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Kirkpatrick Sale, a contributing editor of The Nation, characterizes Christopher Columbus as an imperialist who was determined to conquer both the land and the people he encountered during his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. Robert Royal, vice president for research at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, objects to Columbus's modern-day critics and insists that Columbus should be admired for his courage, his willingness to take a risk, and his success in advancing knowledge about other parts of the world.
Adjunct professor of history Lois Green Carr and historian Lorena S. Walsh identify several factors that coalesced to afford women in seventeenth-century Maryland a higher status with fewer restraints on their social conduct than those experienced by women in England. Professor of American history Mary Beth Norton challenges the "golden age" theory, insisting that women in colonial America, whether white, black, or Native American, typically occupied a domestic sphere that was lacking in status, physically debilitating over time, and a barrier to educational opportunity and political power.
Historians Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum argue that the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692 was prompted by economic and social tensions that occurred against the backdrop of an emergent commercial capitalism, conflicts between ministers and their congregations, and the loss of family lands, which divided the residents of Salem Town and Salem Village. Author Laurie Winn Carlson contends that the witchcraft hysteria in Salem was the product of people's responses to physical and neurological behaviors resulting from an unrecognized epidemic of encephalitis.
Professor of geography James T. Lemon argues that the liberal, middle-class, white settlers of southeastern Pennsylvania placed individual freedom and material gain at a higher priority than that of the public interest. Professor of American history James A. Henretta contends that the colonial family determined the character of agrarian life because it was the primary economic and social unit.
Professor of history Patricia U. Bonomi defines the Great Awakening as a period of intense revivalistic fervor that laid the foundation for socioreligious and political reform by spawning an age of contentiousness in the British mainland colonies. Professor of American history Jon Butler argues that to describe the colonial revivalistic activities of the eighteenth century as the "Great Awakening" is to seriously exaggerate their extent, nature, and impact on pre-Revolutionary American society and politics.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl N. Degler argues that upper-middle-class colonists led a conservative American Revolution that left untouched the prewar economic and social class structure of an upwardly mobile people. Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood argues that the American Revolution was a far-reaching, radical event that produced a unique democratic society in which ordinary people could make money, pursue happiness, and be self-governing.
Political scientist John P. Roche asserts that the Founding Fathers were not only revolutionaries but also superb democratic politicians who created a Constitution that supported the needs of the nation and at the same time was acceptable to the people. Historian Alfred F. Young argues that the Founding Fathers were an elite group of college-educated lawyers, merchants, slaveholding planters, and "monied men" who strengthened the power of the central government yet, at the same time, were forced to make some democratic accommodations in writing the Constitution in order to ensure its acceptance in the democratically controlled ratifying conventions.
American historian Dumas Malone (1892-1986) asserts that, although he did not live to see slavery abolished, Thomas Jefferson sincerely deplored the slave system as unjust to its victims and injurious to the masters. Malone maintains that Jefferson was one of the first Americans to propose a specific plan for emancipation. American historian William Cohen contends that libertarian views had virtually no impact on Jefferson's actions after 1784 and that his behavior as a slave owner differed little from that of Virginia planters who opposed his antislavery speculations and who were committed to protecting their chattel property.
Historical biographer Robert V. Remini argues that Andrew Jackson did not seek to destroy Native American life and culture. He portrays Jackson as a national leader who sincerely believed that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the only way to protect Native Americans from annihilation at the hands of white settlers. Historian and anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace contends that Andrew Jackson oversaw a harsh policy with regard to Native Americans. This policy resulted in the usurpation of land, attempts to destroy tribal culture, and the forcible removal of Native Americans from the southeastern United States to a designated territory west of the Mississippi River.
Historian Avery Craven asserts that the fanaticism of the abolitionist crusade created an atmosphere of crisis that resulted in the outbreak of the Civil War. Irving H. Bartlett, a retired professor of American civilization, differentiates between agitation and fanaticism and states that abolitionists like Wendell Phillips were deeply committed to improving the quality of life for all Americans, including African Americans held as slaves.
Kenneth M. Stampp, a professor emeritus of history, contends that although slaveholding did not guarantee affluence, slave labor held a competitive advantage over free white labor. He finds ample evidence that the average slaveholder earned a reasonably satisfactory return from his investment in slaves. Historian Eugene D. Genovese maintains that poorly fed and inadequately trained slaves lacked the versatility and incentive to be particularly productive agricultural laborers and, consequently, contributed to the backwardness of the antebellum southern economy.
Professor of history Rodolfo Acuña argues that Euroamericans took advantage of the young, independent, and unstable government of Mexico and waged unjust and aggressive wars against the Mexican government in the 1830s and 1840s in order to take away half of Mexico's original soil. Professor of diplomatic history Norman A. Graebner argues that President James Polk pursued an aggressive policy that he believed would force Mexico to sell New Mexico and California to the United States and to recognize the annexation of Texas without starting a war.
Professor of history Sandra L. Myres (1933-1991) argues that first- and second-generation American women often worked outside the home as teachers, missionaries, doctors, lawyers, ranchers, miners, and businesspeople instead of simply assuming the traditional roles of wife and mother. According to professor John Mack Faragher, women were reluctant pioneers because they were unwilling to break away from their close networks of female relatives and friends. However, nineteenth-century marital laws gave their husbands the sole authority to make the decision to move west.
Professor of history Joel H. Silbey argues that historians have overemphasized the sectional conflict over slavery and have neglected to analyze local enthnocultural issues among the events leading to the Civil War. Professor of history Michael F. Holt maintains that both Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats seized the slavery issue to sharply distinguish party differences and thus reinvigorate the loyalty of party voters.
Attorney Alan T. Nolan argues that General Robert E. Lee was a flawed grand strategist whose offensive operations produced heavy casualties in an unnecessarily prolonged war that the South could not win. According to professor of American history Gary W. Gallagher, General Lee was the most revered and unifying figure in the Confederacy, and he "formulated a national strategy predicated on the probability of success in Virginia and the value of battlefield victories".
Historian James M. McPherson maintains that Abraham Lincoln was the indispensable agent in emancipating the slaves through his condemnation of slavery as a moral evil, his refusal to compromise on the question of slavery's expansion, his skillful political leadership, and his implementation and direction of Union troops as an army of liberation. Professor of religion and social transformation Vincent Harding credits slaves themselves for engaging in a dramatic movement of self-liberation. He argues that Lincoln initially refused to declare the destruction of slavery as a war aim and then issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which failed to free any slaves in areas over which he had any authority.
Professor of history Eric Foner asserts that although Reconstruction did not achieve radical goals, it was a "splendid failure" because it offered African Americans in the South a temporary vision of a free society. Thomas Holt, a professor of American and African American history, contends that in South Carolina, where African Americans wielded significant political clout, Reconstruction failed to produce critical economic reforms for working-class blacks because of social and cultural divisions within the black community.