The First Hundred Years–Slavery and the Shaping of Early American Politics: An Eight-Part Course with Benjamin Rubin

The First Hundred Years–Slavery and the Shaping of Early American Politics: An Eight-Part Course with Benjamin Rubin


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In this course, we will discuss the central political problem during the first 100 years of the nation's existence: The continued existence of slavery. Along the way, we will see how the existence of "the peculiar institution" shaped everything from westward expansion, to trade, immigration, and electoral politics.

Using the Declaration of Independence's lofty proclamation that "all men are created equal" and Reconstruction's incomplete fulfillment of that promise as our bookends, we will see that the story of slavery and the story of America's early development are one and the same.

Led by an expert on early American history, Ben Rubin, this course will examine the intersection of American politics and the struggles over slavery. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the fight to preserve or abolish the institution of slavery, and how the nation almost came apart in the process.

Lecture 1: Slave Societies in Colonial America

In this first lecture, we will look at slavery as it already existed before the nation's birth. We will compare and contrast America's first two slave societies, in the Chesapeake and the Deep South, built on tobacco and rice respectively. We will end with the Declaration of Independence's vague and limited, but still revolutionary, promise of equality.

Lecture 2: "And 3/5ths of All Other People"–Slavery and the US Constitution

Time to get concrete. In this lecture, we will look at the founding generation's ambivalence about the institution of slavery, and the compromises built into the Constitution. We will look at the delicate balance struck to keep the nation together, which simultaneously planted the seeds of the unraveling that would come in later generations.

Lecture 3: King Cotton Remakes the South

Rarely has a single invention had so rapid and profound an impact on a nation's history as did the cotton gin on the United States. Even as the South became further entrenched in the institution, northern states began taking the first baby steps toward freedom.

Lecture 4: "Go West Young Man"–Slavery, Westward Expansion, and the Mexican War

In the early-mid nineteenth century Manifest Destiny and territorial expansion became the motivating force behind American policy both foreign and domestic. But like everything else, its specific form was shaped and motivated by the struggle between slave states and free states, who each saw their ability to shape new western territories became a proxy for the power to shape the nation as a whole.

Lecture 5 "What To the Slave is the Fourth of July"–Abolitionism Goes Mainstream

By the mid-nineteenth century, true abolitionism had erupted in response to ever greater awareness of the atrocities and inequities of slavery. As the movement gained power, it increasingly disrupted the political status quo, culminating in the collapse of the Whig Party, the birth of the Republicans, and realignment into the Third American Party System.

Lecture 6 "A House Divided"–The Crises of the 1850s

In part six, we look at the last doomed attempts to settle the nation's growing disagreements without bloodshed, and the inexorable march toward a hard break. As we pass one after another through the compromise of 1850, the Dred Scott case, Bleeding Kansas, John Brown's Raid, and the election of 1860, we ask one of the most contested questions in the study of American history, "at what point did civil war become inevitable?"

Lecture 7: "A New Birth of Freedom"–The Civil War and Emancipation

The United States faces the greatest crisis in its history, as the fatal flaw built into the nation's birth finally gave rise to the most destructive event in its history. Four short years later, slavery had been ended, and a fully remade America for the first time looked possible. But would the nation stick the landing?

Lecture 8: 40 Acres and a Mule–The Unfinished Promise of Reconstruction

In our final chapter, we look at the attempt to rebuild a more equitable world from the ashes of the one destroyed by the Civil War. In some ways, Reconstruction succeeded, while in many others it fell catastrophically short. But it did not have to be so. We will look at the choices made in the years between Lincoln's assassination and the end of Reconstruction, exactly 100 years after Jefferson's promise that "all men are created equal," ending with the question of whether America finally live up to its lofty promise or not?

Ben Rubin is a public historian specializing in the American Revolution and Early America. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Political Science from Hanover College, a Master’s in American History from Western Carolina University, and is a Ph.D. candidate in History and Culture at Drew University, as well a graduate of the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University. Ben taught history and writing at Bloomfield College for five years before leaving academia to start his own music education business, JC Instrumental. He continues to work in public history with Context Travel, leading both in-person walking tours and virtual conversations on early American history, and at Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, where he has been a fellow since 2007. His work has been published in both academic and public history journals, and you can hear him most recently as a featured guest on the History Happy Hour podcast. He currently lives in Jersey City, New Jersey with his wife Dana, daughter Sylvie, and dog Oslo, and spends his free time playing music, rock climbing, playing board games, and following Cincinnati Reds baseball.

p>How does it work?

This is an eight-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this subject, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $280 for eight lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording you can watch after the event.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 5 reviews
100%
(5)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
M
M.K.
An outstanding course!

While I had already enjoyed one of Ben's shorter courses on American history, I signed up for this 8-parter with a slight concern that it may get too detailed or obscure for me, not living in America. I had no need to be concerned! Ben's relaxed presentation style and excellent illustrations helped the audience learn about the main themes and threads of this crucial 100 year period. The 8 talks were factual and detailed, with great narrative storytelling. Expert yet intelligible to the ordinary mortal. Ben was always receptive to every kind of question from his audience, ranging from the seriously specific and academic, to more mundane clarification of terminology, such as 'Manifest Destiny', 'Back Country' and the extent of the Louisiana Purchase.

I came away with a much better understanding of (among other things) the economics of labour and crop-growing, principles guiding the accession of new states, overarching party politics in the Senate and House of Reps., and the various issues driving or resisting abolition.

And I even came away knowing about the important connection between rice growing in West Africa and parts of the southern states!

Thank you, Ben!

M
M.K.
What Every American Needs: Our Own History, In Context

I cannot say enough about how vital an understanding of the events and issues covered in this course has been to this American, so I feel that the same revelations of self and nation, with the unavoidable connections into our current time, has become essential.
How can a citizen enter an election booth without knowing our history, as presented, in this seminar series?
So, a wonderful experience, one that will inform all my work (I'm a poet and a writer) for a long, long time.
Thank you. With gratitude for your identifying the need and wonderful instructors, and making these courses available to the public.

B
B.
Excellent presentation and fascinating content

Ben has put together a well-paced course, full of detail, about this important period in American history. His warm manner and ability to bring us into the lives of the people and workings of the society made us eager to sit down and learn each week! Great at giving such important context to our discussions.

M
M.D.
Great teacher, fascinating subject

Ben Rubin is really good at making sense of the material, which is both comprehensive and detailed, and has time to consider and answer a broad range of questions

M
M.K.
First Session, First Hundred Year -- Slavery and the Shaping of Am. Politics

Another skillful presentation by Mr. Rubin, this time setting the historic background of slavery in Americas, A masterful overview of the complex movements of people, goods, and money across an ocean and between three continents.
I am so looking forward to the rest of our seminars.

Customer Reviews

Based on 5 reviews
100%
(5)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
M
M.K.
An outstanding course!

While I had already enjoyed one of Ben's shorter courses on American history, I signed up for this 8-parter with a slight concern that it may get too detailed or obscure for me, not living in America. I had no need to be concerned! Ben's relaxed presentation style and excellent illustrations helped the audience learn about the main themes and threads of this crucial 100 year period. The 8 talks were factual and detailed, with great narrative storytelling. Expert yet intelligible to the ordinary mortal. Ben was always receptive to every kind of question from his audience, ranging from the seriously specific and academic, to more mundane clarification of terminology, such as 'Manifest Destiny', 'Back Country' and the extent of the Louisiana Purchase.

I came away with a much better understanding of (among other things) the economics of labour and crop-growing, principles guiding the accession of new states, overarching party politics in the Senate and House of Reps., and the various issues driving or resisting abolition.

And I even came away knowing about the important connection between rice growing in West Africa and parts of the southern states!

Thank you, Ben!

M
M.K.
What Every American Needs: Our Own History, In Context

I cannot say enough about how vital an understanding of the events and issues covered in this course has been to this American, so I feel that the same revelations of self and nation, with the unavoidable connections into our current time, has become essential.
How can a citizen enter an election booth without knowing our history, as presented, in this seminar series?
So, a wonderful experience, one that will inform all my work (I'm a poet and a writer) for a long, long time.
Thank you. With gratitude for your identifying the need and wonderful instructors, and making these courses available to the public.

B
B.
Excellent presentation and fascinating content

Ben has put together a well-paced course, full of detail, about this important period in American history. His warm manner and ability to bring us into the lives of the people and workings of the society made us eager to sit down and learn each week! Great at giving such important context to our discussions.

M
M.D.
Great teacher, fascinating subject

Ben Rubin is really good at making sense of the material, which is both comprehensive and detailed, and has time to consider and answer a broad range of questions

M
M.K.
First Session, First Hundred Year -- Slavery and the Shaping of Am. Politics

Another skillful presentation by Mr. Rubin, this time setting the historic background of slavery in Americas, A masterful overview of the complex movements of people, goods, and money across an ocean and between three continents.
I am so looking forward to the rest of our seminars.