Heineman Blog Archive 8-22-02 to 9-5-02

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Mr. Heineman is a Professor of History at Ohio University-Lancaster and the author of four books, including, A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh.

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The historical profession—its massive membership notwithstanding—is pretty small when the time comes to air each other’s dirty linens. In the 20th century we were concerned with small things like revisionists, deconstructionists, and signing petitions to save Bill Clinton from impeachment. But having entered the 21st century our profession has much more interesting matters to contemplate: namely Doris Goodwin and Michael Bellesiles.

By now the public at large has heard many of the charges regarding Goodwin’s and Bellesiles’s problems—the former alleged to have committed plagiarism and the latter alleged to have invented primary sources and data. All of this reminds me of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who complained that Carter White House staffers “think we’re just a pack of crooked whores.” Lest the public think of the historical profession in similar Carteresque terms, I would like to talk about a few good historians currently at work, notably Vincent Cannato and Matthew Dallek.

In Cannato’s The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New Yorkamazon.com, readers receive a deeply engaging view of the self-destruction of Great Society liberalism in the 1960s.

For many members of my generation, our only memory of John Lindsay comes from the 1960s television series “Batman” in which a clueless and irrelevant Mayor Linseed watched helplessly as the forces of anarchy ravished Gotham City. Unfortunately, the real-life Lindsay had no “Batman” to save him. Indeed, the next best thing was police officer Frank Serpico, who was not particularly helpful to the mayor.

Cannato, with impressive detail and research, and blessed with a tremendous gift for story telling, carries the reader through the 1960s and 1970s New York, introducing a variety of compelling actors—from Mario Cuomo to Abbie Hoffman, and Nelson Rockefeller to the ordinary man on the street.

Matthew Dallek, like Cannato, a recent Columbia history Ph.D recipient, has also written a crackling political tale with, The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan’s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics. amazon.com

Drawing upon a wealth of research, and employing a finely tuned narrative style, Dallek explains how a former Hollywood actor was able to defeat political pro and incumbent Pat Brown in the 1966 California gubernatorial race. With Brown’s fall, and the tearing apart of the New Deal electoral coalition over campus unrest, urban crime, and the Vietnam War, Reagan embarked on a course for the White House.

Fear not for the future of the historical profession so long as we make sure that the public sees more of Cannato and Dallek and far less of Goodwin and Bellesiles.


I often grade student papers at a coffee shop in downtown Lancaster, Ohio. While the people who work there are nice and the coffee is reasonably priced—this ain’t Starbucks—I like to come here to contemplate the enormous mural of General William T. Sherman on the other side of Main Street. It is the classic Sherman one views in history texts: angry and haunted by the knowledge that war taxes the victor as well as the vanquished. This summer, as the United States prepares to launch the Iraqi stage in the War on Terror, I look at Sherman—as have others, notably columnist George Will and historian Michael Taylor--even more intently.

The esteemed classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson has observed that Americans, as has been true in other times and with other democratic people, often have a difficult time embracing their gritty warriors once they are seemingly no longer needed. While I believe Hanson is correct, this is not the case in Sherman’s hometown of Lancaster.

For years the local, privately funded historical society has operated Sherman’s former home on Main Street as a shrine to one of the Civil War’s most innovative and destructive generals. Parishioners at St. Mary’s Church, where Sherman’s wife, Ellen Ewing worshiped, are very quick to claim the vaguely Protestant Sherman as one of their own. It is also the case that every Fourth of July, during the fireworks display at the county fairgrounds, “Marching Through Georgia” blares over the loudspeakers. Many locals may not recognize that particular tune, but tradition, or force of habit, has kept President Jimmy Carter’s least favorite song alive in Lancaster. (At the Naval Academy, Carter chose severe hazing from upperclassmen rather than comply with demands to sing that hated song.)

A little more than 140 years ago, within blocks of where I sip my coffee, Lancaster men signed up to follow Sherman to hell. As it turned out, hell had many names: Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Atlanta. What has intrigued many historians about our local hero is how “modern” Sherman was. Having taken Atlanta in the weeks prior to the 1864 election, and thereby securing Abraham Lincoln’s presidency from rebuke by war-weary voters, Sherman wisely chose to target Dixie’s commercial assets as well as her morale. As a social historian, I have to admire someone who took the time to consult the 1860 U.S. Census in order to help determine which Georgian and Carolinian plantations were in need of destruction.

Sherman knew that “containment” of the Confederacy was not enough. Both Sherman and U.S. Grant understood that to save the Union they would have to take the war to the enemy and gut him. In those days America did not have “smart munitions,” we had smart soldiers. Certainly white southerners greeted Sherman with loathing but do recall, that to thousands of blacks he was “Moses” leading them out of bondage. Of course, Sherman’s “regime change” was not perfect and Jim Crow emerged after the war. However, the United States was preserved, formal slavery was abolished, and the promise of a better day beckoned to all, including those who had fought and lost. All in all, not a bad legacy for a small-town Ohio boy.

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Dave Livingston - 12/4/2002

This is to object to the assumption that it necessarily was a good thing that "the Union was preserved" as a result of the War Between the States.
If the preservation of the Union was such a wonderful notion, as some people claim, then why did tens of thousands of men sacrifice life &/or limb in attempts to free themselves of it? Their sacrifices remind one of those brave souls who fled the union held together by force, that set of other totaltarian states,in Eastern Europe, 1946-1989.
The preservation of the Union came at the cost of tens of thousands of American lives, a terrible cost in property, shattered families, bitterness and resentment in much of the South lasting for generations.
Secondly, the preservation of the Union came at the cost of the sacrifice of the rule of law. The Union was and is a creature of the States. The States of the South had every legal right and justification for withdrawing from the Union, their creature, but the rule of law was sacrificed for the rule of men. Today too the various states have a legal right to withdraw from the monster they created, but as we all know the creature has become far more powerful and vicious than its creators.
The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution written to rein in the aggressive power of the central government foreseen by the Founding Fathers is the most abused of the Amendments to the point it nearly has no practical meaning.
Only the fading grip of the Second Amendment holds the central government at all accountable to the people of this nation.
Once the Second Amendment is rendered totally inoperable there will no longer be anyhing to restrain an aggressive central government from enslaving us in the manner akin that feared by Geo. Orwell. Then only the government(and criminals)will have access to firearms.
One, a student of history, can, if he looks closely, perceive the germination of another American civil war/revolution against the totalatarian state here out West.
Timothy McVeigh may become an icon of liberty, a hero of the revolution-to-come, fifty years hence.
Eastern urbanites long ago gave up the defense of their personal liberities, but many a rural Westerner has not yet thrown in the towel.