Chicago, northern Illinois not part of Wisconsin in order to help free states

The original northern border of the state of Illinois was the southern tip of Lake Michigan but Nathaniel Pope helped change this:

[T]he shrewd move in 1818 by Nathaniel Pope, the Illinois Territory’s delegate in Congress, to relocate the original proposed boundary from the southern tip of Lake Michigan is regarded as a decisive event in Illinois history…

Pope’s move provided the groundwork for Chicago to become Illinois’ economic juggernaut and literally turned state politics upside-down as the area grew. But it also had the national implication of ensuring Illinois would be a free state at a time of percolating political unrest over slavery…

Congress “wanted to have a water route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River for shipping supplies and soldiers if needed, since the Ohio River route could become contested,” said Olson, co-author of a new book “Managing Mississippi and Ohio River Landscapes” that includes a chapter on the northern border.

Along with giving Illinois access to Lake Michigan, Pope’s border modification raised the population nearly to the 40,000 required for statehood, Olson said in an article he co-authored for the Journal of Earth Science and Engineering.

This is interesting history given Illinois’ later connection to Abraham Lincoln and fighting slavery as well as the rapid spread of the Republican Party and its abolitionist priorities when the party was first founded in Wisconsin in the 1850s.

It might even be more intriguing to see how Pope and others thought about the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan. This was not the only point by which people and supplies could be transferred between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Indeed, it was not until several treaties, including a few after statehood (see the Treaty of Chicago), and the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal (begun in the 1830s and completed in the late 1840s) that Chicago became a candidate for explosive growth. (And grow it did and quickly encompassed an entire region including significant portions of Wisconsin – see Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis).

What can a political sociology class do? Perhaps change a highway name

Many highways and roads in the United States have local honorary names and one political sociology class wants to change who a nearby road honors:

University of Mary Washington students are all familiar with Jefferson Davis Highway, the road that leads to campus, Mary Washington Hospital and even Carl’s. Students walk over it to get to Giant, Eagle Landing and Home Team Grill but many students do not know the origin of its name. Students in the Political Sociology Class want to change that…

“The ultimate goal of our class project is to get the City Council of Fredericksburg’s approval to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway in the Fredericksburg area,” Greene said. “We are doing this project to show the public that we care about what our community represents, Jefferson Davis was a Confederate leader who owned approximately 100 slaves, why should we honor a leader who stood for inequality and the superiority of one race over another?”

Jefferson Davis was the owner of at least 113 slaves in his lifetime and was the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, and an embodiment of the values of the planter class. The United Daughters of the Confederacy decided to honor his memory by naming the highway after him…

For students who wish to get involved, Greene suggests showing support by “attending City Council meetings with our class, spreading the word amongst the campus and Fredericksburg community to help promote our mission by word of mouth and our Facebook page, and signing a petition that we plan to create in the near future. The more support we have from UMW, the more likely we are to make a change.”

I bet an analysis of all the honorary names in the United States would turn up a lot of figures who could be controversial. Take Chicago as an example: this helpful website helps makes sense of all of the honorary streets in the city. Given that roads and highways are built with taxpayer money, it makes some sense to have honorary figures who can appeal to everyone.

I like this class idea as a tangible goal for a political sociology course. Undergraduate students often ask how they can make an actual difference and this seems like an attainable goal. Along the way, the students will get opportunities to interact with local officials, the public, and other students and learn how to make such appeals.

Figures for modern-day slavery: 27 million or 12.5 million

Whichever of these two figures you choose, there are still a lot of slaves in the world today:

According to sociologist Kevin Bales, who founded and directs the new abolition group Free the Slaves, an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today—more than were ever enslaved at any single time in history. The United Nation’s International Labour Organization estimates are a more modest 12.3 million—which is still a shocking number of people forced to labor against their will, unable to walk away, for no compensation. Much of the reporting on this phenomenon has been on women forced to work in the sex trades. But the U.S. State Department reports that many more people are enslaved in far more ordinary endeavors: mining coltrane, growing cotton, domestic servitude, and fishing in the south Pacific.

This is not just a historical problem: this is a major issue around the world. Bales has written a number of book on the subject and these would be a good place to start in learning more.

James Loewen still educating people about real cause of Civil War

Sociologist James Loewen has written several good and accessible books about American history (one about textbooks, one about historical monuments). One of the main issues he confronts is about the true cause of the Civil War: slavery or something else (like states’ rights)? Loewen explains again why we can be sure slavery was the main issue:

“One hundred and fifty years ago Christmas Eve day, everyone knew why South Carolina was seceding because they said so — it’s a wonderful document,” said James Loewen, a sociologist and co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.

Four days after South Carolina seceded on Dec. 20, 1860, the state adopted a second document titled “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” Loewen considers the record, central to his new collection, one of the five most important documents in the history of the country, launching as it did a seminal chapter in America’s ongoing struggle to define itself.

“So why does nobody ever read it?” he asked. “Everybody knew [secession was] about slavery. This document is all about slavery.”

Seems like a fairly cut and dry issue to me. This may become a more public issue as we near the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

But historical events are often open to interpretation. In the same article, noted Civil War scholar James McPherson says, “Probably 90 percent, maybe 95 percent of serious historians of the Civil War would agree on the broad questions of what the war was about and what brought it about and what caused it.”

So how could we get to a point where most or all Americans would acknowledge slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War?