Hi everybody! It’s hard to believe that the semester is already wrapping up. When I first set out to do this project, I thought that I would only discuss the findings that I procured from the primary source documents themselves. However, as the project progressed, I recognized that it wasn’t just these documents that needed explaining, but also the digital analytical tools that I was utilizing. Each tool presented its own benefits and drawbacks, and as I uncovered these aspects of the tools, I needed to redefine the scope of my project, to the point that a discussion of these tools, and how they impacted my findings and methodology, required explaining in their own section.
Paradoxically, my findings were both expected and unexpected. On the one hand, I did expect that the concept of “State Rights” would primarily be utilized in the South. However, I did not anticipate that the number of Northerners who used the term would be so few. Even after the Supreme Court released its decision on Dred Scott, which essentially extended slavery to the free states, Northern references to the term were outnumbered nearly 4:1 by Southern references.
The answer to why people invoked “State Rights” was less surprising to me. Being that the term was referenced most frequently during “flashpoint” years, when political controversy and federal action occurred, it became apparent that the term was used whenever federal action was deemed injurious to individuals, and not as a part of regular political philosophy. This would explain why references to the term appear overwhelmingly during years like 1832, 1834, and 1857, and why it would appear so rarely during the rest of the years that were examined.
As far as Americans’ understanding of what “State Rights” meant to them, it would seem that for many Southerners and Democrats, it was a shield against any federal action that was not expressly beneficial to them. For instance, during the Nullification Crisis, the tariff, which was mainly meant to benefit the factories of the North, was deemed unconstitutional, even though it was within the rights of the Congress to create such a law. For many Northerners and Whigs/Republicans, the concept of “State Rights” was seen as a tool used by Southerners to suppress political activity, especially activity originating in the North.
This class has been incredibly useful for learning about the tools and methodology that can be employed in history-making. Without this class, I might not have learned about tools like Google Ngram and Chronicling America until much later, and tools like these will help me make future projects run more efficiently. Additionally, reading articles and books on digital history and methodology have presented me with a different perspective on the nature of historical inquiry, and made me reconsider the kinds of questions that I should be asking.
It’s been great getting to know all of you throughout this semester, and I hope to see you in some of my future classes!
And here is a link to the current draft of my print project paper: