Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: The Confederate States of America: Spirit and Message for Today

Instructor: Dave Shuster

An often overlooked fact of American history is that, during the mid-nineteenth century, the United States of America was severed into tow warring nation states: The United States of America (USA) and the Confederate States of America (CSA).

The CSA survived for just over four years. Born, not unlike the national confederation, in the heat of conflict, ripples from its accelerated and violent plunge in to American history's turbulent pool cascade into our contemporary time...and, likely into our future. Debates over union or disunion, slavery, nullification, states rights vs. national authority and federalism's character began early in our constitutional history and are heard in today's political and social discourse. This is a vibrant and living part of contemporary American life.

Participants in this course will seek the complex and diverse roots of southern secession, and trace the social/cultural forces directing its political structure, function, processes and personalities. They will attempt to delve into its soul.

Discussions about the causes of the south's final break with the union typically center on union/disunion issues, with slavery as the invisible elephant in the room. Other, more complex, factors must, however enter the debate. Differences in secession's strongest advocates' perspective point to multiple motivations, intentions, ambitions, and behaviors. Historian Eric H. Walter observes that,

"As the nineteenth century progressed, a small but vocal group of southerners emerged who identified northerners a the source of...'an attack on the nation's liberty, as declared in 1776. They finally came to agree that, consistent with the Declaration of Independence, they had the right, duty and sacred obligation to secede from what Robert Barnwhell Rhett called the northern ' Frankenstein... monster... which they cannot quell."

These were Americans, holding fast to the 18th century compact theory of union, growing in antagonistic contrast with northern, generally 19th century, Jacksonian nationalist theory of union. Seventy years and two generations separated them from (but joined the with) the federalist/antifederalist debates.

The Confederacy remains very much alive in the hearts and minds of its adherents. Building on this vitality, students, reading from a common base of assigned texts, will specialize in relevant, self-selected, areas of CSA history and jointly draw conclusions pertaining to the long term impact and contemporary meaning of its existence.

Students will read numerous print and on-line source materials, visit local historical sites and present a carefully constructed report explaining and critiquing one significant relevant event during the period, and finally offer a normative judgment either supporting or opposing the Confederacy.

Last Update: February 22, 2012