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By the Standard of Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment, Trump’s Would be a No-Brainer by Patrick Rael

A President came to office under a cloud, to help govern a badly divided nation. But he squabbled with his own party, which controlled both houses in Congress, and abused the pardon power in ways that emboldened white supremacists and vigilante terrorists operating outside the law. To avoid accountability for his actions, he dismissed a critical figure in the executive branch, and this proved to be the final move that led Congress to impeach him.

That may sound like a description of the near future, but it is actually the story of Andrew Johnson, the first President in American history to face impeachment. There are crucial differences, though, in the scenarios of 1868 and 2017. For all of his numerous faults, Johnson inherited a nation in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems intent on fomenting his own.

Trump’s actions are hastening the prospects of impeachment because they pose the same two questions that Johnson’s did: who can the President fire, and who can he pardon? Trump lurched toward potential impeachment charges in May, when he fired James Comey, the FBI Director investigating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. Since then, Trump has left open the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel continuing this investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing. Pundits have been spending considerable time weighing the legality of such a move and its likelihood of sparking impeachment.[1]

Trump’s potential use of the pardon has also been implicated in calls for his impeachment. In July, Trump asked his attorneys about his pardon powers, concluding that “the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.” He exercised that power on August 25, pardoning the unrepentant Joe Arpaio, the convicted Arizona sheriff notorious for racial profiling and violating the civil rights of jailed citizens. Trump announced the unusual move by tweet under the cover of a hurricane, having failed to conduct the Department of Justice review typical of Presidential pardons.

To his critics, Trump’s actions not only embolden the white supremacists and nativists who view Arpaio as a hero, but they also reinforce an impression of Trump’s weak commitment to the rule of law. If the President is willing to pardon Arpaio out of affinity with his contempt for legal process, they say, why would Trump hesitate to pardon members of his inner circle, his family, or himself?[2] Does the President understand and respect the limits of his office? In short, the argument runs, Trump’s potential abuse of the pardon power for corrupt purposes portends a true constitutional crisis. Trump may have the legal power to pardon indiscriminately, but, say some legal scholars, he may still be impeached for abusing it.[3]


The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Congratulations to William Blair!

Congratulations to William Blair, Walter L. and Helen P. Ferree Professor of Middle American History and Richards Center Director, who has received a Center for Humanities & Information fellowship for the fall 2017! Dr. Blair will spend the semester researching the records of the Freemen's Bureau collection for his current project, "Murders and Outrages," to trace 3,972 instances of atrocities—murders, assaults, knifings, sexual assaults, economic coercion, and assassinations of government agents—committed by southern whites against Republicans and black citizens in the post-Civil War South. 

The Center for Humanities and Information supports research on the role information plays in the production of social meaning and value across the human sciences, from the orality-literacy transition to the new digital media. Addressing questions of information’s role in governmentality, social memory, communication, literature and culture, philosophy, and history, the Center builds each year an intellectual community of fellows composed of visiting scholars, graduate students, and Penn State faculty. 

Tuckered Out: Let’s Correct the Record on the History of Slavery and Abolition by Patrick Rael

Screenshot from Tucker Carlson Tonight, August 15, 2017. Courtesy of Fox News.
Screenshot from Tucker Carlson Tonight, August 15, 2017. Courtesy of Fox News.
The contemporary moment is witnessing a disgraceful outpouring of violent racism, emboldened by an erratic President who has made the White House a bully pulpit for white supremacy. As disheartening as this is, it is occasioning an extraordinary amount of history education, as scholars and commentators work feverishly to counter the myths and lies being espoused on the streets and in the halls of power.

Amidst Donald Trump’s historical malfeasance, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson offered yet another nugget of bad history lending aid and comfort to white nationalism. His August 15 commentary argued against the removal of statues honoring slaveholding Americans, suggesting that if slaveholding is to be the standard by which historical figures are to be honored, “nobody is safe.”[1]

Carlson then went on to point out that slavery is an old institution, practiced by African tribes and American Indians, as well as figures such as Plato, Mohammed, and Simon Bolivar. If slaveholding bars us from honoring historical figures, Carlson asserts, there would be few left to honor. “If we’re going to judge the past by the standards of the present, if we’re going to reduce a person’s life to the single worst thing he ever participated in, we had better be prepared for the consequences of that.” Many who signed the Declaration of Independence held slaves, Carlson notes, but “does that make what they wrote illegitimate?”[2]

Personally, I don’t care for historical hero worship and am not a fan of using public spaces to make reductionist arguments about historical figures who deserve nuanced investigation. But Carlson has it all wrong. For one, it is untrue that there’s a “movement” among “Leftists” to reduce the Founders to nothing more than “racist villains,” or have slaveholding Founders such as Jefferson “purged from public memory, forever.”[3] Aside from the obvious caricature here, it is clear that statues honoring historical figures represent a mere fraction of our public memory, which is nourished in myriad realms ranging from classrooms and museums to popular literature and feature films. We are in no danger of forgetting the Founders.

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Gamers Take on the Civil War by David Silkenat

As historians and teachers, we are often keenly aware of how movies and television influence what students think about the Civil War and about history more broadly. In recent years, historians have weighed in on the virtues and distortions of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave. Some productions have actively sought Civil War historians’ input into their depiction of the past, including Gary Ross’s Free State of Jonesand PBS’s Mercy Street.[1] While academic commentary on Civil War era television and film has become commonplace, few historians have examined another venue in which students and the broader public encounter the Civil War: in video games.

Over the past thirty years, more than two dozen Civil War games have been made. With the exceptions of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997) and Antietam! (1999), most of these games have not been particularly successful. A new game, released in July 2017, looks like it will replace Meier’s work as the most popular Civil War game ever. Produced by a small Ukrainian design team, Ultimate General: Civil War has already received glowing reviews from the video game press and appears on the way to becoming a best seller. On Steam, a popular game purchase site, it had a 9/10 rating, with more than 1,500 reviews.[2]

Ultimate General: Civil War promotional image of a battlefield. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.
Ultimate General: Civil War promotional image of a battlefield. Courtesy of Game Labs LLC.

Ultimate General: Civil War is, in gamer terminology, a real-time strategy (RTS) game, a popular genre that involves moving units around a map to defeat opponents and secure resources and locations. The use of “real-time” distinguishes the genre from turn-based strategy games like Civilization or (for luddites) chess. Some readers might object to the use of the term “strategy,” as UG:CW, like most RTS games, is devoted almost entirely to battlefield tactics rather than larger questions of military strategy. As is typical of the genre, UG:CW allows players to build different kinds of units (infantry, skirmishers, cavalry, artillery) and equip these units with a range of weapons. Players can choose either to fight individual battles or, in campaign mode, fight the entire war, building an army along the way.


The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Call for Applications - Postdoctoral Scholar: History, Richards Civil War Era Center/Africana Research Center

PSU# 73737 - Postdoctoral Scholar, History

Richards Civil War Era Center/Africana Research Center, Pennsylvania State University – University Park, Pennsylvania

The Richards Civil War Era Center and the Africana Research Center invite applications for a one-year postdoctoral scholar in African-American history, beginning July 1, 2018. All research interests spanning the origins of slavery through the Civil Rights movement will receive favorable consideration. Proposals that mesh with the Richards Center’s interests in slavery, abolition, and emancipation, as well as comparative or Atlantic history, are especially welcome. During their residency, the scholar will have no teaching or administrative responsibilities. He or she will be matched with a mentor, attend professional development sessions and other relevant events, and will be expected to take an active part in Penn State’s community of Africana researchers. The scholar also will invite two senior scholars to campus to read and comment on the scholar’s project.  Successful applicants must have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. within the previous four academic years. Salary/benefit package is competitive. To be considered for this position, submit complete application packets including a cover letter describing your research and goals for the scholarship year, a curriculum vita (6 page maximum), and a writing sample of no more than 30 double-spaced pages. Review of materials will begin November 15, 2017 and continue until the position has been filled. Three letters of reference should be addressed to the attention of the ESSS Selection Committee and submitted as email attachments to  Please direct questions about the process via e-mail to  Apply online at

CAMPUS SECURITY CRIME STATISTICS: For more about safety at Penn State, and to review the Annual Security Report which contains information about crime statistics and other safety and security matters, please go to, which will also provide you with detail on how to request a hard copy of the Annual Security Report.

Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status. 

Congratulations to Evan Rothera!

Congratulations to Evan Rothera who received his PhD on Saturday!  Good luck Dr. Rothera!