With the upcoming anniversary of the Missouri Compromise in early March, Associate Professor of Politics Forrest Nabors from the University of Alaska-Anchorage spoke Mon. Feb. 18 about the political tension that made the historical event a modern Athens-Sparta conflict.
Nearly synonymous with modern-day tensions among political parties, the geographical line of the Missouri Compromise symbolizes a moral and political divide within the United States according to Nabors.
“Since American independence in 1776, it had been reasonable to believe that Americans could and would build uniformity towards republicanism and emancipation,” Nabors said. “The Missouri Compromise put an end to that possibility, and charted a new course for the country, culminating in a violent contest between oligarchy and republicanism.”
The internal shift of the U.S., according to Nabors, marked an opportunity for the U.S. to transform into a republican union, striking against the aristocratic ideals within individual states.
“The division of the country [during the time] cut deeper than on the moral question of slavery. They knew what slavery’s effect on republicanism was, and they knew that wherever slavery was concentrated, aristocracy or oligarchy would take over the political community,” Nabors said. “America became divided between republicanism and oligarchy.”
Nabors mentioned that the political division during the Civil War period differs from modern political division, because they fought for the form of their political regime versus the modern divide over specific political issues.
Professor of History Paul Rahe said Nabors made interesting observations pertaining to the dispute of slavery during the 19th century in his lecture.
“Nearly all of the scholarship on the Old South is focused on the plantation owners and their slaves,” Rahe said. “There was another class, and it outnumbered in every state the slave-owners – to wit, the non-slaveholding whites – and next to no one pays attention to them. Professor Nabors rightly thinks that they are the key to the puzzle.”
Rahe said the issue of slavery gave non-slaveholding whites a secondary placement within society, which was seen as a threat to Republicans’ agenda during Lincoln’s presidency.
“What he shows is that slavery made the non-slaveholding whites into second-class citizens, that they resented the fact, that their fears in this regard contributed greatly to the impulse to secede, that the non-slaveholding whites were reluctant defenders of the Confederacy, that a great many of them joined the Union army, and that they were no more favorable to the former slaves than they had been to slaveholding,” Rahe said.
Nabors wrote “From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction” in 2017, which Rahe considers to be an important supplementary piece to the study of the era.
“His book on Reconstruction is a landmark, and the other books that he has in the works will make him the leading historian of the Old South,” Rahe said.
Close mentor and former politics professor, Will Morrisey, was also present at the lecture. Morrissey has been acquainted with Nabors since he was in the eighth grade, giving him both educational advice and following his career since graduation.
“He was a patriotic and spirited young guy who was very interested in American history,” Morrissey said. “When he got to the point of applying to colleges, I recommended Claremont-McKenna, knowing that professors Harry V. Jaffa, Charles Kesler, James Nichols, and several other faculty members there would be excellent teachers for him.”
Morrissey has witnessed how Nabors’ education, especially under Professor Jaffa, influenced his views on Reconstruction in terms of Aristotelian theory.
“I’ve been especially pleased that he has used Aristotle’s regime theory as the framework for his discussion of the conflicts that arose in the United States in the years from the Founding through Reconstruction,” Morrissey said. “Although many writers have presented narrative histories of Reconstruction, to my knowledge no one has so fully explained the intentions of the Congressional Republicans who set U. S. policy in the aftermath of the Civil War.”