Masur Discusses Lincoln and Reconstruction

News  /  by Brian Li '17  /  December 11, 2015

TUESDAY—Louis Masur, Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University, delivered a lecture about the subject of his 2015 book Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion. Open to the general public and sponsored by the Stephan Archives of the Bunn Library, Masur’s lecture took place in the Heely Room of Woods Memorial Hall and was attended by Honors U.S. History students and history department faculty, in addition to several other members of the school community.

The lecture began at 7:00 PM with an introduction from History Master Erik Chaput. Over the course of his talk, Masur analyzed the political and social issues that emerged during the Reconstruction Era in America as well as President Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in those issues. Specifically, he addressed Lincoln’s character and the tumultuous circumstances that he faced after the Civil War prior to his assassination. Masur scrutinized Lincoln’s approach towards the readmission of seceded states and his policies of reconstruction, an approach that often conflicted with the positions of radical representatives in Congress. He further discussed the questions that inevitably arose as a result of the emancipation of four million blacks and the fundamental problem of race relations that the nation struggled with throughout this time period. The event ended with a question-and-answer session between Masur and the student audience.

Masur’s interest in Lincoln as a historical figure in the Reconstruction Era stems from his fascination with the “evolutionary, not revolutionary” character of the president. “Lincoln is endlessly fascinating, and there is much to learn from him,” Masur remarked. “His capacity to learn and change is a model that people can follow.”

In addition, Masur hoped not only to convey the importance of understanding Lincoln’s politics with regard to Reconstruction but also on a larger scale to teach his audience “something more about the complexities of history and how we understand change over time.”

Prior to his lecture, Masur attended a dinner in the Bunn Library with the Heely Scholars, who discussed with him the archival research that they conducted over the summer and during Fall Term.

Akash Bagaria ’16, a Heely Scholar, commented that “not only was [Masur] deeply interested in the archival research that we performed as Heely Scholars, but he also provided us meaningful advice related to studying history. Overall, I appreciate how willing he was to answer our questions and discuss with us his experience as a historian.”

Although his recent work has focused on Lincoln and the far-reaching consequences of the Civil War, Masur has explored a wide range of topics in American history over the course of his career, from baseball to capital punishment. In addition to Lincoln’s Last Speech, Masur has written two other books about the Civil War, winning awards such as the Lincoln Institute Book Prize in 2013.

On the legacy of the Civil War in modern times, Masur believes that the conflict continues to be relevant in understanding the challenges that the United States faces in the 21st century. “The issues of the Civil War era,” emphasized Masur, “are issues that are still with us today.”