June 8 discussion

I’ll be in Maine on June 8 while you’re discussing Connecticut and the Civil War, but I’ll be curious about a couple of details that I recall (maybe some misremembering here?) from the Prudence Crandall readings:

1)  Prudence Crandall’s neighbor and nemesis, Judge/attorney Judson, was a presiding judge in the final Amistad trial, at which he ruled in favor of the captives.   How must that have felt to him?  Was he a grudging adherent to an interpretation of the law that compelled him to this ruling?  If so, how had the law changed?  Or did he undergo a change of heart that allowed him to interpret the law counter to his previous convictions?

2)  The earlier Crandall ruling based on the Black Law, was cited as a precedent in the Dred Scott case in support of the idea that black people could not be considered citizens. It’s striking to me that little Connecticut (with  Judson,  bobbing around in the current) was a player in that struggle. I wonder what was happening here in the shift of direction that led to the 14th amendment.

I’d love to know how Prof. Warshauer sees these pieces of the puzzle, particularly that last one about Connecticut in the lead-up to the 14th Amendment.  And  also to know how members of the cohort respond to the Spielberg version of the Amistad story.  The movie I really want to see (that I’ve been nagging students to make) is one that looks more closely at these local lives.   One in which Venture Smith shows up, too:   part Paul Bunyan and  part Horatio Alger (as he presents himself through his scribe)  but also humorous and cranky and magnetic (as he emerges despite his scribe).  Maybe Lawrence Fishburne?

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5 responses to “June 8 discussion

  • Jeff Partridge

    I think I found something that might answer Evelyn’s question about Judson. This is a quote from
    Warschauer’s book:”One of Crandall’s leading critics was Andrew Judson, a Democratic selectman in Canterbury who insisted: ‘Colored people never can rise from their menial condition in our country; they ought not to be permitted to rise here. They are an inferior race of beings, and never can or ought to be recognized as the equal of whites. Africa is the place for them. I am in favor of the Colonization scheme’ in which free blacks were shipped back to their homeland. The idea that free blacks should be shipped back to Africa, no matter how long they or their ancestors had been in America, was a popular solution to the race ‘probem'” (2). There is also a quote from the Courant — an editorial praising the Amistad decision not for humanitarian or abolitionist reasons, but because it would rid the United States of “the miserable inhabitants of Africa” (26).

    Comment: In reading Warschauer, I was struck by this irony: Many CT residents were against the spread of slavery to new western states not because they opposed slavery, but because they favored the colonization of Africans and did not want more blacks brought over. Thus, racism was the driving force against the spread of slavery in the U.S. (I hope I got this right).

    • efarbman

      Ah, yes., thanks. This makes sense. Hair-raising heritage. All the more reason for a movie exploring the political and psychological complexities of these interlaced plots.

      • klamkins

        Ev, you’re asking for complexities and interlaced plots in a culture where “The Hangover 2” is about to sweep the cinematic landscape!

  • John

    Driving up from Asheville through Virginia created an interesting background to the Warshauer Book on the Civil War. I guess Ct. (“The Georgia of New England”) was as rascist as any place south. Another reason why they didn’t want the new states to become slave states was because they didn’t want those new lands “poluted” by africans just as they wanted to retain power in the government when each new state brought new representatives in. The book pounds home the idea that most of Ct. didn’t care at all for the rights of African Americans, rather they were fighting against the “Slave Power” of the south. So as the book says, the 13th, ammendment went through in order to destroy that power (and to punish the south for the war)and not at all because people wanted equality for blacks(167). The back to Africa plan – Colonization – Jeff mentions reminds me of Marcus Garvey who got tremendous support from the KKK in the 1930’s for the same sort of plan and the same rascist reasons.

    Connecticut people in Ct may have been racist, but they were interesting. In particular, I’m thinking of Dr. Josiah Beckwith who exempted men from the draft for having “enlarged and diseased scrotums of long standing” (91). Then there is Robert Penn Warren’s wisdom at the 1961 centennial at the end of the book. Driving down Monument Ave. in Richmond passing the huge statues of Jefferson Davis, Lee and Stonewall Jackson (and way down the other end, a new one of Arthur Ashe looking like he wants to club something, tennis racket in one hand, book in the other) it hits home how the whole country in 1865 wanted to glory in the battle well fought, the noble cause, and a hundred years later still couldn’t deal with the racial issue. Maybe this year will be different.

  • jeffpartridge

    Thanks for those comments, John. Like you, I read Warschauer’s book while traveling. On my plane to Atlanta, I read that line about CT being the “Georgia of New England,” which kind of gave me a differnt view of Atlanta than I think I would have had otherwise. I grew up thinking that the north was just more humanitarian than the south — an idea that eroded in my graduate studies and my experience teaching 19th and 20th century American lit, but is now completely washed away (I think) now that I’m reading W’s book. Walking through MLK’s childhood home, memorial, and the various exhibitions in Atlanta didn’t improve my view of southern bigotry throughout our history, but I certainly found myself thinking differently about the north and the way we have whitewashed northern ideals and behavior.

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