“Popular democracy is central to America’s identity, mission, and well-being, but it is also highly vulnerable to racism and irrationality,” [says] Harry Watson, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of ‘Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America.’
“Jackson was an unapologetic slave owner and allowed the forcible removal of Cherokees (the so-called Trail of Tears) so Georgia could claim millions of acres that the federal government had guaranteed to the Cherokees. His policies were sometimes irrational, such as opposing building roads and canals that were transforming the young nation. The forcible removal of native Americans from their land has since tarnished Jackson’s image.”
— From “Five lessons 1828 holds for a Trump presidency” by Laurent Belsie in the Christian Science Monitor (Nov. 9)
“As punishment for losing civil wars go, the South got pretty lucky. It got to honor its military leaders with bronze statues. It got to name its streets and schools after Confederate leaders. It even got to keep symbols of the war, like the suddenly at-issue Confederate flag.
” ‘The Southern losers were treated with extraordinary leniency,’ said Harry Watson, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill….
” ‘In most of the civil wars that I know anything about the losers were subject to much more serious repression…. They were sent to camps or they were shot or put in jail or any number of horrible things like that.’
“Two high-profile gruesome examples: The French Revolution in the 1790s that popularized the guillotine, and executions during and after the end of the 1920s Russian civil war that reached genocide levels.
“The losing sides’ flags in these cases were most certainly destroyed. In the case of the Russian civil war, Watson said, ‘If you flew the czarist flag after that war was over, or in Communist-controlled territory while the war was going on, you’d have been in very big trouble.’
“Watson thinks the North didn’t have the political will to remake Southern society after the war. He sums up the North-South peace deal this way: ‘ “As long as you [the North] give us the right to rule these states,” said the South, “we will not demand national independence.” That was essentially what it amounted to. And the North said “OK.” ‘ ”
— From “Why is the Confederate flag still a thing even though the South lost the Civil War?” by Amber Phillips in the Washington Post (July 10)
As a nonacademic I’m unsure how to frame this question, but let me bumble ahead: Who these days is studying North Carolina as North Carolina?
Of the 23 U.S. History faculty at UNC Chapel Hill only Harry Watson and James Leloudis include North Carolina as a special interest apart from broader topics such as the South, civil rights and the Civil War.
Are there contemporary historians who still see the study of North Carolina as a calling in itself? Or have Bill Powell and H. G. Jones retired that trophy?