A Short Lesson in Historical Research

This post has been a long time coming. Settling into a new schedule both in my teaching position and my duties as a student can be quite exhausting, but I’m starting to get into the swing of things. Recently, I started a little segment entitled, “Stupid Things People Say About the Civil War.” Those posts garnered some attention from one particular individual who goes by the name Caldwell….and Austin….and Jennifer Cotton, Clarissa, Reed and who knows how many other names. Not being very mindful, I engaged both Austin and Caldwell in the comments section of various posts, only to realize later that they shared a common IP address. The same person, was literally signing on under different names to agree with him/herself. Of course, the arguments were all too familiar. Finally I cut the conversation off, telling said person that if they wanted to converse again, it must be under a real name. Of course, this was met with a private email from Caldwell that is particularly nasty, and his propensity to use childish name calling on other forums continues.

One positive thing that came out of that conversation is an opportunity to highlight some important aspects of historical research. Hopefully this will be beneficial to certain personalities that comment on this blog from time to time. I am going to focus on two things: 1, context matters; and 2, the credibility of your sources matter.

1. Context

On one of Caldwell’s comments, he provided this argument.

Here is how Thomas Jefferson described the events, after the Declaration was issued, and as the the debates over whether the colonies should secede from the British Empire:

“…such a SECESSION would weaken us…”

Game. Set. Match. And really, if you don’t conceded the point now, especially in view of your “Happy Independence Day” thread, where you said you were in “awe” of Jefferson and the Declaration, well, that would speak volumes now, wouldn’t it? And if you do manufacture some silly excuse, am I really expected to take your word over that of Thomas Jefferson?

Caldwell made numerous statements as to why the American Revolution is an American secession, but he cites this slice of pie as evidence. Let’s set aside the argument and look at the “proof.” For starters, Jefferson wrote these lines a couple of months before writing the Declaration of Independence, not after. More importantly, Jefferson was not referring to “secession” from Great Britain when he uttered these words. Rather than cherry pick a quote, let’s provide some context.

“That if the delegates of any particular colony had no power to declare such colony independent, certain they were, the other could not declare it for them; the colonies being as yet perfectly independent of each other:
That the assembly of Pennsylvania was not sitting above stairs, their convention would sit within a few days, the convention of New York was not sitting, and those of the Jerseys and Delaware counties would meet on the Monday following, and it was probable these bodies would take up the question of Independence, and would declare to their delegates the voice of their state:
That if such a declaration should now be agreed to, these delegates must retire, and possibly their colonies might secede from the Union:
That such a secession would weaken us more than could be compensated by any foreign alliance:
That in the event of such a division, foreign powers would either refuse to join themselves to our fortunes, or, having us so much in their power as that desperate declaration would place us, they would insist on terms proporationably[sic] more hard and prejudicial.”

Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

When the entire quote is rendered, and the context becomes apparent, one can easily see that Jefferson was not referring to a secession from Great Britain. He was referring to a secession from the agreed upon “Union” created by the colonies. There is really no spin involved here, just proper research skills.

2. Credibility of your sources

Examining one’s sources is always an interesting task. You always want to cite the current historiography of that specific historical concept to demonstrate that you have a grasp on the subject. You also want to make sure that your research makes use of other credible research. If your work is based on shoddy research, then you will have shoddy arguments. Caldwell falls victim to this by citing John Remington Graham as his “scholar” of secession. A cursory exploration of Graham’s publications indicates no major works accepted by the historical community. Instead, Graham is attached to Pelican Press.  Caldwell/Austin claims on another blog that Graham has a PhD (in reality he is a JD) and is a legal scholar. If one attempts to research Graham, he might find articles like this.  Background of political controversy? Check. Writes books published by a noted pro-South publishing company? Check. Moving on.

Another one of Caldwell’s experts on the Civil War is Judge Andrew Napolitano. A noted Fox News personality and prominent Libertarian leaning Republican. Napolitano argues that the American Revolution was an American secession. The issue with Napolitano’s credibility is that he is more persona and less of a scholar. Plus, I’m not sure he actually understands secession and constitutional law regarding secession issues. Napolitano is on record as saying that states have a legal right to secede.  Now correct me if I’m wrong. If I was a former Superior Court Judge, I think I might know a little bit more about the issue of secession, as well as Supreme Court rulings dealing with that issue. Texas v. White anyone? I mean how can a former judge say that secession is legal, when the Supreme Court holds otherwise? And what does this say for the credibility of Napolitano, or those that cite him as an authority?

I know this in no way compares to The Historians Craft or a basic class on historiography, but hopefully it is a small step in the right direction. Hope everyone had a wonderful summer, the leaves will be changing soon. 😉

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9 thoughts on “A Short Lesson in Historical Research

  1. George Purvis

    Still attacking huh???

    Yes that is like saying Anderson had orders to move to Sumter, his men were in danger, etc etc etc. That is about as dumb as saying the war was all about slavery. BTW I am still waiting on those documents.

    While we are waiting on these documents let’s review some really stupid things people do say —–
    lets start with http://thehistoricstruggle.w
    ordpress.com/2013/04/04/fort-sumter-the-case-for-hungry-soldiers/

    Gee looks like in the absence of facts the plan is to insult and demean your opponent while ignoring the historical fact and promoting your own opinion of a historical event. When that doesn’t wo4rk we play word games.

    Then we get to http://thehistoricstruggle.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/fort-sumter-rages-on-somewhere-else/ where you basically just let Mackey do the talking for you. I note he still avoids true historical fact and pushes HIS OPINION!!!

    This is the pages I really love.http://thehistoricstruggle.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-north-fought-the-civil-war-to-preserve-slavery-yea-right-part-2/

    I challenged you to post one document that proved the North wasn’t fighting to preserve slavery. I really put you through the wringer there didn’t I??? To date you still haven’t posted that document. The fact is I hit you so hard you decided as a real historian that your best option was to hide behind other people and the edit button. So you created this page– http://thehistoricstruggle.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/some-comments-are-just-sad/

    Here you hide behind everyone who will post to make a direct on me. It is a shame you have to hide behind a woman like a little scared boy. Can’t even do your own dirty work???

    Then as proof you won’t stand up to me fact for fact we can go to http://thehistoricstruggle.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/the-north-fought-the-civil-war-to-preserve-slavery-yea-right-part-1/ here you try and prove the South was fighting to preserve the institution of slavery by referring to the Declarations of Secessions, which are nothing more than a list of grievances of FOUR(4) states. That is total ignorance of historical fact to promote that idea.

    Now here we are and you want to give someone a short lesson in historical research??? Get real; you need to take your own advice and research, research, research. Above all you need to drop your agenda of trying to make the North “holier than thou art” and learn to tell the truth!!!!!!!!

    George Purvis
    Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education
    PS– I am saving a cop[y to file so I can post this on any of your pages I choose.

    1. Sadly George, none of that has anything to do with the post. Nor are you right in any of your arguments. I’ll let the comment stand, since that is really what you want, but it’s really just a testament to your inability to analyze historical sources.

      {Edit} BTW. Thanks for misrepresenting my statements, yet again.

  2. justbreathe24

    I like that we still argue over the Civil War. Debate is healthy. The fact remains that in public schools all sides of the Civil War are not taught. I went to a school in Western New York and Lincoln is treated as a God at times. Lincoln was human and he was rather tyrannical and power hungry in his attempt to “preserve the union.”

    1. I don’t expect an answer when actually dealing with history. And I won’t allow the coward who goes by the aliases Austin/Caldwell/Clarissa/Jennifer Cotton/Reed-and now Sara Lee apparently-to defend itself unless it uses its real name and real email address.

  3. “Game. Set. Match.” I love that–it just cracks me up. Jimmy and I have been batting around handles for our friend. CAC was popular for onomatopoetic reasons. “Waterboy”, Jimmy’s favorite, has a certain ring to it. “Dogberry” has a certain appeal to me.

    1. Yea, the claim to victory cracked me up when I looked up the quote’s origin. His approach to context is matched only by his inability to figure out how IP addresses work.

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