On Friday, June 18th, just one day shy of the 145 anniversary of the day in 1865 that slaves in Galveston, Texas learned they were free, a small group of people from the Athens community and the UGA campus gathered to reflect on the historical questions of slavery and to consider how the values that animated 19th century Americans continue to do so today.
Using the deliberative issue guide developed by Franklin Pierce University's New England Center for Civic Life in conjunction with Douglas Ley, professor of history at Franklin Pierce, moderators Chase Hagood, a doctoral student in the history program at the University of Georgia, and Jill Severn, the director of the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia (RFCLG), guided the group through a robust, candid, and passionate threshing of the ways in which the past and the present continue to intersect and shape the future.
Hagood, whose research centers on the 19th century South, provided the group with a brief overview of the time period and the ideas and individuals who were at the center of the debates over slavery in the period before the Civil War erupted. This background was most welcome contextual information for the group and helped people unfamiliar with the specifics of the debates to connect with the issue.
The issue guide for the forum looks specifically at the Kansas-Nebraska proposal that repealed the Missouri Compromise and gave local settlers the right to determine whether or not slavery would be permitted. The guide raises three approaches considered by people in 1854 for contending with the problem of slavery and its future in the United States:
Approach One: Remember Our Ideals
Slavery is a labor system involving the most fundamental rights of human beings. Therefore, all questions involving slavery are inherently moral questions. Maintain the Missouri Compromise restriction at all costs so as to prevent any expansion of evil and immoral slavery.
Approach Two: Affirm Individual Choice
Questions concerning slavery are political in nature. Slavery is a divisive issue and threatens to split the national political parties and even divide the nation itself. Give the local settlers the right to decide and remove the issue of slavery from the national arena.
Approach Three: Protect Our Prosperity
Decisions regarding slavery should be based on economic considerations, since they affect everyone’s access to new lands and to economic resources. We need to focus on the nation’s economic well-being and ensure the development of a strong and prosperous society.
To read the full report from this forum event, click HERE or visit http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/rfclg/reports/forum%20report_6-18-10.pdf. More reports on forums regarding civil rights topics can be found at http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/rfclg/civil_rights.html.
The Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia hosts monthly informal forums at the Richard B. Russell Library, located on the lower level of the Main Library building on UGA's North Campus. For more information on upcoming forums, visit http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell or call (706) 542-5788. Our next public forum will take place on August 27, 2010 from 3-5PM; the topic, "A Nice Place to Live: Creating Communities, Fighting Sprawl"