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January 2, 2013


Dear Washingtonians:

Erich Martel sends a reply to my introduction to the last issue of themail (January 31). Martel correctly notes that there were mixed motivations of soldiers who were fought in the Civil War and behind the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. When historians issue a blanket statement such as, "The Civil War was fought over. . . ," they are always making a judgment that covers many disparate motives of thousands of different people. Where I disagree with Martel is that he only counts among the factions of the north those industrialists and farmers who may have been satisfied by containing slavery to the south. He never even mentions the abolitionists who I think were the driving force of northern opinion and of southern hostility to the north. When Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tomís Cabin, he is credited with having said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." Whether those were his exact words or not, they were the prevailing sentiment at the time --- not that the builders of the transcontinental railroad or the farmers of the midwest caused the war, but that that abolitionists made the war and the ending of slavery inevitable through a revolution in moral thought that held that slavery was not just an alternative system of economics, but evil. We shortchange American history if we donít give credit to the strong moral impulses running through it, from the cause of democracy and self-government that led to the founding of the nation and its separation from England to the abolitionist cause that led to the Civil War.

But this discussion started with a local DC reference ó the display of the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Archives ó and it has strayed far from that. Would anyone rather discuss the abolition of slavery in Washington, or anything thatís going on here and now?

Gary Imhoff


The Civil War and Soldiersí Motivations
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

To say that the Civil War was caused by slavery or by competing economic systems doesnít automatically mean that soldiers on either side fought for or against slavery or their economic systems. A broader "defense" of regional "ways of life" might be more accurate: Southerners, whether slave owners or not (only 25 percent were) fought in part to preserve a "way of life" that included slavery as the status of most African-Americans. Northerners fought to keep the Union whole and a "way of life" not threatened by the political power of the "slavocracy."

The majority of the soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army did so to save the union, not to end slavery. Had that been Lincolnís rallying cry, the border states (Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) might have joined the Confederacy. They might have been joined by Illinois and Indiana, whose southern tiers were largely settled by Southerners from Virginia and Kentucky. The anti-slavery sentiment in the North was anti-slavocracy, opposed to the power that the slave states wielded in Congress blocking territorial expansion. The Republican Partyís free soil, free labor, free men ideology favored containing the slave system, not ending it. They feared that ending it would free the slaves and they would flood the labor market with cheap labor. The 1860 Republican Platform held disparate northern factions together with the plank that called for leaving slavery where it was, but no expansion. Those factions included industrialists who wanted a government-sponsored transcontinental railroad from a northern or central route and farmers who wanted a homestead act and government support for farmers. These were all blocked by Southern Democrats and their Northern Democratic allies (an earlier day "territorial cliff," so to speak).

The prejudice against African-Americans was widespread in the North. Partly it was fear of competition from cheap labor (similar to nativist resentment against immigrants) and also from the growth prejudice and stereotype against a subjugated people. Several free states, including Illinois, passed laws against free Blacks entering the state. The wording of the Emancipation Proclamation reflects the contemporary reality. It very specifically cites the Presidentís constitutional authority as commander-in-chief and his constitutional obligation to suppress rebellions (". . . I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States . . . and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion. . . .").

His timing was dictated by the facts of the war. By late 1862, the war that was expected to end in months had dragged on without end in sight, thereby making the idea of freeing the slaves acceptable "as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion," that would disrupt the Southern economy and expanded recruitment of African Americans. The de facto Union military victory at Antietam made it possible for Lincoln to frame the proposed Emancipation Proclamation, as a war measure to hasten victory, not as a last ditch attempt to stave off defeat. The hundred daysí warning allowed him to demonstrate that ending the insurrection was the primary goal and that his hand was forced by Southern recalcitrance.


Proposed DC Graduation Requirements: Drop US Government; Keep DC History!
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

In order to be "well informed, tolerant, global citizens who can think critically about how the past shapes the future of world events" (and earn a high school diploma), future DC public high school graduates wonít need to study US Government (the name of the current course), but they will have to know DC history (

No, this is not from the Onion or Saturday Night Live, but from the DC State Board of Education. Ironically, one of the major arguments for keeping DC history as a graduation requirement is to promote statehood, while denying them knowledge of the federal relationship between states and the US Government. The details of voting, how laws are made, the responsibilities of the President, the Congress and the US Supreme Court, as well as the role of the Constitution and Bill of Rights as the fundamental law of the land are just a few of the topics covered in US Government. Furthermore, it is unethical to expect teachers to use a mandatory course as a political platform. DCís "global citizens" will have one, not two, years of world history, but will have to take more art, more music, more physical education and 3 hours and 45 minutes of vaguely defined (and therefore open to abuse) "physical activity" per week.

The proposal to replace Carnegie units with "competency units" is probably the greatest threat to academic integrity. For academic subjects, a Carnegie unit is credit for a course earned over a semester of classroom instruction and assignments led by a teacher. "Competency units" are credits awarded for some sort of performance, from a traditional test to a demonstration or a project. The potential for abuse is enormous (more on this in the next themail). The social studies courses that are currently required are world history (2.0 Carnegie units), US history (1.0 Carnegie unit), US government (0.5 Carnegie unit), and Washington, DC, history (0.5 Carnegie unit). The proposed social studies requirements are world history (1.0 Carnegie unit), US history (1.0 Carnegie unit, and Washington, DC, history (0.5 Carnegie unit). "The remaining 1.5 units may be selected from subjects such as: government/civics, global studies, economics or financial literacy."

This multi-part proposal was reportedly developed by State Board of Education members Laura Slover (Ward 3, who is also the Executive Director of PARCC, one of the two organizations responsible for developing and promoting Common Core State Standards for 23 states and DC, Mary Lord (At Large), and Monica Warren-Jones (Ward 6). I requested that the State Board post all of the public feedback it received. I got no response. You can write the members of the State Board at: 



The Education of Michelle Rhee, January 8
Paul Basken,

For your information: should be interesting.

Frontline will be showing "The Education of Michelle Rhee" on Tuesday, January 8, at 10:00 p.m. This is from the programís press release: "Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools, is one of the most admired and reviled school reformers in America. Frontline was granted unprecedented access to Rhee during her tumultuous three-year tenure as she attempted to fix a broken school system. As Rhee returns to the national stage, Frontline examines her legacy in Washington, DC, including her battles with the teachersí union and her handling of a cheating scandal in the District. Watch the trailer here: "


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