A New Birth of Freedom

It’s been a busy week. The week before Holiday Break is always stressful. At school, my students were counting the days until Friday and the time off. Secretly, the teachers were, too. At home, my two kids were counting, B, my wife, is shopping and decorating our home in addition to all of the other tasks she does to keep the home running.

During the school year it’s a delicate balance for me keeping up with school work, home jobs, and family. I am constantly procrastinating with tasks I should do at home so I can do something for school – grade, plan, or reflect. In the end, somethings just don’t get done. Like my desk – it’s a mess. I am behind on my Christmas cards, I need to write a note to my mom and step-mom and thank you notes to my students who remembered me this Christmas season.

Regardless, I try to keep the kids engaged. I remind them to make the days count – to go beyond getting it done and to learn. We are covering the period in American history immediately before the Civil War.

a runaway slave surprises my students

Last week my 8th graders took a field trip to the Naper Settlement. The settlement preserves the local town history and offers educational field trips for the local schools. I had gone last year and was impressed; this year I was excited to return and I promoted the field trip with my students.The field trip is more than a visit – it’s a re-enactment of history. The history of 1856. It’s pre-Civil War and the nation is tense. Abolition is the hot topic of the day and the Naper Settlement re-enacts the period with six separate scenes. Students travel from one location to the next encountering differing viewpoints on the slavery \ abolition issue.

  • a Constitutionalist who wants to follow the law
  • a pro-slavery advocate
  • a printer who wants to stay neutral
  • an abolitionist
  • a slave catcher
  • and a runaway slave

The students get a feel for what it might have been like at the time, including the vernacular of the time. We debriefed Wednesday in class and many students reflected that history came alive and went beyond ‘book learning.’

We finished the week watching Glory – the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and their unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner. The 54th Massachusetts was one of several units comprised of African Americans. In our text, it is a paragraph. But the 54th Massachusetts is more than a paragraph the unit led to President Lincoln

History, it is our story: there is always an event that happened on this day sometime, somewhere that is meaningful.

Today is the 155th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the United States. Mississippi would follow on January 8, 1861. Nine more states would secede and the United States would be embroiled in a great Civil War, which would test the limits and resolve of our nation.

Friday was the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The anniversaries present irony. The wording of the amendment is simple and plain:

Amendment XIII
Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

49 words. So much meaning.

The politics behind the passage of the amendment is the subject of the movie Lincoln for which Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery is now viewed as wrong, at the time it was the political third rail. The Civil War was fought over the issue, though Lincoln contended that the southern states could not legally secede. It was his ‘line in the sand.’

Though most people in the North were opposed to slavery, many weren’t willing to step out and openly support the abolition of slavery.

Article V in the Constitution lays out the procedures to amend the Constitution. Two thirds of the House of Representatives needs to approve any proposed amendment and three fourths of the state legislatures needed to ratify it for it to become law.

President Lincoln pushed the limits of politics and Congress approved the amendment on January 31, 1865 by a vote of 175-56, a narrow margin of two votes more than was needed to send the amendment to the states for ratification.

The United States had 36 states in 1865. The 36 included the 11 Confederate States that seceded, beginning with South Carolina on December 20, 1860 – one hundred fifty-five years ago tomorrow.

Illinois was the first state to ratify the amendment on February 1. Georgia was the twenty-seventh state, ratifying the amendment on December 6. The amendment was formally adopted into the Constitution on December 18.

Two more amendments were passed first, the 14th amendment extending citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and last the 15th amendment extending the right to vote to all citizens regardless of ‘….race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’  Source: University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law

History has a way of repeating itself, today we struggle with an assortment of issues that are clearly unjust for which we are unwilling to budge. A few push the issues and others push back.

Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of a military cemetery in southeastern Pennsylvania in November 1863. His remarks were short and to the point.

Executive Mansion,

Washington, November 19, 1863.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground– The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedica-ted to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln

246 words, 246 powerful words. Today we remember Lincoln’s words, his deeds, and we honor his legacy.

The Gettysburg Address. Initially, the speech was panned. Too short the critics claimed, but it has stood the test of time and is perhaps one of the greatest speeches in American History calling for us to re-dedicate ourselves to a new birth of freedom.

A new birth of freedom is lost on some of our students and some of or citizens, it’s not lost on me. One vote meant the difference to the passage of the 13th amendment. One vote, one person, one moment.

Over break, I have few books on my plate – all related to the Civil War and I’ll be re-watching Lincoln and Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. Looking for some angle to use with my students. Follow my books on Good Reads in the sidebar.

Today is going to be a great day, in some ways it already is. It’s Christmas time and the Christmas season. I have a few things on my plate and we have our visit to the zoo and picture with a reindeers on our agenda. In between, I have cleaning, sorting, shopping, and yes my desk and so much more. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one remembrance, one nod to history, learning all the time

What’s on your reading list this season?

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6 thoughts on “A New Birth of Freedom

  1. Fascinating post. Thank you. Can it be true what Regular Guy NYC says? That some schools aren’t really teaching history? If so, I’m so glad you’re bucking the trend. And me? I’m reading the v-e-r-y long but wonderful ‘Wartime Britain 1939 – 1945’ by Juliet Gardiner, about life ‘on the ground’ during the war. It’s extremely interesting and very readable too. Merry Christmas to you, your family and all your followers.

    1. Thank you Margaret. I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. I am afraid the issue is more systemic over here and related in no small part to adolescent brain development as well in large part to political development of our education system where tests and test results drive our education system. It’s a soap box issue I could take up at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park.

      I just finished a book about Washington DC being burned by the British Army in 1814 an interesting read and now I am back to Hamilton by Chernow – it inspired the hit Broadway musical. And, I have a serious stack of books by my desk and a goal of three read by back to school in Jan. 16. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.

  2. What I find amazing is that some schools are not really teaching history anymore, and there has been a call here to not have it as a class anymore. We need history. We learn from it, and helps us make decisions that affect our present and future lives. I find it hard to believe that 9-11 is not discussed in history classes yet it is part of our history. If we keep eliminating our history we will keep making the same mistakes over and over.

    Hope you enjoy your holiday break. Merry Christmas!

    1. Phil – it drives me crazy.

      Possibly at the elementary and middle levels – 3rd to 8th grades. I am a social studies specialist and in the past six years I’ve taught science and ELA as my primary subject. The issue has been reading, writing, and math have been the testing subjects so schools focus on those content areas and science and social studies take a back seat. Also most teachers are endorsed in social studies at the middle level so they can ‘teach’ the subject (sort of like I taught science last year) but don’t have a deep understanding of the content or how to deliver it.

      A good social studies teacher is one part story-teller, one part historian, one part reading teacher, one part writing teacher, and one part actor – all rolled into one. There is probably another part in their as well……. Social studies teachers read history stories and pay attention to what is going on in the world. The main issue with social studies is that it requires the highest order thinking because it relies on critical thinking and content knowledge. Kids moving on to high school lack critical thinking skills across the board – part of it is developmental – adolescent’s brains are not completely formed and won’t be until their early twenties. But we can and should teach the history, geography, government, and economics.

      You got me on my soap box! Sorry.

      Thanks for stopping by – things are looking up. Hope you had a great trip to Florida. Christmas is going to be awkward this year without a few seats at the table. We’re changing things up and making it happen. Merry Christmas to you and your family, and a Happy New year.

Thanks for visiting MtDC. How are YOU Making YOUR Days Count?