With President Trump in the White House, everything seems under assault. Civil rights, the rule of law, our moral standing, the global liberal democratic order the United States spent decades, blood and treasure helping to form and maintain. It’s all so precarious, unsettled and unprecedented. But is it, really?
During the pilgrimage with the Faith & Politics Institute last weekend to western New York state and the landmarks of the abolition and women’s suffrage movements that were centered there, we were reminded that these dark days are neither new nor insurmountable. The scene was a panel I moderated with Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and two history professors.
David Blight received an award for his commitment to ensuring excellence and equity in graduate education at the Annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education at Yale University on Saturday, April 28, 2018.
For a century and a half Ulysses S. Grant has been a baffling and inspiring presence in the American literary and historical imaginations. Born in 1822 and raised by a pious Methodist mother, as a young man he was quiet, given to depressions, and lacking much ambition. Only his love of horses seemed to animate him and give him a reason to excel in his education at West Point, which his scheming father desired for him more than he did. In his thirties, he was a complete failure, at times a drunkard, destined to die forgotten. He found his vocation and success on America’s killing fields; his meteoric trajectory in the Civil War makes him a remarkable case of a nobody who became almost everything.
The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition celebrated the 20th anniversary of its founding last Friday with a panel discussion on the life of Frederick Douglass, whose 200th birthday was also last week.
Two hundred years ago, one of the most important Americans was born close to the Tuckahoe River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Frederick Bailey didn’t know the exact date of his birth, so he chose Feb. 14. Twenty years later, when he escaped from slavery, he became Frederick Douglass. By the time of his death in 1895, he had become one of the greatest orators and writers of the century.
David Blight and Thavolia Glymph explored the meaning of freedom, equality and emancipation with moderator Michael Gerhardt, as part of the National Constitution Center's celebration of the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Impeaching an unfit president has consequences. But leaving one in office could be worse.
In recent months, I have grown obsessed with a seemingly simple question: Does the American political system have a remedy if we elect the wrong person to be president? There are clear answers if we elect a criminal, or if the president falls into a coma. But what if we just make a hiring mistake, as companies do all the time? What if we elect someone who proves himself or herself unfit for office — impulsive, conspiratorial, undisciplined, destructive, cruel?
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was the guest for the premiere of Laura Ingraham’s new show on Fox News Channel on Monday night. During the interview, he outlined a view of the history of the Civil War that historians described as “strange,” “highly provocative,” “dangerous” and “kind of depressing.”
(CNN) Maine Gov. Paul LePage defended monuments to the Confederacy in a radio interview on Tuesday, claiming that 7,600 Mainers fought for the South and that the war was initially about land, not slavery.
Two Civil War historians contacted by told CNN disputed LePage's assertions.
As universities and municipalities rush to remove Confederate monuments, many historians have been stunned. For decades, they say, it was difficult to even broach the idea that the monuments were symbols of white supremacy. Public sentiment, they said, would not allow it.
“I never thought I’d live to see these monuments coming down,” said David Blight, a Yale University historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The years leading up to 1861 saw polarised politics, paranoia and conspiracy theories. Sound familiar? David Blight reflects on America’s Disunion – then and now
“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1781. The American revolution still raged, many of his own slaves had escaped, his beloved Virginia teetered on social and political chaos. Jefferson, who had crafted the Declaration of Independence for this fledgling nation at war with the world’s strongest empire, felt deeply worried about whether his new country could survive with slavery, much less the war against Britain. Slavery was a system, said Jefferson, “daily exercised in tyranny,” with slaveholders practicing “unremitting despotism”, and the slaves a “degrading submission”.
A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy?
The reason the South fought the American Civil War has been contested ever since the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. An odd turn of events, considering that when 11 Southern states seceded from the Union at the war’s outset, they were very clear about why they were doing it.
On June 21, 2017, Gilder Lehrman Center Director David Blight and GLC summer intern Ry Walker (YC 2020) addressed a group of elementary, middle, and high school teachers at a New Haven monument to the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. The teachers were participants in a seminar taught by Prof. Blight called “The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass.” The seminar was organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Ms. Walker is a rising sophomore at Yale University. Through the Afro-American Cultural Center’s History Keepers Program, she was interning with the GLC for the month of June.
Ever since Donald Trump became President I have believed his greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance - of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Andrew Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, or move history however he wishes well into the future.
Stevie Wonder received an honorary Doctorate of Music degree on Monday, May 22nd, at Yale University’s 316th commencement. David Blight, along with Frank Snowden, Professor of History & History of Medicine at Yale, had a chance to speak with Stevie Wonder at the luncheon following the commencement ceremony.
David Blight with students from the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont and their teacher Reid Smith, after Blight's lecture, “The Civil War, Race and Reunion,” at the First Congregational Church of Manchester, VT on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
From the BBC: President Trump has caused controversy with a revisionist riff on Civil War history, telling journalist Salena Zito in an interview that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the war if he’d been president a little later, and that Jackson was “really angry” as he watched it unfold.
Jackson, a slave-owner and strongman who took office in 1829, died 16 years before the war began.
We asked three prominent Civil War historians - David Blight, from Yale; Judith Geisberg, from Villanova University; and Jim Grossman, from the American Historical Association - to parse Trump’s comments, line by line.
David Blight discusses Frederick Douglass in an interview with Susan Gonzalez from YaleNews, February 17, 2017.
More than 30 years ago, Yale historian David Blight stood high atop a ridge near the Maryland coast and took in a view, the memory of which still awes him.
It was of the Chesapeake Bay in the summer, dotted with the white sails of boats, from a vantage point described more than 100 years earlier by the famed former slave, abolitionist, and orator Frederick Douglass.
David Blight appears in the PBS documentary film Birth of a Movement. The film was aired on February 6th, 2017 at 10:00pm.
In 1915, Boston-based African American newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s technically groundbreaking but notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly The Birth of a Nation, unleashing a fight that still rages today about race relations, media representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood. Birth of a Movement, based on Dick Lehr's book The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights,captures the backdrop to this prescient clash between human rights, freedom of speech, and a changing media landscape.
Throughout modern history, the millions forced to flee as refugees and beg for asylum have felt Douglass’s agony, and thought his thoughts.
Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.
David Blight gave the Biddle Memorial Lecture at Harvard Law School on November 9, 2016. His lecture, “DOUGLASS! DOUGLASS! Writing the Life of Frederick Douglass: Why, and Why Now?” was moderated by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School.
Opera singer Andrea Baker explores the impact of Frederick Douglass and the time he spent in Scotland, the country which she's made her home. As the great-granddaughter of slaves, she's always been inspired by Douglass, who escaped slavery to become an abolitionist and social reformer but, until now, was unaware of the impact he'd had on Scotland and vice versa.
A century and a half after the Civil War, the process of Reconstruction remains contested—and incomplete.
The Reconstruction era was both the cause and the product of revolutions, some of which have never ended, and likely never will. Lest this seem a despairing view of U.S. history, Americans need to remember that remaking, revival, and regeneration have almost always characterized the U.S., its society, and its political culture. But no set of problems has ever challenged the American political and moral imagination—even the Great Depression and the World Wars—quite like that of the end of the Civil War and the process of Reconstruction.