Friday, November 09, 2007

A Presidential Doughface

As a writing exercise I often place pictures of important or famous people up on the screen in my room and ask students to provide a caption or write something about the picture. After a few minutes students share their ideas and then I share one of mine which leads into a quick lesson in history. Sometimes this type of activity can be used to review a topic, introduce something new, or simply move a unit along with additional content.

The last time I presented students with this image they came up with some interesting responses:

*My belly hurts. I should have left that last taco in the bag and thrown it away.

*When are they going to invent a real tie that doesn’t look like a bow?

*This man is important. He looks really smart. Maybe he’s a writer or a great thinker. I wish the picture was in color.

*The picture looks like it is from a long time ago. I didn’t know they had hair gel back then. Interesting!

These are the better ones, of course. I left out the silly, off the mark, or inappropriate ones that can be the result of this type of exercise, but you can see that some students can really get into the moment when analyzing photographs.

Next we discussed names and labels…words we use to identify individuals or groups of people. We talked about how those names aren’t always meant to be nice. We also talked about how some names stick simply because it’s easier to remember a group of people by a certain name in order to remember what they stood for….groups like tree huggers, Bible thumpers, and even educrats.

These types of monikers are not simply for the 20th and 21st century. Certain groups throughout history have claimed remembrance through their name such as the Know- Nothings, muckrakers, and don’t forget the hawks and doves.

Do you know who the gentleman is in my image?

It is President Franklin Pierce, our fourteenth president and the tidbit of knowledge I share with students is Franklin Pierce was a doughface.

What’s a doughface?

During the 1850s a doughface was a Northern politician who had Southern sympathies.
President Pierce hailed from New Hampshire, one of our northern most states, so I’m sure it could be a little surprising that he might have southern sympathies, but he did. It wasn’t that he held slaves or thought slavery was a correct action, however, he did believe it was up to each state to decide its own course especially as new states entered the Union. He was against sectionalism and was not a fan of the abolitionist movement. President Pierce felt that compromise was an integral part of the Federal System.

The United States was experiencing growth and expansion, but a negative impact was growing tension between states who held slaves and those that did not. Legislators from the South wanted an equal number of slave and free states in order to balance power. They feared a higher number of free states because slavery could then be abolished through a Congressional vote.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act brought the question of slavery in the West to the forefront of national debate. In 1854 Congressman Stephen A. Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraka Act which would reverse the Missiouri Compromise of 1820 and allow settlers in Kansas and Nebraska territories to decide on their own if they would allow slavery or not. Reluctantly President Pierce gave his approval of the bill because many of his appointments were still pending in Congress and he wanted the Gadsden Purchase Treaty
to be approved as well.

Many Northerners disliked the way Pierce compromised with Southern viewpoints. Many of the discussions and debates on the floor of Congress were so emotionally charged that fistfights broke out and Charles Sumner, a U.S. Senator was so severely beaten it took him three years to recover.

The Kansas Nebraska Act eventually led to a mini civil war in those territories, and Kansas became “bleeding Kansas”. The Democratic party split, the Republican party was created, and the Whig party became nonexistent.

President Pierce is not the only president to be called a doughface during the time leading up the Civil War. President Buchanan and President Fillmore have also enjoyed the label.


June said...

Reading about history always gives me hope about our present day political scene. I enjoy reading your posts here and at History Is Elementary. Some things I know, some things I recall once reminded, and some things are brand new facts for me.

EHT said...

June, I feel the same way about the study of history. It does give hope. Thanks for visiting HIE and here at American Presidents. Everytime I write something I always learn something new.