An Unlikely Friendship

john stauffer- chris temersonDuring the Meetings period on Monday, January 13, students gathered in the CPAC to hear Professor John Stauffer, a leading authority on anti-slavery, social protest movements and interracial friendship, speak about Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two nationally-acclaimed figures during the Civil War era.

Professor of English and African and African American Studies John Stauffer is the Chair of the History of American Civilization Program at Harvard University. He has authored eight books, two of which were briefly national bestsellers, and written over fifty articles. His essays and reviews have appeared in renowned publications such as Time, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, as well as numerous  scholarly journals and books. He has won more than eight awards and lectures widely in the United States and Europe.

The lecture, organized by the History Department, lasted for an hour, and  all current American History students were required to attend it. “The timing [could not] have been better,” said Evan Haas ’15, because all American History students had just reached the beginning of the Civil War in their syllabus.

The Civil War, known as the bloodiest war in American history, lasted for more than four years in the 1860s, during which the Southern slave states declared their secession from the United States of America and established the Confederate States of America. In the end, the South surrendered.

During the lecture, Professor Stauffer underscored the unlikely friendship between Lincoln, the President of the United States, and Douglass, a black anti-slavery leader, at a time when slavery and racial equality were the biggest controversies in the nation. With numerous anecdotes, Professor Stauffer showed that despite their significant and fundamental differences both physically and ideologically, they were able to compromise and become close allies who marked a crucial milestone of racial equality in American history.

Professor Stauffer also encouraged Groton students to read and study Lincoln and Douglass’s writings, which he considers to be some of America’s finest works.

Like Reverend Humphrey, Professor Stauffer also took a detour in his career before becoming a historian. Having excelled at math during high school and urged by his father to pursue math as a career, he studied mechanical engineering at Duke University and received a B.S.E. After Duke, he  worked briefly in finance before he switched paths and received an M.A. in Humanities from Wesleyan University and an M.A. in American Studies from Purdue University.

In 1999, he received his Ph.D. from Yale University and won the Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in American Studies. That same year, he started teaching at Harvard University and was tenured in 2004.

While some students thoroughly enjoyed the lecture, joking that he sounded like Lincoln, others felt that although the lecture was inspiring, they did not learn as much as they did when Professor Gordon Wood came to speak about the American Revolution.

“He definitely knew his subject and kept it interesting, but I wish he had focused less on coincidence and more on significance,” said Robert Gooch ’15.

While not without its flaws, the lecture was certainly informative. As Groton continues with its diversity initiative and America discusses the issues of race, perhaps past lessons from an unlikely friendship could be of use.

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