Friday, August 29, 2014

The Civil War: From the Origins to Reconstruction


On August 23 The Dallas Morning News presented Professor Louis Masur's three-hour class on the origins of the Civil War.  The class covered the roots of the the discontent that led to the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861.  Masur explained how the questions of states rights and federal power, slavery and freedom collided for decades before culminating in secession and war. The event was held at the historic Scottish Rite Library and Museum in downtown Dallas.

Professor Masur traced the changes that occurred in the Nation from the American Revolution to the War of Rebellion.  He cited the Nullification crisis and other threats of secession as examples of the national fight over federal and state rights.  Following the invention of the cotton gin, southerners changed their arguments to justify slavery. It became a necessary evil that produced a positive good. Political cartoons contrast the "benign" American slavery with England's wage system's "industrial slavery."  He spoke of the role of the media, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, in changing public opinion.

He mentioned the industrial advantage the north had during the war and the southern belief that their soldiers were far superior to their northern counterparts. Masur described how the war changed from a limited war to restore the southern states to the Union to a total war involving citizens with the goal to end slavery.  In spite of the goals of their leaders, the opposing soldiers had difficulty hating each other and enjoyed fraternizing with each other in the intermissions between killing each other.

Dr. Masur said that the south believed the north's mobilization and supplies caused them to lose the war. Northerners attributed the victory to the Union's industrialized strength.  Similar answers to the same question.  Ultimately, the south may have lost because its soldiers refused to defend and die for an economic system that only benefited the wealthy. The pleas to return home from their families resulted in widespread desertion as the men put their families first.

The Reconstruction era began with hope in the black community and ended with despair as, in my opinion, physical slavery became industrial slavery. The Republican north lost the will to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments on a south that pursued a course of de-facto slavery through economic and political means. Ultimately, America emerged as an industrialized, capitalist, democratic nation. However, the issues faced by our ancestors in this bloody conflict remain with us today: federal vs. state control of government and individual rights vs. government restrictions and regulations.

Much of Professor Masur's commentary is contained in his book: The Civil War: A Concise History.  


 
Please see Books by Louis Masur for other titles.

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