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Eighteenth and nineteenth century reformers and the broader American public viewed the study of history as essential to one's education. The study of history, from their perspective, cultivated patriotism in readers and prepared them for the role of responsible citizen. The essay "The Study of History" from Literary Inquirer, for example stated "history presents not only the grand and sublime works of nature and art; it likewise exhibits the misery and degradation attendant upon ignorance, superstition, and the depravity of man" ("The Study of History" 1833, 132). In addition, history textbook authors of this period frequently lauded history as the storehouse of valuable lessons that would help readers benefit society, with several describing it as the school of politics and a way to prevent conflict (McInnis 2006, 110-111). Well known textbook author Emma Willard, in the preface of her United States History textbooks, claims that the study of history "might allow politicians to predict wars before they occurred" (Willard 1831, xv). Thus the idea that history education facilitated the creation of a moral and humanitarian society held sway in the United States during the antebellum period, even while it periodically fought other nations.

However, some writers connected to the Peace Movement, many of whom were Quakers, expressed conflicting views on history's value to society and its ability to prevent unnecessary wars. These writers, mostly opponents to the United States' War with Mexico, argued that history education sometimes contributed to war by romanticizing militaristic government policies. History books of all kinds, they claimed, praised generals and warriors while neglecting the achievements of peaceful people. History needed to tell different types of stories about the past for it to possess educational value in their eyes. Although this group was small, I will show that they warned the public that history education sometimes harms humanitarian causes and that nationalistic writers use history to manipulate the masses as well as inform them, especially children. Their arguments reveal anxiety not only over the United States' numerous military conflicts, but also with emergent educational institutions and the belief in the malleable, rather than set, nature of children.

Few studies of the Peace Movement during the antebellum era have examined the movement's critique of education or the use of history in popular culture. Alice Tyler's seminal work on social reform presents a broad overview of the Peace Movement during this time, including notable participants such as Benjamin Rush, its connection to religious perfectionism, and divisions with the movement (Tyler 1944, 225). Despite her detailed overview, Tyler's study offers no assessment of the Peace Movement's long-term impact on American History, including American attitudes toward war or its connection to anxieties produced by modern institutions. Charles Howlett and Glen Zeitzer in The American Peace Movement: History and Historiography in 1985 begin this discussion of the Movement's historical importance by noting that the Peace Movement grew in popularity during the antebellum period because of the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War. They contend that historians should consider this movement more seriously than they have since the United States has spent more years at peace than at war. They also point out that the Peace Movement has existed in the United States for most of its history and has become stronger during times of conflict (Howlett and Zeitzer 1985, 2, 5, 6). However, even Howlett and Zeitzer never address the Peace Movements' impact on the broader American culture or the tensions with modernity its critiques of history might reflect.

Charles Charfield in The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism takes a more sociological approach to answering this question when examining peace activities from the early nineteenth to late twentieth century. Charfield highlights the primarily middle-class nature of peace activism, including the antebellum period, as well as strategies employed by the Peace Movement across the arc of United States History. He notes the Peace Movement has contributed to American culture as pathfinders, introducing new ideas, as well as functioning as harbingers to future disasters related to warfare (Charfield 1992, xxiii, 180).

My essay expands on the Peace Movement's importance to United States history by illustrating how, during the antebellum-era, it functioned as a pathfinder to later historians. During this time, it warned Americans that mass education, including the study of history, cultivated an excessive love of war. Although the Peace Movement had limited effect in preventing antebellum-era conflicts, I contend that it delivered a meaningful and lasting critique on American education, history education in particular. Peace Movement activists not only used historical examples to show the consequences of war, but also how history education itself served as a tool for manipulating readers into embracing armed conflicts. In short, they identified it as the cause, rather than the solution, to violent political policies. Further, they noted that republics such as the United States, as well as despotic governments, use history to manipulate the masses. This viewpoint is unique in that it reflects a criticism of mass education from humanitarians and those who favored social justice, rather than the more commonly reported criticism of mass education from conservative quarters. Ruth Elson in Guardians of Tradition, for example, points out that the southern political leaders criticized antebellum-era textbooks because they frequently depicted the North as more religious and moral than the South (Elson 1964, 174). Carl Kaestle, on the other hand, describes humanitarians such as the Quakers as mass education supporters (Kaestle 1983, 40). Although small, the Peace Movement made similar critiques throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. Its perspective on history as a tool for manipulation reflects a level of self-awareness that would not emerge in broader educational circles until the 1960s.


The Mexican American War galvanized support for the Peace Movement during the 1840s. Nevertheless, even during the decades before the United States' conflict with Mexico, peace activists described history education as more harmful than helpful in the work of producing a healthy republic. A few even believed that some histories might endanger a republic because they featured too many accounts of battles rather than important lessons for the present. The essay "Religious Miscellany: History for Schools" in the Christian Register and Boston Observer warned that some histories might endanger children because they focus only on heroes, conflicts between nations, and "barbarous behavior" of past civilizations ("Religious Miscellany: History for Schools" 1837, 1). In the essay "Christianity and Patriotism: The Patriotic Element of Christianity," the author begins by claiming that "The love of conquest was the strongest passion in ancient times, and, through succeeding ages, this has been most highly celebrated by orator and bard" (600). Although the author never mentions the use of history directly, the essay implies that most writings of the past glorified violence rather than taught lessons in peaceful governance (600).

The journal Advocate of Peace also features essays claiming that history education of any kind, even in a predominantly Christian or democratic nation, always romanticizes war. The essay "The Prejudices of Education in Favor of War and the Best Way to Counteract Them" argues "From infancy to manhood, the mind is exposed to influences that tend to bias in favor of war" (56). The essay continues by arguing that the classic tales of Homer along with accounts from ancient Greece and Rome value military exploits rather than accomplishments in art of philosophy. It also notes that societies tended to honor soldiers of all ages with statues ("Article III Prejudices in Favor of War" 1837, 56). George Beckwith, in "The Nurseries of War," argues that history helped nurture a love and glorification of war in youths from their earliest ages. He wrote critically about Dr. Arnold, a historian of Roman history who influenced many American textbook authors. Beckwith argues that Dr. Arnold had expressed a love of warfare during his early childhood by acting out ancient battles with his friends using his father's garden tools. This favored childhood activity later manifested itself in his histories which frequently celebrated the heroics of soldiers. Beckwith writes that other historians have similarly glorified soldiers and battles and contends that raising a "generations of Christian peace-makers becomes difficulty when so many young people read history" (748).

Changing attitudes toward child rearing, the family, and the nature of children, offers an explanation as to why antebellum-era peace activists launched their attacks against history during times of peace as well as war. These new attitudes also help to explain why Beckwith focuses on Arnold's childhood when explaining his obsession with military conflict in the past. As the nineteenth century progressed, reformers viewed children as blank slates who society could easily transform into peaceful or violent individuals depending on their parent's approach to childrearing. Children also stayed home with a parent longer than in the colonial period, suggesting that they had more free time and more opportunities for socialization. This helps to explain why peace activists such as Beckwith focused their discussion on Arnold's childhood.

The late 1830s, when Horace Mann argues for the essentiality of educating the masses in a republic, supporters of the Peace Movement criticized history education for its excessive militarism (Mann 1838, 157-158). On the eve of the Mexican-American War, author J.J. Flournoy, in his 1846 essay "The Inconsistency of Mankind," argues that historians, biographers and authors of history textbooks omit peaceful and virtuous people in history in favor of violent and warrior-like historical actors.
Peaceful examples [individuals], who lived and died unshedding of blood
or uncausing it to be shed, are passed by as affording no inducement to
protrude their simple acts and humble thoughts before children, and no
less a writer, than that historian for school children, Parley, [Samuel
Goodrich] has passed by peaceful incidents, to dwell and to doat upon
the warlike; as might be easily seen in his Common School History.
(Flournoy 1846, 158)

Flournoy not only attacks Goodrich, an author of numerous popular textbooks, for praising warlike leaders, he similarly criticizes textbook author John Frost for praising kings, emperors, and knights for their battlefield valor and ferocity (Frost 1847, 158). Flournoy claims these authors teach harmful messages by encouraging readers to emulate historic figures known for their warlike behavior. The Friends' Review and other Quaker-sponsored journals implied that history almost always encouraged young people to glorify a warrior society and that they should avoid teaching children history altogether if they wanted to create a peaceful society. These authors never believed it mattered whether authors wrote their histories in a republic or a monarchy; the ultimate product still romanticized warfare.

Criticism of history as a teaching tool continued after the Mexican American War during the 1850s when conflict over slavery in Kansas had become an issue and as the nation headed towards Civil War. Humanitarians and peace activists during this time never rejected history outright and believed that with changes it could become more useful. For example, Minnie Myrtle in The Iroquois, or the Bright Side of Indian Character, writes
The detail of wars form far too great a portion of every history of
civilized and barbarous nations; to conquer and to slay has been too
long the glory of Christian people; he who has been most successful in
subjugating and oppressing, in mowing down human beings, has too long
warn the laurel crown-been too long an object for admiration of men and
the love of women.
(Myrtle 1855, 24)

Myrtle's statements never reject teaching history outright as a few peace advocates do, but claims that history should focus less on romanticizing warfare and more on the peaceful pursuits of humanity, especially in a Christian nation such as the United States. Myrtle's history represents one of the few antebellum-era examples that discusses Indians in a positive light. Her history of the Iroquois implies that readers will oppose military action against other civilizations in North America if they learn the history of indigenous cultures, including their non-violent actions. A broader audience for this point of view existed during the 1850s. Ex-Whigs favored a more peaceful approach to Indians and opposed War with Mexico as well as unfettered expansion of the United States. Carl Richard even explains how Whig politicians invoked the classics to express their dislike of the fact that several generals, who distinguished themselves in the Mexican American War, either became president or a major presidential candidate (Richard 2009, 60-70). The existence of this opposition helps to explain why war opponents could critique the United States' violent approach to Indian affairs without severe retribution from the public.

A favorable 1852 review of M. Murray's textbook History of the United States Written in Accordance with the Principles of Peace in Friends' Review contends that most historians and textbook authors glorify war at the detriment of the nation's youth. Murray's textbook, which features an unfavorable depiction of the United States' war with Mexico, writes the following in its preface:
It must be acknowledged, that many of our most celebrated historians
surround the achievements of warriors with a halo of false and
imaginary honour, which is very dazzle the youthful and ardent
reader, and obscure his perceptions of the actual horror of war. If a
warrior manifests perseverance, bravery and skill, and thus triumphs
over the most formidable opposition, he is sure to be applauded, with
very little regard for the justice of his cause. (456)

Murray's concern for "dazzled youth" indicates that he views incorrect socialization as a problem. The review of Murray's textbook echoes Murray's message to readers that they should avoid, rather than emulate, the actions of historical figures. It argues that readers should only accept factually based accounts of the past, "stripped" of all passages that glorify the military, as useful history. This review also notes that historians seem uninterested in the underlying causes of warfare.

Murray's description of General Taylor's attack on Monterey in History of the United States gives readers an example of how the Peace Movement wanted conflicts presented. He describes a very bloody battle, featuring several unflattering accounts of the American forces.
The attack combined the horror of a battle, a siege and an assault.
Bomb shells were thrown into the city, which exploded, followed by the
terrific cries. The attack lasted two days; and no cessation was
allowed to bury the dead of remove the wounded. General Ampudia, the
Mexican commander surrendered.... And the Americans entered the place.
All efforts on the part of General Taylor that the rights of the
inhabitants should be respected were disregarded. They were subjected
to the brutal treatment of the soldiery, and in many cases their lives
were not spared. (425)

Most twenty-first century Americans would regard this account of the United States' forces as akin to war crimes. Murray's description of terrible suffering and American troops brutalizing civilians existed in no other American history textbook of this time. These brutal accounts of the Mexican American war, however, represent the way that the Peace Movement wanted historians to teach children about war at a time when common schools were expanding across the nation. It viewed this as a more honest account of conflict than what other antebellum-era textbooks featured. Such an account was well ahead of its time and similar descriptions would not be seen until the late twentieth century.

Murray's account of the United States' war with Mexico contrasts considerably from how textbook author John Frost portrays the conflict. In his biography The Life of General Zachary Taylor, a book written during the war, Frost features a more favorable commentary of the United States' actions in the Mexican American War. Frost begins his history with the following statement:
If a long peace had led any shortsighted person to believe that the
martial spirit of a free, nation like our own, could ever become
extinct by inaction, the events of the last few months have served to
dissipate that illusion. We find that the heroic age, the age of
American chivalry, has not quite passed away-that we have still
soldiers among us who are worthy to be ranked with the revolutionary
heroes. (3)

Unlike Murray's account of the Mexican War, Frost's depiction cast the conflict as one that displayed "America's heroic spirit" which readers should emulate. The war, in his telling, reveals the positive elements of American character, rather than the negative,. Neither Murray nor other peace activists drew this lesson from the conflict. In fact, it may be this heroic characterization of the American soldiers that led peace activist J.J. Flournoy to harshly criticize Frost. Like Murray's account, Frost features scenes of suffering, writing the following in his concluding remarks about the Battle of Buena Vista:
Future generations will dwell with mingled emotions on its (the war)
scenes of glory and suffering. The imagination will dwell upon its
impetuous charges, its terrible repulses, the shouts of victory, and
the groans of the wounded; the rejoicing of the conquers, the terrified
flight of the vanquished, and the mournful scenes of the field carnage,
where the priest administers consolations to the dying, while the
callous camp follower plunders the dead. (Frost 1847, 220).

While Frost, like Murray, describes the suffering and ugliness of war, he nevertheless situates it in the context of a biography that seeks to honor General Taylor who played a major role in this conflict. In addition, while Frost describes battlefield suffering, his account features nothing about potential American atrocities or cruelties that Murray's account does. It is a history of the Mexican American War written to make Americans approve the United States' actions rather than to question them.

Nevertheless, even Frost's account has a radical tinge when compared to Emma Willard's commentary on the war. Willard's 1852 commentary on the conflict in Last Leaves of History, never uses words such as "bloody" or "cruel" to describe the United States treatment of the Mexican side. Unlike Frost, she never casts the conflict as a monument to the fighting spirit of American soldiers. She instead features sanitized accounts of military action in a way that simply states how American troops defeated Mexican troops at the Battle of Monterey (Willard 1852, 44-46). Although her version never romanticizes the actions of American generals in the way that Frost does, she still reports no atrocities on the American side or of Mexicans suffering at the hands of American forces. More Americans read Willard's textbooks than Frost and her style may account for why.

Even in the decade that followed the Mexican American War, the Peace Movement still attacked history as device for glorifying military conflicts. The essay "The Peace Movement," featured in an 1851 issue of the Friends' Review argued that teachers should present a realistic depiction of war. Rather than showing the glitter and pomp of an army marching off to battle, it claimed that a depiction of that same army returning home would benefit children more.
Ah! Why not rather shew your children that same army on its return? Or
rather explain to them why out of all those thousands of men so few
come back. Why not tell them where the rest are? Then they would see
plumes and feather broken... standards torn and ripped, helmets beaten
in, and swords snapped. (157).

This lesson in the eyes of the nineteenth-century Peace Movement would convey a sobering but much more useful message to students, especially if educators hoped to produce a more peaceful society and a peaceful world. This passage reflects the Peace Movement's continued view that cultures using history to romanticize violent conflicts cause wars between countries. A country can change its culture by altering the way that educators teach history. Finally, the essay contends that Christianity alone cannot create a peaceful society. The 1857 essay "Insensibility to the Cause of Peace" echoes this view by noting war-like societies continue to exist despite Christianity's presence. It states "History, poetry, philosophy, the education, the press, the pulpit, nearly all are practically, not avowedly, enlisted against peace, and in favor of the world's immemorial war-habits" (69). This quote illustrates the Peace Movement's view that educational institutions heighten, rather than diminish, the possibility of war.

Even those who supported the foreign policies of President James Polk harbored concerns that history, as it existed during the nineteenth century, fell short of nurturing a peaceful republic. Consider the following statement about history as expressed in the Democratic Review. It noted the following in the essay "American History:"
"Many books, purporting to be history, are mere lifeless masses of
dates and events which seem especially calculated to stupefy.....
Historians thus far have devoted their greatest energy to descriptions
of the stirring events of revolutions, and to narrations of national
conflicts. We have many histories of nations at war but few of nations
in times of peace. (151)

The essay continues by arguing that the United States needs accurate historical accounts of the past to develop both the intellect and morality of its people and yet histories available to American citizens had not fully achieved this. The Democratic Review generally supported the Democratic Party's policies, including the policies of James Polk. Nevertheless, even a publication that supported the United States' war with Mexico expressed concern that history which focused too much on violent conflict might fail in cultivating peaceful solutions to international and domestic conflicts. This helps to explain why the Peace Movement successfully delivered a tough anti-war message at this time.

As noted, more than wars animated the Peace Movement. These critiques of history books came at a time when Peace Activists criticized other tools for education and socialization. Peace activists complained that teachers, schools, and parents, sometimes unwittingly, desensitize their children to warfare through the kinds of toys they allowed them to play with and the books they permitted them to read. The Advocate of Peace argued in one essay, that most parents "shudder' at the thought of their sons fighting in wars yet unwittingly prepare them for this fate ("Items for Reflection" 1844, 262). They "provide them with war toys," "sing to them war songs, and tell stories about the glory of war and warriors" which romanticize armed conflict (262). In 1830, the Christian Quarterly Spectator explained that parents condition children to accept war, especially boys, by giving them toy weapons and encouraging play that mimics military maneuvers at an early age ("ART. IV" 1830, 621-626). (It should be noted that some educators might have approved of this.) They also noted that local parades often feature soldiers, which cultivates a desire to revere the military. J. Brotherton, in an 1845 essay, claimed that parents discouraged peaceful sentiments in their children by providing them with toy soldiers, cannons, guns, and drums. He, too, notes that books that romanticize war inspire a love of militarism in European leaders such as Charles XII (139).

Rev. William Thayer featured the most detailed commentary on the relationship between toys and militarism. He claimed that both of Napoleon's toys, which included a brass cannon and his desire to play warlike games as a youth, nurtured his ambition to pursue a military career. Thayer similarly contends that a toy sailboat led Horatio Nelson to pursue a naval career and a "wooden sword and paper cap" paved the way for George Washington to become a general. He never features examples of children who enjoyed militaristic toys but entered non-military careers as adults. These examples illustrate a strong belief among antebellum peace activists that militarism and a love of conquest are sentiments that are nurtured in the home at a young age through a variety of ways.


As the preceding examples show, many supporters of the Peace Movement saw history itself as an obstacle to achieving a peaceful world. Authors in antebellum America note that, despite the rhetoric of historians and textbook authors in their prefaces, they often feature narratives that glorified warlike violence rather than narratives that led readers to reflect on the dangers of war. They then offered some suggestions. The journal The Friends' Review featured excerpts from the Peace Congress in its 1851 issue and argued that teachers must counteract the prevailing educational practices and, among other things, choose textbooks that "diminish the admiration of military achievements which is strong in the young, when fostered by the poet and the historian" (794). The featured speech then went on to advise listeners that educators could serve youths better with an education in "physical and natural science." The speaker regarded these topics as ideal because they were unrelated to "deeds of heroism or personal adventure" (794). Lydia Sigourney in "An Incident from History-For the Children," argued that war led to misery and cruelty, yet complained that histories often made heroes out of those who delighted in the cruelties of war (45). She instead argues that histories should cast those who strove for peace in more heroic terms. The essay "Aspects of the Cause of Peace" in the Advocate of Peace journal in 1858 argues that supporters of both slavery and recent wars of expansion in the United States cite examples from history to justify their argument. It gives the example of Justice Daniel of the United States Supreme Court, claiming that history shows that "the African Negro "has never been part of the "family of nations." The essay illustrates how peace activists invoked past actions of ancient Rome and even medieval England to justify war and enslavement during contemporary times (137).


While a number of journals associated with the Peace Movement wanted historical instruction replaced entirely with the study of different topics, others showed history's value at attacking wars of conquest by using the past to illustrate war's negative long-term consequences. These authors and essays, sometimes not directly linked to the Peace Movement, frequently cited allusions to Rome and other classical civilizations to make this point. Before the United States under President Polk launched its war on Mexico, writers invoked ancient civilizations, including Rome to warn readers that building an empire through conquest rarely secured many benefits for a country. The New England Magazine, in an article entitled "Patriotism," rejected the notion that a citizen could exhibit patriotism by assisting in "the mere acquisition of territory for his country." It then offered examples of how ancient civilizations secured only misery rather prosperity for its citizens by attempting to expand their size writing "The history of the world has proved, that neither happiness nor power, nor wealth is likely to be commensurate with a very extensive empire; but the reverse in each particular is more frequently the result. Thus it was with the Persian, the Macedonian and Roman Empires (321). In this example, Rome, Persia, and Macedonia are offered up as historic evidence that the conquest of other societies harms a civilization.

During the years when the United States fought Mexico, essays continued to invoke past civilizations, specifically Rome in particular, to express their opposition to the creation of an empire by force. For example, when criticizing the United States' plans to expand its size at the expense of Mexico, the essay "Remonstrance from the Press" claimed that Rome had thought its destiny was to become "mistress of the world" when instead it fact it was destined to "fall into endless night" because of its empire (157). This represents one example of how the Peace Movement used history to discourage wars of conquest. As noted, many supporters of the Whig political party opposed the conflict, viewing it as war against a sister republic in the Americas and several supporters used historical allusions to Rome to strengthen their argument. Whig Senator Thomas Corwin of Ohio argued that Rome failed to "conquer a peace" when criticizing President Polk's decision to launch a war of conquest with Mexico. Corwin claimed that ancient Rome believed expansion would produce social stability and that Alexander of Greece also hoped for this when building his empire. Corwin points out that these two countries cited "destiny" in the same spirit of the United States to justify their conquest. He notes, however, that the conquered people inevitably turned on their conquerors by siding with invaders such as the Goths and the Huns. Corwin, through his references to the ancient world, implies that the United States will share Rome's fate (13). For him, this historical episode helped teach citizens the logical results of their government's action rather than to manipulate people into unquestioned support for their country.

The National Era, known for its anti-slavery tracts, featured a speech by Henry Clay in 1847 critical of the United States war with Mexico. This speech invoked ancient Rome and Greece to support its argument that the United State was wrong to attack and occupy Mexico. In this speech, Clay argues that Caesar of Rome, and Alexander of Rome conquered large tracts of land for their country but the Greeks and Romans themselves received no benefits. In the case of Rome, Clay contends that the Romans lost their freedom because war made them "weak and corrupt" and unable to resist Caesar's seizure of power (4). He concludes by stating "do you believe the people of Macedon or Greece, or of Rome or of France benefitted individually or collectively from the triumphs of their great captains? Their sad lot was immense sacrifice of life, heavy and intolerable burdens and the ultimate loss of liberty itself" (4). Henry Clay, a Whig but no absolute pacifist, illustrates how some historical accounts could remind readers of war's consequences. Reynell Coates' essay "The Burial of De Soto" contends that all nations that build empires are eventually punished. He notes that Rome's love of conquest and glorification of war eventually led to an unmourned end (311). He also viewed Hernandez De Soto's death along the Mississippi River as a form of punishment for attempting to build up Spain's empire (312). Both Coates and Clay illustrate how war opponents saw in history a tool to illustrate the negative consequences of building an empire through conquest rather than as a tool to inspire a love of military glory.

Publications addressing other social reform issues also came out against militaristic policies. J. Hanway's essay in the Philanthropist argued that history showed warfare's negative effects. He noted that the Roman philosophers Cato and Cicero predicted that Rome would decline because ambitious leaders such as Augustas who provided the trappings of freedom but ruled as an emperor, could easily manipulate the population. He also noted that similar calls for patriotism and glory by President Polk in the United States' war with Mexico indicate that the United States could experience a similar decline. Hanway suggests that Americans, like the Romans, fail to see the dangers of following demagogues and the glory of national conquest that history presents to them. He found that "patriotism" and allegiance to their country, "right or wrong," exerted too great a force on Americans (3). These writers never fully opposed the expansion of the United States. They simply opposed expansion through violent means. Their comments show that a fairly broad spectrum of the American population was ambivalent toward military responses to political problems involving other countries. Invoking historical narratives helped them convey this message.

Finally, the essay "War and Liberty" featured in an 1847 issue of Advocate of Peace invoked ancient Rome to highlight war's dangers to political freedom, even though the magazine commonly attacks history itself as a tool for encouraging a militaristic society. The essay begins by stating that "but in view of its own nature, and in light of general history, I cannot help thinking war to be perhaps the deadliest of all foes to freedom and popular rights" (126). It then argues that war has figured most prominently as the cause and continuation of slavery, the slave trade and despotism, and lists both ancient Greece and Rome as examples. Finally, the essay cites a "Roman statesman" as saying laws become meaningless when men arm themselves. Thus it shows that some peace activists believed history, as taught in schools, could function as a bulwark against war.

School textbooks used references to Rome, to make their own statements for peace. Textbook author Elizabeth Peabody, in her 1859 Universal History, writes the following:
It was a forgone conclusion that Rome's might was Rome's right. Other
nations would only treat with Rome by first acknowledging its
superiority, and right to dictate. All provinces and conquered people
must no longer ask for justice but for mercy; which, when they obtained
it proved to be cruelty. The Italian nations strengthened Rome by so
many of them having the right to citizenship, and all of them being
kept in hope of it. Roman citizenship was, indeed, no longer an honor
but was valued as a license to plunder all of the rest of the world, as
much as for the immunity it gave against being plundered. (97)

Although Peabody featured this passage well after the United States' war with Mexico, it reflects the enduring antipathy toward the creation of an empire using violent force. While she offers no commentary on its impact on republicanism in Rome itself, Peabody implies that conquests encourage inhumane and cruel treatment of people in subjugated regions. This use of the past to show empire building's negative impact illustrates that peace advocates occasionally recognized history's usefulness as a tool for discouraging aggressive wars during the antebellum period.


Emma Willard and other textbook authors cast the study of history as "the school of politics" where leaders can learn how to prevent wars. Textbook authors such as Royal Robbins, William Sullivan, and other writers expressed similar ideas (McInnis 2006, 109). Many peace activists, however, harbored a more ambivalent attitude toward history as a topic of study, especially when society viewed children as impressionable blank slates. For some war opponents, history served as a tool to discourage military aggression. War opponents and peace activists believed in invoking histories of ancient republics, specifically Rome in particular, to show that the consequences of creating an empire by force might discourage the United States from embarking on similar wars of conquest. At times, authors for the Advocate of Peace invoked history narratives to show how conquests led to a civilization's collapse. This was relatively easy in antebellum America since many politicians of the major parties, especially the Whig Party, used history in the same way.

Other opponents of war, however, believed that history itself contributed to the creation of a warlike culture. Many peace activists argued that history, as frequently written, made war attractive and the building of empires acceptable. Through their views on how society used and abused the past, they became one of the first to imply that history manipulated readers rather than exposed them to God's judgment and machinations. They also challenged the common sentiment of history textbook authors and educational reformers that the study of history created virtuous and responsible citizens. For history to serve a more useful function, they believed that historians and educators needed to radically reform history so that it celebrates peace and cultivates an aversion to military conflict. This meant reporting the suffering and the cost that warring sides endured while fighting armed conflict and laying an ideological foundation for later anti-war literature. Only abolitionist publications such as the Liberator and the National Era warned readers of how history could be used to support harmful institutions and governing policies.

The Peace Movement, as expressed through magazines such as the Friends Review, continued criticizing history well past the Civil War. It offered a dissenting view on education's impact, either public or private, on the American population and laid out criticisms of history's uses. This critique of history coincided with the Peace Movement's attacks on toys and games deemed violent and during a time many Americans believed families and schools played an important role in shaping a child's temperament. The Peace Movement's response reflects a larger societal belief that the educational side of modernity represented a potential threat to, as well as a protector of, world peace among humanitarians who might be expected to embrace education.

While historians have laid out the philosophies, participants, and the structure of the antebellum-era Peace Movement, they have yet to identify its contribution to United States History. The sampling of views on the uses of history indicates that the Peace Movement impacted American history by elucidating how education in the United States sometimes nurtures, rather than repudiates, violence and by extension, the creation of an empire. Their radical perspective would appear in the broader mainstream American culture during the mid-twentieth to later century when historians began to address biases and overt nationalism in school textbooks. Elson's Guardians of Tradition points out that many American history textbooks, Frost included, devote a good portion of their pages to the "glamourous" description of "military operations." She concludes that these textbooks primarily seek to cultivate a sense of nationalism rather than to examine the issues behind the conflict critically (Elson 1964, 327-329). Later works by Francis Fitzgerald and Eugene Provenzo echo this same argument, that history education of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century was highly nationalistic (Fitzgerald 1979, 227-229, Provenzo 2011, 13-14). The Peace Movement delivered this broader critique of history education that Elson features much earlier and illustrates how antebellum peace activists served as pathfinders for historians of later times.


"American History." 1849. The United States Magazine, and the Democratic Review. (Feb): 151.

"Article III: Prejudices in favor of War. The Prejudices of education in favor of war and the best ways to counteract them." 1837. Advocate of Peace. (Sep.): 56.

"ART. IV.--Review of the Essays of Philanthropos on Peace and War: Essays of Philanthropos on Peace and War. Second Edition, PP. 173.a2 mo. Exeter, New Hampshire. 1827." 1830. Christian Quarterly Spectator (Dec. 1):621-632.

B. 1858. "Aspects of the Cause of Peace," Advocate of Peace. (Sept/Oct): 137-141.

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Edward C. McInnis

University of Louisville
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Title Annotation:ARTICLE 6
Author:McInnis, Edward C.
Publication:American Educational History Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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