I enjoyed this film greatly as a window into the African American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Death and the Civil War film focused more on the soldier and family perspective, Many Rivers to Cross detailed the unique experience of the newly emancipated slaves. It was fascinating to see how the quality of life of the freed slaves was highly dependent on the political climate each year. For example, when the former slaves were given “40 acres and a mule” yet they had it taken away approximately a year later when Andrew Johnson became president. The ups and downs of the fight of the African American community is highlighted carefully within this film. It was interesting and slightly horrifying to see the graphic images of the lynchings that took place in America around the time of the end of the Reconstruction. While it became possible for blacks to vote and own property, they were forced to segregate themselves and limit their own successes in order to keep a low profile and appease the whites. Amazingly, former slaves soon obtained positions in government. I find it incredible that only a few years after the civil war, so much progress had been made towards equality and yet taken away so fast.
This film was a striking depiction of the civil war. It was shocking to visualize the photography of the dead soldiers along with hearing the complicated story. The description of the experiences of the family along with the graphic images of death in this film were very impactful to me as a viewer. It was plain to see how death was revolutionized in the way that it was handled as a result of the civil war. There was previously no federal hospitals, ambulance corps, system for transportation of the dead, identification, or burial procedures. The soldiers just did what they could to honor their fellow soldiers that had fallen. It was shocking to see the sheer numbers of casualties and deaths as a result of this war. In addition, it was incredible to see people coming together to honor the dead soldiers and give them a proper death. I was surprised to find out that it was common practice during the civil war to dig up bodies from their graves and try to identify and reinter them. I think that a sense of patriotism and personal responsibility of all, including the federal government, to care for the dead respectfully and to do right by them and their families arose during this time. Memorial Day was established because their were so many dead that needed to be honored and to this day Americans still celebrate Memorial Day in honor of those that have fought for our freedom and liberty.
Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States was destined by God for expansion from the East Coast to West Coast, caused problems to occur. These problems are particularly strong when it comes to the issue of expansion or abolition of slavery. North versus South, Expansion versus Abolition. With the abolitionist movement catching on in the North and cotton booming in the South, conflict among the Union erupted. This conflict only worsened with the issue of how to handle expansion on the United States’ territories. For example, Bleeding Kansas was the result of popular sovereignty being made the method of handling conflicting viewpoints on slavery. As Kansas was proposed for statehood, both sides of the union, North and South, would do anything to keep the majority of the Senate seats in order to further their cause. This resulted in violence known as Bleeding Kansas when fighting occurred in order to keep a population majority for each side. Radicals such as John Brown did not help in avoiding the Civil War. Some historians assert that the attack on Harbor Ferry was one of the causes leading up to the war. The South claimed that the plans for the attack on Harbor Ferry made them fearful of other attacks on them. They began taking up arms to protect themselves, consequently preparing themselves for war.
The first Great Awakening was a pushback and rejection of the Enlightenment. Long after, people were beginning to stray a little bit away from the strict religious beliefs that they used to adhere to. Some began to follow a belief called unitarianism in which God is like a clockmaker who makes the Earth and then leaves to let the people run their course. While this appealed to intellectuals, others were not convinced that God played such a passive role. With the second Great Awakening coming upon Americans to stop the movement away from religion, tent revivals were popularized. In 1801m in Cambridge Kentucky, as many as 25,000 people gathered to hear hellfire sermons during religious camp meetings. Peter Cartwright was the best known Methodist traveling preacher. He was known as a circuit rider. Arguably the most important figure of the second Great Awakening was Charles Grandison Finney. Finney was the most famous of the revival preachers. He believed in a philosophy called “earthly perfectionism,” which meant that he believed that the earth could become perfect if everyone converted. He believed that conversion could be instant and therefore, if someone converted they could instantly become perfect. Finney’s beliefs inspired other major reform movements including education, temperance, and abolition.
Of the abolitionists in the film that we watched, Frederick Douglass was the only former slave. He was the only abolitionist who had truly experienced first hand the horror of slavery. In fact, Frederick Douglass witnessed the whipping and beating of his mother at only six years old. Frederick Douglass was seen as rebellious to his slaveholder who sent him to a man named Covey who was nick-named “the slave breaker” in order to keep him in check. Covey was brutal and would beat Douglass regularly, however, one day Douglass retaliated. Douglass protected himself and was able to essentially pacify Covey. Covey never beat Douglass again and he could not let it be known that he had been retaliated against because he could not risk his reputation as “the slave-breaker.” Eventually, Frederick Douglass escaped and began his own anti-slavery newspaper called the North Star. This is symbolic of how the star could lead the slaves North to their freedom. Frederick Douglass was successful in his abolitionist ventures. Although he took less radical views than some abolitionists such as John Brown, Douglass was successful in advocating for freedom of slaves through political means. He was a instrumental part of the Emancipation Proclamation because he personally advocated for it to President Abraham Lincoln.
This video was a striking insight to the beginnings of social change in America. I was surprised by the few yet determined white Americans that were willing to dedicate their lives to abolishing slavery at this time. My favorite of the abolitionists was Angelina Grimké because she fearless enough to stand up to her wealthy and powerful white family and ran away when they would not listen to her. She took the risk of writing to William Lloyd Garrison and having her words published in The Liberator in support of abolition. Regardless of the cost to her or the embarrassment to her family, Grimké let her words be published and called attention to the horrors of slavery and the moral problem it caused for Christians. She believed in women’s rights as well as African American rights and was willing to fight to conquer both issues simultaneously. As a trailblazer of abolitionism and feminism, Angelina redefined the standards of women being able to speak publicly in front of both women and men. Additionally, she would speak about ending slavery in front of men which caused an uproar because this was unheard of at the time. When faced with people doubting her, including her future husband, Theodore Weld, she refused to step down and focus purely on the issue of slavery. She held firm in her belief that both social issues could be fought for at the same time. Her spirit and determination was incredible and allowed social change to be set in motion.
Although brief, I found this letter very interesting. It is intriguing to find that there are many comparisons and contrasts between the political rulers of today and those of the early United States. Specifically, Andrew Jackson was seen as abusing the power of the presidency and taking part in acts that were beyond the scope of his power. This is comparable to many of the recent leaders of the United States that have taken it upon themselves to promote unconstitutional acts. David Crockett tells of Jackson’s Indian removal as he explains that “the few is to transfer the many.” He is talking about the many Indians that are being removed from their rightful lands because it is more convenient for Andrew Jackson. He comments on the fact that with many being removed without their own consent, that the principles of Republicanism are not being upheld. It is interesting that even today, politicians struggle with removing non-citizens from the United States. Crockett also comments on the meanness of volunteer slaves. It seems that the undercutting of labor as a result of volunteer slaves has made life much more difficult for Americans. Crockett claims that he might leave the United States in the event that Martin Van Buren is elected. This holds a striking resemblance to the claims of many as a result of our most recent Presidential election.