Among the many events taking place in Virginia are seven annual conferences to discuss different aspects of the war. One of those conferences was held earlier this year and focused on some of the important issues in the years running up to the war. After some of the prominent historians presented to the crowd they were interviewed by students from the University of Richmond. One of the questions asked of the historians was “Are there still lessons for us today from 1859?”
I bring this up because the answer Dr. Gregg D. Kimball provided really struck me as relevant to the current state of political affairs. You can watch his answer on the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s website, but I have also transcribed his answer to make it easier to see his argument.
I think that there are. What I find when I read the letters and diaries of people from this period is a cynicism about our time, about politics, about the possibilities of changing the society that they’re in. And I think that’s a really unhealthy thing. When you lose civil dialogue as a means of change, you’re in trouble. And I think that’s one of the things that’s happening. There’s a disbelief that politics can solve these issues and that any of the current politicians are up to that task. I think that would probably be the primary problem I see.Now there are several things I think this answer gets at that I’d encourage people to discuss in the comment section of this post. 1)Do you agree with the overall sentiment that people need to be willing to question why things are the way they are? 2)Do you think he’s correct in describing the atmosphere in America during the years running up to the Civil War? 3)Do you see the similarities between his description of politics in the 19th Century and the current political climate?
One other I’ll mention. Again, to start, I think we need to get outside of our comfort zone about what our world really looks like. We talked about how even people from the North who came into the South just looked the other way despite the fact that the affects of slavery were all around them. They didn’t do anything about it, they just assumed that’s the way the world was. Despite the fact that it personally, sometimes deeply, offended them.
I think that America is at its best when it’s up to those challenges and questioning why it is, things are the way they are. And I think that there were too few people willing to do that.