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Forrest Nabors of the Uni­versity of Alaska-Anchorage gave a lecture at Hillsdale College com­paring the Mis­souri Com­promise to the ancient con­flict between Athens and Sparta. Twitter

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.”