and are allowed to regard, the disloyal behavior of their nationals. Nor is this merely an exercise of left-internationalism; for many libertarians, treason loses the taint of moral betrayal and becomes a mechanism by which an all-powerful State prevents “dangers to its own contentment.” As it is, the Constitutional definition itself is so narrow that convictions for what might be considered treasonable offenses are prosecuted instead under the 1917 Espionage Act. But to deny that treason can occur, or that citizens can be held culpable for it, is to deny that communities can suffer betrayal to the point where their very existence is jeopardized.

Read the entire piece here.

Did Lincoln Offer a “verbal cake and ice cream” to slaveowners?

Who was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation?  Was it Lincoln?  The Republican Party? The slaves themselves?  Gettysburg College Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo makes a case for Lincoln in his recent piece in The Wall Street Journal.  Here is a taste:

In an age when rocking century-old statues off their pedestals has become a public sport, no historical reputation is safe. That includes Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

It is “now widely held,” Columbia historian Stephanie McCurry announced in a 2016 article, that emancipation “wasn’t primarily the accomplishment of Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party, but of the slaves themselves, precipitated by the actions they took inside the Confederacy and in their flight to Union lines.” Ebony editor Lerone Bennett put this argument forward in his 2000 book, “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” The Zinn Education Project, which distributes Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” to students, claims that Lincoln offered “verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners,” while slaves themselves did “everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery.”

The case against Lincoln is a lot less energizing than it seems. Slavery, as it emerged in American life and law, was always a matter of state enactments. There was no federal slave code, and Madison had been particularly eager to ensure that the Constitution gave no federal recognition to the idea that there could be “property in man.” But there was also no federal authority to move directly against slavery in the states.

The attempt by the Southern slave states to break away in 1861 seemed to offer several ways to strike at slavery. Some U.S. Army officers attempted to declare slaves “contraband of war,” and therefore liable to seizure like any other military goods. But the “contraband” argument fell into the error of conceding that slaves were property, and, anyway, no legal opinions on the laws of war regarded such property seizures as permanent.

Congress tried to put a hand on slavery through two Confiscation Acts, in 1861 and 1862. But “confiscating” slaves wasn’t the same thing as freeing them, since the Constitution (in Article I, Section 9) explicitly bans Congress from enacting “bills of attainder” that permanently alienate property. Confiscation would also have had the problem of ratifying the idea that human beings were property.

Lincoln tried to dodge the constitutional issues by proposing, as early as November 1861, a federal buyout of slaves in the four border states that remained loyal to the Union—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. But the representatives of those states rebuffed the offer, telling Lincoln that they “did not like to be coerced into Emancipation, either by the Direct action of the Government, or by indirection,” as a Maryland congressman reported.

Many slaves didn’t wait on the courts or Congress, and instead ran for their freedom to wherever they could find the Union Army. But the Army wasn’t always welcoming, and there was no guarantee that the war wouldn’t end with a negotiated settlement including the forced return of such runaways. Fugitive slaves were free, but their freedom needed legal recognition.

If you can get past The Wall Street Journal paywall, you can read the rest here.

Allen Guelzo on Why History Shows Impeachment May be a Bad Idea

Andrew_Johnson_impeachment_trial

Abraham Lincoln and Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo reminds us what happened when Andrew Johnson was impeached.  The subtitle of his recent Wall Street Journal piece is “Many members of Congress in 1868 hoped to remove a president they merely disliked.  It didn’t go well.”  Here is a taste:

If the Democrats win the House in November, they’ll come under pressure to impeach President Trump. Even if Robert Mueller fails to turn up some astounding surprise, many Democrats want to impeach Mr. Trump because they simply don’t like him. Since the Constitution specifies that a president can be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” such a move would mean Democrats consider being disliked by the House majority to be a disqualifying crime.

That is precisely what many members of Congress thought 150 years ago this week, at the conclusion of the first impeachment of a sitting president, Andrew Johnson. The 17th president’s impeachment offers the important lesson that although the mechanism for impeachment is easy, the subsequent process of trial, conviction and removal from office is not. A failure at that stage of the process covers everybody with embarrassment—impeachers and impeached alike.

 

Read the rest here.

Guelzo seems to be preparing for the Democrats to take the House.  It is definitely a possibility.

Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?

Award-winning Civil War historian Allen Guelzo is writing a biography of Robert E. Lee.  We get a taste of what he might say in his book through this lecture:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/262056399″>&quot;Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?&quot; by Dr. Allen Guelzo, Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/wlunews”>Washington and Lee News</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A Short Survey of Reconstruction Historiography

Recon

Do you need a quick primer on the historiography of Reconstruction?  If so, check out Allen Guelzo‘s short piece at History News Network: “The History of Reconstruction’s Third Phase.”  Here is a taste:

Understanding Reconstruction as a bourgeois revolution – in fact, according to Barrington Moore, the last bourgeois revolution – creates an opportunity for a third re-visioning of Reconstruction, and without the Eurocentric necessity to make it conform to the New Reconstructionists’ Marxism or the Progressive racism that fueled the Dunningites. We are already beginning to see a galaxy of new questions about Reconstruction take shape, and to find in work like Mark Wahlgren Summers’s The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (2014) an understanding of what Reconstruction actually did accomplish, in Gregory P. Downs’s After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (2015) the chronic unwillingness of Americans to fund post-conflict regime changes, and through Forrest A. Nabors’s From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction (2017) an appreciation of the hitherto-ignored role played by Northern Democrats in league with their quondam Southern allies in paralyzing Reconstruction efforts.

These new movements may not be enough to get us a Museum of Reconstruction, and I have to confess a certain shrinkage at the prospect of what a Reconstruction re-enactment might look like (that will depend on who writes the script). But why not a Society for Historians of Reconstruction? It is time to bring Reconstruction home to us all, not as a Southern event or even the shadow of a European one, but as a uniquely American one, on an American landscape.

Read the entire piece here.

Did Lincoln’s Reliance on “Providence” Make Him an Incompetent President?

a0d2a-lincoln

This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIt is, without peer, the best book on Lincoln’s intellectual and religious life.  Others seem to agree.  In 2000, Guelzo’s biography received the prestigious Lincoln Prize for the best film or book about the Civil War era.  Last night we discussed chapter 8: “Voice Out of the Whirlwind.”

Guelzo argues that Abraham Lincoln, at least in his adult life, was never a Christian, but he did spend a lot of time reflecting on big questions about free will and determinism and their relationship to a force or supreme being that governed the world.  Lincoln, in his pre-presidential years, believed in what he called the “Doctrine of Necessity.”  He wrote: “I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity”–that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control…”  Guelzo compares Lincoln’s view here to the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s “philosophical necessity,” a believe “that human beings possess neither free will nor the moral responsibility for the right or wrong actions that is supposed to follow the exercise of free choices.” (p.117).

During his presidency, Lincoln’s “Doctrine of Necessity” took on a more religious flavor.  He began to use the word “providence” to describe this “power, over which the mind has not control.”  He came to embrace a “divine personality” that intervened in human affairs. (p.328).

Guelzo argues, and quite convincingly I might add, that the Civil War led Lincoln to apply his view of “providence” to the political decisions he made as POTUS.  This was particularly the case in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  The Proclamation was issued days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.  In a cabinet meeting following the battle, Lincoln uttered what Guelzo calls “the most astounding remarks any of [the members of his cabinet] had ever heard him make.”  Lincoln told the cabinet that he had become convinced that if the Union won at Antietam he would consider it an indication of the “divine will and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.” (p.341).  He added, “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”  Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the war.  The Proclamation made it a war that was less about preserving the Union and more about freeing the slaves.  It could be argued that it was the turning point of the Civil War.  And Lincoln made his decision by somehow interpreting (with much certainty) the providence of God.

After class, a student asked me if I thought a United States President could get away with this kind of presidential leadership today.  What if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump made a republic-altering decision and said that it was based upon his reading of God’s providence? (Bush came close on numerous occasions).  There would be many evangelicals who might love such a claim.  But most Americans, including many evangelicals who believe in the providence of God but do believe we can know God’s will in every matter on this side of eternity, would think that such a decision-making process might be the height of presidential incompetence.

An Interview with Allen Guelzo

GUelzo

Over at History News Network, Erik Moshe interviews Gettysburg College historian Allen Guelzo.

Here are Moshe’s questions:

What books are you reading now?

What is your favorite history book?

Why did you choose history as your career?

What qualities do you need to be a historian?

Which historical time period do you find to be most fascinating?

Who was your favorite history teacher?

What are your hopes for world and social history?

Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?

How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?

If you could sum up world history in one word, what would that word be?

Why’d you pick it?

What are you doing next?

Read Guelzo’s answers these questions here.  (Spoiler alert #1: He is writing a “big book” on Robert E. Lee with Knopf.  Spoiler alert #2: The word he used to sum world history is “depravity.”)

"The Illusion of Respectability": A Response

The evangelical thinking class has been abuzz this weekend talking about Gettysburg College historian Allen Guelzo‘s essay at Christianity Today titled “The Illusion of Respectability.”  As many of you know, Guelzo is one of the finest historians of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War working today. He is an unapologetic Christian and leans conservative in his politics.

I admire Guelzo as a historian.  His book Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President is the best thing I have ever read on Lincoln.  I regularly assign it to students.  I have high regard for Guelzo as a history communicator.  Anyone who has ever heard one of his lectures knows that he is a master orator and brings the past to life like few other historians.

I think it is fair to say that Guelzo is part of a generation of evangelical American historians who came of age in the 1980s.  I have always placed him in the same camp as Mark Noll, George Marsden, Harry Stout, Joel Carpenter, Grant Wacker, Randall Balmer, and the other members of the so-called “evangelical mafia.”  But while Guelzo has moved in the same circles as these well-respected Christian historians, he has also followed his own path.  He has written a lot of American religious history, but he is also a leading light in the world of Lincoln and Civil War studies.  He seems just as comfortable mixing it up with  Jon Stewart on the Daily Show or walking the battlefield with students and K-12 teachers as he does in the writer’s study.  He currently serves as the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College.  Most Civil War scholars would say that it doesn’t get any better than this.

Last Fall Guelzo was one of the keynote speakers at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History at Pepperdine University.  The theme of the conference was “Christian Historians and Their Publics.” Guelzo’s scheduled talk was titled “Respectability: The Pursuit of Historical Illusion.” The programs were printed, the conference had begun, and many of the organizers were very excited about starting the meeting off with a provocative keynote address. When Guelzo arrived, however, he announced that he would be speaking instead on the Gettysburg Address.  We didn’t get the “respectability” talk that day, but I am glad that Guelzo has returned to the topic.

I would encourage you to read “The Illusion of Respectability.”  Much of it is excellent.  Guelzo begins with a moving story from his early career about an encounter with the Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til.  When Guelzo asked the aging theologian and philosopher why he devoted his life to studying philosophy and defending the Christian faith, Van Til answered “to protect Christ’s little ones.”

Guelzo uses Van Til’s answer as a springboard into a discussion of Christians in the academy and how they should approach the academic life. He is opposed to the idea of Christians abandoning secular colleges and universities. He is also against any kind of accommodation to the “worldly” philosophies that define intellectual life in these places.

For Guelzo, the true way of living Christianly as a scholar is to reject the pursuit of respectability. If I read him correctly, Guelzo wants Christian scholars to speak the truth and suffer the consequences. Christian scholars should be fools for Christ even if that means that they remain unemployed, ostracized, and disrespected by the academic world.

He writes:

The Christian scholar who has agreed to purchase peace by silence, the Christian academic who swims unknowingly in a sea of secular assumptions and drowns in a warm bath of secular approbation, and the Christian college which carefully trims its sails to avoid confrontation, to recruit tuition-paying students, or to afford a platform for self-admiring blather, need to know this:make perfect your will.
Understand what it is you are as a Christian—one “under authority” (Luke 7:8), one whose ultimate concern is that of a steward, whose criterion of worth is not sensation, not popularity, and not their claim to being au courant, but “that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Understand that when you have done all your work, you are permitted only to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:9).

I say a hearty “Amen” to Guelzo’s thoughts.  Christian scholars often lack courage.  In their attempt to be “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves” they often fall into the accommodationist trap that he describes.   I am sure there are many Christians who have pursued and are pursuing respectability, prestige, and careerism over the self-effacing ethic of Jesus.  These Christian scholars have been profoundly shaped by the culture of academia that they imbibed in graduate school.  Their understanding of what constitutes a successful academic career has been informed by what their advisers have told them: rise up the academic food chain no matter the cost, choose your scholarly projects carefully in order to advance your chances of success as defined by the guild, and hide your faith under a bushel because it is the “kiss of death.”

But I think Guelzo’s essay misses the boat in several ways.  First, for all the ambitious scholars I just described, I know just as many scholars, if not more, who have pursued an academic life out of a sense of Christian vocation.  They want to worship God with their minds and engage a world of ideas–whether that happens in a Christian or secular institution of higher education–as a legitimate calling. They want to teach and invest in the lives of students. Many of the Christian men and women called to this kind of work are respected by their peers.

And for those scholars who have the time and inclination to write and publish books I would argue that there is nothing anti-Christian about gaining the respect of secular colleagues.  Some might even argue that such respect could provide a platform for a greater Christian witness.  I find it hard to believe that Guelzo would disagree with this and I have a hunch that he might even see his own career in this way.

Second, I think Guelzo is too hard on the secular academy.  It does not surprise me that his adviser told him that any sign of religion on his vita would be “the kiss of death.”  In fact, I recently wrote a post chronicling some of my own experiences in this regard.  And perhaps the academy has become so hostile to Christian ideas that intellectual freedom has been compromised.  But there are many things a Christian can learn in the secular university.  There are ways of thinking about the world or approaching a particular discipline that are either compatible with Christian belief or could be appropriated by the universal church and its thinking members.  Guelzo knows this.  He teaches at an elite liberal arts university.  He was trained in the Ivy League.

There is a lot that baffles me about this piece.  Who is Guelzo’s audience?  The essay is filled with veiled and vague references to all of those Christian scholars who are out there pursuing respectability. Who are the scholars making “robust outbursts of resistance, then nervously glancing around to see whether anyone has joined the resistance?” Who is punting? What does Guelzo want us to do? Is he suggesting that Christian scholars need to stand firm or speak out on the social and cultural issues that are currently under attack in the United States and suffer the consequences for doing so? Should his article be read as a culture war piece?

Frankly, I am not even sure what Guelzo means by “Christ’s little ones.”  Is he calling more scholars to write for and work on behalf of the church?  If so, I am not sure that Guelzo is aware that Christian scholars–especially historians–have spent a lot of time in the last several years thinking about this. In fact, this very topic was what we spent an entire weekend talking about at Pepperdine. And there are many of us who are actively pursuing this kind of engagement as part of our vocations.  Anyone who has been seriously connected to the things Christian historians are talking about these days will not find anything new or groundbreaking here.

I think it is also worth wondering if Guelzo is the best person to warn us about respectability in the academy.  On its merits, there is much we should commend about Guelzo’s call. He challenged me to look at my own life and career and wonder how much I do what I do for vain glory and how much I do what I do out of a sense of Christian vocation.

But I also tend to analyze sources–in this case Guelzo’s article–as a historian.  Anyone who reads The Way of Improvement Leads Home knows that I believe that historians think differently than scholars in other disciplines.  For example, my philosopher friends tell me that any argument should be judged on whether or not the argument is sound, regardless of who made it.  I would imagine that a theologian approaches an argument or a written source in the same way.

But as a historian, interpretation requires that I consider the source.  I often tell this to my students. I want them to “source” a document (to use a phrase from history pedagogy expert Sam Wineburg) by identifying the author and knowing something about his or her background or ideological convictions.  Historians believe that the identity of the author will play an influential role in how that document is interpreted.  (The same might be said for other aspects of a document or piece of writing–for example, the time or date in which the piece was written helps the historian interpret it more effectively).

As I mentioned above, Allen Guelzo is a great success story. He has reached the pinnacle of his field. It is that very success that enables him to write articles like “The Illusion of Respectability.”  Guelzo left Eastern University (a Christian college in the Philadelphia area) for a prestigious post at Gettysburg College.  He writes books for trade presses that I imagine come with very large monetary advances. They are even advertised on billboards.  I am sure that he also commands very large honorariums when he speaks around the country.  His byline is often found on the op-ed pages of The New York Times.  The tagline on this Christianity Today article announces that Guelzo’s next book will be published by Harvard University Press.  And by the way, does the Lincoln Prize count as a “strange-new-respect” award from a “well-endowed foundation?”  I don’t know.

Maybe Guelzo is the best person to write about this topic and we should interpret the article as a public act of contrition–a warning about taking the academic road that he has followed. Or maybe Guelzo is just completely unaware of the fact that there are many Christian historians who would view his public career as the ultimate example of someone pursuing respectability.

I have absolutely no problem with Guelzo doing all of these great things.  Frankly, I am glad that he has established such a platform.  I want to cheer him on.  He is a model of an engaged scholar.

The problem is not respectability, but the love of respectability.

Allen Guelzo Asks: "Did Religion Make the Civil War Worse?"

In a roundabout way Guelzo answers “no” to this question in a recent piece in The Atlantic. Politicians and political ideals, and not religion, he argues, were responsible for the Civil War.

But the war did have a devastating influence on American religion and its grip on the larger culture. Here is his conclusion.

From the Civil War onward, American Protestantism would be locked deeper and deeper into a state of cultural imprisonment, and in many cases, retreating to a world of private experience in which Christianity remained of little more significance to public life than stamp-collecting or bridge parties. Appeals to divine authority at the beginning of the Civil War fragmented in deadlock and contradiction, and ever since then, it has been difficult for deeply rooted religious conviction to assert a genuinely shaping influence over American public life.

In exposing the shortcomings of religious absolutism, the Civil War made it impossible for religious absolutism to address problems in American life—especially economic and racial ones—where religious absolutism would in fact have done a very large measure of good. Some leaders, Martin Luther King prominent among them, have since invoked Biblical sanction for a political movement, but that has mostly been tolerated by the larger, sympathetic environment of secular liberalism as a harmless eccentricity which can go in one ear and out the other. “Never afterward,” wrote Alfred Kazin of the war, “would Americans North and South feel that they had been living Scripture.” I do not know that Americans have been the better for it.

I probably would not have used the phrase “religious absolutism” to describe the positive impact that Christianity could have had on post-bellum American life.

Christopher Graham on "Religion and the American Civil War"

The Way of Improvement Leads Home correspondent Christopher Graham offers some notes on this star-studded panel on religion and the Civil War. –JF
The turnout for the Religion and the American Civil War: History and Historiography panel exceeded the organizers’ expectations. So many showed up that we all migrated to a larger room, and participants still overflowed into the hallway, where additional chairs were set up. Mark Noll presided and Allen Guelzo, Harry Stout, George Rable, James McPherson, and Laura Maffly-Kipp spoke. The title of the panel suggested a broad reconsideration of the historiography of religion and the Civil War but the individual papers did not amount to as much.
Stout discussed how his interpretation of Lincoln’s relationship to God has changed since the publication of his On the Altar of the Nation. Guelzo explored the historiographical view of Lincoln’s religiosity and concluded that because of scant and contradictory evidence, Lincoln disappoints all doctrinaires. McPherson spoke on evangelical efforts to sponsor freedmen’s schools, and Maffly-Kipp considered religion’s place in the African American interpretation of the Civil War as a battle in a longer warfare waged by slavers on the enslaved. In short, the combat over bodies also was a combat over souls.
George Rable recognized the considerable wave of scholarship on religion in the war that has been produced in the last ten to fifteen years, and sketched out seven topic areas that require further examination. They go something like this:
1. The relationship between the Bible and the American Civil War. Politicians, editors, preachers, and soldiers all utilized scriptures as a justification for war and a comfort for its victims. He said that if there is an American Jesus, there just might be a Civil War Jesus, and suggested that such a title would sell.
2. The role of military chaplains is unexplored, from the problem of their recruitment, to their performance, to the often-fraught relationships between chaplains and soldiers. He suggests that there are loads of unexplored sources on this.
3. Some attention has been given to wartime revivals, but more needs to be done. Further study might reveal conflicting religious views between officers and men, or soldiers and civilians. To that end, Rable called for more research on how the war changed attitudes toward piety, including communion, baptism, and the idea of blood sacrifice and atonement of sin.
4. How did civil religion change? How did days of prayer and thanksgiving and attitudes toward them change?
5. In a catchall on “society and war,” Rable asked how the war touched domestic religious ideals, what activities the religious undertook, how the print culture changed, or rises or declines in church membership. He even suggested there might be value in doing good old-fashioned denominational histories, which produced some bemused groans from the audience.
6. He called for an examination of the international aspects of religion during the war.
7. Finally, he wants further work on the relationship between religion and larger social issues during the war. He admits that this work is already underway, but the more the merrier.  
The discussion produced a few interesting nuggets. For instance, the panel generally agreed that millennial thinking largely did not appear in the rhetoric of religious people during the war. Stout thought it was because to have a millennial construction, a rhetorical anti-Christ is necessary, and the war was simply seen as a Protestant-on-Protestant fracas. Guelzo suggested that participants simply could not articulate a good expression of millennial thinking and when they tried, the results were often muddy.
Guelzo contended that the Civil War ate away at religious people’s confidence in revelation. After watching carnage, many people found it impossible to believe again in Godly order. Even folks who did not witness carnage, like Charles Hoge and Charles Finney, felt the same way. Rable disagreed and suggested that the war did not cause a shattering of belief but instead drove people further toward a reliance on God’s promises.
Finally, one questioner asked how religion figured into the memory of war. Inexplicably, no one in the room mentioned Ed Blum’s Reforging the White Republic. Myself included.

Cullen Reviews Guelzo, "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion"

This is the best review I have seen of Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion to date.  It made me want to order a copy of the book and read it.  I liked Jim Cullen’s review for two reasons.

First, Cullen is the first reviewer to reflect on Guelzo’s work as a military historian.  As some of you know, Guelzo made his bones as an intellectual and religious historian before he turned toward writing trade books about the Civil War.

Second, Cullen defends Guelzo’s literary style in light of David Blight’s recent criticism in The New York Times.

Here is a taste of Cullen’s review:

Guelzo delivers the goods you expect with a book like this: an overview that sets the stage, a blow-by-blow account of the fighting, thumbnail sketches of the principals, counterfactual assessments of the might-have-beens. We get lots of active verbs: regiments and brigades don’t simply attack; they “lunge,” “bang”or “slap” each other. In his recent review of the book in the New York Times, David Blight criticized Guelzo for this, invoking the great John Keegan’s complaint about a “’Zap-Blatt-Banzai-Gott im Himmel-Bayonet in the Guts’ style of military history.” I take the point. But overall I have to say that Guelzo’s approach animates his narrative without really trivializing his subject. Indeed, Guelzo uses numbers to suggest the gravity of the three-day battle, noting that in the most conservative estimate, the damage the Army of Northern Virginia was the equivalent of two sinkings of the Titanic, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888 and two Pearl Harbors — and two and a half times the losses taken by Allied armies in Normandy from D-Day through August of 1944. Union losses were comparable. 

Guelzo Talks to Socialists About Lincoln

Check out Tom Mackaman’s interview with Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo at the World Socialist Website (published by the International Committee of the Fourth International).  Here is a taste:

TM: What do you make of the criticism of Lincoln the historical figure from the standpoint of identity politics, or, more recently, similar criticism over Lincoln the film?

AG: There has been a current that wants to reject the image of Lincoln as the Emancipator by questioning whether or not he emancipated the slaves. It has had some long innings. Some of it goes back to Marx’s comment on the Gotha Program, that the proletariat has to emancipate itself, that it cannot look to some other agency to do so. That image of self-emancipation

certainly has a role to play in W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in 1930, because Du Bois will say we can’t really talk about emancipation unless it’s self-emancipation. Du Bois is picturing race as the replacement for class. And this gets popularized in the writing of people like Vincent Harding, Lerone Bennett, Barbara Field, and any number of people writing today—some of whom have probably never read Du Bois, much less Marx.

Lincoln does drop comments that can be taken out of their historical context. For instance the most widely cited statement about race is the one he makes at the fourth debate at Charleston, Illinois. He says:

I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes,

nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together.

People like Bennett focus on this and say, Lincoln was really just another garden variety racist. What they do not see is what Lincoln follows that comment with. He says:

there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence—the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man.… he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color—perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without leave of anybody else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man….


That must have made every white supremacist in the crowd gasp.

I think, on the whole, given that the environment of the US in the middle of the 19th century is so white supremacist in its assumptions, Lincoln is actually quite remarkable for standing apart from that. But the decontextualized quote provides fodder for people to say that Lincoln was really not on our side.