Boise Weekly readers already have a taste of the fast-paced, acerbic scholarship of Dr. Gary Gallagher, our Citizen in our current issue.
But a packed ballroom at Boise State's Student Union Building got a historical wake-up call this morning when Gallagher spoke at today's "Why the Civil War Still Matters" symposium sponsored by the Andrus Center for Public Policy.
"Someone may have told you once that some other event was more important in American history," Gallagher told this morning's gathering. "They're just confused. The Civil War is the great fulcrum of American history."
In a dense, fact-driven monologue, Gallagher deconstructed the seminal American conflict that, according to the University of Virginia professor, has been muddied by other historians.
"After the war, former Confederates tried to airbrush the fact that slavery was the ultimate reason for the Civil War," said Gallagher. "Make no mistake, the absolute centrality of the conflict was slavery. By the expressions on some of your faces this morning, I'm presuming that some of you may not believe that. But the wonderful thing about the United States is you can believe anything you want."
Gallagher reiterated that the Civil War was not a conflict "between the North and the South."
"The war was between the United States and the Confederacy," he said. "And the war was about slavery-related issues. Period."
Marc Johnson, president of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, kicked off the daylong session by telling the gathering that the symposium was "grounded in an audacious premise."
"The Civil War was the defining event of American history," said Johnson. "The latest count estimates that 700,000 American lives were lost, along with countless injuries to body and soul."
And with themes as current as the president's war powers, states' rights and white supremacy, the 19th century conflict continues to cast long and wide shadows on 21st century America.
"As one of our speakers, Dr. Joan Waugh, says, 'The Civil War has never really ended,'" said Johnson.